Shelf Awareness for Thursday, January 3, 2008

Mariner Books: The Redemption of Bobby Love: A Story of Faith, Family, and Justice by Bobby and Cheryl Love

St. Martin's Press: The Golden Couple by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: New from Here by Kelly Yang

Other Press: The Anomaly by Hervé Le Tellier, translated by Adriana Hunter

Poisoned Pen Press: The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections by Eva Jurczyk

Berkley Books: The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St James


Sweet Move: Stinky Cheese Man to Promote Children's Books

Children's book author Jon Scieszka will become the country's first national ambassador for young people's literature and will "travel and speak to groups of children, parents and teachers 'to evangelize the need for reading,'" according to today's New York Times. He will also speak at Children's Book Week and the National Book Festival. The appointment is for two years and includes an annual $25,000 stipend.

Scieszka told the Times, "There's a huge population of kids who would be or can be readers but just choose not to. Kids see it just as a school activity or something that just can't compete with a Nintendo Wii or just hanging out and text messaging your friends. Parents and booksellers and teachers are dying for some help."

Robin Adelson, executive director of the Children's Book Council, which was involved with the Library of Congress's Center for the Book in creating and filling the position, told the Times that the group wanted "someone with charisma, who is comfortable traveling and speaking and who could reach children, parents, educators and speak to a roomful of librarians and then go one-on-one with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show."

Jewell Stoddard, head of the children's department of Politics and Prose, Washington, D.C., and a member of the committee that selected Scieszka, told the Washington Post that Scieszka, who runs a program aimed at boys called Guys Read, already is "on a mission to promote reading among young boys. . . . Girls love his books, too, and I'm sure he'll speak for everybody."


Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books: Mina by Matthew Forsythe

A Quick Guide to Trends in Travel Books and the Internet

Today's New York Times tours the effect of the Internet on travel book publishing, finding that travel book publishers are posting more material online, sometimes for free and sometimes whole books for free. They're also experimenting with placing material on cell phones, in-flight entertainment systems and satellite navigation devices. In these ways, and others, they aim to catch up with Internet companies like Expedia's TripAdvisor that have built substantial presences as online travel reference destinations.

Among examples:

Dorling Kindersley is allowing users of its site to create customized guides. The Times noted: "A group heading to Prague for a bachelor party, for instance, could assemble a list of the best bars in that city but skip information on, say, the opera."

In the same fun vein, Alastair Sawday Publishing is selling a guide to the pubs and inns of England and Wales that "alerts drivers, via their satellite navigation systems, when they approach a selected watering hole or guesthouse." But no opera houses . . .

Lonely Planet is selling material from some guidebooks online on a chapter basis and plans to expand the program.

Free travel information on the Internet has led to a drop in sales of "guides to mainstream destinations," the Times said. "New book formats are aiming at niche interests and travelers taking short breaks on low-cost flights."

Despite all the e-innovations, travel books have not taken a hike. According to Nielsen BookScan, some 14.8 million books were sold in the U.S. by travel publishers in 2007, up 11% from two years ago. And digital business is still a small fraction of sales, estimated at less than 5% at Penguin's travel division, for example.

Judy Slatyer, CEO of Lonely Planet, told the Times: "The travel guide business, the good old-fashioned paper book, is still a strong and healthy business. And we think it will be for some time."


Denene Millner Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: Ashes of Gold by J Elle

Notes: Frost Home Vandalized; Store Reopens After Fire

Barbarians stop by woods on a snowy evening.

Robert Frost's former home in Ripton, Vt., was ransacked last weekend when 50 or more people broke into the historic site for what police called "an underage-drinking party," according to the AP.

The vandals "broke a window to get into the two-story wood frame building--a furnished residence open in the summer--before destroying tables and chairs, pictures, windows, light fixtures, and dishes. Wicker furniture and dressers were smashed and thrown into a fireplace and burned, apparently to provide heat in the unheated building. . . . empty beer bottles and cans, plastic cups, and cellophane apparently used to hold marijuana were also found . . . vandals vomited in the living room and discharged two fire extinguishers inside the building."

Something there is that doesn't love . . . 

Some say the world will end in fire . . . 

So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay. 


Incidentally Craig Popelars of Algonquin, which last fall published An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England by Brock Clarke, commented, "This is not our fault." 


The Paperback Exchange, Lancaster, Pa., has reopened less than four months after being destroyed by fire, the Eagle-Gazette reported. "I've had a lot of people contacting me, wanting to know when I would be back," said owner Leanne McClellan. "I've also had a lot of people walking in (to the new store), and that's been fun." 


Books-A-Million is opening a store in the Canton Marketplace in Canton, Ga., north of Atlanta. The store will be BAM's 16th in Georgia.


Among other "underperforming" Borders stores to close this month besides outlets in Wayne, N.J., and East Brunswick, N.J., as noted here yesterday: the store in Block E in downtown Minneapolis, Minn., according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The Block E Borders opened five years ago, when the development opened. Borders had tried subleasing the space.


