Shelf Awareness for Friday, March 15, 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.


ALA: Record Number of Books Challenged in 2023

The number of titles targeted for censorship surged 65% in 2023 compared to 2022, reaching the highest levels ever documented by the American Library Association, which reported that the new numbers show efforts to censor 4,240 unique book titles in schools and libraries. This tops the previous high from 2022, when 2,571 unique titles were targeted for censorship. 

ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom documented 1,247 demands to censor library books, materials, and resources in 2023. Four key trends emerged from the data gathered from 2023 censorship reports: 

  • Pressure groups in 2023 focused on public libraries in addition to targeting school libraries. The number of titles targeted for censorship at public libraries increased by 92% over the previous year; school libraries saw an 11% increase.
  • Groups and individuals demanding the censorship of multiple titles, often dozens or hundreds at a time, drove this surge.  
  • Titles representing the voices and experiences of LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC individuals made up 47% of those targeted in censorship attempts.
  • There were attempts to censor more than 100 titles in each of these 17 states: Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

"The reports from librarians and educators in the field make it clear that the organized campaigns to ban books aren't over, and that we must all stand together to preserve our right to choose what we read," said OIF director Deborah Caldwell-Stone. "Each demand to ban a book is a demand to deny each person's constitutionally protected right to choose and read books that raise important issues and lift up the voices of those who are often silenced. By joining initiatives like Unite Against Book Bans and other organizations that support libraries and schools, we can end this attack on essential community institutions and our civil liberties."

ALA will unveil its list of the top 10 most challenged books in the U.S. on April 8, which is Right to Read Day and during National Library Week, along with its full State of America's Libraries Report.

ALA president Emily Drabinski commented: "Every challenge to a library book is an attack on our freedom to read. The books being targeted again focus on LGBTQ+ and people of color. Our communities and our country are stronger because of diversity. Libraries that reflect their communities' diversity promote learning and empathy that some people want to hide or eliminate. Libraries are vital institutions to each and every community in this country, and library professionals, who have dedicated their lives to protecting our right to read, are facing threats to their employment and well-being." 

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LBF 2024: Global Audio Trends

Despite some challenges, the audiobook market remains vital and with many areas ripe for sales and technological growth was the consensus of a group of audiobook experts speaking at a panel on "The Future of Audio in Publishing: Global Trends and the Impact of AI" on Wednesday at the London Book Fair, moderated by Videl Bar-Kar, v-p of audio at Bookwire.

Michelle Cobb, executive director of the Audio Publishers Association, outlined the U.S. audio market, the biggest audio market in the world. There's been double-digit revenue growth for 11 years in a row, and now a majority (53%) of American adults have listened to at least one audiobook. Audiobooks account for about 11% of the U.S. book market, roughly the same as e-books. Cobb said cannibalization is not a problem. Some 17% of people take in books only in audio format, and about a quarter of library patrons borrow only audiobooks.

"The market is maturing but still growing," she said. Among areas of growth are titles in Spanish and other languages. The average age of audiobook listeners has continued to decline over the years: now nearly 60% of listeners in the U.S. are under age 45, and the fastest-growing segment of listeners is children, with more than 50% of parents now saying their children listen to audiobooks, a sharp increase in the past two years. The industry is "capturing listeners young and hopefully keeping them for the rest of their lives," she said. The result is that "the future continues to look bright."

From l.: Aurelie de Troyer, Audible; Helena Gustafsson, Storytel; Michelle Cobb, the APA; Videl Bar-Kar, Bookwire; Owen Smith, Spotify; and Amanda D'Acierno, PRH Audio.

As one indication of how far audiobooks have come in the U.S., Amanda D'Acierno, president & publisher, Penguin Random House Audio, said she remembered a time when "no one knew what audiobooks were" and she had to explain. She pointed out that 47% of U.S. adults still haven't yet listened to an audiobook: "There is a lot of promise" and "a very bright, very big future for audio."

D'Acierno noted that "as a publisher, we don't really worry at all about" market share. More important, she said, is getting an author's work "to as many people as possible." Print sales continue to grow, and "there has never been a negative impact from audio."

