Shelf Awareness for Monday, April 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.

News

Independent Bookstore Day!

On Saturday, Independent Bookstore Day celebrated its 11th anniversary with more than 1,200 participating stores that held a variety of events, offered exclusive merchandise, united with other stores to create "passport" programs, and otherwise highlighted the value, creativity, and individuality of indie bookstores.

Organized by the American Booksellers Association and sponsored by Ingram, Penguin Random House, and the eight regional booksellers associations, IBD this year featured Amanda Gorman, the former poet laureate, as IBD Ambassador. She called indie bookstores "vital hubs of creativity and community. They offer curated selections that foster discovery for readers, while providing vital support and a platform for diverse voices for writers and other creators. They are the true modern-day town square, the beating heart of our communities, and a place for meaningful interaction and human connection."

ABA CEO Allison Hill said, "Independent bookstores and their communities have a lot to celebrate this year for Independent Bookstore Day! Over 200 independent bookstores opened last year in the United States and many existing ones expanded and evolved. This growth contributed to the economy--according to Civic Economics' Unfulfilled report, 29% of all revenue at independent bookstores immediately recirculates in the local economy, more than four times a corporate online competitor and more than two times a chain bookstore competitor--and provided readers with connection and community.

"And in a year when book bans and challenges threatened the right to read and access to books by and about people of color and LGBTQ+ people, independent bookstores rallied, supporting the right to read in their communities and championing diverse books. April 27 is a day to celebrate the power of community and the important role independent bookstores play in our culture and neighborhoods."

Courtney Wallace, ABA's marketing manager and Independent Bookstore Day program director, commented, "Every year, indie bookstores raise the bar to create unique experiences to celebrate the day, some even expanding to a whole month-long celebration. Seeing the largest event to date in its 11th year reminds us that the future truly is indie. It is further proof that bookstores are central to local communities."

Among the many IBD events, Arundel Books, Seattle, Wash., featured two first edition books by Ernest Hemingway--on display for the day only, and not for sale--that belonged to Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson. The copy of Death in the Afternoon was inscribed by Richardson while the copy of Green Hills of Africa was signed and inscribed by Hemingway to Richardson and their son, Jack. In addition to the book viewing, the store gave away $400 in gift certificates to local bookish clothing designer Celine Waldman and free tote bags to customers who spent $100 or more.

Liz Whitelam stamps the North of Boston Book Trail passport for Nosy Crow's John Mendelson at Whitelam Books.

John Mendelson, president of children's book publisher Nosy Crow, engaged in what might be the most amazing feat of IBD this year: Saturday and yesterday he bicycled to all 16 stores that participated in the first North of Boston Book Trail passport challenge (which was organized by Liz Whitelam of Whitelam Books in Reading). The journey was an estimated 150 miles altogether. Mendelson invited book lovers to join him for parts of the ride, which was highlighted in social media. He posted maps of his routes on Saturday and Sunday. After his rides, he reported, "I was completely blown away by the whole event: The community that came together around IBD and the NOB Book Trail, the energy I felt after stopping at each and every store,  the amazing initiative taken by our small team to run (er, bike) with my slightly bonkers plan, and mostly the warm embrace given to our fledgling independent company as we approach our first anniversary."

During its IBD celebrations, Aaron's Books, Lititz, Pa., unveiled its Book Bus, a converted 1992 school bus that is undergoing an interior conversion to include bookcases, displays, and seating. It'll start rolling in June, and already is scheduled to appear at Lititz Pride, the Lititz Lions 4th of July Parade, and Shore-Leave Sci-Fi Convention. The bus will be available for private and public events, as well as school book fairs and festivals. Aaron's Books co-owner Sam Droke-Dickinson said, "We were excited when the opportunity arose to purchase the bus, as it gives us another way to serve the entire Lancaster County community. If you can't come to Lititz, we can bring the books to you!"

