Shelf Awareness for Friday, February 1, 2008

Dutton Books: A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor (The Carls #2) by Hank Green

HP Piazza: Regain Control of Your Publishing Content - Register Now

Post Hill Press: Personality Wins: Who Will Take the White House and How We Know by Merrick Rosenberg and Richard Ellis

Walrus Publishing: I Will Be Okay by Bill Elenbark

Parson Weems Publisher Services - Click Here!

Quotation of the Day

Daydream Bookshop: Rare Firsts, Modernist Fiction & Brandy

"As a ready cure for boredom, I like to daydream about the bookshop I am going to own . . . I will also stock incredibly expensive rare first editions. These fine books will rest in a separate room at the back of the shop where I shall sit behind my gargantuan oak desk reading modernist fiction and drinking brandy from a silver, inscribed hipflask. That--briefly--is my dream bookshop. Obviously I know this bookshop is never going to actually materialise. But just to imagine it is enough for me. Luckily, there are people in the world who possess the knowhow and get-up-and-go to turn such dreams into a potentially working reality. I say potentially because it is getting harder and harder to open such an establishment."--Lee Rourke, writing in the Guardian about Simon Key and Tim West and their quest to open the Big Green Bookshop.


Disney-Hyperion: The Mirror Broken Wish (Mirror #1) by Julie C. Dao


Notes: Books Inc. Move; New Stores; Bookseller Bequest

Congratulations to Books Inc., whose Palo Alto, Calif., store has moved and is reopening today in the Town & Country Village shopping center, a 56-year-old shopping mall that, under new owners, is being renovated and drawing a mix of retailers, including both locally-owned and national stores. Books Inc. had long had a 4,000-sq.-ft. store in the Stanford Shopping Center, which has begun to emphasize chains and is about a half a mile from Town & Country. Town & Country is on the main intersection of El Camino Real at the entrance to Stanford University and across from Palo Alto High School.

Books Inc.'s new store is about the same size as the old one but has "a better footprint and fantastic location," according to Michael Tucker, president of Books Inc., which has 10 locations in California. "We've gotten such a warm reception from the community before we've even opened our doors that the staff is really excited."


Bookselling This Week profiles Craig Morgan and Clear Creek Books, which he opened in Golden, Colo., on December 6. The 2,000-sq.-ft. store stocks used and new titles and has extensive children's and local sections. Clear Creek also hosts many clubs, including a knitting group and the Fortnighters, a 120-year-old book club.

The store is located at 1200 Washington Ave., Golden, Colo. 80401.


This coming fall, Barnes & Noble plans to open a store in Des Peres, Mo., near St. Louis. The new B&N will be located in the West County Center at Manchester Road and I-270.


The late David Bell, who owned Magus Books, Seattle, Wash., left $700,000 to the University of Washington Libraries. The Post-Intelligencer reported that "UW library officials knew Bell left something to the libraries, but expected the amount to be smaller--about $100,000. They learned of the total amount earlier this month."

The endowment will be used for the preservation and conservation of books that date to the 15th century. Bell sold Magus Books to Chris Weimer and Hanna McElroy four years ago.


Doris Lessing formally received her Nobel prize for literature Wednesday night, the Guardian reported. Lessing, 88, was not able to travel to Sweden for the Nobel presentation due to ill health.

"Thank you does not seem enough when you've won the best of them all," she said. "It is astonishing and amazing. I would like to say that there isn't anywhere to go from here. . . . I could get a pat on the head from the Pope."

She also said he could hear her father saying: "You're getting above yourself my girl and I don't like it."


At the Chronicle Review, Gina Barreca explores why independent bookstores matter: "Without independent bookstores, those magnificent places which purchase books not by weight but by volume, there would be no great new authors to discover because no publisher would take a risk by publishing anything less than an instant bestseller. . . . Don't think of independent bookstores as being out of your way--think of them as your destination."


A federal judge yesterday dismissed the lawsuit filed last year by five unhappy authors against Eagle Publishing, the parent company of conservative book publisher Regnery Publishing, Regnery said late yesterday.

Last fall (Shelf Awareness, November 6, 2007), the five plaintiffs, who included Jerome R. Corsi, co-author of Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, and Richard Miniter, author of Dereliction of Duty: The Eyewitness Account of How Bill Clinton Compromised America's National Security, charged that by selling or giving away copies of their books to book clubs, newsletters and other organizations owned by Eagle, Eagle was intentionally engaging in a "fraudulent, deceptively concealed and self-dealing scheme to divert book sales away from retail outlets" and avoid standard royalty payments.

Eagle said the group was led by Miniter, "who acted in apparent retribution against Regnery. Regnery is pursuing Miniter via arbitration after Miniter walked out in the middle of a two-book deal. Miniter had signed a two-book contract with Regnery, but delivered only one book before signing a new contract with Simon & Schuster for the same book he had already sold to Regnery. Ironically, S&S has reportedly now cancelled their contract with Miniter for non-delivery."