She also noted the growth of Spanish-language titles, aided because PRH owns Grupo Editorial and owns Spanish rights to many titles in the U.S. Kar-Ben observed that "the Spanish market has a long way to go," with approximately 20,000 audiobooks available for the half billion people around the world who speak Spanish. "It's a complex market, but there's a huge opportunity there," he said.

Aurelie de Troyer, senior v-p, head of UK & Europe, content, Audible, agreed that there continue to be "many amazing opportunities." She said Audible aims to "drive customer value" while "creating an environment that's supporting of creators" because "the future of audio is in the books and the creators." She noted that while Audible is well-known as a retailer, it is also a producer via Audible Studios. "Producing original content is definitely a big priority for us" as is "reinventing the way that we deliver audio content," whether that includes multivoice productions, soundscaping, and more. Audible is also adapting many graphic novels, recent novels in Germany, and classics in the U.K.

Owen Smith, v-p of product & technology for audiobooks at Spotify, stated that the company's entry into audiobooks--with a launch into several English-language markets--developed easily out of the company's experience with podcasts, which has "interesting parallels." He noted that when Spotify entered the podcast market, there were only about 200,000 podcasts available, and now there are five million. In the same way, the audiobooks catalogue is "so much smaller than it should be." Spotify, he continued, wants to find people who aren't audiobook users or are just casual users. To help do so, Spotify launched Audiobooks in Premium, which was "our way of trying to expand the industry overnight." Under the program, Spotify gave premium subscribers 15 hours of listening as well as audiobook recommendations mixed in with their music and podcast recommendations. This led, he said, to an "incredible jump in growth and listening to audiobooks in the U.S. and U.K."

Panelists generally indicated they were taking a cautious approach to using AI in narration. For some small markets with limited numbers of people speaking a language, the cost of traditional audio publishing can be prohibitive; AI could be an effective way of creating audiobooks that wouldn't otherwise be published.

Bar-Kar said that in his view, it was important to "let consumers decide" the matter, especially in smaller markets. Storytel is experimenting in ways that let consumers decide. The company found that some 90% of its customers have at least once "deselected" an audiobook because they didn't like the narrator's voice. Under its new Voice Switcher program, consumers can choose from three or four synthetic voices. The company has tested the program in several countries, and Helena Gustafsson, chief content officer, called it "a great way to give consumers a voice."

D'Acierno of PRH Audio noted that what made the U.S. audio market grow so much was "great productions... because if people are going to give you their time, you have to give them a great experience." She lauded the growth of audio editions of illustrated books and cookbooks and children's books, "creating newer experiences" that can include music and interviews and more.

Kar-Ben called discoverability "the holy grail" for the audio industry. Spotify's Smith noted that AI can be used for "incredible discovery products" and that Spotify already "does a lot of algorithm matches." --John Mutter

LBF 2024: Copyright and AI

On the first day of the 2024 London Book Fair, panelists from the U.K., the U.S., and Canada convened to discuss the rapidly evolving situation with AI companies and copyright law.

Dan Conway, CEO of the U.K. Publishers Association; Maria Pallante, president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers; Nicola Solomon, CEO of the Society of Authors; and Glenn Rollans, former president of the Association of Canadian Publishers, made up the panel. Porter Anderson of Publishing Perspectives moderated the discussion.

Pallante gave an overview of the situation in the U.S., where there are "more than two dozen copyright and AI cases" currently pending. In most cases, Pallante said, the big tech companies behind AI have tried to frame their work as being in the public interest, and copyright as an "obstacle" holding back innovation. Typically, "if you're a downstream user" of copyrighted material, "you license what you do not own." Big tech could afford to do that, but tech companies "don't want to," though they rarely discuss it that way.

Broadly speaking, Pallante pointed out, these tech companies need three components for their large language models: technological talent, computing power, and authored works. Essentially, they want to have that third component "for free." Tech companies, Pallante explained, are saying, "we believe everything, input and output, is transformative." The AAP believes that it is "not at all." It's "not a brief snippet" that points to the original work, and it "goes to the very expressive quality of authorship." They reproduce human expression, over and over again, "in both inputs and outputs." That process "isn't transformative--it's leveraging the value of IP."