East Bay Booksellers, Oakland, Calif., again celebrated IBD by celebrating its booksellers: the store is giving its staff commission bonuses for purchases of their recommendations, in-store and online. The commission period began Wednesday, April 24, and goes through May Day, when the store closes in honor of International Workers' Day.

Bookshop West Portal hosted a llama visit.

Bookshop West Portal, San Francisco, Calif., again featured a visit by llamas--Cap, Chai, and Yanni from the Circle Home Ranch in Sonora--who delighted customers. Another major attraction was an "author caravan" led by Dave Eggers that included Rita Bullwinkel, Michael Chabon, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Daniel Gumbiner, R.O. Kwon, Lauren Markham, and Vendala Vida. The authors mingled with customers and signed books. Festivities also included the chance to take a "blind date with a book" and a raffle ticket. The grand prize was a rare, oversized, and signed edition of Eggers's Newbery Medal-winning The Eyes and the Impossible, complete with original artwork by the author.

In addition to 10% discounts on staff picks, exclusive merchandise, and participating in the raffle for a gift card to an area bookstore, A Room of One's Own, Madison, Wis., donated 15% of sales over the weekend "to Gazans in need of aid."

McNally Jackson Books in New York City offered 25% discounts on staff picks and brought back its prize wheel (one spin per customer).

At Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, Va.

On Saturday, more than 500 Libro.fm Golden Tickets, good for 12 audiobook credits, were hidden in a variety of bookstores for customers to find. Booksellers and book lovers were active on social media, sharing videos and photos about the tickets. Libro.fm also celebrated with an Indie Bookshop Appreciation Sale on bestselling audiobooks priced at $5 or less from April 22 through yesterday, and did podcast interviews with authors Hanif Abdurraqib, Andrew Sean Greer, Darcie Little Badger, and Steven Rowley.

Independent Bookstore Day began in 2014 as California Independent Bookstore Day, founded by the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association and the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association (now the combined California Independent Booksellers Alliance). The first California Bookstore Day had 93 participating stores.

Samantha Schoech oversaw and developed the event as it went national and, in 2019, became a part of the ABA. She left the organization in 2021. Courtney Wallace has headed the program since then.


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#IndependentBookstoreDay: 'WOW!! What a Day!!'

In what has become an annual Independent Bookstore Day tradition, "thank-yous" and unlimited exclamation marks were the prevailing themes among booksellers expressing gratitude to customers on Saturday, though the word "wow" made notable appearances as well. Social media was buzzing with #IBD2024 excitement. Here's a sampling:

At Bookends and Beginnings

Bookends and Beginnings, Evanston, Ill.: "We opened on this Independent Bookstore Day with a line waiting outside! It's been a packed day so far--the bar and store are open until 6, and what better way is there to end your IBD crawl than with a glass of wine and a good read?"

Well Read Books, Elk River, Minn.: "I truly do not even have the words. Our opening day was beyond anything we ever dreamed of. The love and support from this community was nothing short of incredible. Thank you to everyone who came out and who were here in spirit. And thank you for your patience when the crowds and lines were longer than we expected."

Reads by the River Books and Gifts, Waterford, Wis. "WOW!! What a day!! You guys sure brought the love for Indie Bookstore Day!... After that first crazy couple hours, it was a steady stream of customers all day long, many regulars and many first-timers, and you were all so gracious with your support and kind words!"

At Eagle Eye Book Shop in Decatur, Ga., authors Mary Kay Andrews and Wanda Morris.

The Yankee Bookshop, Woodstock, Vt.: "What a day! Thank you to everyone who came by today to show us some love--we hope you felt it too. We can't do what we do without the support of our reading community, and we know it. So thank you for all that you do to help keep your community lively and bright. We're so glad we get to be a part of it."

Belmont Books, Belmont, Mass.: "Happy Indie Bookstore Day!!! We has such a blast today giving away blind dates with a book, free treats and giveaways, and getting to see some amazing authors and have them sign their books! Thanks so much to all of our amazing customers for shopping local and visiting their local indies!!"