GLOW: Inkyard Press: Come On In: 15 Stories about Immigration and Finding Home edited by Adi Alsaid

Amazon to Download Audible is buying Audible, Inc., the digital audiobook company, for about $300 million. Amazon is making a cash tender offer for all Audible stock for $11.50 a share and will assume the company's outstanding stock-based awards. Amazon expects the deal to close before July. The asking price represented a 23% premium over Audible's share price on Wednesday. Yesterday Audible stock rose 22% and closed at $11.42. 

Founded in 1995 by CEO and author Donald Katz after he was doing research in Silicon Valley for a book and learned of the potential for downloadable audio, Audible offers more than 80,000 programs, particularly audiobooks and spoken-word content, via the web for download onto computers, CDs, iPods, MP3 and other devices. Audible also supplies spoken-word products to Apple's iTunes store.

Last year Amazon introduced Kindle, the e-book reader, and bought Brilliance Audio. Amazon offers downloading of movies, TV shows and music--and now will add audiobooks to the mix. Amazon had listed Audible downloads on its site. The Wall Street Journal noted that the acquisition "expands [Amazon's] push into digital content and ratchets up its rivalry with Apple Inc."

Speaking with the New York Times, Evan Schnittman, v-p for business development and rights at Oxford University Press, said, "The fact that the bottom of the Kindle has volume controls has always thrown me off. But now there is a real coordination here that is clicking all of a sudden. This is just another step in making the Kindle a more universal product."



Atheneum Books: Saucy by Cynthia Kadohata, illustrated by Marianna Raskin

Indigo Weathers Weak U.S. Dollar; Cold; No Blockbuster Hits

At Indigo Books & Music, Canada's largest bookseller, total revenue in the quarter ended December 29 rose 0.7% to $322.6 million and net earnings rose to $49.2 million from $41 million. (Earning were helped by a $7.6 million non-cash tax recovery. Pre-tax earnings rose $600,000 to $41.6 million.)

Sales at Indigo and Chapters superstores open at least a year rose 0.6% while sales at Coles small-format stores dropped 1.7%. Sales at Indigo's online site,, rose 8% to $30.9 million. More than 75,000 people have joined Indigo's Online Community, launched last October.

In a statement, CEO Heather Reisman said: "We were satisfied with the results given the headwinds we faced on a number of fronts: an unprecedented rise in the Canadian dollar, no blockbuster hits, and a particularly tough season for weather. We, along with our publishers, offered significant discounts on books to bring Canadian prices more in line with those in the U.S. We were encouraged to see consumers respond by buying more books, but lower prices clearly slowed our top line revenue growth in the quarter. We believe that in the mid to long term, lower prices are good for our customers and will ultimately drive higher sales."


Winter Institute: Authorless Events

There were so many intriguing ideas and examples of authorless events at the eponymous session that one could be forgiven for thinking authors might not be so essential for bookstore events on behalf of their titles.

Valerie Koehler, owner of Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, Tex., praised the value of children's storytimes, which she tries to keep "casual and simple." The staff "works hard to learn kids' names and ask them questions because over the years they are our goodwill ambassadors in the community." The store continues to stage the weekly events through Christmas. "People think we're crazy, but we don't want to disappoint anyone."

The store also hosts scouts meetings. One advantage: "we get parents in here." And if the parents don't come in, the store gives the scouts coupons that families can bring back later. Similarly the American Girl Club meets regularly at the store. One staff member "embraces" this and helps the girls talk about "being friends and not be mean to each other."

During the summer, Blue Willow "ramps it up for kids," offering a Wednesday afternoon program after day camps with readings and more. On Thursdays, Blue Willow holds game meisters, the store's "most popular event of the summer," at which participants play board games on the floor. One side benefit: staff members learn how to play many games and "use that knowledge at holiday times," Koehler noted.

For adults, the store has a weekly "little wine thing" every Friday at 5 p.m. "It's not fine wine," Koehler said, and "we don't even know what we're going to do," but "everyone has a really good time." Even people who don't go think "we're awesome for doing this."

Once a year, Blue Willow invites members of the more than 50 book clubs registered with it to "share with each other the books they've read." Called Bibliotherapy, the evening includes wine, too.

In a similar vein, Blue Willow hosts teacher/educator events at which, among other things, it holds trivia games. These events, she emphasized, are important for introducing teachers to the store.

Koehler pointed out a major advantage of having many regularly scheduled events, particularly storytimes: "When a [children's] author approaches you about reading a book, you can slip them into story time. Often their contacts will pack the event."