She said that on principle, "unjust enrichment" bothers lawmakers and regulators, and copyright holders are not asking for a "new legal regime," just transparency and the regulation of market substitutes. Copyright, Pallante noted, is already "on our side," and if publishers and authors can't be protected, "it isn't progress." She added that one positive thing is that lots of different licensing models are already emerging, including direct and collect licensing, and will continue to evolve, and she spoke favorably of the company, which certifies tech companies that do right by authors and publishers.

In the U.K., Conway recalled, some 18 months ago, the government was on the verge of creating a text and data-mining exception to copyright that would "effectively blow open" the current system. Publishing and other creative industries in the U.K. were able to "face that down." What ensued were "intense discussions" among copyright holders, tech companies, and the government; creative industries as well as tech companies are currently waiting for the government to announce what it has termed a "landing ground" on AI.

Conway noted that in those conversations, publishing has been heard "quite loud and clear," and while the industry does not benefit from some of the same tax credit systems that benefit the television or film industries, publishers "have actually been listened to." Part of what's been going on, Conway explained, is the difference in relative power between two departments within the U.K. government. One is the Department for Culture, Media, and Sports, in the purview of which the publishing industry would reside, and the other is the Department of Science, Innovation, and Technology. The "impasse" between the two has led to "policy paralysis." He emphasized that paralysis is the last thing anyone needs right now, as the large language models have "all the content already." In that sense, "their horse has bolted."

Regarding the "landing ground" that the government will establish, Conway said he couldn't know for sure what shape it will take. It might end up looking something like an "E.U.-style opt-out exception," where publishers would be able to effectively withhold their rights, but if they failed to do so, it would be free to use by any AI company. What the PA is hoping for are transparency measures and a "fundamental principle" from the U.K. government that copyright should be respected. He acknowledged that things may end up "in complicated legal cases."

Solomon agreed that the phenomenon of tech companies casting themselves as "being in the public interest" and the creative industries as "holding back progress" was problematic. Ultimately these large language models "are tools," and the question is "who benefits" from the use of those tools. She also called the language used to describe AI problematic. Large language models "are not ingesting, they are copying," she said, and she encouraged people to use "the language of machines" when talking about them.

She added that authors and other creatives aren't just worried about tech companies using their work--they're also deeply concerned about how consumers will be able to find human-created work in marketplaces flooded by machine-created content. Solomon recalled that when King Charles's cancer diagnosis was announced in February, more than 200 AI-generated books on the subject appeared for sale on Amazon the next day. Publishers and creatives have asked sellers like Amazon not only to label AI-generated products as such but also to allow consumers to filter out AI-generated content when searching.

Solomon said the Publishers Association and other have "done very well" in their discussions with the government, but noted that the industry is a "very small fish" in a "very big pond." She felt encouraged that around the world, people are realizing that some amount of regulation is necessary, and emphasized the need for these regulations to be established quickly. Authors and publishers can't wait for lengthy legal cases to be resolved: "We need answers now."

Rollans observed that AI has a "variety of different faces," and some of them could be extremely useful for publishers, particularly AI tools relating to data management and marketing. But the proliferation of large language models like ChatGPT has caused a "very aggressive change" in today's "information marketplace," one that the industry, and society as a whole, barely has a hand on. In his view, people perhaps overlooked "how quickly and aggressively" tech companies enter new marketplaces. Models are evolving at a "breakneck pace," tech companies are creating "defenses against transparency," and copyright "has huge issues."

He discussed the problem of publishers and copyright holders trying to compete with AI-generated products released by "less scrupulous" users, and emphasized that this problem, along with many others related to AI, is only magnified when going from the global north to the global south. In the global south, AI-generated content threatens to "overwhelm" legitimate products entirely.

Rollans also expressed incredulity that some tech companies are willing to "indemnify" users of their systems, essentially saying "if you are prosecuted for infringement, we will defend your interests there." He called it a "wild irony" that they have the capacity to do that, but "didn't have the capacity to license in the first place." --Alex Mutter

Grand Opening for Court Street Books in Florence, Ala.

Court Street Books hosted its grand opening March 9 at 610 S. Court St. in downtown Florence, Ala. The Flor-Ala reported that the celebration featured food trucks, giveaways, and "was a huge success. After the grand opening, the store took a few days to recuperate, and they now are back to normal hours."