Commonplace Reader, Yardley, Pa.: "Independent Bookstore Day was Totally Awesome!! Thanks to all who attended, and all who support us throughout the year! We love our booklovers!"

At Neighborly Books

Neighborly Books, Maryville, Tenn.: "A great big thank you to everyone who came out for Independent Bookstore Day! What a great celebration of community it truly was.... We love being part of downtown and love it when you refer to Neighborly Books as 'your store.' "

Booksweet, Ann Arbor, Mich.: "Readers, thank you SO MUCH for sharing your joy, love of reading, and support with us on #IndependentBookstoreDay and every day! We've always operated under the guiding idea that when you show up for your community, they show up for you. Sometimes that philosophy is just so visible, so palpable. We appreciate you so much."

Harriett's Bookshop, Philadelphia, Pa.: "Ever been to a Blk woman owned bookshop w/ a Blk woman frying fish in the backyard while you book browse? Us neither. Thank you to everyone who came and made #IndieBookstoreDay a #JukeJoint at Harriett's."

Bridal party book crawl at DIESEL

DIESEL, A Bookstore, San Diego, Calif.: "Join us for the SD Book Crawl today, tomorrow and Monday!... We had a bridal party doing the crawl and lots of book lovers! Don’t miss it!"

Carmichael's Bookstore, Louisville, Ky.: "Thank you everyone for a fantastic Independent Bookstore Day! Here are just a few pics from the beautiful, busy, booklovers' dream of a day."

Sunshine Book Co., Clermont, Fla.: "Happy Independent Bookstore Day! Thank you for showing up!... Thank you for shopping local. Thank you for reading with us!"

Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.: "We loved seeing so many people come out and celebrate Independent Bookstore Day with us even with the cloudy weather!"

At Octavia Books

Octavia Books, New Orleans, La.: "Happy #IndieBookstoreDay. Thanks to everyone who helped us celebrate and thanks for choosing to shop indie."

Novel Bay Booksellers, Sturgeon Bay, Wis.: "Whew, empty shelves, tired booksellers and full hearts!! Thanks for making this an Indie Bookstore Day the best one yet!! We are so lucky to have such wonderful community and customers that let us share our love with you all!!"

Books on the Square, Providence, R.I.: "We had such a wonderful #independentbookstoreday today! Thank you to all who came out to support our lovely store."

The Little BOHO Bookshop, Bayonne, N.J.: "A heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who came out yesterday to celebrate INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORE DAY with us. Whether online or at the bookshop, we loved that you stopped by! To all of you shopping with us for the first time this past week, thank you for shopping small, and welcome to The Little Boho Bookshop family! We know that you have option and we're thankful, most grateful you chose us!"

At Blue House Books

Blue House Books, Kenosha, Wis.: "Wow. Wow. Wow. I am so incredible shocked, grateful, and feeling so unbelievably blessed. Our amazing community and friends really showed up for our Independent Bookstore Day event yesterday. This is the biggest event we have ever hosted, with about 200 people for the panel discussion and about 350 people at Blue House Books throughout the day."

Neighborhood Books, Presque Isle, Maine: "Again, I'm left feeling like I don't have the right words. The amount of support you show us is absolutely incredible. We worked so hard to put on an amazing day for you all, and you SHOWED UP FOR US!! Just like you always do! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!"

Wheatberry Books, Chillicothe, Ohio: "Thank you to everyone who came out to support us yesterday on Independent Bookstore Day! We had the best time, and hope that you did too." 

Monkey and Dog Books, Fort Worth, Tex.: "That's a wrap on #indiebookstoreday! Sophie is worn out from her duties as official greeter. We loved seeing everyone at the shop today.... We have THE BEST customers!"


#CanadianIBD: 'An Amazing Turnout and Show of Support!'

