Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, March 13, 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.


London Book Fair 2024: Jonathan Karp in Conversation

"We're going to be much more expansive," said Jonathan Karp, global CEO of Simon & Schuster, during the 2024 London Book Fair's opening keynote discussion Tuesday morning. "We're committed to growth in Canada, Australia, India, all of our English-language territories, and also to having more of an international perspective in terms of the works we acquire."

Karp was in conversation with Publishing Perspectives editor-in-chief Porter Anderson, and their discussion ranged from S&S's acquisition by investment firm KKR and subsequent changes to the company's growth strategy, its stance on AI, and more.

Jonathan Karp at the London Book Fair.

On the subject of the KKR acquisition, Karp noted that "employee-ownership is a big change," saying it "sent a jolt of electricity through the company." All employees are now owners of S&S, and they will "share in the rewards" when there is ultimately a resale, whether that be five, 10, or 15 years from now. Karp called it an example of "inclusive capitalism," with the idea being that "it gets us all rowing together." He remarked that while a lot of employees "already felt like owners," this "made it real to employees." In light of this change, the company is "looking at everything with fresh eyes and figuring out the best ways we can take Simon & Schuster forward."

Asked about S&S's growth trajectory, and whether the company plans to drive growth via acquisitions, Karp said the company will "proceed on both tracks," and if there are opportunities for acquisitions, "we're certainly going to look at that." That said, Karp continued, the KKR acquisition has freed the company to "invest back in ourselves," and he pointed to recent editorial hires as well as plans to hire in publicity, marketing, and sales. Overall, he said there won't be a "dramatically large increase" in titles but rather a more gradual, careful approach to growth.

Karp said he applauded the Publishers Association of the U.K. and the Association of American Publishers for their statements about AI and its infringement upon authors' copyright, and that he "stands with them." Beyond that, S&S views AI "mostly as a tool," but plans to proceed "with great caution." Karp said it is being used in the company's marketing and publicity departments to "expedite copy writing" and create other efficiencies, and there are plans for a "careful experiment" regarding AI audiobook narration.

The experiment, he explained, will involved using AI narration for audiobook versions of "old books" in territories where the authors' work "would otherwise never have a chance" of being produced because of the cost. Karp emphasized that S&S will do this "in accordance with our contracts" and with respect to authors' wishes.

Touching on the recent efforts in the U.S. to either ban TikTok or force a divestiture of its Chinese ownership, Anderson asked Karp whether the company's view of TikTok had changed. Karp said BookTok remains "every bit as strong as it was." It continues to drive sales across adult fiction, YA, nonfiction, and other genres, and there is "no evidence of it slowing down."

The conversation then turned to nonfiction, a category in which some publishers have seen sagging sales. Karp said he wasn't especially worried about it, but did acknowledge that it was a "different environment" for nonfiction. Given that the "news hasn't been particularly good" lately, some people might "just want to escape." At the same time, podcasts, documentaries, and digital journalism have made information easier to get than ever. He suggested that the crucial thing for nonfiction currently is a "perspective you can't get anywhere else," and he noted that "all it takes is one book to change the conversation." --Alex Mutter

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Ownership Change for the Town Book Store, Westfield, N.J.

Lisa Schwartz will be the new owner of the Town Book Store, Westfield, N.J., effective April 1. Patch reported that after 17 years of owning the bookshop, Anne Woodward Laird is retiring and "entering a new chapter of her life." Schwartz becomes the eighth owner of the 90-year-old bookshop.

Anne Woodward Laird and Lisa Schwartz

"It's time to see what the next chapter holds," said Laird, adding that the decision has left her with "a mixed bag of emotions." She began working at the bookstore in 2000, when it was across the street from its current location. She  took over from the previous owner in 2006 and moved the business to 270 E. Broad St.

"It's always been a labor of love," said Laird. "Everything was my decision. All the books in here are my choice. The way it is set up was my choice."

While the decision to walk away from her store is scary, she said leaving it with Schwartz, who began working at the Town Book Store in 2009, gives her peace. "She made it clear from the beginning that she wanted to open her own bookstore one day and ever since then she was my right-hand man," said Laird.

