Shelf Awareness for Thursday, March 21, 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

'So Grateful for Everything Independent Bookstores Do for All of Us Who Love Books'

"I feel so lucky to have an abundance of wonderful independent bookstores where I live (Brooklyn, N.Y.). The challenge is trying to spread my patronage around to support all of them!... I love knowing that every one of these stores is staffed with people who love books as much as I do, and that they can give me great recommendations in my favorite genres and introduce me to new things I might never have come across on my own. I love the programs and community events they hold in their spaces, and I love the way they feel like a vibrant and powerful stronghold against the various forces out there that want to reduce books to 'products' and algorithms and a one-size-fits-all mentality.... Knowing that booksellers across the country are excited about our new book is a huge honor, and I am so grateful for everything independent bookstores do for all of us who love books."

--Michelle Knudsen, author of Luigi, The Spider Who Wanted to Be a Kitten, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Candlewick), the #1 March/April Kids' Indie Next List pick, in a q&a with Bookselling This Week

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BISG to Honor Ingram's Phil Ollila, Walter Mosley, and Scribd at Annual Meeting

At its annual meeting, to be held April 12 in New York City, the Book Industry Study Group is honoring Phil Ollila, chief commercial and content officer of Ingram Content Group, author Walter Mosley, and digital retailer Scribd.

Phil Ollila

Ollila will receive the Sally Dedecker Award for Lifetime Service, which recognizes an individual who has made a positive impact on the book publishing industry. BISG commented: "Throughout his career, first at the Borders Group, and then at the Ingram Content Group (where he is celebrating his 20th anniversary), Phil has earned a reputation for serving the industry as a trusted partner known for his willingness to listen to all points of view while navigating the complexities of publishing and supply chain challenges."

Walter Mosley will receive the Industry Champion Award, which honors an individual whose efforts have advanced the publishing industry as a whole. BISG said, "Best known as the award-winning author of more than 60 works of fiction and nonfiction, including the bestselling series featuring private detective Easy Rawlins, he is also the founder of the Publishing Certificate Program at the City University of New York. His efforts to broaden participation in the industry--particularly by writers of color--led BISG's board to select Mosley for this honor."

Scribd will receive the Industry Innovator Award, which recognizes an organization or individual who boldly reimagines what publishing is and can be. BISG commented: "Since its founding in 2007, Scribd has deftly evolved from a digital platform for hosting and sharing files, to a branded reader, to a global subscription business with more than 1 million customers. Born digital, Scribd has consistently participated with BISG and other partners in the industry on matters of digital content, including standards for taxonomy and communication, in order to serve consumers, creators, publishers, and others in the supply chain."

BISG executive director Brian O'Leary said that the three honorees "were chosen for their creativity and lasting contributions to the industry. They also embody a certain generosity of spirit that has strengthened the book industry. Each recipient has worked to improve not just their own situation, but also to make lasting changes that benefit others."

For more information on BISG's annual meeting, click here.

Amor Towles New Binc Ambassador

Author Amor Towles will be the ambassador for the Book Industry Charitable (Binc) Foundation for the next year, succeeding inaugural ambassador Ann Patchett. In this role, Towles will help "to raise awareness and support for the only nonprofit in the country committed to assisting booksellers in need."

Towles is the author of Rules of Civility, A Gentleman in Moscow, and The Lincoln Highway, and his short stories have appeared in the Paris Review, Granta, British Vogue, and Audible Originals. Later this month an eight-hour miniseries of A Gentleman in Moscow starring Ewan McGregor will air on Showtime and Paramount+, and his new book, Table for Two: Fictions, a collection of six short stories and a novella, will be published by Viking on April 2.

Towles said, "When Ann Patchett asked me to takeover for her as Binc Ambassador, I didn't hesitate. Booksellers are unsung heroes of American cultural life and Binc provides them with a unique source of support when they need it the most."

Patchett commented: "Amor Towles is the perfect person to step in as Ambassador of Binc. Booksellers love him, publishers love him. He's a natural diplomat, as well as being a wonderful writer and a very nice guy. I plan to stick around and be helpful to Amor in any way I can. Binc's mission is so important."

Binc executive director Pam French praised both ambassadors for helping "to ensure we can continue to serve as the safety net for booksellers and comic retailers in hard times. Catastrophes come in all shapes and sizes every day of the year, and Binc is proud to help ensure stores remain open and booksellers can continue handselling all the books they believe in. Thank you for your years of service to Binc, Ann, and welcome, Amor."

