Shelf Awareness for Friday, February 23, 2024

Flatiron Books: The Courting of Bristol Keats: [Limited Stenciled Edge Edition] by Mary E Pearson

Forge: My Three Dogs by Bruce W Cameron

Running Press Adult: Scam Goddess: Lessons from a Life of Cons, Grifts, and Schemes by Laci Mosley

Chronicle Books: Taste in Music: Eating on Tour with Indie Musicians by Luke Pyenson and Alex Beeker

Doubleday Books: Death at the Sign of the Rook: A Jackson Brodie Book by Kate Atkinson

Groundwood Books: Who We Are in Real Life by Victoria Koops

Agate Bolden: 54 Miles by Leonard Pitts Jr.

Quotation of the Day

'An Ode to the Bookstore: My First True Love'

"So many brick-and-mortar booksellers somehow find a way to survive--even as online book sales account for almost three out of every four books sold. My childhood friends and I all thought our pal Brad Graham had lost his moorings when he left an editorial desk at the Washington Post to buy Politics & Prose--yet by all accounts it is thriving, recently expanding the mother ship and adding two annexes. I sense that same optimism in the newly minted Village Well Books & Coffee in Culver City. Even in the little town of Crested Butte, Colo. (pop. 2,000), where I've spent the past 30 summers, I've watched my son's childhood friends, Arvin and Danica Ramgoolam, make a go of it at Townie Books (their motto, 'Read Books, Drink Coffee, Fight Evil.') These brave, reading-obsessed capitalists march on."

--Ed Zwick, filmmaker and author of Hits, Flops and Other Illusions: My Fortysomething Years in Hollywood (Gallery Books), in a Time essay "An Ode to the Bookstore, My First True Love"


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Hannah Walcher New CALIBA Executive Director

Hannah Walcher

Hannah Walcher of Books Inc., which has 11 stores in the Bay Area, has been named executive director of the California Independent Booksellers Alliance (CALIBA). For the past decade at Books Inc., Walcher has been a bookseller, children's events coordinator, book fair manager, and currently executive director of Books Inc.'s Reading Bridge, a 501(c)(3) literary nonprofit providing children throughout the Bay Area with access to new, diverse, and inclusive books via school book fairs.

Walcher is succeeding co-executive director Ann Seaton, who had planned to retire at the end of 2023 and is currently serving as interim director of CALIBA, and Kristin Rasmussen, who left the co-executive director position for a role as Scholastic district sales manager in December. Walcher will begin part-time work for CALIBA in March as she transitions between her executive director roles, and will become CALIBA's full-time executive director in June.

Valentina Moberg, who has been an admin with CALIBA since 2020, is becoming operations manager. Emma Marie will continue in her role, primarily managing marketing and promotions, while backing up all things CALIBA.

Walcher said, "First, I would like to thank Books Inc., my home-away-from-home, for the chances they gave me to grow professionally, which have prepared me for this next chapter as CALIBA's executive director. I am grateful for this opportunity to serve CALIBA's members and continue the important mission of promoting the vitality, diversity, and prosperity of independent bookselling throughout California. I look forward to getting on the road and meeting as many of our members as possible! Independent booksellers show the way."

CALIBA board president Melinda Powers of Bookshop Santa Cruz said, "California independent booksellers are as myriad and wonderful as our bookshelves--full of tastemakers, innovators, and economic engines, local gems and cultural touchstones--and Hannah has the experience, vision, and enthusiasm to bring us together, strengthen our community, increase our impact on the industry and our state, and lead us in a time that needs books and our bookstores more than ever."

Belleville Books Coming to Belleville, Ill.

Belleville Books, a new and used bookstore, will open later this year at 20 East Main St. in Belleville, Ill. The News-Democrat reported that co-owners Steve Mathews and Robert Eckman purchased the historic Belleville Savings Bank building and will offer a diverse selection of titles to readers of all types, with an inventory featuring about 25% new and 75% used books. Current plans call for Belleville Books opening by Father's Day.