Canadian Independent Bookstore Day was also in high gear Saturday, with indie booksellers sharing their #CIBD enthusiasm on social media:

Yooneek Books, Okotoks, Alberta: "It's time!! Canadian Independent Bookstore Day is today!!... Let's go!!!!"

La Maison Anglaise et Internationale, Quebec City, Que.: "It's Finally Here! Let's celebrate Canadian Independent Bookstore Day (CIBD) in style!"

Books on Beechwood, Ottawa, Ont.: "Happy Canadian Independent Bookstore Day!!! Things are off to a roaring start here and we're so excited to see so many happy book lovers in the shop!... Looking forward to celebrating with you!"

At Book Warehouse in Vancouver

McNally Robinson Booksellers, Winnipeg, Manitoba: "It's Canadian Independent Bookstore Day!!! WOOOOO. Thank you so much for supporting local and indie all year round but especially today."

Mabel's Fables Bookstore, Toronto, Ont.: "Today's the day! Canadian Independent Bookstore Day is here and there are lots of prizes and fun stuff happening."

Laughing Oyster Bookshop, Courtenay, B.C.: "There's a few hours left in the day! We still have a bit of swag left, and we definitely have a LOT of books! And if you missed us this year, that's ok! We'll do it all over again this time next year."

Ready for CIBD at horror specialist Little Ghosts Books in Toronto.

Black Cat Books, Sherbrooke, Que.: "Whew! What a day! Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who came out to celebrate Canadian Independent Bookstore Day with us, you are all so appreciated.... Happy reading everyone!"

Librairie Saint Henri Books, Montreal, Que.: "Today, our hearts are brimming with gratitude for all of you who make LSHB feel like home. Thank you for choosing us, supporting local, and sharing the magic of books with us."

Munro's Books, Victoria, B.C.: "Thank you everybody who came by to celebrate Canadian Independent Bookstore Day with us!"

At Analog Books

Analog Books, Lethbridge, Alberta: "An amazing turnout and show of support for downtown indies. As things wind down and we put another Canadian Independent Bookstore Day behind us, we want to thank the wonderful team who helped put the day together."

The City & The City Books, Hamilton, Ont.: "Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who came out to celebrate our 5 year anniversary and CIBD. Also, thank you to all the other small businesses that helped make the days such a success! We really appreciate it! We love being part of such a wonderful community!"


Niche Book Bar, Milwaukee, Wis., Launches Crowdfunding Campaign

After years of setbacks, including one contractor absconding with a deposit and another severely underbidding, Cetonia Weston-Roy has launched an Indiegogo campaign to help bring Niche Book Bar, the bookstore and wine bar she founded in Milwaukee, Wis., in 2020, to the finish line. 

The campaign, which is looking to raise $55,000, went live on Independent Bookstore Day and will run for 30 days. The money will go toward completing renovations on the building that Weston-Roy purchased at 1937 N. King Drive. Built in 1895 and spanning 2,640 square feet, the property is located in Milwaukee's Bronzeville neighborhood and was owned by the city before Weston-Roy bought it.

Weston-Roy emphasized that she already has half the funds needed to complete the renovations, with the crowdfunding campaign meant to provide the other half. In particular, raised funds will go toward contractor fees, carpentry, electrical work, drywall, doors, painting, and more.

Despite all the challenges, Weston-Roy said, the store's mission remains the same: centering Black books and authors that don't depend on trauma-based topics. The inventory will consist mainly of adult books, with a small children's section, and the selection will include an array of genres across both fiction and nonfiction.

She noted that personally, she's leaned a bit more heavily toward fantasy and science fiction in recent years, but the "vocalization, the mission statement," is the same now as it was a few years ago. There will still be wine, and a local winemaker will create a blend specifically for the store.

Once Niche Book Bar is fully open, Weston-Roy plans to host plenty of events, including author signings, book club meetings, and wine tastings, and community members will be able to book space in the store for their own events. Weston-Roy added that she's done pop-up appearances at various locations in Milwaukee while construction has dragged on, and she plans to do more this spring.