River & Hill Books Coming to Rome, Ga.

River & Hill Books will open this spring at 412 Broad St. in downtown Rome, Ga. The News Tribune reported that "when Claire McWhorter and her husband, Seth, decided to de-camp from Atlanta and return home to Rome with their new baby girl, she wasn't exactly sure what she would do. But she knew she wanted to help her community grow."

"I've always loved a good bookstore," she said. "And as a lifelong reader, I wanted to do something to help my community."

River & Hill Books is planning to host a grand opening April 5, though the bookshop may be welcoming customers in before the end of March. 

McWhorter is aiming for an eclectic set of offerings--something to appeal to everyone: "Well, we're going to have a huge children's book section. But we're still going to be pretty general interest, but with a good biography and cookbook selection."

Noting that she has always loved independent bookstores, especially when looking for a recommendation for a new author, McWhorter said, "Looking through the 'staff picks' is still one of my favorite things to do. And providing a great book recommendation for a friend makes me happy."

She added: "We're hoping to have book signings when perhaps local authors can come and do a reading and sign some books. And we're also hoping to have a book club and children's book readings on Saturdays."

RISE Bookselling Conference: Selling Foreign-Language Books; Authors Bart Moeyaert, Natasha Brown

On Monday at the RISE Booksellers Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, booksellers from Guatemala, Switzerland, and Bulgaria discussed how they curate foreign-language books in their bookstores. The session was moderated by Oana Dobosi of La Doua Bufnite bookstore in Timisoara, Romania.

At SOPHOS bookstore, Guatemala City, Guatemala, 85% of book sales are in Spanish while another 15% are in English, according to owner Philippe Hunziker. Just as the store aims to make the overall selection representative of a general bookstore, so it aims to do the same with the 4,000 English-language titles it stocks. These include new releases and English-language books about Guatemala, a very strong section.

From l.: Oana Dobosi, Philippe Hunziker, Desislava Grozdanova, and Hanspeter Vogt.

Special orders often come faster from the U.S. than regular shipments from Spanish-language suppliers in Spain, Mexico, and Argentina (there are no book distributors in Guatemala), so while some customers prefer Spanish, they often buy English-language titles instead, especially copies of business books that appear in English before a Spanish translation. Other English-language customers are as varied as the store's Spanish-language customers and include parents who want their children to read in English and "the nostalgic reader" who read English in school and wants to pick it up again.

SOPHOS usually places special orders with Ingram weekly while it places orders from a variety of publishers weekly, monthly, and sometimes every three months. Because books are imported and can't be returned, SOPHOS is careful about quantities, preferring to reorder than make large initial orders on titles. (Hunziker noted that when reading book catalogs, "the reader and bookseller in you wants to order everything," so it's important to set and keep to a budget.) In 2011, SOPHOS arranged to print a Spanish-language title in Guatemala rather than import it (after its original English-language edition did extremely well). That led the store to create its own publishing house, which has published nearly 40 titles in the past dozen years.

The Fox Book Cafe in Sofia, Bulgaria, is a relatively small bookstore with a large selection of children's titles and about half its stock in English, according to Desislava Grozdanova. The most popular English-language titles tend to be the kinds of books not usually translated or published originally in Bulgarian, including graphic novels and manga as well as LGBTQ+ books. "Authentic English literature" is also popular, and sometimes visitors to Bulgaria "buy fiction for the plane ride back."

Fox began buying from distributors in Bulgaria, but Grozdanova has made connections with English-language publishers--mainly in the U.K. because delivery is easier--and it allows the store to "pick our own books and not rely on someone having certain stock." She works with sales reps and wholesalers and goes to the major international book fairs, including London, Frankfurt, and Bologna.

Grozdanova called budgeting the most challenging part of curating English-language books. Fox booksellers feel comfortable buying English-language titles since they're all fluent in English. ("I most enjoy picking books I really like," she said. "It gives me a sense of freedom.")

LibRomania, Bern, Switzerland, was founded in 1986 by a Spanish-language teacher and originally specialized in Spanish-language books, according to Hanspeter Vogt. The store has since expanded to include German, French, Italian, and English and is a university bookshop, too. LibRomania supplies books to schools in a variety of languages and serves as a distributor of Spanish-language titles to other Swiss bookstores. About half of its customers are native speakers of the titles they buy, and many of the others are either foreign-language teachers or students of Spanish and English.