"We sold our house [in Utah] to buy the bank," said Eckman, who previously worked at the King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City. He started there in 2005, working one day a week as a storyteller, until he became the shop's marketing director in 2013. Eight years later he was the shop's general manager. Eckman also has experience in hospitality and was once a community relations manager and trainer for Barnes & Noble. 

Noting that Belleville Books will be a place of knowledge as well as a safe space to read and learn, Eckman said the owners want to make books--and knowledge--easily accessible to people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and all others that make up the local community. 

Plans also include regular storytelling events, author events, poetry slams, and book clubs. The News-Democrat wrote that the "vibe of the store will be rich and secure (like a bank), according to Eckman. The colors will be dark and rich. Reading spots will have comfy chairs.... There will be a piano for singalongs with the kids."

The children's area front and center will feature a tree with chandelier crystals hanging from it, and the tree trunk will blend into an original column that was partially removed to make space for the night depository. 

With a lot of work--much of it is cosmetic--required to get the building ready for a bookstore, Mathews said they are taking things "one day at a time. It's a big project. It's been fun." Opening Belleville Books is "almost divinely inspired," he added. "We changed our whole life" to do this. 

B&N Opens New Store in Panama City Beach, Fla., Moving in Naples, Fla.

Barnes & Noble has opened its new bookstore in Panama City Beach, Fla. Located in Pier Park North at 15500 Panama City Beach Pkwy., the store was officially opened to the public with author Michael Lister cutting the ribbon and signing copies of his books. 

"Residents remember the Borders bookstore in Pier Park and have petitioned us to open here," B&N said. "We listened and the positive feedback we have received since announcing our new bookstore here has been wonderful. We are delighted to add our new Panama City Beach location to a growing list of stunning new bookstores to open this year."


This summer, Barnes & Noble is moving its Naples, Fla., bookstore in the Waterside Shops to Park Shore Plaza, about a mile south, Gulf Shore Business reported.

The new B&N location is a former Big Lots store between Saks Off Fifth and HomeGoods stores that at 35,000 square feet is significantly larger than its current store of about 24,000 square feet and larger than many new B&N stores across the country.

The current B&N has been in the Waterside Shops in a free-standing building for more than 30 years. B&N was an original tenant and has been a junior anchor since 1992.

Janine Flanigan, senior director of store planning and design for B&N, told Gulf Shore Business that there will not be a long period between the one location closing and the other opening. "We're looking at probably a week lag between the two just so that we can move the store team over, and they've had a chance to close out the old store and then get into the new store and get set up there." Flanigan added that the move will probably take place in late July.

International Update: Eslite Closing Taiwan Stores in 'Strategic Shift'; Saint Laurent Babylone Opens in Paris

Eslite Spectrum, Taiwan's largest bookstore chain, "will be closing two stores in New Taipei and Taichung as part of its ongoing efforts to recalibrate its business strategies," Taiwan News reported. The store located in Taichung's Beitun District, which opened in 2022, is being transformed into an exhibition space and will reopen February 24. The New Taipei store in Linkou will permanently close February 29, according to CNA.

Eslite's decision to close these locations "is part of its strategy to maintain a dominant presence in Taiwan's reading scene by operating both large and smaller outlets," Taiwan News noted, adding that better to cater to customer preferences, Eslite "will adjust its selection of books and other merchandise. For instance, the Songyan and Ximen branches will focus on products that appeal to tourists, who make up 30% to 40% of their customer base, per China Times."

As part of its expansion plans in Taipei, Eslite aims to establish at least one community store in each of the city's 12 administrative districts. The company said it has received expressions of interest in collaboration from both public and private sector organizations. The company recently relocated its 24-hour bookstore to the Songyan branch in Xinyi District, near the Taipei Dome.


photo: Saint Laurent

Saint Laurent has opened Saint Laurent Babylone at 9 Rue de Grenelle in Paris. Robb Report noted that the French fashion house, which just launched a new flagship on Champs-Élysées, has now opened "a chic new bookstore on the Left Bank" that is "a mecca of art, music, literature, and, of course, fashion."