Weston-Roy's bookstore journey began in the summer of 2020, when she launched Niche Book Bar as a bookstore on wheels built out of a large tricycle. That fall she launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to help her sign a lease and open a bricks-and-mortar location, but the landlord balked at the necessary renovations and backed out. Weston-Roy went back to searching, intent on finding a space in Bronzeville.

In 2021, she found a city-owned property in Bronzeville that was listed for development proposals. Her proposal won and she "got the building," with the next step being renovations. Both the interior and exterior needed extensive work, and she found a contractor who was known in Milwaukee and had "positive reviews at the time of hiring." In 2022, that contractor "ran away" with around 40% of the funds (litigation is ongoing, Weston-Roy said).

Eventually she found another contractor, one recommended by a fellow business owner. What began as a "pleasant working relationship" also ended badly; Weston-Roy explained that the project was "underbid, mismanaged, and some things were found to not have been done to industry and city standards." This turn of events also led her to realize that the original contractor also severely underbid.

At present, things are "at a standstill," with the building's interior still needing a lot of work and Weston-Roy looking to raise funds and hire a new contractor. Despite all the difficulties, she is undeterred and remains intent on opening Niche Book Bar.

As things have dragged on over the years, grand opening dates have come and gone, and Weston-Roy admitted that when working on an update for her customers and community members, she's occasionally worried that they'll finally be fed up with waiting. Instead she's received "so much compassion, grace, and assurance." When she's at the building, people still routinely stop by to ask about the plans, and there is "unwavering excitement." --Alex Mutter


Belinda Ioni Rasmussen to Head Trustbridge Global Media Publishing Operations

Belinda Ioni Rasmussen is joining Walker Books Group in the newly created role of president and publisher, with responsibility for all of parent company Trustbridge Global Media's publishing operations, including Candlewick Press, Holiday House, Peachtree, Pixel + Ink, and Walker Books Australia. The appointment is effective at the end of the summer; she will have offices in London.

Belinda Ioni Rasmussen

Rasmussen is currently managing director of Macmillan Children's Books at Pan Macmillan, where she has worked for 12 years. Earlier, Rasmussen was managing director of Carlton Publishing Group and before that spent nine years at Egmont in a range of senior roles from international sales to strategic business development.

TGM chairman John String commented: "Belinda's leadership will help us capitalise on the strength of our remarkable group, integrating where it makes sense to do so and continuing to leverage creative independence of each publishing house. She is a visionary, passionate leader with a proven track record and shares our commitment to bringing important, enduring content to kids around the world."

Rasmussen said, "Leading Macmillan Children's Books has been a privilege, and it is hard to leave its exceptional authors and illustrators, my team, my leadership colleagues and Joanna [Prior, Pan Macmillan CEO]. At the same time, joining Walker group, with its legacy, wealth of outstanding creative talent and global reach is such an exciting opportunity, an adventure I can't wait to embark upon."


Notes

Independent Bookstore Day: Pictures from a Celebration

On Independent Bookstore Day, many stores highlighted what makes them so special and wonderful: their staffs. Below is a sampling of bookstores that reminded readers of the importance of booksellers:

At Books on the Square, Providence, R.I., the entire staff gathered for an IBD photo. Pictured (standing, l.-r.): Caitlin Saharek, Penny Fisher, Emily Folan, Jennifer Kandarian, Katie Kinnell, Percy Sutton, Andrew Devrell, Hannah Swearingen; (seated) Vanessa Krebs, Beth Garceau, Cristina Iannarino.

Staff members at Books & Books at the Studios, Key West, Fla., surrounding store founders Judy Blume and her husband, George Cooper.

From Main Street Books, Davidson, N.C.: "🎈Today's celebration of Independent Bookstore Day was the best of all of our years. We have a tremendous staff that is greater than the sum of its parts, amplifying each other's creativity, generosity, empathy, and sense of humor."