The bookstore, owned by Karmen Somers and Dr. Wayne Melvin--who also owns Tennessee Valley Pediatrics--"is something they always knew they wanted to create; they call it their passion project, and have planned it with so much love and care," the Flor-Ala noted. 

Originally planning to open in November 2023, the owners instead opted to give themselves some extra time to make the store have the cozy and warm feeling they envisioned. Court Street Books will offer new and used books and have a coffee shop featuring local roasters. There is also a meeting room that can be reserved.

"We are absolutely blown away by the support we felt today," the co-owners posted on Facebook after the grand opening. "From the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU--to Shoals friends who came out, to those who traveled from far and wide to support us, to @smashed_llc and @_wandercoffee, and to those who pulled extremely long hours to get us ready to open today. We could not be more grateful to be part of such a vibrant, caring community."

Zando Launches Slowburn Romance Imprint

Zando has launched a romance imprint called Slowburn, which aims to publish "all things love, spice, angst, longing, and iconic pairings. From dark romance with a dash of humor, to athlete pining, and sweeping romantic fantasies, our books offer fresh takes on the beloved genre."

Slowburn will publish two or three books per season and four to six books annually. The company noted, "There is no shortage of new readers from the enormous BookTok boom of the past few years. From Colleen Hoover to Taylor Jenkins Reid, we are watching franchise authors develop cult followings and sell millions of copies. Consistent with our Zando brand, we are always aiming to find voices that are slightly left of center, edgy or fresh to bring these eager readers an unexpected favorite book."

Hayley Wagreich, director of original development at Zando, and Sierra Stovall, director of rights at Zando, are co-directors of Slowburn. Nicole Otto, who joined Zando last week as senior editor and was previously a senior creative executive at Realm, and TJ Ohler, assistant editor at Zando, will work closely with Wagreich and Stovall and acquire books for Slowburn.

Initial Slowburn titles include the second and third books in Brynne Weaver's Ruinous Love trilogy. (The first title, Butcher & Blackbird, was published by Zando in December.) Leather & Lark will go on sale June 4, and Scythe & Sparrow in early 2025. Slowburn has signed up another trilogy by Weaver, which will appear in 2025 and 2026.

Slowburn has also signed the Reckless Hearts series by Amanda Weaver (no relation), a new adult romance set in the world of Formula One racing. The first title, Fast & Reckless, will appear in fall 2024, and the second, Kiss & Collide, is scheduled for spring 2025.


Image of the Day: The Stricken in Salt Lake City

Morgan Shamy (left) at an event for her YA dark fantasy The Stricken (CamCat Books) at Barnes & Noble in Salt Lake City, Utah. One of the attendees was actress Katherine Heigl, who got a signed copy.

Pi Day at the Bookmark

"We've been happily celebrating Pi Day at the BookMark with great books (and pie, of course), Every year on this day I get to display my Pi pie plate. This year we paired it with Yoko Ogawa's The Housekeeper and the Professor. If you open the front flap and look very carefully along the edge, you can see pi run out as far as it will fit. Pretty cool really," the Bookmark, Neptune Beach, Fla., noted. 

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Michael Cecchi-Azzolina on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: Michael Cecchi-Azzolina, author of Your Table Is Ready: Tales of a New York City Maître D' (St. Martin's Griffin, $20, 9781250325747).

TV: Franklin

A trailer has been released for Apple TV+'s upcoming limited series Franklin, based on Stacy Schiff's 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America. Starring and executive produced by Michael Douglas, the series will premiere globally on Apple TV+ with the first three episodes of its eight-episode season on April 12.
Franklin focuses on Franklin's secret mission to France, where at age 70, without any diplomatic training, he convinced the government to help America in its fight for independence from the British.
The project also stars Noah Jupe (A Quiet Place) as Temple Franklin, Thibault de Montalembert (Call My Agent!) as Comte de Vergennes, Daniel Mays (Line of Duty) as Edward Bancroft, Ludivine Sagnier (Lupin) as Madame Brillon, Eddie Marsan (Ray Donovan) as John Adams, Assaad Bouab (Call My Agent!) as Beaumarchais, Jeanne Balibar (Irma Vep) as Madame Helvetius, and Theodore Pellerin (There's Someone Inside Your House) as Marquis de Lafayette.
In addition to Douglas, the creative team includes writers and executive producers Kirk Ellis (John Adams) and Howard Korder (Boardwalk Empire). Director Tim Van Patten (Masters of the Air, The Sopranos) serves as director and executive producer. Richard Plepler executive produces through EDEN Productions, Tony Krantz through Flame Ventures, Philippe Maigret through ITV Studios America, and Mark Mostyn also executive produce. Author Schiff also serves as co-executive producer. Franklin is a co-production between ITV Studios America and Apple Studios.