With a minimalist, art gallery-like aesthetic, the store features a collection, curated by Saint Laurent's creative director Anthony Vaccarello, that "includes everything from photos by British artist Rose Finn-Kelcey to books published by Saint Laurent itself. Some tomes on offer are so rare that white gloves are required for handling," Robb Report wrote. 

The store also offers "an enviable selection of records that are no longer being pressed"; Leica cameras; chocolates made in collaboration with pastry chef François Daubinet; prints by Juergen Teller; brass skull sculptures; and an assortment of YSL merch, including pens, lighters, and cups. Saint Laurent Babylone will double as an event space.


In other bookish fashion news, Turkish bookseller Umit Nar is being sued by French luxury goods maker Hermes for alleged trade name infringement. AFP (via France24) reported that Nar, who owns Hermes Sahaf in the Aegean coast city of Izmir, "argues that he has been in business for 15 years and never once been mistaken for a French luxury goods maker." 

He contends that the name of the ancient Greek god of trade belongs to everyone: "Hermes, Zeus or Santa Claus belong to the cultural heritage of humanity. No company should be able to monopolise these names, which are anchored in our collective memory."

In December 2021, when he applied to register his bookstore's name as a trademark, the move was noticed by the French company's office in Turkey, which petitioned TurkPatent and the courts to halt the trademark registration. It also sought to prohibit the owner from using the name "Hermes" in its commercial and online activities. The first hearing in the trial was held last month, and a second has been scheduled for March 27. 

Nar is arguing his case through a social media campaign, with the ultimate goal of drawing attention of the brand's Paris headquarters. "If I had opened a shoe or textile store with the name Hermes, it would be understandable, but our fields are so different," he said. "Hermes sells luxury leather bags for thousands of euros, and I am selling second-hand books worth 15 Turkish lira (45 cents). The argument that we can be confused is ridiculous. It's also an insult to the intelligence of their clients." --Robert Gray

Obituary Note: James Visbeck

James Visbeck , co-founder of Isaiah Thomas Books and Prints in Cotuit, Mass., died January 26. He was 79. Born in Uxbridge, Mass., Visbeck moved to Worcester when he was 20 to work in Ephraim's Bookstore. In 1969, he launched Isaiah Thomas Books and Prints with Rev. Blaine and Lois Taylor.

The bookstore was located in Worcester until 1989, when it moved to 4632 Falmouth Rd. in Cotuit on Cape Cod. For 55 years, Visbeck managed the store and served customers with care and support. With a love for books, expertise gained over the years, and a heart for his customers, he enabled Isaiah Thomas Books and Prints to thrive. 

Visbeck was well known in the national book community and memories have poured in from book dealers around the U.S. He and his husband, Hank Holt, traveled extensively around the world, including book shows across the country. 

A private gathering is being planned for the spring at the bookstore to remember and celebrate his life. Visbeck's obituary noted: "To honor Jim, shop and support your local, independent used bookstore and if you like, make a donation to the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America in his memory."


Image of the Day: Hurwitz at DIESEL

DIESEL, A Bookstore in Brentwood, Calif., hosted Gregg Hurwitz (left) and audiobook narrator Scott Brick in conversation for Hurwitz's ninth Orphan X novel, Lone Wolf (Minotaur).

Bookstore Pup: Martha Mae at Thunder Road Books

Thunder Road Books, Spring Lake, N.J., shared a photo of the shop's new bookseller pup, noting: "To combat the winter blues, we’ve been bringing Martha Mae to Thunder Road Books on weekdays! She’s been enjoying storytime, belly rubs and good books."

Personnel Changes at Lee & Low Books

Sacha Chadwick has joined Lee & Low Books as publicist.

Media and Movies

TV: The Sympathizer

HBO has released a trailer for The Sympathizer, based on Viet Thanh Nguyen's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Deadline reported. The limited series, which debuts April 14, stars Hoa Xuande, Fred Nguyen Khan, Toan Le, Phanxine, Vy Le, Ky Duyen, Kieu Chinh, Duy Nguyen, Alan Trong, Sandra Oh, and Robert Downey Jr., who plays multiple roles.  