In a letter to customers, Laird wrote, in part: "TBS began as the brainchild of two brave and entrepreneurial women back in 1934, right in the middle of the Great Depression, and it has been chugging along for almost nine decades since, not a small feat in today's retail environment. Look around and you will see that there are very few retail stores left in downtown Westfield. Yet somehow TBS survived Amazon bursting on the scene, being surrounded by two Barnes & Nobles, and the arrival of e-reading thanks in large part to the amazing support from the residents of Westfield and the surrounding communities who felt that having an independent bookstore in their town, or close by, was important and they knew how to show it.

"Having someone who is excited about being the next steward of this beloved bookstore, and is as enthusiastic as Lisa is, has made my decision to sell a little bit easier for me.... One thing for sure, however, is that I will miss all of you and of course, working with the wonderful women that make up what we call 'Team TBS.' Interacting with our customers and developing friendships with not only so many of you, but also with my staff, has given me such joy and satisfaction. I hope you will continue to show Lisa the loving support and appreciation that I have overwhelmingly felt over these past 17 years. Long live the Town Book Store!"

Leadership Changes at Quirk Books

At Quirk Books, Jhanteigh Kupihea has been promoted to president and publisher, and Nicole De Jackmo has been promoted to executive v-p, deputy publisher. David Borgenicht, who founded the company in 2002 after creating the bestselling survival manual, The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, will become chairman and founder.

Jhanteigh Kupihea

Kupihea is the company's third president and the first woman to hold the title. She is charged with continuing Quirk's vision of publishing seriously entertaining books and fulfilling its mission of "making a big impact with a small list of unconventional, engaging, purpose-driven books."

Kupihea joined Quirk as editorial director in 2018 with a focus on building Quirk's fiction and children's lists. She edited such titles as Grady Hendrix's novel The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires and Clay McLeod Chapman's Ghost Eaters, establishing Quirk as a home for horror. She also oversaw the acquisition of kids books such as Dog's First Baby and gift titles, including Goblin Mode and When in Doubt, Play Dead. As president and publisher, she will continue to oversee Quirk's creative group while assuming responsibility for the company's operations group and business strategy. She will edit previously acquired titles but will take a step back from acquisitions.

Nicole De Jackmo

During her 13 years at Quirk, De Jackmo has helped develop Quirk's brand identity and launch bestsellers, including the Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series, The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires, and Find Momo. In her new role, she will continue to oversee marketing and publicity, be responsible for Quirk's sales and rights growth, and work with the president and publisher to fulfill the company's vision, mission, and values.

As chairman and founder, Borgenicht will focus on what he says has allowed Quirk to be a successful independent publisher for more than 20 years: "developing new business and finding terrific partners." He will also focus on the management and expansion of the Worst-Case Scenario brand.

Borgenicht said, "Jhanteigh and Nicole have proven themselves to be terrific leaders and managers, not just of their own groups, but of the company as a whole. Their willingness and ability to work hard, to grow and learn, to be open and honest, to set clear priorities, and to encourage others--including me--to do the same have made me excited to step into a new role and to empower them to run the day-to-day."

PEN America to Honor Paul Simon, Almar Latour

PEN America honorees Paul Simon (l.) and Almar Latour.

PEN America will present Paul Simon with this year's PEN/Audible Literary Service Award "to celebrate his indelible lyrics, boundless contributions to our canon and elevation of essential cultures over nearly six decades." Almar Latour, CEO of Dow Jones and publisher of the Wall Street Journal, will receive the Business Visionary award, "reflecting his company's commitment to the free press and persistence in demanding the release of Evan Gershkovich, the Journal reporter jailed in Russia." Both recipients will be honored May 16 during PEN America's annual Literary Gala in Manhattan.

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said: "Paul Simon has inspired fans worldwide with lyrics and songs that entire generations know by heart and can recognize from the very first notes. His fascination with different cultures, traditions and rhythms have helped open our ears and minds to essential musical traditions. We are elated to pay tribute to this unparalleled creative artist whose music, along with his commitment to humane values and humanitarian causes, has made him a cultural icon." 

Jennifer Finney Boylan, president of PEN America and one of this year's literary hosts, said of Latour: "At a time when facts and truth are in question, the Wall Street Journal's role as a source of credible, reported news is indispensable. Almar's commitment to delivering trusted news and information and building sustainable news operations is a lifelong calling. His fierce support for press freedom and for Evan has been inspiring." 