Sadly Sandy Taylor, co-founder and co-director of Curbstone Press, Willimantic, Conn., died on Friday, December 21. He was 76.

An English teacher and translator from Danish, Taylor, with his wife, Judith Ayer Doyle, founded Curbstone in 1975. The nonprofit press focused on publishing titles with social awareness, human rights and peace themes and emphasized Latino, Latin American and Vietnamese work, including fiction and poetry.

Curbstone offers a full tribute on its website, and the Hartford Courant has a touching obituary.


Forget about Black Friday. Not only is it over for 2007, but the term just made Lake Superior State University's annual List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness, according to the AP (via USA Today).


Nicole Russo has been promoted to associate director of publicity in Simon & Schuster children's publicity, having risen steadily within the department.

Also in S&S children's publicity, Lila Haber has been promoted to publicity manager from senior publicist and had previously worked at HarperCollins.


In other children's news, Christy Ottaviano, most recently executive editor at Holt, will launch her own imprint in fall 2008. Ottaviano has edited Laurie Keller (The Scrambled States of America; Arnie the Doughnut), Kimberly Willis Holt (When Zachary Beaver Came to Town; Piper Reed, Navy Brat) and, this past fall, Ying Chang Compestine's Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party, among many other authors and artists during her 15 years at Holt.


Disney-Hyperion: Solimar: The Sword of the Monarchs by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Not Up for It Anymore

This morning on the Today Show: Charla Krupp, Today style contributor and author of How Not to Look Old: Fast and Effortless Ways to Look 10 Years Younger, 10 Pounds Lighter, 10 Times Better (Springboard Press, $25.99, 9780446581141/0446581143).


Today on KCRW's Bookworm: Ann Patchett, author of Run (HarperCollins, $25.95, 9780061340635/0061340634). As the show put it: "The family in Ann Patchett's Run unites rich with poor, black with white. The novel is a thriller--but the mystery at its heart is the mystery of spiritual grace. Has this vision been shaped by Patchett's own personal history?"


Today on the Diane Rehm Show: Garrett Graff, author of The First Campaign: Globalization, the Web, and the Race for the White House (FSG, $25, 9780374155032/0374155038).


Today on Fresh Air, after lunch: David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter and author of Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) (Portfolio, $24.95, 9781591841913/1591841917).


Today on All Things Considered: Bob Berkowitz and Susan Yager-Berkowitz, authors of He's Just Not Up for It Anymore: Why Men Stop Having Sex, and What You Can Do About It (Morrow, $24.95, 9780061192036/0061192031).


New Press: Congratulations to Nobel Prize Winner Abdulrazak Gurnah

This Weekend on Book TV: The Terror Dream

Book TV airs on C-Span 2 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, January 5

6 p.m. Encore Book Notes. In a segment first aired in 2002, Beppe Severgnini, author of Ciao America! An Italian Discovers the U.S. (Broadway, $12.95, 9780767912365/0767912365), looks at the differences between his life in Italy and in the U.S.

8 p.m. Strobe Talbot, author of The Great Experiment: The Story of Ancient Empires, Modern States, and the Quest for a Global Nation (S&S, $30, 9780743294089/0743294084), discusses how the most ambitious of big ideas--that a world made up of many nations can govern itself peacefully--has played out over the millennia. (Re-airs Sunday at 5:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.)       

9 p.m. After Words. Marie Arana, editor of the Washington Post's Book World, interviews Susan Faludi, author of The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America (Metropolitan, $26, 9780805086928/0805086927). Faludi contends that the U.S. psychological reaction to the attacks of September 11 was defined by the assignment of regressive gender roles. (Re-airs Sunday at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., and Monday at 3 a.m.)

Sunday, January 6

12 p.m. In Depth. Nell Irvin Painter, author of Creating Black Americans: African American History and Its Meanings, 1618 to the Present (Oxford University Press, $37.95, 9780195137569/0195137566), is the guest for a live interview. Viewers can participate by calling in during the program with questions or by e-mailing (Re-airs Monday at 12 a.m., Saturday, January 12, at 9 a.m. and Monday, January 14, at 3 a.m.)


Books & Authors

Children's Book Review: We Are the Ship

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson (Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, $18.99, 9780786808328/0786808322, 96 pp., ages 8-up, January 2008)

After Nelson's stunning images of such historic figures as Harriet Tubman (in Moses) and W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson and Duke Ellington (in Ellington Is Not a Street), he pays tribute here to the legendary players and history of the Negro League. In his authorial debut, Nelson adopts the narrative voice of a fellow ballplayer, and the portraits, too, possess the candor of a moment observed by a teammate on the field. The cover image of Josh Gibson not only conveys the home run giant's confidence and physical strength, but also an unguarded quality, a glimpse of the man behind the talent. In a later scene, we watch Gibson from behind, as he observes Satchel Paige, who is about to release a pitch to Gibson's teammate Buck Leonard; the tension in Gibson's arms, his stance and the ripples in his neck--every fiber of him absorbs the information to be gleaned for his own imminent at-bat.