Park Chan-wook is the co-showrunner, executive producer, writer, and director (episodes 1-3). Don McKellar is co-showrunner, executive producer, and writer. Other exec producers are A24; Downey Jr.; Susan Downey; Amanda Burrell for Team Downey; Niv Fichman for Rhombus Media; Kim Ly; Ron Schmidt; Nguyen; and Jisun Back for Moho Film.

Directors are Fernando Meirelles (episode 4) and Marc Munden (episodes 5-7). Writers are Mark Richard, Naomi Iizuka, Maegan Houang, Anchuli Felicia King, and Tea Ho. The Sympathizer is a co-production between HBO, A24, and Rhombus Media, produced in association with Moho Film and Cinetic Media.

Books & Authors

Awards: Walter Scott Historical Fiction Longlist

The longlist has been selected for the £25,000 (about $31,700) 2024 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. The shortlist will be announced in May and the winner in June. The longlisted titles:

The New Life by Tom Crewe
A Better Place by Stephen Daisley
Hungry Ghosts by Kevin Jared Hosein
For Thy Great Pain, Have Mercy on My Little Pain by Victoria MacKenzie
Music in the Dark by Sally Magnusson
Cuddy by Benjamin Myers
My Father's House by Joseph O'Connor
The Fraud by Zadie Smith
Mister Timeless Blyth by Alan Spence
The House of Doors by Tan Twan Eng
In the Upper Country by Kai Thomas
Absolutely and Forever by Rose Tremain

Reading with... Maurice Carlos Ruffin

photo: Claire Welsh

Maurice Carlos Ruffin is the author of We Cast a Shadow and The Ones Who Don't Say They Love You. He's been an avid reader ever since he came across Garfield at Large at a school book fair. He believes that books are entertainment, but also foster connection and community. Ruffin teaches creative writing at Louisiana State University. His third book, The American Daughters (One World, February 27), is a speculative take on 19th-century New Orleans.

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

My book is about pre-Civil War Black women and girls, some free and some enslaved, who form a spy ring to kill Confederates.

On your nightstand now:

Asha Thanki's A Thousand Times Before; January Gill O'Neil's Glitter Road; and Did Everyone Have an Imaginary Friend (or Just Me)? by Jay Ellis.

Favorite book when you were a child:

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. I think that a lot of children's books are very safe and avoid big topics. But Wrinkle dives right into fear, mortality, metaphysics. I think it was the first time I realized that we're mortal, and sometimes the people we love go away. But we never lose contact with them completely. It showed me life was much more complicated than I ever imagined.

Your top five authors:

Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, Chris Claremont, and Vladimir Nabokov.

Book you've faked reading:

Ulysses by James Joyce. Listen, I know I'm supposed to read this book so that I can impress (or bore) people at dinner parties. I bought it about 20 years ago and opened the first page and thought, "No. I don't have to do this to myself. I will not." Which is odd because I love Joyce's Dubliners, especially "The Dead." The lesson I learned is that you don't have to go along with every experiment an author decides to perform. It's totally okay to admit that you're just not that into it.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr. I read this book during a trip in 2020. I wasn't sure what it was at first. Then after about 50 pages in, I was completely in love. Jones does so much with an omniscient voice, inhabiting unlikely characters with absolute mastery. Ultimately, it's one of the best books of the 21st century, and I think it'll be reassessed and read for a long time.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Uncanny X-Men #236. Picture it: New Orleans, 1988. I'm walking through a pharmacy. I see this rack with a comic on it. And I have so many questions. Why are those two heroic looking characters strung up like prize tunas? Why is the lady so much taller than the guy? How will they ever get out of this situation? Ma bought me the book, and from there forward I've been obsessed with all the questions that stories can bring. I also find it funny that none of the X-Men films have managed to nail the zany fun of that era of the comics. I add that vibe to a lot of my scenes today, like in my new book where these freedom-fighting women are plotting their resistance movement while making fun of each other and making finger sandwiches. They have serious things to go, but they're also sisters who love each other dearly.

Book you hid from your parents:

I don't remember which one it was, but it was one of Alfred C. Kinsey's Human Sexuality books. I needed answers, and I need them now. I was too embarrassed to even think about asking my parents over dinner, "so what is happening to my body now? Am I a mutant?" I volunteered at the library in high school, and bringing it to the counter for check out, where my supervisor was manning the desk, was maybe the bravest thing my young self did.

