Shelf Awareness for Friday, March 29, 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.


Small Press Distribution Has Closed

Small Press Distribution, the Berkeley, Calif., distributor for hundreds of independent publishers for 55 years, has closed. The nonprofit attributed the move to "a decline in both sales and institutional support" that together squeezed the "budget beyond the breaking point."

Executive director Kent Watson said, "Despite the heroic efforts of a tireless staff to raise new funds, find new sales channels for our presses, and move from our outdated Berkeley warehouse, we are simply no longer able to make ends meet. Everyone at SPD is heartbroken at this outcome, which seriously jeopardizes the ability of underrepresented literary communities to reach the marketplace."

Alan Bernheimer, president of SPD's board of directors, added: "The closure of SPD is an incalculable loss to publishers, authors, booksellers, and readers of small press literature. We are immeasurably grateful to all who supported SPD for decades, especially the individual donors who responded so generously in the past few years, as well as to generations of devoted staffers."

In the past several months, as SPD shifted to an outsourced warehouse and fulfillment model, its inventory of 300,000 books had been transferred to Ingram Content Group and Publishers Storage and Shipping. The new model, dubbed SPD Next, included expanding POD, e-books, audiobooks, and global distribution services. But SPD said that the warehouse shift took longer and cost more than planned, which, along with systems integration delays, further strained SPD's financial resources. SPD was also hit by a denial-of-service attack last December.

Despite the repeated generosity of many supporters and a successful GoFundMe campaign last year, SPD was unable to complete the transition and reap the expected cost savings and revenues from new services. As more foundations move away from funding the arts, SPD lost $125,000 in annual grants in the past year from half a dozen institutions that historically supported its operations, SPD said. SPD staff has been reduced to a minimal team and is in the process of winding down operations.

SPD was founded in 1969 by Bay Area booksellers Peter Howard and Jack Shoemaker, starting with eight small presses and growing to distribute nearly 400. It connected underrepresented literary communities to the marketplace and to each other via book distribution, events, and public advocacy. Emphasizing artistic and activist visions, SPD's presses published a range of writers who relied on the organization to reach readers nationwide.

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Once Upon a Time Books Eyeing May Opening for New Store

Once Upon a Time Books is eyeing a May opening for its new store in Fayetteville, Ark., the Fayetteville Flyer reported.

The store, which will carry new and used titles for pre-K to middle school children, will reside at 1336 N. College Ave. and will feature a sizable space for events and gatherings. It will be the third Once Upon a Time location; the flagship location is based in Springdale, Ark., and in 2020 the owners opened a second store in Bentonville, Ark.

"We are excited to bring our passion for children's literature and literacy to the vibrant community of Fayetteville," Allison Harrison, general manager of Once Upon a Time Books, said. "Our new location will offer a curated collection of new books, in addition to our vast selection of used books, providing young readers with a wide range of options to explore."

Renovation Project for Cape Cod's Brewster Book Store

Brewster Book Store, Brewster, Mass., "is undergoing renovations both inside and out while remaining open," the Cape Cod Times reported. Two rooms have been taken out of service, with staff consolidating everything there into the remaining part of the store and shuffling other sections around.

"Everyone has been so patient and so understanding as they continue to support us. We've been so grateful for that," said co-owner Jessica Devin, who partnered with Sue O'Malley to purchase the business from David Landon, son of founder Nancy Landon, in October 2021. The 41-year-old store began in the front room of the main section of the building. 

The overhaul is aimed at making the business more accessible. Currently, customers have to climb two steps at the entrance. The store also has three levels inside. Interior ramps and a new, fully accessible entry door will be added to make the store easier for people with wheelchairs, walkers, and strollers to navigate, the Times noted.

Because of the renovations, the store can host more events year-round, as its lack of indoor space has limited it from holding activities in the winter. Devin said staff ideas range from flower-arranging classes to writer's workshops.

In addition, the bookstore's "Secret Garden"--a small enclosed spot--is being revamped, with the owners envisioning an expansion to make it more interactive, including a DIY hotel for pollinators, a composting wall, and more.