At Parnassus Books, Nashville, Tenn.: "Our hearts are so full of indie bookstore love and we are SO excited to be celebrating Indie Bookstore Day with all of you!"

"TODAY IS THE DAY! 🎉 It's Independent Bookstore Day and the whole Copperfish Books [Punta Gorda, Fla.] team is ready to celebrate with you! 🥳"

At Reads by the River Books, Waterford, Wis.: "It was a phenomenal day full of joy and book love and appreciation and we are overjoyed (and tired!)"


Personnel Changes at Highlights

At Highlights:

Rachel Barry has joined the company as director of marketing and publicity. Barry was most recently v-p, marketing, publicity, and e-commerce at Insight Editions. Earlier she spent 17 years in marketing and publicity at DK Publishing.

Todd Jones has joined the company as director of sales. Jones was most recently v-p, field and library sales, at Penguin Random House, and is an adjunct professor at Pace University.

Stephanie Lewis has joined the company as director of analytics. She was most recently director, business analytics, at Insight Editions. Before that, she held various data analytics positions at Sourcebooks.


Lisa Bach Leaving Chronicle Books

Lisa Bach, executive director of global sales at Chronicle Books, is leaving the company after 23 years and will do consulting, pursue her own creative projects, go birding, and spend time with family. Her last day is May 3. She can be reached at lisasbach@gmail.com.


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Frank Bruni on CBS Mornings

Today:
CBS Mornings: Dr. Mary Claire Haver, author of The New Menopause: Navigating Your Path Through Hormonal Change with Purpose, Power, and Facts (Rodale, $28, 9780593796252).

Jennifer Hudson Show: Jonna Mendez, author of In True Face: A Woman's Life in the CIA, Unmasked (PublicAffairs, $30, 9781541703124).

Tomorrow:
Today Show: Sarah Jakes Roberts, author of Power Moves: Ignite Your Confidence and Become a Force (Thomas Nelson, $29.99, 9780785291909).

Good Morning America: Rocco DiSpirito, author of Everyday Delicious: 30 Minute(ish) Home-Cooked Meals Made Simple (Rodale, $32.50, 9781984825230).

Also on GMA: Ana Huang, author of King of Sloth (Bloom Books, $17.99, 9781728289755).

CBS Mornings: Frank Bruni, author of The Age of Grievance (Avid Reader Press, $28.99, 9781668016435).

CNN's Inside Politics with Dan Bash: Emmanuel Acho and Noa Tishby, authors of Uncomfortable Conversations with a Jew (Simon Element, $27.99, 9781668057858). They will also appear on CBS Mornings, GMA, and Fox Radio's Brian Kilmeade Show.



Books & Authors

Awards: Arabic Fiction Winner; Sheik Zayed Cultural Personality of the Year

A Mask, the Colour of the Sky by Palestinian author Basim Khandaqji has won the $50,000 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, which is sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, under the umbrella of the Department of Culture and Tourism--Abu Dhabi. The announcement was made on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

Organizers described the winning title this way: "The 'mask' of the book's title evokes the blue identity card belonging to an Israeli found by the protagonist Nur--an archaeologist living in a refugee camp in Ramallah--in the pocket of an old coat. He adopts this mask, and what follows is an experimental and multi-layered narrative which sets out to reclaim elements of history and place with vivid and memorable characterisation."

Chair of judges Nabil Suleiman said, "A Mask, the Colour of the Sky fuses the personal with the political in innovative ways. It ventures into experimenting with new narrative forms to explore three types of consciousness: that of the self, the Other, and the world. It dissects a complex, bitter reality of family fragmentation, displacement, genocide, and racism. The strands of history, myth, and the present day are delicately woven together in a narrative that pulses with compassion in the face of dehumanisation, and is stirred by a desire for freedom from oppression, both at an individual and societal level. A Mask, the Colour of the Sky declares love and friendship as central to human identity above all other affiliations."

