Shelf Awareness for Friday, March 22, 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.


Bel Canto Books, Long Beach, Calif., Opens Standalone Location 

Bel Canto Books had a soft opening on March 21 of its first standalone bookshop, at 2106 E. Fourth St. in Long Beach, Calif., the Hi-Lo reported. The store had been one of the vendors that operated within the Hangout collective, which closed at the end of the year, but owner Jhoanna Belfer "has returned for a new chapter on Retro Row, and this time, with its own brick-and-mortar," highlighting books by writers of color and other historically marginalized communities. 

Jhoanna Belfer outside the new Bel Canto Books.

"Being able to open our own brick-and-mortar store on Long Beach's iconic Retro Row is amazing," said Belfer, who had announced earlier she would take over the former Relics film lab, just a few doors down from the Hangout. "We're so thrilled to be part of the bookstore renaissance on 4th Street, joining fellow indies Page Against the Machine, Casita Books and Kitchen Lingo Books."

A grand opening celebration is set for Independent Bookstore Day on April 27. Giveaways, local vendors, pop-up vendors and more will be part of the big celebration. A crowdfunding page has been created to help build the new space.

"We can't wait to welcome the community into our new home, with dedicated spaces for children's books, fiction and narrative nonfiction, and all the stationery goodies a book nerd could want," Belfer said.

Bel Canto also plans to maintain bookstore locations inside Steel Cup and KUBO LB, a collaborative collective workspace.

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Rapper Donates Year's Rent to Chicago's Da Book Joint

A generous donation has secured the immediate future for Da Book Joint, a Black-family-owned bookshop in Washington Park, Chicago, Ill. Block Club Chicago reported that owners Verlean Singletary and Courtney Woods weren't sure if their bookstore would survive into 2024, but "the mother and daughter team have been buoyed by an outpouring of community love, an appearance on the Today show [along with a book donation from Scholastic] and--most recently--a donation from South Side rapper Vic Mensa that will keep the lights on for a year."

Vic Mensa presenting the donation to Da Book Joint.

Mensa presented Singletary and Woods with a $7,200 check through his cannabis line, 93 Boyz. The money will pay the bookstore's rent at the Boxville marketplace through April 2025. 

"We didn't know about the donation until he came in and he talked to us," Singletary said. "I don't even think I can put into words how excited and incredibly grateful I'm feeling at this time."

With a year's rent covered, the owners said they can shift focus to expanding Da Book Joint's inventory into new genres while offering neighbors more literacy programs, and help the bookshop continue a monthly "books and brunch" initiative, where children can get catered breakfast and a book for $5, Woods added.

The store also plans to expand its lineup of kid-focused book clubs and start a Bronzeville Bucks program, which would reward local elementary school students for completing book reports with gift certificates to use at neighborhood businesses, she said.

"When he presented us the rent check, there were a lot of feelings of excitement and relief--it was definitely one of those moments where we really felt seen in our mission," Woods noted. "It really took the stress off of having [to handle] our biggest expense, which is rent.... We are able to be a lot more flexible. We have so many plans in the works, and we feel like we can definitely connect to our community a lot more by having that big bill of rent alleviated."

In an Instagram post, Mensa said, in part: "After meeting Verlean and Courtney we really felt like our values and mission were so aligned that we wanted to do something to help them come into this year with more stability. Sooooo we decided to cut a check for a year of their rent! Not to mention buy a lot of books. Next gift you buy for a friend, graduation, or just personal, consider taking a break from online shopping and pulling up to Da Book Joint."

Mensa's fans have reached out and donated to the bookstore, while online platforms have spread the word about Da Book Joint's existence. "We did receive that boost of promotion, publicity and love," Singletary said. "We're honored that is helping us continue on with everything we want to do for our community."

Piebald Shark Books, Fort Wayne, Ind., Establishes Long-Term Pop-Up

Piebald Shark Books, a mobile bookstore founded in 2023, has established a long-term pop-up at a new brewery in Fort Wayne, Ind., Wane15 reported.

The pop-up resides in the merchandise section of Chapman's Brewing Company's new location in the Electric Works development. Per the arrangement, Piebald Shark proprietors Nick Tash and Sarah Suraci keep 100% of the profits from the books they sell at the brewery. Their selection emphasizes titles "you maybe wouldn't find at a big box book retailer," such as "unusual art books" and "neglected classics" from around the world.