Books & Authors

Awards: Writers' Book of the Year Winner

The winner of the 2024 Writers' Prize (formerly the Rathbones Folio Prize) Book of the Year is The Home Child by Liz Berry, who also won in the poetry category. Other category winners are, in fiction, The Wren, The Wren by Anne Enright; and, in nonfiction, Thunderclap by Laura Cumming, the Bookseller reported.

The overall winner receives £30,000 (about $38,240), and the category winners receive £2,000 (about $2,550). Open to all works of literature, regardless of form, this year's shortlist and winners were decided by the Folio Academy, made up of more than 350 writers.

Minna Fry, director of the prize, said: "This year, in our new incarnation as the Writers' Prize, we have been delighted by and deeply grateful for the engagement of the members of the Folio Academy. They have undertaken their new remit to decide on the shortlist and category winners with great seriousness, and a number of them have also supported the prize financially in its time of need.  

"Over the last nine weeks, we've celebrated three stunning shortlists--for fiction, poetry and non-fiction--each of which has reflected the exhilarating breadth and strength of the literary landscape in 2024. We are also grateful for the generosity of the T.S. Eliot Foundation, Bloomberg, the Ingram Book Group and Rathbones--as well as a number of kind individuals--who have stepped forward to support the prize."

Reading with... Christina Hwang Dudley

photo: Vakker Portraits

Happily-ever-after really is a thing, because Christina Hwang Dudley, a lifelong Janeite, never imagined one day she would write her own take on Austen's most beloved classic. Inspired by Dudley's own experiences growing up in the South Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area, Pride and Preston Lin (Third State Books, March 19, 2024) gives the beloved story a Chinese American spin. Dudley can be found in Bellevue, Wash., book in hand, if her fingers aren't glued to her keyboard.

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

When perspiration meets privilege, will love school them both? Pride and Preston Lin is a fresh Chinese American take on the Austen classic.

On your nightstand now:

Sugar in the Blood by Andrea Stuart, a combination history and personal story about Barbados, tracing the real and imagined lives of the author's ancestors, both free and enslaved. After reading Stuart's wonderful biography of Josephine Bonaparte, The Rose of Martinique (who knew Napoleon wrote such passionate love letters?), I wanted to learn more about the author's own Caribbean backstory.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The entire Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. I read all the childhood "girl" classics--you name it, I've read it--but it was the Betsy books I read over and over and wished I could live in. When my daughters were old enough to be indoctrinated, I took them to Minnesota on a "Literary Dream Tour." Yeah, we saw F. Scott Fitzgerald's St. Paul house and the banks of Plum Creek, but really it was all about visiting Betsy's and Tacy's houses in Mankato.

Your top five authors:

Jane Austen (duh), but more generally 19th-century British--Austen to Hardy--is my jam. I have a soft spot for Anthony Trollope, because he inherited Austen's talent for telling love stories with memorable and often funny characters. Speaking of funny, Eva Ibbotson and Anthony Horowitz make the list as well, leaving one spot for Laura Hillenbrand--no, let me add a sixth author, Daniel James Brown!--because compelling narrative nonfiction is right up there as well.

Book you've faked reading:

Any Nordic noirs chosen by my book club. Bleak and overelaborate ways to kill people just don't do it for me.

Book you're an evangelist for:

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. Words cannot describe how I love this hilarious memoir of the Durrells in their time on Corfu between the wars. (Not to be confused with that abomination of a TV "adaptation" The Durrells in Corfu, which had nothing to do with the book besides character names.) Little Gerry, the budding naturalist, and his sidekick dogs and "Magenpies" are sheer delight.

Book you've bought for the cover:

They're always coming out with these gorgeous Jane Austen editions, and I covet them all. I'm a sucker for floral covers.