The biggest problem for LibRomania in buying books from abroad stems from Switzerland not being a member of the European Union, resulting in all kinds of taxes and paperwork, Vogt said. LibRomania works with an international book service and has a warehouse in France, where it picks up titles weekly. For English-language books it works mostly with U.K. publishers and wholesalers, not so much those in the U.S., because the British have gotten "better and better with books." LibRomania buys some books in small quantities from around the world, and Vogt noted that it's "easier to get books from China than from Brazil or Mexico."


Bart Moeyaert

Monday morning's author keynote featured Bart Moeyaert, the popular Belgian author whose work includes prose and poetry, songwriting, illustrations, and more. Although he was the 2019 winner of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, which honors children's and YA authors, illustrators, and others, Moeyaert doesn't consider himself "just" a children's book writer and illustrator and dislikes the traditional view that "small books without illustrations" are for adults, and "large books with illustrations" are for children. He commented: "When someone asks me if I am a children's book writer or poet, I say, 'No.' I always say something different. I think that's the way to change the world: Be stubborn."

Interviewed by Jan Peter Prenger, chief buyer of Libris Blz and chairman of the advisory board of the Dutch Booksellers Association, Moeyaert talked about the importance of his upbringing and family in his writing. (Being the youngest of seven boys made for an unusual childhood.) "I stick to my family," he said, noting that his parents died recently ("death is something with all of us"). Luckily, he continued, his parents' different approaches to life helped make him the creative person that he is. His mother had deep emotional intelligence and gave him the freedom to be his own person while his father was "severe," believing things had to be done in a single, logical way. "Putting those two together gave me everything I needed."


Natasha Brown

Another author keynote featured Natasha Brown, whose debut novel, Assembly, was published in 2021 and was shortlisted for the Folio Prize, the Goldsmiths Prize, and the Orwell Prize for Fiction. In addition, she was named one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists and one of the Observer's Best Debut Novelists.

Acknowledging her work in financial services, her studies in math, and love of "data points," Brown gave an amusing and highly detailed statistical analysis and overview of something that is quite personal for someone whose first novel appeared recently: "the problem of second novels." With graphs and charts and a laser pointer, she outlined trends in intervals between first and second novels of relatively recent authors, the long gaps between some famous authors' first and second novels, and noted that among authors who essentially wrote only one novel are Nora Ephron (Heartburn), Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man), Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray), Emily Brontë (Wuthering Heights), and Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird).

Natasha Brown's most important data point: her own second novel, Universality, will be published in March 2025. --John Mutter


Image of the Day: Wroblewski and Friends

David Wroblewski, author of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and the forthcoming novel Familiaris (Blackstone, June 4), posed at Charlotte, N.C.'s Park Road Books with owner Sally Brewster and bookstore dog Yoni.

Cool Idea of the Day: Miniature Bookshop

"Ever wonder what booksellers do when they're not reading? One of them creates miniature bookshops! Handmade by Polly, and now sitting in our window. Be sure to take a look next time you're in the store... the detail is amazing!" Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot, Conn., posted on Facebook. 

Personnel Changes at RBmedia; Podium

Michael Paull has joined RBmedia as CEO and a member of the board of directors. He was formerly president of Disney's direct to consumer businesses and earlier held senior roles at Amazon Digital Video and Digital Music, Sony Music Entertainment, and Sony Pictures Entertainment. He succeeds Tom MacIsaac, who will continue with the company as a senior advisor.


Shannon Frost has been named director, growth marketing, at Podium.

S&S to Sell and Distribute Rising Action Publishing

Simon & Schuster is handling worldwide sales and distribution for Rising Action Publishing, effective June 1.

Founded in 2020 by Tina Beier and Alexandria Brown, Rising Action Publishing is a Canadian publisher committed to publishing "a collection of unputdownable page-turners across many genres, delivering emotion-filled delight."

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Kara Swisher on Real Time with Bill Maher

Good Morning America: Kate Bowler, author of Have a Beautiful, Terrible Day!: Daily Meditations for the Ups, Downs & In-Betweens (Convergent Books, $26, 9780593727676).

Drew Barrymore Show: Molly Baz, author of More Is More: Get Loose in the Kitchen (Clarkson Potter, $35, 9780593578841).

HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher: Kara Swisher, author of Burn Book: A Tech Love Story (Simon & Schuster, $30, 9781982163891).

This Weekend on Book TV: The Savannah Book Festival

Book TV airs on C-Span 2 this weekend from 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Monday and focuses on political and historical books as well as the book industry. The following are highlights for this coming weekend. For more information, go to Book TV's website.

Saturday, March 23
9:30 a.m. Steve Drummond, author of The Watchdog: How the Truman Committee Battled Corruption and Helped Win World War Two (Hanover Square Press, $32.99, 9781335449504). (Re-airs Saturday at 9:30 p.m.)

2 p.m. Edda L. Fields-Black, author of COMBEE: Harriet Tubman, the Combahee River Raid, and Black Freedom during the Civil War (Oxford University Press, $39.99, 9780197552797).

3:05 p.m. Mark Kelley, author of An Uncommon Woman: The Life of Lydia Hamilton Smith (Penn State University Press, $24.95, 9780271096759).

Sunday, March 24
8:55 a.m. Jacob Heilbrunn, author of America Last: The Right's Century-Long Romance with Foreign Dictators (Liveright, $28.99, 9781324094661). (Re-airs Sunday at 8:55 p.m.)

9:55 a.m. Teresa Ghilarducci, author of Work, Retire, Repeat: The Uncertainty of Retirement in the New Economy (University of Chicago Press, $25, ‎ 9780226831466). (Re-airs Sunday at 9:55 p.m.)

10:55 a.m. Anna Motz, author of If Love Could Kill: The Myths and Truths of Women Who Commit Violence (Knopf, $30, 9780593534151). (Re-airs Sunday at 10:55 p.m.)

12 p.m. Jason Puskar, author of The Switch: An Off and On History of Digital Humans (University of Minnesota Press, $34.95, 9781517915407), at Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, Wis. (Re-airs Monday at 12 a.m.)

2 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. Coverage of the 2024 Savannah Book Festival in Savannah, Ga. Highlights include:

  • 2 p.m. Liza Mundy, author of The Sisterhood: The Secret History of Women at the CIA (Crown, $32.50, 9780593238172).
  • 2:50 p.m. Michael L. Thurmond, author of James Oglethorpe, Father of Georgia: A Founder's Journey from Slave Trader to Abolitionist (University of Georgia Press, $29.95, 9780820366043).
  • 3:30 p.m. Victor Luckerson, author of Built from the Fire: The Epic Story of Tulsa's Greenwood District, America's Black Wall Street (Random House, $30, 9780593134375).
  • 4:05 p.m. Dayton Duncan, co-author of Blood Memory: The Tragic Decline and Improbable Resurrection of the American Buffalo (Knopf, $40, 9780593537343).
  • 4:51 p.m. Amy Kurzweil, author of Artificial: A Love Story (Catapult, $38, 9781948226387).
  • 5:41 p.m. Adam Lazarus, author of The Wingmen: The Unlikely, Unusual, Unbreakable Friendship Between John Glenn and Ted Williams (‎Citadel, $29, 9780806542508).
  • 6:24 p.m. James L. Swanson, author of The Deerfield Massacre: A Surprise Attack, a Forced March, and the Fight for Survival in Early America (Scribner, $30, 9781501108167).

Books & Authors

Awards: Dylan Thomas Shortlist; Sami Rohr Finalists

The shortlist has been selected for the £20,000 (about $25,600) Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize, which honors "exceptional literary talent" by people under 39 around the world who write fiction in all its forms, including poetry, novels, short stories, and drama. The winner will be announced at a ceremony held in Swansea on May 16, following International Dylan Thomas Day on May 14. The shortlist:

A Spell of Good Things by Ayòbámi Adébáyò (novel, Nigeria)
Small Worlds by Caleb Azumah Nelson (novel, U.K./Ghana)
The Glutton by A.K. Blakemore (novel, England, U.K.)
Bright Fear by Mary Jean Chan (poetry collection, Hong Kong)
Local Fires by Joshua Jones (short story collection, Wales, U.K.)
Biography of X by Catherine Lacey (novel, U.S.)