"As someone who grew up on the Cape, I fully value the importance of having a really rich, vibrant wintertime community," said Devin. "We really so strongly believe in community and being passionate about providing the community experiences throughout the year and not just the summertime."

Half Price Books Reopens Upper Arlington, Ohio, Store

Half Price Books has reopened its Upper Arlington, Ohio, bookstore after years of closure. The Columbus Dispatch reported that the store shut its doors in late 2020 to make way for Arlington Gateway, a $100 million mixed-use development. 

Thus far, the store's return has been a "celebration" with the local community, district manager Chris Heuing said. "We've come back from the ether and they're really excited to have us back and to return to their community."

Half Price Books operates more than 120 stores in 19 states, including five locations in the Columbus area.

Obituary Note: Kate Banks

Kate Banks

Kate Banks, "who, despite personal tragedy and debilitating illness, became an award-winning author of children's books and young-adult novels that captured the wonder of youth while also confronting fear and grief," died February 24, the New York Times reported. She was 64. Despite her illness, "which she had suffered for decades, and the lingering trauma from the murder of her father when she was in college," Banks was prolific, having published more than 50 books since the late 1980s.

A Maine native, she drew inspiration for her work from a childhood spent among the woods and rocky beaches of her home state in books like A Gift from the Sea (2001), illustrated by Georg Hallensleben, and That's Papa's Way (2009), illustrated by Lauren Castillo.

"This dialogue with nature has accompanied me through adulthood, and it's an important theme running through many of my books," she said in a 2013 interview. "I think that getting children to explore and engage in their natural habitat can help them to understand their place in the world, not only as residents, but as part of a big, beautiful whole."

Banks and Hallensleben won the picture book award from the Horn Book magazine in 1998 for And If the Moon Could Talk. Two years later, her middle-grade novel Howie Bowles, Secret Agent won the Edgar Award for best juvenile book.

From all appearances, Banks led "a charmed life. When she was in her 30s, she lived in Rome with her Italian-born husband, Pierluigi Mezzomo, a civil engineer and entrepreneur, and their two sons, Peter and Max," the Times wrote. When she was in her 40s, the family moved to the Côte d'Azur in France and renovated of a stately hillside house, Villa Bois Joli (Pretty Wood Villa).

Things were far from perfect, however. "From the outside looking in, Kate's life seemed carefree, romantic, even enviable. But the hard stuff she endured was just below the surface," said her sister, Amy Banks. 

Kate Banks's life took a devastating turn during her freshman year at Wellesley College. On April 12, 1979, her father, who was attending a convention in New Orleans, was murdered during an attempted robbery. The shooting left deep emotional scars, but she continued on, receiving a bachelor's degree in history in 1982. She then moved to New York City, earned a master's degree in history from Columbia University and took a job at Knopf Books for Young Readers in 1984. She published her first children's book, Alphabet Soup, four years later.

"Many of my novels for older readers have dealt with death," she once wrote. "And I suppose that represents my attempts to come to terms with love and loss of that magnitude." Her YA novel Dillon Dillon (2002) centers on a boy who learns that the people whom he thought were his parents are actually his aunt and uncle, and that his actual parents died in an accident when he was young.

Banks "managed to maintain a strict daily writing schedule for years, despite a chronic fatigue syndrome diagnosis in her 20s and at times crippling pain from a botched medical procedure for a prolapsed uterus from childbirth," the Times noted. "With the complications of mast cell activation syndrome, including drops in blood pressure, flushing, severe itching and rashes, Ms. Banks relied on countless alternative therapies."

During the Covid-19 pandemic, she found another form of therapy--poetry. Her first anthology, Into the Ether, is scheduled to be published this fall.


Image of the (Opening) Day: Charlie Hustle at Main Point Books

On the eve of baseball's Opening Day, Main Point Books, Wayne, Pa. (near Philadelphia), hosted Keith O'Brien (left), author of Charlie Hustle: The Rise and Fall of Pete Rose, and the Last Glory Days of Baseball (Pantheon). Darrell Alston, CEO of sportswear company Bungee Brand, came out and surprised O'Brien with his new release: a Charlie Hustle jacket.