Obituary Note: Malachy McCourt 

Malachy McCourt

Malachy McCourt, who "fled a melancholic childhood in Ireland for America, where he applied his blarney and brogue to become something of a professional Irishman as a thespian, a barkeep and a best-selling memoirist," died March 11, the New York Times reported. He was 92.

He embarked from Ireland with a ticket paid for with $200 in savings sent by his older brother, Frank McCourt, who had emigrated earlier and was working as a public school English teacher, and later became an author whose books included the Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography Angela's Ashes (1996).

Malachy McCourt left school in Limerick when he was 13, two years after his father deserted the family, leaving his mother, Angela, to raise the four of their surviving seven children. "Coming out of that life, the things that get you are the two evils of shame on one shoulder, the demon fear on the other," he told the Times in 1998. "Shame says you came from nothing, you're nobody, they'll find you out for what you and your mother have done. Fear says what's the use of bothering, drink as much as you can, dull the pain. As a result, shame takes care of the past, fear takes care of the future and there's no living in the present."

McCourt appeared regularly on TV soap operas--notably Ryan's Hope, on which he had a recurring role as a bartender--and played bit parts in several films. In the 1950s, he opened what was considered Manhattan's original singles bar: Malachy's, on the Upper East Side, the Times noted.

His bestselling book, A Monk Swimming (1998), and Singing My Him Song (2000) evoked comparisons with his brother's widely lauded autobiography. "I was blamed for not being my brother," he said. "I now pledge to all those naysayers that someday I will write Angela's Ashes and change my name to Frank McCourt."

He was 11 when he first bellied up to a bar with another preadolescent (who became a priest) and ordered a cider and porter (after which "we were fluthered"), topped off with whiskey. "The taste of alcohol allowed me to be clever, charming and to behave outrageously," he wrote. "Acting also allowed me not to be me."

Among his many exploits, McCourt smuggled gold bars from Switzerland to India; auditioned cold for an Off Broadway production, which led to his first stage role, in The Tinker's Wedding; was cast in Reversal of Fortune, Bonfire of the Vanities and other movies; played Henry VIII in commercials for Imperial margarine and Reese's peanut butter cups; and worked as a radio and television host ("I couldn't wait to hear what I had to say next").

As for immortalizing the past, he advised fellow memoirists: "Write that which shames you the most, and never judge your own material; you will always find it guilty.... Never show anything to your relatives."


Bookseller Cat: Pip at Pages Bookshop

Posted on Facebook by Pages Bookshop, Detroit, Mich.: "Let there be Pip. The one and only Marilynne Robinson is back with a thrilling new interpretation of Genesis! Along with plenty of excellent other #newbooks by Andrew Boryga, Cathleen Schine, TJ Klune, and many more!"

Personnel Changes at Chronicle Books

At Chronicle Books:

Christina Amini has been named publisher of gift. During her tenure at Chronicle Books, Amini has held many leadership roles, including oversight of all adult publishing groups, books and gift formats. In her new position, she will also work in close partnership with Chronicle's games & toys division as well as Galison/Mudpuppy, a subsidiary of Chronicle Books.

Lynn Grady has expanded her responsibilities as publisher of the Princeton Architectural Press and Chronicle Chroma imprints to include Chronicle's entertainment publishing group. As part of this change, Chronicle Prism will be integrated into the company's core publishing unit.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Deion Sanders on the Today Show

Today Show: Deion Sanders, author of Elevate and Dominate: 21 Ways to Win On and Off the Field (Gallery/13A, $29.99, 9781668026793).

Movies: The Sky Blues

Michael Medico (Good Trouble) will direct a film version of Robbie Couch's bestselling 2021 novel The Sky Blues, Deadline reported. Indie studio Walden Media has enlisted Jono Mitchell and Madison Hatfield to write the script for Medico's feature directing debut. Walden's Frank Smith and Ben Tappan will exec produce the project, with producers to be named soon. 

"The Sky Blues is a triumphant coming of age story that celebrates the universal themes of courage and overcoming adversity that are at the heart of Walden Media's DNA," said Julia Friley, who is overseeing the project for Walden. "We're excited to bring this wonderful adaptation to audiences under Michael Medico's smart and timely direction."

Medico added that he "could not be more honored to bring Robbie Couch's poignant YA novel to screen. The Sky Blues beautifully brings hope and humor to a new generation, just when we need it most."