Tash told Wane15 that the reception to Piebald Shark has been "very positive," and the brewery pop-up will allow them to "get our name out there in a bigger way, specially in an environment like Electric Works where there's a lot of people coming through and looking for new things."

Tash and Suraci will continue to hold other pop-up appearances while the Electric Works pop-up is in residence, and eventually would like to open a bricks-and-mortar store of their own.

"Fort Wayne has a lot of great bookstores," Tash said, "but there is something missing, and that is a local, independent bookstore selling new books."

At PRH, Valerie Van Delft Retiring; Tracey Presley, Alison Martin Promoted

At Penguin Random House, Valerie Van Delft, senior v-p of logistics, is retiring in August.

In a memo to staff, Annette Danek, executive v-p, chief supply chain officer, at PRH, who has worked with Van Delft for more than 25 years, called her "a born problem solver, one who understands the big picture and small details of our business, using them to create a strategy and to deploy tactics to ease difficulties.

Val Van Delft

"Valerie's full immersion in our distribution operations is matched by her leadership of and collaboration with her co-workers. When anyone is experiencing personal issues or loss, she is always first to make a comforting call, first to be at their side, with compassion for the circumstances of life. A passionate advocate for all her staff, her great personal strengths have been integral to our employee-focused culture.

"Valerie's leaving will profoundly affect all of us. However, it almost goes without saying, that in her unwavering and encompassing way of keeping operations ready for anything that comes, she has mentored some amazing colleagues, who will step up with no detail untaught or undone, to fill her responsibilities and duties--which we will announce separately.

"Nevertheless, her knowledge, influence, her infectious laughter, which like her presence, is always welcome, and will be deeply missed.  Please join me in wishing Valerie the most wonderful retirement anyone can experience. She shares our passion for books, and the joy of reading them. May she have many great reads, and many great years to enjoy them all."


Tracey Presley

In related news, Tracey Presley has been promoted to senior v-p of global transportation and logistics. Danek said, in part, "These past 23 years, Tracey has been widely acknowledged by everyone at Penguin Random House, and by our business partners, as the must-go-to global-services in-house transportation expert. A genuine professional with a gift for creative and cost-effective solutions, his painstaking, win-win approach to negotiations with our domestic and international carriers has translated to significant cost savings and efficiencies for us across the board."

She added that Presley "has been and will continue to be a great advisor to me as we formally begin the work required to build out a new operational hub for the U.S. business in the U.K., for further global reach in the E.U."

Alison Martin is being promoted to senior v-p of customer solutions, analytics, projects, and strategy, effective April 1.

Obituary Note: Frans de Waal

Frans de Waal, who "used his study of the inner lives of animals to build a powerful case that apes think, feel, strategize, pass down culture and act on moral sentiments," died March 14, the New York Times reported. He was 75.

A psychologist at Emory University in Atlanta and a research scientist at the school's Yerkes National Primate Research Center, de Waal "objected to the common usage of the word 'instinct.' He saw the behavior of all sentient creatures, from crows to persons, existing on the same broad continuum of evolutionary adaptation," the Times noted, adding that the "ambition and clarity of his thought, his skills as a storyteller and his prolific output made him an exceptionally popular figure for a primatologist--or a serious scientist of any kind."

He published 13 books, and at his death was writing another on how our thinking about animals has evolved over time. John Glusman, v-p and executive editor of W.W. Norton & Co., said the company plans to release it next year.

Two of de Waal's works, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (2016) and Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves (2019), were bestsellers. The novelists Claire Messud and Sigrid Nunez both told the Times that they liked his writing. Major philosophers, including Christine Korsgaard and Peter Singer, wrote long, considered responses to his ideas.

Many of de Waal's animal anecdotes were moving, the Times noted, citing his writing about a bonobo named Kuni, who once picked up an injured starling, climbed a tree, spread the bird's wings and then released it, enabling it to fly. "She tailored her assistance to the specific situation of an animal totally different from herself," he wrote in Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are (2005).

His other books include The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society (2009), The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates (2013), and Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist

"It's difficult to sum up the enormity of Frans de Waal's impact, both globally and here at Emory," said Lynne Nygaard, chair of Emory's Department of Psychology. "He was an extraordinarily deep thinker who could also think broadly, making insights that cut across disciplines. He was always ready to participate in an intellectual discussion."

In 2014, de Waal observed: "One thing that I've seen often in my career is claims of human uniqueness that fall away and are never heard from again.We always end up overestimating the complexity of what we do. That's how you can sum up my career: I've brought apes a little closer to humans but I've also brought humans down a bit."