Finalists have been selected for the $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, which honors "an emerging writer who demonstrates the potential for continuing contribution to the world of Jewish literature" and is given in association with the National Library of Israel. The awards are made in fiction and nonfiction in alternating years. This year's focus is nonfiction, and the finalists are:

Jeremy Eichler for Time's Echo: The Second World War, the Holocaust, and the Music of Remembrance (Knopf)
Michael Frank for One Hundred Saturdays: Stella Levi and the Search for the Lost World (Avid Reader Press/S&S)
Oren Kessler for Palestine 1936: The Great Revolt and the Roots of the Middle East Conflict (Rowman & Littlefield)
Natalie Livingstone for The Women of Rothschild: The Untold Story of the World's Most Famous Dynasty (St. Martin's Press)

The winner will be announced in April.

Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week

Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, March 26:

Lost Man's Lane: A Novel by Scott Carson (Atria/Emily Bestler, $28.99, 9781982191450) is a supernatural thriller about a teenager interning for a private investigator.

What Happened to Nina?: A Thriller by Dervla McTiernan (Morrow, $30, 9780063042254) is a mystery about a missing woman, her boyfriend, and their combative families.

A Great Country: A Novel by Shilpi Somaya Gowda (Mariner, $30, 9780063324343) follows two generations of an immigrant family living in a California gated community.

The Angel of Indian Lake by Stephen Graham Jones (Saga Press, $28.99, 9781668011669) concludes the Indian Lake horror trilogy.

The Truth about the Devlins by Lisa Scottoline (Putnam, $29.95, 9780525539704) is a domestic thriller about a family of lawyers.

Stitches by Hirokatsu Kihara and Junji Ito (VIZ Media, $18, 9781974736560) combines spooky short stories with the art of horror manga master Junji Ito.

The Last Zookeeper by Aaron Becker (Candlewick, $18.99, 9781536227680) is a wordless sci-fi picture book about a futuristic Noah's Ark.

Bubbly Beautiful Kitty-Corn by Shannon Hale, illus. by LeUyen Pham (Abrams, $19.99, 9781419768774) is the fourth picture book about the kitty and the unicorn who are both Kitty-Corns.

There's Always This Year: On Basketball and Ascension by Hanif Abdurraqib (Random House, $32, 9780593448793) is the newest book by the cultural critic, essayist, and poet.

On Giving Up by Adam Phillips (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26, 9780374614140) is a psychoanalyst's analysis of when and what to give up.

H Is for Hope: Climate Change from A to Z by Elizabeth Kolbert (Ten Speed Press, $24.99, 9781984863522) is an illustrated collection of 26 essays about climate change.

Nourish: Simple Recipes to Empower Your Body and Feed Your Soul by Gisele Bündchen (Clarkson Potter, $35, 9780593580486) is a cookbook featuring 100 healthy recipes.

The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness by Jonathan Haidt (Penguin Press, $30, 9780593655030) explores how phones and constant digital connection have impacted childhood.

Nuclear War: A Scenario by Annie Jacobsen (Dutton, $30, 9780593476093) chronicles how a modern nuclear exchange might occur.

Studies at the School by the Sea: The Fourth School by the Sea Novel by Jenny Colgan (Avon, $18.99, 9780063141858).

Starlit Secrets by Sherryl Woods (Mira, $9.99, 9780778369530).

The Good, the Bad, and the Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto (Berkley, $18, 9780593546222).

Up Island Harbor by Jean Stone (Kensington, $17.95, 9781496743008).

A Governess's Guide to Passion and Peril by Manda Collins (Forever, $16.99, 9781538725603).

The Other Side of Disappearing by Kate Clayborn (Kensington, $17.95, 9781496737311).

IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

From last week's Indie bestseller lists, available at, here are the recommended titles, which are also Indie Next Great Reads:

The Hidden Life of Cecily Larson: A Novel by Ellen Baker (Mariner, $28, 9780063351196). "Rich, vibrant and full of atmosphere, The Hidden Life of Cecily Larson drew me in from the first page. An intricately layered portrait of family, identity, and survival. Cecily will steal your heart!" --Maxwell Gregory, Madison Street Books, Chicago, Ill.

Sun of Blood and Ruin by Mariely Lares (Harper Voyager, $30, 9780063254312). "A fast-paced fantasy filled with shapeshifting, sorcery, and epic battles. Lares weaves together a rich world from Mesoamerican history and mythology, alongside a thoughtful exploration of mestiza identity and finding a place in the world." --Elena Jove, Left Bank Books, St. Louis, Mo.