Happy 50th Birthday, Changing Hands Bookstore!

Congratulations to Changing Hands Bookstore, Phoenix and Tempe, Ariz., which is celebrating its 50th birthday tomorrow, March 30, with events at both stores. Anniversary treats include a limited-edition 50th anniversary T-shirt designed by local artist Jon Arvizu, a $10 discount on purchases of $50 or more, and a "Reading RX" notepad for the first 200 customers who use a discount coupon.

At the Tempe store, events tomorrow include:
9 a.m.-5 p.m.: Friendship bracelet craft for kids.
11:30 a.m.: 50th anniversary toast with Changing Hands owners Gayle Shanks, Bob Sommer, and Cindy Dach.
12-1:45 p.m.: The Guerrero Family plays music drawing inspiration from the diverse musical legacy of the Americas.
2-4 p.m.: Valley musical legend Walt Richardson performs.

At the Phoenix store:
All day: Happy hour at First Draft Book Bar.
9 a.m.-5 p.m.: Friendship bracelet craft for kids.
12-3 p.m.: DJ Bad Buddhist spins a mix of underground jazz, soul, gospel, and alternative.
3-5 p.m.: DJ Rad Dude spins music from the past decades.
5 p.m.: 50th anniversary toast with Gayle Shanks, Bob Sommer, and Cindy Dach.
6-8 p.m.: Walt Richardson performs.

Personnel Changes at Abrams; Hachette

At Abrams:

Frank Albanese has been named senior v-p, supply chain, and will lead the company's production team in addition to his current responsibilities. In January, Albanese joined Abrams in the newly created position of senior v-p, inventory, demand planning & market insights after a 20-year career at HarperCollins, where he was most recently senior v-p, market insights and sales operations.

Sarah Masterson Hally has been promoted to associate director, production.

Maggie Moore has been promoted to associate production manager.

Hayley Earnest has been promoted to production associate.


At Hachette Book Group:

Elizabeth Blue Guess has been promoted to the newly created role of imprint sales director, working with Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Books, Hachette Nashville, Basic Books Group, and Orbit. She was formerly executive director, retail strategy & author brands.

Jennifer Trzaska is joining the company as imprint sales director for Little, Brown, Running Press Group, and Workman Publishing. She was most recently at Penguin Random House, where she for the last five years she was imprint sales director for the Penguin Publishing Group.

Media and Movies

TV: The Sympathizer

HBO has released a trailer for The Sympathizer, based on Viet Thanh Nguyen's 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. IndieWire reported that the seven-episode limited series, co-showrun by Park Chan-wook and Don McKellar, "is at once an espionage thriller and cross-culture satire about the struggles of a half-French, half-Vietnamese communist spy (Hoa Xuande) during the final days of the Vietnam War. As he starts his new life as a refugee in Los Angeles he learns that his spying days aren't over."

The cast also includes Robert Downey Jr., Sandra Oh, Fred Nguyen Khan, Toan Le, Phanxine, Vy Le, Ky Duyen, Kieu Chinh, Duy Nguyen, and Alan Trong. The Sympathizer premieres April 14 on HBO. 

The series is a co-production between A24 and HBO, along with Rhombus Media, and is produced in association with Moho Film and Cinetic Media. Park writes and directs the first three episodes, with Fernando Meirelles and Marc Munden also helming installments. Mark Richard, Naomi Iizuka, Maegan Houang, Anchuli Felicia King, and Tea Ho are writing the series.

Downey executive produces with Susan Downey and Amanda Burrell for Team Downey. Niv Fichman executive produces for Rhombus Media, Jisun Back executive produces for Moho Film, and Kim Ly, Ron Schmidt, and author Nguyen are also executive producers.