Blue Willow also has a kind of event outreach: "When we see people doing interesting things in the community," Koehler said, "we invite them to do an event with us." In addition, the store works with other businesses on complementary events. For example, the store sold "a ton of cookbooks" at an event held by a deli across the street. "I didn't recognize any of the people," Koehler said. "It opened up a lot of marketing for us."


Dave Weich, director of marketing and development at Powell's Books, discussed the store's Out of the Book movies--two have appeared so far, one about Ian McEwan and his On Chesil Beach, the other about David Halberstam and The Coldest Winter--around which many booksellers have held sometimes elaborate events.

After outlining the background of the series (Shelf Awareness, June 9, 2007), Weich said that the next movie, which may appear in August, will be longer than the first two--more than 40 minutes as opposed to between 20 and 30 minutes. With a few shorts, the film will be close to an hour, meaning that it could be "an event in and of itself." Of course, stores can continue to add events, as they have in the past.

Publishers help underwrite the films and Powell's does not make money from the films. The films are more valuable to the publisher-underwriters when more people see them. Weich indicated that sales of Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach were three and a half times higher over three months at stores that had Out of the Book events than at stores that did not host the movie.

Several bookstores run the Out of the Book movies on monitors and have copies of the books for sale nearby.


The show stopper, as occurs whenever she describes her store's activities, was Collette Morgan, owner of Wild Rumpus Books, Minneapolis, Minn. The store holds a range of events in several "categories": animal, science, music, artistic and random. "The sky's the limit with authorless events," Morgan said. "You can do whatever you want. Most events that we do are for our own entertainment. Many appeal to kids and adults at the same time." Herewith a sampling of Wild Rumpus events, with Morgan's comments:

  • Mounted police come to the store with "full-war regalia" and talk about the training horses go through.
  • K-9 patrol. "How many kids don't want to see the police come with big padded arms and have dogs attack them?"
  • Raptor Center. "We invite them to bring stuff in." One caveat concerning store pets, Morgan stressed: "Put the little furries away or you will have a totally different kind of event."
  • Christmas photo opportunities with goats.
  • A pet show and pet parade through the neighborhood with a band or horse leading and wagons for pets that can't walk.
  • A beekeeping workshop, featuring a beekeeper with hive and smoker. Another caveat: "It's not a good idea if the store has a smoke detector."
  • A sheep shearer.
  • Live turkeys on Thanksgiving, which is "the No. 1 way to turn kids into vegetarians."
  • An insect wrangler.
  • A rodeo queen with a horse and fake calf head for roping.
  • Chemists from universities and high schools. "We like to blow stuff up."
  • A demonstration of cryogenics by 3M scientists. "They threw a frozen tennis ball onto the floor that broke into millions of pieces."
  • A mummified Barbie workshop.
  • Musical instrument repair, which involves taking apart instruments.
  • Creature from the Black Lagoon, which involves "scientists, microscopes, lake water and the fecal count of swimming water. It's gross but fascinating."
  • An egg-decorating workshop, which involves hardboiling 200 eggs that night before.
  • Jazz bands from the local high school and garage bands. "They bring their family and friends."
  • Street musicians.
  • Klezmer bands.
  • A zombie prom for Halloween, which called for a "dig-up-a-deadbeat" date.
  • Bagpipe demonstrations. "Every kid secretly wants to learn bagpipes at a certain point. They're very loud, so warn the neighbors. It becomes a truly community event."
  • A your-junk-is-my-treasure swap meet, which can include things from the store's lost and found.
  • A get-in-touch-with-your-inner-dimwit event.

--John Mutter


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Sisters Grimm on Today

This morning on the Today Show: Michael Buckley, whose Sisters Grimm series is the pick of the show's Book Club for Kids. The first book in the series is The Fairy-Tale Detectives (Amulet, $5.95, 9780810993228/0439928761).


Tomorrow on All Things Considered: Jeff Kinney, author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (Amulet, $12.95, 9780810994737/0810994739).


Books & Authors

Book Brahmins: Bruce Barcott

Bruce Barcott, author of The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman's Fight to Save the World's Most Beautiful Bird (Random House, February 2008), writes regularly on environmental issues and outdoor adventure for Outside and the New York Times Magazine. His award-winning book, The Measure of a Mountain: Beauty and Terror on Mount Rainier, was recently reissued in a 10th anniversary edition. Although he and his family call Seattle home, they're temporarily camped out in the mountains outside Boulder, Colo., while Bruce writes and teaches at the University of Colorado.

On your nightstand now:

This is where we're supposed to say The World Is Flat and other smart titles, yes? No. On my nightstand: Eating My Words by Mimi Sheraton; The Life of the Skies by Jonathan Rosen, A Man's Life by Mark Jenkins, The Next Rodeo by William Kittredge, and I swear to god, Moby-Dick. Trying to make my way through it. Not so bad, it turns out. Oh--and David Sedaris. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim sits there like a little over-the-counter Prozac. Taken when needed.
Favorite book when you were a child:

I was a big Encyclopedia Brown addict. Ran through the whole series when I was a kid in Alaska, then went back to the start and did them all over again. I was a sucker for the whole solution-at-the-end-of-the-book ploy. I think they ought to have books like that for adults. Encyclopedia Foxy Brown or something.