Books & Authors

Awards: Ockham NZ Book Shortlist

A shortlist has been released for the 2024 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. The prizes include the NZ$12,000 (about US$7,405) Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Nonfiction. The Ockham NZ Book Awards winners, including the four Mātātuhi Foundation Best First Book Awards recipients, will be named May 15 during the Auckland Writers Festival. Check out the complete NZ Book Awards shortlist here.

Reading with... Liz Lee Heinecke

photo: Amber Procaccini

Liz Lee Heinecke has an undergraduate degree in art, a master's in bacteriology, 10 years of laboratory research, and an unusual perspective as a science communicator and author. Heinecke lives in Minneapolis, Minn., where she sings, plays the banjo, and is working on a musical theater adaptation of her adult book Radiant: The Dancer, The Scientist, and a Friendship Forged in Light. Her most recent book is She Can STEM: Fifty Trailblazing Women in Science from Ancient History to Today (Quarry Books).

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

She Can STEM illuminates the lives and work of 50 trailblazing women in science, from past to present, featuring projects that bring science to life.

On your nightstand now:

Although I mostly write for kids, writing about science involves history, anthropology, and culture. I draw inspiration from everything on my bookshelf.

I just finished Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt, which would be great for YA readers, and am midway through Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. A Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih, Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner, and The Bee Sting by Paul Murray are all on my nightstand, along with Wilder: How Rewilding Is Transforming Conservation and Changing the World by Millie Kerr, a finalist for the AAAS-Subaru Prize in the Young Adult Science Book category.

Favorite book when you were a child:

It's a three-way tie, with a few runners-up.

As a kid, I desperately wanted a horse but knew I would never have one, so I lived vicariously through Maureen and Paul Beebe's adventures in Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry and illustrated by Wesley Dennis.

Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey had it all as far as I was concerned: a gifted girl who isn't allowed to be a musician because of her gender, tiny, colorful dragons called fire lizards, and a nearby planet that rained down flesh-eating parasites frequently enough to keep things exciting. I probably read it 20 times.

The Tombs of Atuan is the second book in Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series and features a female protagonist who struggles against the confines of a role that's been chosen by others. Most of the story takes place in a nightmarish underground labyrinth, where Le Guin's hero Ged (Harry Potter's prototype) struggles to steal a talisman. I loved everything about it.  

I was always on the lookout for books about girls on adventures. When visiting the library, I often checked out Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking books or the Danny Dunn series by Raymond Abrashkin and Jay Williams, which features a girl who loves physics.  

Your top five authors:

Ursula K. Le Guin: She caught my attention as a middle-grade reader with her Earthsea fantasy series and has kept me captivated as an adult.

She uses science fiction to escape the social confines of our planet and explores themes of colonization, race, environmental destruction, political systems, gender roles, and sexuality without ever losing sight of the story. The Word for World Is Forest, The Dispossessed, and The Left Hand of Darkness are three of my favorites.

Amy Tan: I can't recall whether The Kitchen God's Wife or The Joy Luck Club was my first Amy Tan book. I adore the funny, relatable stories she tells about women and family, and enjoy learning about Chinese culture and history. The Bonesetter's Daughter, which weaves science and anthropology into the story, was fantastic too. I became an even bigger fan after hearing Tan sing with the Rock Bottom Remainders at First Avenue a few years ago.  

J.R.R. Tolkien: I can't count how many times I've re-read The Lord of the Rings. I love losing myself in Middle-earth, with its mountains and languages and monsters and lore, and I've always been a sucker for a well-told hero's journey.

Margaret Atwood: Sometimes I think she can see the future. The Handmaid's Tale is a masterpiece in so many ways. I heard her speak once, and I recall her saying that she grew up reading science fiction stories with her brother. It's amazing how the books we read as children shape us as adults.

Ann Patchett: She has been one of my favorite authors for years. As a reader interested in themes of music, science, and theater, she's hit the mark over and over again with books like Bel Canto, State of Wonder, and Tom Lake. I can't wait to see what she writes next.

Book you've faked reading:

Homer's Odyssey was a college reading requirement and I never made it through. I should pick it up again. I loved Circe by Madeline Miller.

Book you're an evangelist for:

For middle-grade and high school kids who like science, The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer is a great read, centered on the ethics of biotechnology. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson is a close second.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Beloved Beasts by Michelle Nijhuis. I'm a sucker for beautiful biological illustration.