Chalkboard: Rainy Day Books

Rainy Day Books, Fairway, Kan., "rings in spring with new chalk art!" The bookshop shared a photo of its sidewalk chalkboard message: "Reading makes the mind grow."

S&S to Sell and Distribute Library Tales Publishing

Simon & Schuster is handling worldwide sales and distribution for Library Tales Publishing.

Established in 2011, Library Tales Publishing aims "to spark a universal love for reading by producing books that cater to everyone. They firmly believe in the transformative power of books--their ability to take us to magical realms, shape our perspectives, and serve as steadfast companions through life's varied experiences."

Personnel Changes at Penguin Young Readers

Jenna Smith has been promoted to publicist at Penguin Young Readers. She was formerly associate publicist.

Media and Movies

Movies: Harold and the Purple Crayon

The official trailer has been released for Sony's Harold and the Purple Crayon, a live-action film adaptation of the beloved 1955 children's book by Crockett Johnson, Variety reported. Directed by Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age, Rio), the movie stars Zachary Levi, Zooey Deschanel, Lil Rel Howery, Ravi Patel, Camille Guaty, Tanya Reynolds, and Pete Gardner.
Noting that the property has had a long history of development, Variety wrote that Wild Things Productions attempted to get the film adaptation off the ground in 1992. "Previously, acclaimed animation director Henry Selick was attached to helm the project with a screenplay from Michael Tolkin, though progress fizzled out when Selick left to direct James and the Giant Peach. Spike Jonze was subsequently brought in to direct the film, which was to be a mix of live-action and animation, with David O. Russell helping with rewrites. The Jonze-led production never came to fruition as he left the project two months before principal photography began. Sony began developing the current iteration of the film in 2010."

Sony Pictures is set to release the film theatrically on August 2.

Books & Authors

Awards: National Book Critics Circle, Wingate Literary Winners

Winners of the National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced last night during a ceremony in New York City. NBCC president Heather Scott Partington said,"We celebrate your imagination, your fearlessness, and your persistence. Your words are essential, particularly in this time of division and censorship." This year's NBCC Award recipients are:

Autobiography: How to Say Babylon: A Memoir by Safiya Sinclair (Simon & Schuster)
Biography: Winnie and Nelson: Portrait of a Marriage by Jonny Steinberg (Knopf)
Criticism: Deadpan: The Aesthetics of Black Inexpression by Tina Post (NYU Press)
Fiction: I Am Homeless if This Is Not My Home by Lorrie Moore (Knopf)
Nonfiction: Were Once a Family: A Story of Love, Death, and Child Removal in America by Roxanna Asgarian (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Poetry: Phantom Pain Wings by Kim Hyesoon, translated by Don Mee Choi (New Directions)
The Gregg Barrios Prize for Book in Translation: Maureen Freely's translation of Cold Nights of Childhood by Tezer Özlü (Transit Books)
The John Leonard Prize: Waiting to Be Arrested at Night: A Uyghur Poet's Memoir of China's Genocide by Tahir Hamut Izgil, translated by Joshua L. Freeman (Penguin Press)
NBCC Service Award: Marion Winik
The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing: Becca Rothfeld
Toni Morrison Achievement Award: American Library Association
The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award: Judy Blume


Elizabeth McCracken won the £4,000 (about $5,060) Wingate Literary Prize, which honors "the best book, fiction or nonfiction, to translate the idea of Jewishness to the general reader," for The Hero of This Book.

The judges said: "In a timely and timeless fashion, McCracken's powerful writing lets you be privy to secrets you just want to shout about. A thoroughly involving read that wrestles with memory, illness, place and identity, The Hero of This Book is moving in every sense."

Reading with... Eric Rickstad

photo: Kevin Jantzer

Eric Rickstad is the author of the Canaan Crime series, which includes The Names of Dead Girls, The Silent Girls, and Lie in Wait. His novel I Am Not Who You Think I Am was a New York Times Thriller of the Year, and his debut, Reap, was a New York Times Noteworthy Novel. He lives in Vermont with his wife, son, and daughter, and writes all his first drafts with a pencil in notebooks, often while in the woods. His new novel, Lilith (just out from Blackstone Publishing) strikes straight at the wounded heart of America.

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

A mother whose son suffers traumatic injuries in a school shooting has had enough of cowardly men in power and strikes back. Hard.