Book that changed your life:

Toni Morrison's Sula. I think that book opened my eyes to the way patriarchy works to undermine the lives of women. It's obvious, I think, to women, but as a young man I was just living in my privilege. Then I read Sula, and I've never been quite the same.

Favorite line from a book:

"Call me Ishmael." --Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

As a reader and author, I love this because it's simple, declarative, and also possibly a lie. His name may not be Ishmael, but an alias. Whenever I start writing new fiction, I'm thinking of this line. My characters are always telling you who they are while withholding information. Plus, I'm not great at remembering lines. This one is short, so even I will never forget it.

Five books you'll never part with:

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison; Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon; Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings; Virginia Woolf's Orlando; Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, which I've read three times. Like most of my favorite books there's a thread of resistance and healthy dollop of the unexpected. I didn't know this one would become so important to me over time, but it has.

What writing has taught you:

Every writer started out loving to read. It's a very special privilege to be able to create what you love and share with readers. I know that a piece of fiction is working if I'm enjoying the writing, so I make a point to have fun.

Book Review

Review: Dark Soil: Fictions and Mythographies

Dark Soil: Fictions and Mythographies by Angie Sijun Lou, Karen Tei Yamashita, editors (Coffee House Press, $26 paperback, 304p., 9781566896870, May 7, 2024)

A stunning blend of "history, biography, geography, and mythmaking," Dark Soil: Fictions and Mythographies is a complex, experimental anthology that encourages readers to consider their relationships to space anew, through both uncovering and reimagining. Curated and edited by Angie Sijun Lou, the book presents 10 short stories by National Book Award finalist Karen Tei Yamashita (I Hotel), followed by pieces from eight other writers that include essays and lyric poetry.

Yamashita's tales, collected in the first part of the book under the title "Santa Cruz Nori," explore hidden landmarks of Santa Cruz, Calif. They are fictions rooted in reality that the author uses to "animate and reconstruct liminal histories," such as time traveling to a Spanish mission and giving voice to both the oppression inflicted upon the people there and how they responded to this oppression. These stories bear witness to obscured versions of the same place, seen through the eyes of people often marginalized or objectified by history, as in the production of a "A Midsummer Night's Dream" starring Ursula K. Le Guin and Ishi, the last known member of the Yahi people.

Yamashita's work is dotted throughout with photographs and "walking tour" directions to the locations highlighted by each story. She allows her characters to reclaim spaces they may have been erased from, such as in "Neverneverland," where two women across generations must deal with the monstrous secret hidden behind the walls of a retirement home near the Santa Cruz Pier. The fictions at times border on the surreal or the fantastical, but in doing so, cast a different light on places people think they know well.

The curated essays and other works in the second part of the collection echo and mirror this process, with each author diving deep into a particular space that they felt especially connected to, as Saretta Morgan does with the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona. Likewise, Juliana Spahr's coursing verse "The Blue Plume" considers the Ohio River and who it belongs to--versus who belongs to it. These pieces urge readers to reexamine their relationships to places, to history, to how humans document or consider what qualities about a space serves its ongoing importance. As a result, Lou's unifying goal shines through: Dark Soil serves as "a field guide for understanding our future and its terrain of struggle" that ultimately reconfigures how readers might see themselves in the contexts of the places they pass through. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: A stunning anthology uses the strength of story, both fiction and nonfiction, to address missing histories and revive the narratives that have too often been omitted.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Confessions of a Bad Book Collector

Kerouac's The Dharma Bums scroll
(c. Sotheby's)

I don't romanticize the new book business, but I think I do romanticize the antiquarian book trade, largely because I know so little about it. I often check in with Fine Books & Collections, and am always intrigued by offerings like Jack Kerouac's original typescript scroll manuscript of The Dharma Bums or the late Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts's library of modern first edition books. As a collector, I'm more of a virtual window shopper. 