Books & Authors

Awards: Lambda Literary Finalists; James Tait Black Shortlists

Finalists for the 2024 Lambda Literary Awards in 26 categories have been announced and can be seen here. Finalists and winners will be celebrated at the Lammy Awards in New York City on June 11.


The shortlists have been released for the 2024 James Tait Black Prizes, presented by the University of Edinburgh for the best work of fiction and biography written in or translated into English published in the previous 12 months. The category winners, who each receive £10,000 (about $12,625), will be named in May. This year's shortlisted titles are:

Lori and Joe by Amy Arnold 
Open Throat by Henry Hoke 
Though the Bodies Fall by Noel O’Regan 
Praiseworthy by Alexis Wright 

This Is Not Miami by Fernanda Melchor, translated by Sophie Hughes
Traces of Enayat by Iman Mersal, translated by Robin Moger 
Fassbinder Thousands of Mirrors by Ian Penman 
Ordinary Notes by Christina Sharpe
Always Reaching: The Selected Writings of Anne Truitt by Anne Truitt
Lifescapes by Anne Wroe 

Reading with... Alexandra Tanner

photo: Sasha Fletcher

Alexandra Tanner is a writer and editor who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her work appears in the New York Times Book Review, the Baffler, Jewish Currents, and Joyland, among other outlets. Worry (Scribner, March 26, 2024) is her first novel.

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

Worry is about two sisters in their 20s battling mental illness, existential inertia, and each other. It reads as absurdist, but it's drawn from life.

On your nightstand now:

Brecht on Theatre, Pilar Quintana's The Bitch, Percival Everett's Erasure, and Richard McGuire's Here, a mostly wordless graphic novel that I've read several times but love to get lost in before bed. 

Favorite book when you were a child:

I loved all the Avibooks, and Jacob Have I Loved was big for me, too. So was The Rainbow Fish. This question is blowing my mind, because I haven't thought about these books in years, and now I'm like, my first novel is about sisters who can't stand each other, and one of them is named Poppy, and she moves to the big city in search of adventure, and she keeps giving away all these pieces of herself.

Your top five authors:

Joy Williams, Garielle Lutz, Rebecca Curtis, Nick Drnaso, Ottessa Moshfegh.

Book you've faked reading:

Unfortunately, I run into this problem quite a lot, because I can be really bad about reading all the way through. Elisa Gabbert has written about this, how sometimes you don't need to finish a book to get something major from it, or how you can find yourself halfway through something that you suddenly realize you're not ready for or in need of. So I try to never lie about having read something--but sometimes I can really only half-participate in a conversation about it.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Lately I've been recommending Gitta Sereny's Into That Darkness, which I read last year: a heavy book of rare moral complexity.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Johanna Hedva's Your Love Is Not Good is the last book whose cover pulled me in hard to the work.

Book you hid from your parents:

The Horse Whisperer when I was 10 or 11. I thought it was going to be about horses, but it was more about sex. 

Book that changed your life:

Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House, her book of collected plays. It was what made me want to write when I first read it in high school: pain and whimsy so close together; stage directions that felt like poetry; characters who spoke their hearts to each other without ever overexpressing themselves. I studied playwriting for nearly a decade trying to become Sarah Ruhl, and then I became myself. There's a whole section in Worry that turns her version of Eurydice into an emotional reference point when the narrator, Jules, can't express herself on her own.

Favorite line from a book:

The one that comes immediately to mind is the last line of My Brilliant Friend: "It was the pair she had made with Rino, making and unmaking them for months, ruining her hands."

Five books you'll never part with:

Where Have You Been? (childhood comfort), The Incest Diary (now-favorite), Annie John (exquisite pearl), A Wizard of Earthsea (necessary spiritual lessons), The Secret History (no book is more fun to re-read, especially once you've heard her do the audiobook).

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

I wish I could read my partner Sasha Fletcher's first novel, Be Here to Love Me at the End of the World, with totally fresh eyes. I've read it in so many different forms and stages over the last several years, and I wish I could wipe it from my brain and then come to it with complete surprise.