On your nightstand now:

From Doon with Death by Ruth Rendell. A classic. What a debut.

The Morning Star by Karl Ove Knausgaard. A slow, deliberate burn that I love. I appreciate the exploration of what we know and what we believe.

Every Man for Himself and God Against All: A Memoir by Werner Herzog. Sublime telling of the life of one of the most creative, adventurous, and singular filmmakers of all time. It is all I hoped, and more.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Danny, Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. God, how I loved the adventure of this boy and his father, living in the caravan and poaching pheasants from the wealthy estate by putting sleeping powder in raisins. All of Dahl's wit, humor, social skewering and imagination are on full display.

Your top five authors:

It changes weekly. Right now.

Ted Chiang. His short stories are impeccable.

Werner Herzog. The man can write, too.

Annie Proulx. That humor. That eye. That empathy. That language.

Ray Bradbury. Prescient and human and humane. What a tale teller.

Toni Morrison. She could have written Sula and called it a career. She did not. Novel after novel. Sorely missed.

Book you've faked reading:

I haven't faked reading a book. But I've enjoyed immensely avoiding zeitgeist books and authors other readers try to foist on me.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake by Breece Pancake.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Hmmm. Not sure. But I can say that I love the cover of Rachel Howzell Hall's newest, The Last One. What a beauty.

Book you hid from your parents:

I never had to do that, fortunately. My mom was a big storyteller and reader.

Book that changed your life:

Roald Dahl's books. They woke me up to possibilities.

Lord of the Flies. Oh, Piggy. You didn't deserve that.

Favorite line from a book:

"Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains." --from The Road by Cormac McCarthy


Five books you'll never part with:

I've parted with all of my favorite books because I cannot help but give them away to share my enthusiasm for them. But five I keep buying again and again:

Sula, Toni Morrison
Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury
Jesus' Son, Denis Johnson
Poe's Short Stories, Edgar Allan Poe
Lord of the Flies, William Golding

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

Danny, Champion of the World.

Book Review

Review: Lies and Weddings

Lies and Weddings by Kevin Kwan (Doubleday, $29 hardcover, 448p., 9780385546294, May 21, 2024)

In the romantic comedy Lies and Weddings, Kevin Kwan (Crazy Rich Asians) delivers another sly, hilarious comedy of manners about the high class, the low class, and the rich with no class.

Hong Kong native Arabella, the Countess of Greshamsbury, is a former model and current luxury hotel mogul who persevered against the racist backlash that greeted her marriage to the British Earl of Greshamsbury to become an icon. Now she is finally embarking on the grandest campaign of her life, marrying off her three gorgeous adult children to rich minor European royals of her choosing and cementing "[h]er legacy as the matriarch of her own royal dynasty."

Unfortunately, her eldest daughter's wedding to a minor European prince slash microdosing coach does not come off without a hitch. The couple's extravagant Hawaiian wedding is thrown for a loop when a volcanic fissure opens in the middle of the ceremony site. Turning the fissure into a feature only goes so far, because another shadow falls over the proceedings. Namely, a hot mic broadcasts a confession of love from Arabella's son, international heartthrob Rufus Gresham, to beautiful, down-to-earth doctor Eden Tong.

Eden is a childhood friend of the Gresham siblings, the daughter of their family doctor, and the last person Arabella has in mind as a future daughter-in-law. The revelation that the Earldom of Greshamsbury has run financially dry further complicates matters and puts even greater pressure on Rufus to marry well. What follows is a class-driven comedy of errors to make Jane Austen proud, complete with a pregnancy mix-up, misguided matchmaking, a debauched heir, and romantic connections that readers likely won't expect.

Kwan dishes out another juicy, satire-tinged romp about the lives of the opulent class with aplomb. The characters behave to the standard his fans have come to expect, dressing in couture from epically curated closets, globetrotting with the casual air of someone walking into the next room, and dealing out deadly insults in only the poshest, politest tones. The third-person omniscient narrative voice follows each character's movements with the chattiness of a gossip columnist. It creates enough remove to emphasize the untouchable nature of the fantastically wealthy even as it invites laughter at their eccentricities. Readers hungry for an escapist tale with a soupçon of social criticism and a dash of true love overcoming obstacles should find Lies and Weddings a delicious diversion. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Shelf Talker: Crazy Rich Asians author Kevin Kwan returns to form in this dishy, hilarious comedy of errors about the lives and loves of the obscenely rich.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Stopping by the Nibbies' Indie Bookshops of the Year

The British Book Awards (the Nibbies) recently named nine regional and country winners for this year's Independent Bookshop of the Year, selected by the judges from 77 finalists. Sponsored by Gardners, the prize celebrates bookshops that "continue to support local communities with creative, specialist and community-centered activities." 