The book's title comes from a quotation by Rube Wilson, who had the vision and fortitude to form the Negro League in February 1920 ("We are the ship, all else the sea"). Nelson credits Wilson with the invention of the "bunt-and-run" strategy, calling pitches from the dugout and running his team "like it was a big league ball club." The text takes on the conversational, easy feel of a grandfather sharing tales of his game-playing days with a grandchild recently turned on to baseball. And the history of the Negro League era comes to life most vividly through the stories of its individuals: Satchel Paige and his speeding tickets as much as his pitching prowess, Gus Greenlee running numbers as well as he ran the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Nelson suggests how the league changed baseball overall, with base-stealing, night games and batting helmets and catchers' protective gear because of their "rough" form of play. He discusses how players often had to eat groceries and sleep on their team busses because there were so few places where they would be served or put up for the night. But the author also chronicles how well leaders like Rube Wilson prepared the players for the day baseball would become an integrated sport, led by Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Nelson focuses on the triumphs more than the setbacks of this era and, with his glorious paintings of baseball greats and grand ball parks (many no longer standing), makes readers feel as if they are along on a history-making journey.--Jennifer M. Brown



Error Wizard: Neuromancer's Role

Our story yesterday about Wizards of the Coast's new Discoveries line mangled a comment by Phil Athans. The paragraph should read:

Athans has lofty goals for Discoveries: "I want to help do to fantasy what Neuromancer [by William Gibson, Ace Books] did for science fiction in the early 1980s. I want something that takes it out of its standard tropes, that revitalizes it, that makes it exciting again."

Our apologies!


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: The Still Center of a Spinning Wheel

How does a frontline bookseller prepare for this?

By Christmas Eve, you feel they will keep coming at you forever. You know that the book business is in trouble and that indie booksellers are hanging on by their fingernails. You read for a living. You love handselling, and you realize that fewer people are reading for pleasure now. You really are grateful for this relentless invasion of gift buyers, but you can't help marveling at how many people have managed to arrive at your cash register simultaneously.

And they keep coming, wave after wave, until--despite your best intentions and the spirit of the season--they begin to merge into a single, multi-limbed organism, and what you see when you look out from behind the counter are piles of books, CDs, DVDs, toys and sidelines that have somehow managed to grow arms and legs. You're in a Ralph Steadman drawing, and there's no escape.

The questions come at you from all sides and some of them are repeated dozens of times: Is Water for Elephants any good? Does A Thousand Splendid Suns come in paperback? Why isn't Eat, Pray, Love with the fiction bestsellers? Could you page my husband? Where's your rest room?

You are asked to wrap the unwrappable and box the unboxable.

Standing at your besieged cash register, your last line of defense, you are the only representative of the publishing industry that most of these people will ever meet. So you do your best to smile and converse with the multitudes as your hands move repeatedly through a series of long-practiced, fluid and instinctive movements with the dexterity of a Blackjack dealer--the scanning of items, the ceremonial currency exchange, the bagging or the gift wrapping.

Thank you very much.

Sometimes you shift to another counter, just for the change. Sometimes, in rare moments of illusory calm, you straighten shelves and displays. Sometimes you restock. Sometimes you fling yourself recklessly into the throng to handsell and sometimes, amazingly, you do.

Always, everywhere, you do whatever you can to make it work. You must. Bets have been booked; books have been bet. The stakes are high.

The book world is a gamblers' paradise and December is high season. After a year of preparation, authors, agents, editors, publishers, booksellers and everyone else connected with the tens of thousands of books in the kitty are "all in" for the final month. They've played the odds, taken educated risks, put their money where their mouths (or reading eyes) are.  

So, how does a frontline bookseller prepare for all this?

I watched Croupier.

Not only is this film--starring Clive Owen and directed by Mike Hodges--one of the great movies about writers, it is also an ideal training film for surviving the retail holiday onslaught.

Owen plays Jack Manfred, an aspiring novelist with an inherent gift for casino work as a dealer and croupier. The film opens with a slow-motion shot of Jack at his roulette table. The crowd elbows in, getting their bets down, but he is in a silent world of his own creation: "Now, he had become the still center of that spinning wheel of misfortune. The world turned round him, leaving him miraculously untouched. The croupier had reached his goal. He no longer heard the sound of the ball."

At the cash register, in the heat of the game during the past few weeks, I experienced that sense of detachment sometimes. In the film, Jack feels "up above the world, a writer looking down on his subject . . . a detached . . . observer."

But of course the game pulls you back in, again and again, and you wouldn't have it any other way.

The week after Christmas is a curious thing. The retail intensity continues, but the upbeat adrenaline that infused a season of joy to the world and peace on earth often devolves into the impatience of product returns and grumpy children of all ages.

You begin to understand why 2007 is represented by an old man with a scythe, while 2008 is a newborn baby. The year, in its last week, shows its age.

And then, quite suddenly, it's all over. Just like that. You won or you lost. The chips are swept from the table and the dealer announces a new game.

Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets for 2008.--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)


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