Books you can't wait to read this year:

Kiley Reid's Come and Get It, Mariah Stovall's I Love You So Much It's Killing Us Both, Vinson Cunningham's Great Expectations, Rita Bullwinkel's Headshot, August Thompson's Anyone's Ghost. Plus Elspeth Barker's O Caledonia, David Markson's This Is Not a Novel, and a long-overdue re-read of Marie Calloway's what purpose did i serve in your life.

Book Review

Review: Triumph of the Yuppies: America, the Eighties, and the Creation of an Unequal Nation

Triumph of the Yuppies: America, the Eighties, and the Creation of an Unequal Nation by Tom McGrath (Grand Central, $32 hardcover, 336p., 9781538725993, June 4, 2024)

For anyone old enough to remember the 1980s, the term "young urban professional" and its shorthand "Yuppie" may conjure up a prototypical BMW-driving, suspenders-wearing investment banker who personified the notion of a certain kind of frenetic careerist striving. But as former Philadelphia magazine editor-in-chief Tom McGrath explains in his lively popular history Triumph of the Yuppies: America, the Eighties, and the Creation of an Unequal Nation, the short-lived flourishing of this archetype signaled more than a passing assortment of fads. Instead, he argues, it represented a major shift in economic and social values whose persistence helped lay the foundation for some of the United States' current inequality and polarization.

In the 1970s, the postwar consensus built around rising living standards and the projection of international power by the United States began to crumble under the weight of long lines at the gas pump, stagflation, and foreign debacles like the 1979 Iran hostage crisis that doomed Jimmy Carter's presidency. With the election of Ronald Reagan and the rise of Reaganomics (claiming that tax cuts tilting decidedly toward the wealthy somehow would benefit all), McGrath contends the country was launched irrevocably on the path of increasing economic stratification. Yuppies--highly educated and pouring into knowledge-driven professions like finance and law--were determined to be among the "haves" in what they saw as a zero-sum game. He also traces the evolution of a segment of the 75-million-member Baby Boomer generation from idealism to conspicuous, but in their minds discerning, consumption.

McGrath neatly integrates his comprehensive research with brief, magazine-style profiles. He focuses on well-known characters of the era including 1960s antiwar activist turned unlikely 1980s entrepreneurial capitalist Jerry Rubin; controversial junk bond investment pioneer Michael Milken; and hard-nosed General Electric CEO Jack Welch. Additionally, he introduces boomers like Robin Palley, who chose with her physician husband to renovate a shell of a home in Philadelphia's Fairmount urban neighborhood, only to question that decision when it came time to educate their children. Those who lived through the time will find themselves nodding (and perhaps smiling) in recognition at McGrath's concise evocations of shared cultural touchstones like the TV series Dallas, the Jane Fonda-inspired workout craze, and the rise of MTV.

Triumph of the Yuppies concludes with the stock market crash of October 19, 1987. That event may have marked what for many was the welcome demise of the Yuppies as a social phenomenon, but it was, at most, a temporary setback for the larger trends unleashed in what some have called the "Decade of Greed." In a short span of years animated by a spirit that glorified unbridled acquisitiveness, McGrath writes, "the country had created a new economic and social order that couldn't easily be undone." ---Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: Journalist Tom McGrath offers a lively popular history of the 1980s centered on the rise and the eclipse of the Yuppies.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Bookstores, Pandemic & the Rear View Mirror

Helpful 2020 display at Octavia Books in New Orleans.

Imagine there was a week--let's say mid-March, 2020--when states in the U.S. began implementing widespread precautions and even shutdowns (trying desperately to avoid the word "lockdowns") in order to prevent the spread of a mysterious new virus called Covid-19. 

In a Shelf Awareness column published March 13 of that year, I wrote: "Ever tossed by the roiling seas of public information, misinformation and disinformation regarding Covid-19, independent booksellers are doing what they have always done best: communicate with customers in informed, constructive, helpful and sometimes even entertaining ways. Sanctuaries take many forms, including virtual, so here in my little corner of the plague I've been collecting some online words of wisdom from indies as they update friends and patrons." 