Book you hid from your parents:

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I have no idea why, since my mom liked the book and movie as well. I think it was because I was fascinated by the "She was darkness and he was darkness" sex scene, which is so incredibly tame nowadays. Now you have to hide it because it's so politically incorrect!

Book that changed your life:

Jung Chang's Wild Swans. I grew up knowing my family had fled communism, landing in the Midwest, where my parents met, but this was the first book I ever read about China before, during, and after. It not only brought family stories to life but utterly demolished me.

Favorite line from a book:

This is constantly changing, but I went on a Raymond Chandler binge, and he was full of delights like this one from The Lady in the Lake: "She put a firm brown hand out and I shook it. Clamping bobbie pins into fat blondes had given her a grip like a pair of iceman's tongs."

Five books you'll never part with:

These would have to be some of the books I re-read every several years, just for the joy of it: Austen's Persuasion, Trollope's Barchester Towers, Eva Ibbotson's The Morning Gift, Daniel James Brown's The Boys in the Boat, and Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe!

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

Ooh, probably Pamela Kaufman's The Shield of Three Lions. I found it in a bookshop in London when it was new, and her vivid writing time-machined me to medieval England. My first and most immersive experience of historical fiction.

Books that made you cry your eyes out:

There's nothing like a good tearjerker, except I always seem to get to the saddest part when I'm reading in public. Mortifying. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger was one of those times. Anything by Khaled Hosseini brings on the waterworks. Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken, which could have been called Broken for 95% of the book.

Book Review

Review: Drive: Scraping by in Uber's America, One Ride at a Time

Drive: Scraping by in Uber's America, One Ride at a Time by Jonathan Rigsby (Beacon Press, $26.95 hardcover, 200p., 9780807007938, May 14, 2024)

Possessed of a master's degree in Middle Eastern studies and performing at an exemplary level in his job as a counter-terrorism intelligence analyst for the State of Florida, Jonathan Rigsby in 2016 was successful by any reasonable definition of that term. But in the dark year when his marriage broke up and he desperately needed to supplement his income to hold up his end of the divorce settlement, he made the decision to sign on as an Uber driver in his home town of Tallahassee, Fla. Drive: Scraping by in Uber's America, One Ride at a Time is the grimly frank account of his experiences as a rideshare driver, an indictment of the country's rapidly expanding gig economy, and a frightening portrait of the ease with which one can slip from middle-class comfort to life on the edge of poverty.

Lured by what he argues are Uber's false promises of "high wages, flexible hours, and independence," Rigsby quickly stepped onto a 70-hour-a-week hamster wheel that left him sleep-deprived and miserable as he struggled to pocket the extra $250 per week he estimated he would need to earn from part-time driving to avoid financial ruin. Egged on by the app's "gamified" incentives crafted with the aid of computational neuroscientists and other experts, night after night, Rigsby pushed himself past the edge of exhaustion to log just one more ride, especially during times of surge pricing, when high demand from hard-partying college students at Florida State University would turn his app screen red and boost his pay.

For all its gritty detail about the physical toll Rigsby's hours behind the wheel exacted, Drive features an impressive number of emotional moments, as he recounts the psychological pressure he endured contemplating his "life of dead dreams and nonexistent hopes," facing a choice between washing clothes and buying food while wrestling with his guilt at the thought that he was failing his young son. He shares vivid stories of some of his riders, the most disturbing an account of a savage beating inflicted by a passenger that had him almost wishing for death, and launched him into a Kafkaesque encounter with Florida's criminal justice system.

Drive concludes with a biting epilogue in which Rigsby dissects the business model of Uber and other well-known companies that exploit the labor of gig workers like him. It's a structure that handsomely rewards wealthy venture capitalists and startup entrepreneurs, while treating its essential laborers as disposable commodities. As Rigsby explains, Uber's low cost and undeniable convenience extract a considerable price, not only from the workers who keep its wheels turning, but also from the society that's willing to ignore their plight. After reading this book, some may find themselves pausing before they tap into the app on their smartphone. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: In biting and frank personal detail, an Uber driver exposes the dark underside of its operations and questions the claimed benefits of the gig economy.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: What's in a Bookstore Name?

Here's a question for booksellers: How often do people get your bookstore's name wrong when they say it out loud or mention it on a public platform (social media, traditional media, in an e-mail, snail mail address, etc.)?