Time's Undoing: A Novel by Cheryl A. Head (Dutton, $18, 9780593471845). "Time's Undoing is a first-rate story of racial injustice and redemption. Based on the author's family history, this dual timeline story chronicles a Black man's death in 1929 and his great-granddaughter's efforts to uncover the truth in 2019." --Trish Brown, One More Page Books, Arlington, Va.

Ages 3 to 7
The Wild by Yuval Zommer (Doubleday, $18.99, 9780593708989). "This curious tale personifies earth as a living being resembling a coyote--first appreciated by the people who live on it, and then has too much taken from it until it is sick. A tale of child activism that offers a hopeful ending." --Jess Iverson, Booked, Evanston, Ill.

Ages 8 to 12
Free Period by Ali Terese (Scholastic, $17.99, 9781338835830). "Two goofy pranksters broke the final straw with the principal, who assigns them to a school improvement group run by their enemy! They notice that there are no period products in the school. Can the group change the school board's mind? Read to find out!" --Julie Beckers, Loganberry Books, Shaker Heights, Ohio

Teen Readers
Skater Boy by Anthony Nerada (Soho Teen, $18.99, 9781641295345). "Skater Boy is a thoughtful and honest coming-of-age romance, centering a lot on the idea of who we are, and who we want to be--and how to navigate it, as simple and complicated as it can all be." --Andrew King, Secret Garden Bookshop, Seattle, Wash.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]

Book Review

Review: Exhibit

Exhibit by R.O. Kwon (Riverhead Books, $28 hardcover, 224p., 9780593190029, May 21, 2024)

R.O. Kwon's second novel, Exhibit, is a searing study of art, desire, and bodily and intellectual freedom. Northern California photographer Jin Han earned notoriety for her triptychs depicting "religious people in states of worship." Given her lapsed Christian faith and her inclusion of self-portraits copying her subjects' poses, she has received hate mail and a boycott. This causes Jin to question her own motives: "did I, by reviving what I grieved, risk indulging in tragic kitsch?" Interspersed in the narrative are anguished letters to a God she no longer believes in ("Dear made-up Lord, I lived in pursuit of You...").

Doubt divides Jin from her devout parents in Seoul, while sexual needs drive her and her husband, Philip, apart. In the opening scene, Jin is immediately drawn to fellow Korean American Lidija Jung, an injured ballet dancer, at a party. Lidija shares Jin's interest in BDSM, which Philip is reluctant to explore. Moreover, Philip has decided he wants a baby, but Jin prefers to remain childfree. Little surprise, then, that Jin becomes increasingly intimate with Lidija, her muse. A new project even showcases the bruises and blood from their encounters. Soon, Jin is called back to Korea when her mother is hospitalized--an incident Jin's vestigial religious mindset leads her to interpret as punishment.

The BDSM theme connects to Kwon's co-edited anthology, Kink. There's also a tie-in to Kwon's debut novel: Jin attended Edwards College, and through photographs imagined extremist Phoebe Lin's life had she not joined the Jejah cult, responsible for multiple bombings in The Incendiaries. Here, too, flame metaphors are rife. "I had to kill this longing. If I didn't, I'd light my life on fire," Jin resolves early on.

Kwon's sentences are like grenades, carefully wrought and concentrated with meaning: "Lidija, netted, pulled in from pelagic depths. Split-tailed prize, bold skin flaring. In altering light, she blurred. Iris flesh, injured leg tall." Staccato phrasing and poetic vocabulary allow Kwon to pack much into this intense novel's short length, including chapters that tell the life story of a kisaeng (courtesan) who now, as a ghost, inspires--and perhaps curses--both Lidija and Jin. Though the prose threatens to overwhelm a somewhat familiar plot, the focus on art and independence, as well as the bisexual representation, make this stand out. It's ideal reading for fans of Melissa Broder, Teju Cole, and Brandon Taylor. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

Shelf Talker: In R.O. Kwon's bold second novel, a Korean American photographer depicts her loss of faith, as well as her bisexuality and attraction to BDSM, through her art.

Deeper Understanding

Among Friends: Steve Zacharius on the Roots of Kensington, Mass Market Publishing

Among the many contributors to Among Friends: An Illustrated Oral History of American Book Publishing & Bookselling in the 20th Century, published last fall by Two Trees Press and distributed by Ingram Content Group, is Steve Zacharius, president and CEO of Kensington Publishing. Here we reproduce his contribution, which focuses on how Kensington grew and the old mass market side of the book industry.