Stockpiling at Janke Books in 2020.

Among those booksellers were Fiction Addiction, Greenville, S.C. ("So I know you all have been working on your quarantine kits because there was no soap or toilet paper anywhere in the store yesterday. Remember, you're going to need books too!"), Janke Book Store, Wausau, Wis. ("Two very important things to stockpile during coronavirus."), and Riverstone Books, Pittsburgh, Pa. ("We are regularly sanitizing surfaces and high-trafficked areas.").

Words and phrases suddenly came into terrifying common usage: quarantine, masking up, isolating, social distancing, handwashing, sanitizing. Some of them have gradually lost their ubiquity while others remain, shadows on the edge of diminished, but not quite vanquished, fears. At our house, we still have a basket of face masks and a Purell dispenser near the entrance, and I can't imagine a time when we won't.

It's history now, that week in March 2020, but it was a chilling present tense at the time. And even as history, it has a very, very long tail. Four years ago, neighborhood kids left messages of hope in chalk at the end of driveways here. Ours was "Stay Strong!

Deborah Langston remembers sitting on the floor of her bookstore, Beach Town Books in San Clemente, Calif., with her family and staff "reorganizing books in the dead of night while the doors remained closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic," Voice of OC reported.

"Almost every book came off the shelves and we evaluated every book. We cleaned every book, we stickered every book and, you know, we had many nights that we were there until three in the morning with just books on the floor finding a system. And so the rebuild was family," she said. 

They used the shutdown as a time to reorganize their bookstore and establish more efficient processes, including color-coding different sections and cleaning books with essential oils. "If the store wasn't shut down, maybe we wouldn't have put those systems in place because we wouldn't have had a slow enough moment to properly evaluate and be really critical of how we do business," she added.

In many ways, we've moved on. Jacks Thomas, guest director of BolognaBooksPlus, told the Bookseller recently: "Post-pandemic, there certainly seems to be a place in people's calendars for book fairs, and I am delighted by the success of the major players over the past two post-pandemic years.... So yes, I think that at last we are getting to a pre-Covid climate. Book fairs remain an intriguing mix of relentless and serious trading, the serendipity of the chance meeting, the passion of a much-anticipated launch and the gratification of the big acquisition. What's not to like?"

And yet, two days ago my neighbor tested positive for Covid. TIME magazine just reported that the virus killed roughly 1,000 people in the U.S. during the week ending March 2, 2024, and "has left about 7% of U.S. adults with Long Covid--but despite its continuing toll, real-time data on infections are limited, most mask mandates are gone, and isolation guidance has been scaled back."

At Under the Umbrella Books

As I scan social media, I do occasionally notice booksellers wearing face masks (the Booksmiths Shoppe in Danbury, Conn; High Five Books in Florence, Mass., for example). And some bookstores still have active face mask policies, like Under the Umbrella in Salt Lake City, Utah, where many of their Instagram posts feature masked-up booksellers and customers

Four years ago this week, as Covid shutdowns of varying intensity took hold nationwide, I wrote that I'd been thinking about one of my cave-dwelling ancestors, surveying the distant terrain beyond the entrance while making daily calculations: the family's survival depended upon how far he was willing to venture out on the open savannah, or into the forest, to hunt and gather. Stay in the cave too long and his family died of hunger. Venture too far out and he became prey. That he survived long enough to keep threads of my DNA going is a testament to his ability to strike a balance between refuge and prospect.

"With the microscopic predator Covid-19 on a worldwide hunt for us now, we all wake each morning and squat near our own cave entrances, calculating how much we're willing to risk to get through another day safely," I noted. "A bookshop traditionally provides the temporary refuge of a quiet and cozy space, while simultaneously offering limitless prospect within the pages of books on its shelves. Now the terrain has shifted dramatically. Indie booksellers, however, have always ventured a little farther from the cave in search of ways to survive... and to evolve. They will continue to sustain, and be sustained by, their extended families."

And so they have been. 

--Robert Gray, contributing editor

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