During the 15 years I worked for the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., I soon lost count of the variations on a theme that a seemingly basic store name could conjure: North Shire Bookstore, Northshire Bookshop, Northshire Book Shop, North Shore Bookstore (though we weren't located near any apparent massive water features). Even the "Center" in our address would go missing regularly. And on at least one occasion, I fielded a call from a desperate book sales rep who said he was in Manchester but could see no signs of our bookstore. He was in Manchester, N.H., at the time.

Speaking of phone calls, the one bit of advice I would give to any prospective bookstore owner when it comes to naming your business is to imagine just one scenario. Let's say you've chosen a clever name that evokes the spirit of your vision and sparks bookish daydreams in your potential customers. 

Now, imagine the shop phone ringing all day long, for years if you are lucky, and you or your staff picking up and offering a cheery greeting along the lines of: "[insert bookstore name here], this is Bob, how can I help?" Or words to that effect. Northshire Bookstore rolled off the tongue, but over the decades I've encountered bookshop names that might have a tongue-twisting phone potential.  

There are workarounds, of course. One of my favorite bookstore names, Mr. B's Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, England, has the perfect solution: condensation. I can easily imagine answering their phone and saying: "Mr. B's, how can I help?" I assume the callers know they're on the line with a bookstore. And if they don't know, well, I'm a bookseller. I can probably handsell them something. 

Why am I suddenly obsessed with bookstore names? It's not quite so sudden. With all the indie bookstore openings we cover for Shelf Awareness, I have a front-row seat to the origin stories of many shops. It's a fascinating, deeply personal journey for people looking to find their perfect bookshop moniker.

Just for a few recent examples, I learned that Liz's Book Bar, which will open this June in Brooklyn, N.Y., is named in honor of owner Maura Cheeks's grandmother; that Henry's Books, opening later this year in downtown Spearfish, S.Dak., is named for the co-owners' two-year-old son; that newly opened Monstera's Books, Overland Park, Kan., which features books and plants, was named after a plant; and that Mayhem's Bookstore & Board Game Café, which will open this summer in Lancaster, Pa., is named for co-owner James Leavy's Dungeons & Dragons persona.

Those are all great and personal bookstore origin stories, and the names are easily repeatable when answering phones. 

The precise moment I started down this bookstore name path for the column, however, happened yesterday when I read in the Irish Mirror that social media users in the country "are shocked after they discovered that the iconic Eason & Son book store commonly called Easons isn't actually spelt that way on the store sign.

"If you were to ask anyone around Ireland to name our most famous bookshop, most people would probably reply with Eason's, but as it turns out the storefronts on all of the 54 Eason shops around the country simply say Eason, with no plural." 

On Wednesday, Irish social media "was set alight" after one user, sharing a picture of the well-known Eason storefront, asked: "Am I the only person that calls it Easons--as in the plural?' " 

A commenter posted: "I've always called it Easons and everyone I know says the same!"; and another conceded: 'It's always been Eason but I've always called it Easons cause I don't want to sound like a knob."

The Mirror noted that while social media was shocked, "some people jumped to point out that the Eason website domain is, but also redirects to"

There are punctuation precedents for this issue. In 2006, the Waterstone's bookstore chain was "depunctuated" to Waterstones by managing director James Daunt, who said he dropped the apostrophe for "practical reasons.... Waterstones without an apostrophe is, in a digital world of URLs and e-mail addresses, a more versatile and practical spelling.... It also reflects an altogether truer picture of our business today which, while created by one, is now built on the continued contribution of thousands of individual booksellers."

At the time, John Richards, chairman of the Apostrophe Protection Society, disapproved: "If Sainsbury's and McDonald's can get it right, then why can't Waterstone's? It's just plain wrong. It's grammatically incorrect.... You would really hope that a bookshop is the last place to be so slapdash with English."

And in the 2014 April Fool's Day issue of Shelf Awareness, I wrote that "Barnes & Noble has officially changed its corporate name to Barnes & Nobles, adding the 's' primarily in reaction to 'common usage' among the vast majority of its patrons."

What's in a bookstore name? Everything and, sometimes, not so much.

--Robert Gray, contributing editor


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