Imprisoned in Israel since 2004, Khandaqji has written poetry collections, including Rituals of the First Time (2010) and The Breath of a Nocturnal Poem (2013), as well as three other novels, The Narcissus of Isolation (2017), The Eclipse of Badr al-Din (2019), and The Breath of a Woman Let Down (2020).

---

Casa Árabe has won the Cultural Personality of the Year award, part of the Sheikh Zayed Book Awards, organized by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Center under the auspices of the Department of Culture and Tourism--Abu Dhabi. The prize honors "a prominent Arab or international figure or organization whose contributions have significantly propelled the advancement of Arabic culture through their work, epitomizing tolerance and making a profound impact on cultural understanding and harmony."

With headquarters in Madrid and Córdoba, Spain, Casa Árabe is a center for studies and knowledge about the Arab world. It is dedicated to the promotion and celebration of Arab culture across the Spanish-speaking world, with a particular focus on Spain, where currently around 600,000 native Arabic speakers reside. Casa Árabe will receive 1 million UAE dirhams (about $272,000).

Organizers praised Casa Árabe's "pivotal role in bridging Arab and Spanish culture and their unique cultural approach aimed at fostering dialogue between civilizations. Since its establishment in 2006, the institution has been committed to conducting studies that contribute to understanding and promoting Arab culture within the European context and across Latin American countries. Throughout its existence, this prominent cultural institution has welcomed numerous Arab writers, artists, and thinkers alongside Spanish Arabists, standing as a testament to the potential for fruitful exchange and collaboration between Arab and Spanish societies."


Book Review

Review: Concerning the Future of Souls

Concerning the Future of Souls by Joy Williams (Tin House, $22.95 hardcover, 176p., 9781959030591, July 2, 2024)

Concerning the Future of Souls: 99 Stories of Azrael by Joy Williams is a bit like a puzzle as it asks readers to engage the unknown while it tangles the familiar with the ineffable in areas as diverse as philosophy, mathematics, music, and faith. Each of the 99 bite-sized entries contributes to a large whole, united--though tenuously--around ideas of time and mortality. Those who haven't read Ninety-Nine Stories of God need not worry; Williams returns to her singular style in the micro-fiction form, but this impressive companion piece easily stands alone.

For some, a book described as a puzzle would sound like an unnecessary frustration. Why spend this one wild and precious life on something so opaque? For others, such an enigmatic proposal is an enticement promising the perfect amount of friction in their reading experience. One particularly beguiling (and highly effective) element is Williams's decision to put each story's title at the end. In that way, they serve as guideposts after the fact, clues to the mystery or even punchlines to a joke, albeit one readers might not be sure to get. Another unifying feature is the intermittent conversation between Azrael--"He had four thousand wings. This was simply a fact. The features of each wing--innumerable. As they should be. The wings sheltered the souls so they could not be viewed in transit"--and the Devil--"He had always been vain. He'd been told it was one of his biggest problems." Over the course of each fascinating story, it becomes clear that despite the continuity of death, Azrael's experience with humanity is changing.

Late in the book, Azrael wonders: "Could it be that souls are leaving a person before the body dies?" When the Devil cynically agrees to the possibility, Azrael frets over the environmental degradation he has observed: "But where can they go?... Nature's vesture is no longer available. Indwelling anywhere there is impossible. The mountains have been stripped of their holiness, the oceans of their mysteries." More than simply a polemic on climate change, however, Concerning the Future of Souls resists any attempt to reduce it to a single thread, and though its slim size makes it possible to consume in a single sitting, that would be a mistake. This is a book to linger over, with more questions than answers, and it is sure to be lauded for its intellectual breadth and masterful control. --Sara Beth West, freelance reviewer and librarian

Shelf Talker: Concerning the Future of Souls is a book to linger over, with more questions than answers, highly satisfied to pursue wonder and engage the unknown.


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