I was reminded of my bookish deficiency when I read a Fine Books & Collections piece by Susan Benne, executive director of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America. To commemorate its 75th anniversary, the ABAA will be offering a series of special events tied to its annual fairs throughout 2024. "This milestone year marks a significant evolution of the organization, characterized by a shift in the diversity of its leadership and membership and the material it promotes," Benne wrote. "Notably, there has been an increase in women business owners within the ABAA ranks, reflecting the organization's ongoing commitment to fostering diversity and growth.... 

"As we enter our 75th year, we continue to adapt and innovate, embrace new forms of material, and expand our reach to serve an evolving community of collectors and enthusiasts. With a rich history and forward-looking approach, the ABAA remains at the forefront of the trade, poised to shape its future for generations to come."

The ABAA began in 1949 with around 50 members, with most, unsurprisingly, being white men. Last week the San Francisco Standard reported that "the association looks a lot different than it did in the beginning.... The approximately 400 members represented at this year's California International Antiquarian Book Fair last weekend include many women-owned businesses, with offerings stretching far beyond rare books."

"It's moved from a gentleman's pursuit to a pursuit for everybody," said Benne.

This is all great news. Congratulations on your anniversary year, ABAA. I wish more than ever that I was a collector of rare and antiquarian books, but even the many signed first editions scattered throughout my bookcases are more a reflection of years spent as an indie bookseller marketing new titles than an acquirer of collectible editions. 

If my personal library could talk, it would say, "What's the plan here, man? What's the long-term vision?" To which I'd have to reply, "No plan, my friends; and it's too late for a long-term vision. Just be happy you're shelved, warm and dry." Or maybe I've just been "building an accidental book collection."

What's odd about this is that when I was a young man (1970s-1980s vintage), the bookshop that meant the most to me in the world was Tuttle Antiquarian Books in Rutland, Vt. In fact, one of the first columns I ever wrote for Shelf Awareness was about the closing of the bookstore in 2006 after 174 years in business. I still mourn its passing. 

As I mentioned in that long ago column, I lived in Rutland from 1973 until 1997, so I knew the bookshop well. I loved being left alone to explore room upon musty room of book-laden shelves, and I will be in their debt forever because I discovered the wonders of Asian literature and art in that quaint bookshop.

Reiko and Charles Tuttle

Charles Tuttle, who died in 1993, was serving as an American soldier in Tokyo after World War II when he fell in love with Japanese culture. He made it his life's mission to introduce this world to American readers. In addition to their extensive used book inventory, Tuttle Antiquarian Books displayed and sold an array of new titles from Tuttle Publishing, which still thrives.

One of many books I bought new there was Zen Art for Meditation by Stewart Holmes and Chimyo Horioka (1973). It is still in print as a paperback, but I have a first edition hardcover. Yes, it's one of those collectibles hiding on my shelves. 

For years, I thought the reason there were so few customers in Tuttle Antiquarian Books must be because their business was conducted primarily through mail order. I imagined them nurturing worldwide customer relationships--the 84, Charing Cross Road effect. 

Speaking of which, my romanticizing of antiquarian booksellers also owes no small debt to Helene Hanff. In a letter dated October 5, 1949, she responded to an advertisement placed by London's Marks & Co. bookshop in the Saturday Review of Literature. Noting that the phrase "antiquarian bookseller" had prompted fear the shop's wares might be too expensive, she wrote: "I am a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books and all the things I want are impossible to get over here except in very expensive rare editions, or in Barnes & Noble's grimy, marked-up schoolboy copies."

Thus began a legendary correspondence, over the course of two decades, between Hanff and bookseller Frank Doel of Marks & Co., as well as his colleagues and family. The letters would eventually be collected in the epistolary novel 84, Charing Cross Road (1970). 

As fate would have it, a U.K. first edition popped up on ABAA's Facebook page last week: "Fine condition with only slight rubbing to the boards and faint foxing to the page edges; housed in a crisp and clean near fine dust jacket that shows only light rubbing to the spine ends and edges, and a very mild general age-toning, else Fine." 

If only I, neither rare nor collectible, had weathered the decades as well. 

--Robert Gray, contributing editor

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