Your top five authors:

Ann Patchett, Ian Frazier, Susan Orlean, Aldo Leopold and Calvin Trillin. In my heaven, there's a bookshelf stocked with nothing but Calvin Trillin's crime writing.

Book you've faked reading:

Anything by Faulkner. Faked it in college, avoided the question in my 20s, owned up to it in my 30s and now I say to hell with all of it.

Book you are an evangelist for:

One that shows humanity at its worst, the other at its best.
  • The Game by Neil Strauss. An entire book about pickup artists. Embarrassing, I know. But nothing published in the last decade can match its brilliant, creepy display of raw human impulses, ugliness and power politics. Some clown hit on my wife in a bar last month, and we both recognized the guy's Straussian gambits: "He's rolling game!"
  • A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. You can't read this book and not become a conservationist. We shouldn't let kids out of high school until they've finished it.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Guinness Book of World Records 2008. Okay, it was for my daughter. But have you SEEN that holographic cover? It's like going to a Doors concert circa 1970. Freeeeaky.
Book that changed your life:

Are we going to make ourselves look good or are we going to be honest? Let's try honesty. It was Flashbacks, Timothy Leary's autobiography. Ugh. I know. But I came from a farm town, read it freshman year in college, and it introduced me to people who were . . . different. Led me to Kerouac, who led me to Gary Snyder, who led me to Wallace Stegner, and on down the line. Hey--you can't pick your relatives. Can't pick which books will be bricks thrown through your window, either. They just come a-crashing.
Favorite line from a book:

I'm not the world's biggest Ed Abbey fan, but this is a line of his that I love: "God bless America. Let's save some of it."

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

Great Plains by Ian Frazier. Now that I'm living on the edge of them, I'd love to have that feeling of discovery upon reading the first few pages of Frazier's book and just going wheeee-eeew! and ride the sucker all the way to the last page while driving across, say, Nebraska. Which you could pretty much do while reading a book.


Book Review

Book Review: Damned to Eternity

Won't Back Down: Teams, Dreams, and Family by Kim Mulkey (Da Capo Press, $24.95 Hardcover, 9780306815256, November 2007)

Imagine a typical character in a John Mellencamp song, and you have a pretty good picture of James Scott, the protagonist of Adam Pitluk's latest work, focusing on the Great Midwestern Flood of 1993. Having spent nine years and considerable energy investigating Scott's bizarre role in that catastrophe, it's unfortunate that Pitluk, a journalist of evident diligence and skill, didn't have a more interesting or sympathetic protagonist on which to base his workmanlike account.

In the late spring and summer of 1993, torrential rains drenched large sections of the Midwest. By mid-July, the Army Corps of Engineers and local officials in the town of West Quincy, Mo., were engaged in a desperate struggle to keep the Mississippi River from topping the levee that protected the town. Despite heroic efforts authoritatively and movingly described in Damned to Eternity's early chapters, on the evening of July 16 the levee collapsed, inundating West Quincy and 14,000 acres of rich farmland.

When the time came to find a scapegoat, one quickly emerged: 23-year-old James Scott, of nearby Fowler, Ill. Scott, an alcoholic, combined a criminal past (two guilty pleas to arson, one as a juvenile), a loose tongue and a predilection for hanging out with unsavory characters eager to ingratiate themselves with the authorities. After a television interview placed him near the site of the levee break and one of his companions reported he'd bragged about moving sandbags to undermine the levee and strand his wife at her job in Missouri, leaving him free to party in Illinois, Scott's fate was sealed.  

Scott went to trial in 1994, charged under an obscure Missouri statute with "intentionally causing a catastrophe." When the first guilty verdict was overturned on appeal, he was tried again with the same result, and now resides in a Missouri correctional facility, sentenced to life and ineligible for parole until 2023.

Pitluk's account of the courtroom proceedings is straightforward and factual. Despite the jury's arguably erroneous decision to reject persuasive, and essentially unchallenged, expert testimony, the author's objective reporting fails to rouse any feeling that the verdict resulted in a miscarriage of justice. Yes, James Scott is likely to spend most of his adult life in prison, but from everything we learn about him, it's hard to shake the sense it would have been his fate absent the flood.

Perhaps the human desire to assign blame is encoded in our collective psyche or maybe it's merely a function of our times, when we've been conditioned to reject the notion that terrible things can happen without human intervention. Those fascinating questions are worthy of exploration, but while it's a competent true crime story, you won't find satisfying answers to them in Damned to Eternity.--Harvey Freedenberg


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