Book you hid from your parents:

I read Forever... by Judy Blume when I was in sixth grade, I think. At that time, there were no other books like it, and everyone knew it was about teenage sex. When a neighbor girl loaned me a copy, I immediately hid it so my parents wouldn't feel the need to discuss its content with me. I read Roots by Alex Haley around the same time. That novel also contained some sex, but my parents had it sitting around the house, so it didn't feel like forbidden fruit.

Book that changed your life:

The first book I remember reading by myself was Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It was probably well beyond my reading level and it took me ages to get through the first page, but the fact that I recall the experience so vividly tells me how impactful it was. Struggling through that book gave me a new sense of independence and opened the door to a lifetime of reading.   

Favorite line from a book:

"All things are one thing, and that one thing is all things--plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and an expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time." --John Steinbeck, Sea of Cortez

Five books you'll never part with:

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Dune by Frank Herbert
D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths by Ingri d'Aulaire and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire  
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
East of Eden by John Steinbeck

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

'Salem's Lot by Stephen King. I hate horror movies but love scary books.

Books that inform the books you write for kids:

When I first started writing hands-on science books for kids back in 2013, there wasn't much out there. I wanted to write a book featuring beautiful step-by-step photographs of kids demonstrating science experiments and was thrilled when my editor at Quarto Books sent me a copy of Art Lab for Kids: 52 Creative Adventures in Drawing, Painting, Printmaking, Paper, and Mixed Media by Susan Schwake. Art Lab is well-organized and playful and I used a similar format to assemble science experiments in my book Kitchen Science Lab for Kids. Adding a section called "The Science Behind the Fun" to each experiment gave me ample space to write about scientific concepts and introduce science vocabulary to young readers.

Book Review

Children's Review: On a Summer Night

On a Summer Night by Deborah Hopkinson, illus. by Kenard Pak (Chronicle, $18.99 hardcover, 56p., ages 3-5, 9781797200132, May 14, 2024)

In the beguiling On a Summer Night, Deborah Hopkinson (Carter Reads the Newspaper; A Letter to My Teacher) and Kenard Pak (On the Horizon illustrator) eloquently showcase the hushed, magical wonder of a hot summer night.

A child wakes on a night so warm that "even the crickets think it's too hot to sing." The child walks through the house and explores the yard in moonlit shadows. Hopkins sets the story in a present-tense, second-person voice, asking: "What has woken you?" As the child explores inside and outside the home, the world comes alive. The cat sleeping on the table wakes and follows the protagonist, the dog across the street starts barking, a "sweet ribbon of breath" moves through the air, and one cloud sways in the sky. Separately, the child and cat take in the wonder of it all. "You breathe in the night, slow and quiet." When all settles, the child lifts the cat (who "tucks herself under your chin with a rumbly purr") and heads back to bed.

Hopkinson builds a cumulative tale with a series of questions about who wakes each thing: Who woke the cat? "Was it you?" This is followed by the introduction of the dog and: "Who has woken him? Was it the cat? Was it you?" This continues until readers are left wondering: Who woke the cloud? Was it the air, the tree, the rabbit, the dog, the cat, you? And who woke you? The story, tantalizingly, provides no answers. Hopkinson's text is evocative. She fills the book with bustling verbs (the cat "springs to her feet with a rasping mew!"); sensory, descriptive phrasing ("the dew tips blades of grass and silvers your toes"); vivid figurative language (the tree's leaves sway, "rustling like a silken gown"); and pleasing alliteration (the cat "slinks into the shadows").

Pak uses shadowy shades of plum, pine green, and slate to illustrate the brown-skinned child in a neighborhood by a body of water. Intentionally off-kilter compositions, as well as interstitial spreads with a moving band of growing light, accentuate the mystery of the night and its quiet surprises. In one spread, the left-hand side centers the text while, on the bottom right, just a small portion of the child's head is depicted, their strands of hair "still damp from sleep" the focal point. The moon shines on the strands, asking readers to marvel in its simple wonders on this very alive summer's night. --Julie Danielson, reviewer and copyeditor

Shelf Talker: In the beguiling On a Summer Night, Deborah Hopkinson and Kenard Pak invite readers to experience the quiet, magical wonder of night during a hot, hushed summer month.

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