My grandparents, like most people back then, didn't even know what being a publisher meant. But my father, Walter Zacharius, wanted to own a newspaper. He got his start in sales for Macfadden, publisher of magazines including True Confessions, and then for Ace Books.

As a young teen, I worked two summers in the mailroom of Lancer Books, which Walter started with partner Irwin Stein in 1961. They published paperback mass market titles, including Mario Puzo's pre-Godfather novel The Fortunate Pilgrim, and the '60s classic Candy by Terry Southern, a bawdy romp about a wide-eyed hippie girl that was initially banned from stores and libraries. Other titles include Conan the Barbarian in early Manga and the very successful The Man From O.R.G.Y., a sexy takeoff on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. There must have been ten books in that series by Ted Marx, and each one had a print run of about a million copies. I was impressed when my father published the first U.S. book on the Beatles, with a photo insert, but more so that he did men's magazines like Swank and Gallery. He used to think his night table was a good place to hide them from me.

Walter was quite the storyteller. He knew every one of the 800 or so wholesalers at that time, their spouses and their kids' names. He was the consummate salesman who wouldn't take no for an answer. I remember him telling me how tough some of the wholesalers were. When he worked for Macfadden, he was sent out to collect money and had a gun pointed at him on a table. My dad was a scrawny six-foot Jewish kid from Brooklyn but he had no fear. He took the gun and spun it around so it was facing the wholesaler and said, "Now we can talk."

Walter was the ultimate marketeer. Lancer didn't offer big author advances, but he spent money on cover artwork by Frank Frazetta and other well-known artists as well as on clever marketing campaigns. In 1973, the public company filed for bankruptcy after a four-year lawsuit with his distributor, and in 1974 he started Zebra. The following year he formed Kensington Publishing Corporation with his friend, the editor Roberta Bender Grossman. She became president and publisher at a time when few women held that title, and held shares in the company. Kensington's mission was to publish historical romances because its competitor Harlequin was then publishing only contemporary romances.

Walter kept commissioning cover art to make books by first-time authors stand out on the racks. The Italian illustrators Pino Daeni and Franco Accornero received $6,000 per painting for one-time use on the cover, but their work really made the books pop. (Those paintings by Pino now sell for $35,000.) Mass market was in its prime and books by first-time authors were published in hundreds of thousands of copies per title. Walter's motto was "Cash is king," and the company had to keep putting out new books and bigger distributions to increase the gross while returns would come back. He had no fear of the giant publishing companies and always wanted to outsmart them at a fraction of the cost. When Bantam was publishing Lee Iacocca's autobiography, Walter happened to find a previously published biography of Iacocca and released it at the same time as Bantam's blockbuster. They both hit the New York Times list, but Kensington's had probably only cost about $2,500 for the manuscript.

Covers remained the chief marketing tool. Zebra Books, the primary imprint, was the first company to use a hologram on a cover, for a horror title by Rick Hautala called Moondeath. Of course, sales went through the roof. Zebra later created a series of romances called Lovegrams, all featuring a hologram, and covers made from a lenticular plastic lens for a three-dimensional moving image effect. No one realized at the time that these covers could not be stripped for returns, which was the normal process to get credit for returned books. However, the book went on to have a huge sell-through.

In the mid-1970s, I began working at Jules Kroll Associates, the world's leading investigator of white-collar crime, looking for payoffs to purchasing agents who bought printing. It was legal research as I planned to return to law school, but once I started making money, that idea went out the window. I learned about the printing business and took classes in manufacturing. At 25, I became director of manufacturing at Rolling Stone magazine when it moved from San Francisco to New York City. I was the youngest person on the business side, and it was exciting to work with so many writers who became big-time journalists. After a few years, I left to start my own promotional printing company for all of the big book publishers.

In 1992, Kensington, publisher of Zebra Books and Pinnacle Books, was still largely a mass market house, but my dad was looking for an exit strategy. Sadly, Roberta passed away from cancer right when he began negotiations with potential buyers for the company. He asked me to join him in these meetings. He had considered Roberta, who was much younger than him, almost like a daughter, and was in great emotional distress about her death. After protracted negotiations, both parties walked away from the table. My father said, "Steve, I'm not getting any younger. Do you want to come join me?"

In 1993, I sold my printing company to a friend and started at Kensington as vice president and general manager. Now my son Adam Zacharius holds those titles, and I am president and CEO.

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