These select booksellers are now in contention for the overall Independent Bookshop of the Year Award, which will be announced May 13 at the BBA ceremony in London. The overall winner also competes for Book Retailer of the Year.

Thinking about those nine shops, each with its own personality and mission, supported by a unique community, prompted me embark on a brief virtual tour to see how they reacted to the good news. Here's a bit of what I found in my travels:

"Thrilled to be named 'Best Independent Bookshop in Wales' for the 5th time!" noted 2020 overall winner Book-ish, which has a shop in Crickhowell and during the past year held a successful crowdfunder to open a second store in nearby Abergavenny.
East England winner Kett's Books, Wymondham, posted: "We don't apply every year, because we often feel that our achievements are very apparent to the people they matter to--but it's been such a big year, with so many people pulling together, we want to shout nationally about how customers, volunteers, friends and staff have created and developed a really special bookshop in Wymondham."
The Secret Bookshelf, Carrickfergus, which is the first bookshop in Northern Ireland to win the regional title, wrote: "Oh wow, wow, wow! We are bookstore of the year for the island of Ireland, and we are stunned. Thank you to all of you for your support (and craic!)--well done to all the Ireland finalists.... Stunned. We need a coffee.... Stunned here! And, most of all, to our fab customers!"
Brick Lane Bookshop, winner in the London region and the oldest bookshop among the regional winners, posted: "For those of you who don't know, this year Brick Lane Bookshop is celebrating its twentieth anniversary of being on Brick Lane. But before that, other versions of the shop could be found throughout East London since 1978! One constant throughout these iterations has been pillar-of-the-community and owner of Brick Lane Bookshop, Denise Jones. After being named London's Independent Bookshop of the Year, we thought it would be good to see some of Denise's favorite books."

"Eeeeeee!" That was the reaction of Midlands winner the Poetry Pharmacy, launched five years ago by "Emergency Poet" Deborah Alma, who "prescribes poetry and other beautiful books to anyone who walks through their doors, taking pride in being the first in the world to do so."

The Book Nook in Stewarton, the Scotland winner, wrote: "I have been absolutely overwhelmed with all the lovely messages of congratulations on The Book Nook's win that I have received over the past few days! I am trying to thank everyone individually, but have not been able to keep up completely yet. So if I haven't thanked you personally, please know how much all the messages are appreciated and enjoyed by myself and my team.... We look forward to welcoming you to our award-winning bookshop!"

"WE ONLY FLIPPIN WON! The Northern part anyway--it's the only important bit anyway!" That was the reaction at Wave of Nostalgia in Haworth, the North England winner. The shop also shared celebration videos

South-West England winner FOLDE, Shaftesbury, which focuses on nature writing, posted: "When we first started our business, we always knew we wanted to do things our own way, and to champion nature and how we engage with it. More than that, we wanted to be a place for conversation and community. To be recognized by our industry for what we do is an amazing endorsement. Thank you to everyone who supports us--we appreciate you all."  

Pigeon Books in Southsea, which opened as the first Covid lockdown hit and won the South-East England region, noted: "We've had a bit of time (and a few glasses of wine) to try and process the news, and to be honest we're still not quite convinced that it's real--to be included in such an excellent shortlist of established bookshops is an absolute privilege and an unbelievable honor. At least we know that at the very least, we now get a trip to the actual #britishbookawards ceremony in London in May--and who knows, possibly the chance of the actual big prize itself? All we know is that getting this far is an incredible boost to our little shop and yet again reminds us of why we do what we do--and thank you yet again for all your support and kind words as always!"

Noting that this has been among the most competitive Independent Bookshop of the Year judging processes since the award was conceived, Tom Tivnan, the Bookseller's managing editor, said, "Indie bookshops across the U.K. and Ireland are thriving and have met the very difficult recent trading conditions with creativity and cutting-edge innovation. What is truly cheering is that we see this in new shops that have popped up since the pandemic to venerable stores which have been trading for decades. In the last few years I have been calling this period an indie bookshop renaissance, but I think we have gone beyond that, we are in the golden age."

--Robert Gray, contributing editor

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