Shelf Awareness for Monday, March 31, 2008


Bloomsbury YA: Dreamland (YA Edition): The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones

Balzer & Bray: The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy

Rick Riordan Presents: Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky (Tristan Strong #1) by Kwame Mbalia

Magination Press: Trans+: Love, Sex, Romance, and Being You by Kathryn Gonzales and Karen Rayne

Sourcebooks Explore: Survivors of the Holocaust: True Stories of Six Extraordinary Children by Kath Shackleton, illustrated by Zane Wittingham

Central Avenue Publishing: Into Captivity They Will Go by Noah Milligan

Carolrhoda Books: A Time Traveler's Theory of Relativity by Nicole Valentine

Quotation of the Day

'A Kind of Utopia'

"We have built a kind of utopia here. Reading books--it's a crummy business model, but it's a wonderful life."--Doug Dutton, owner of Dutton's Brentwood, Los Angeles, Calif., yesterday at a "final book party" at the store, which is closing April 30, as quoted by LA Observed.

 


Mango: The Restaurant Diet: How to Eat Out Every Night and Still Lose Weight by Fred Bollaci


News

Notes: Bookstores; Play Ball!; Oddest Title of the Year

You haven't lived in Detroit until "you've been to King Books," according to the Free Press, which showcased John K. King Used and Rare Books as "one of the largest used-book stores in the country and probably one of the friendliest. Go in, ask for even the strangest book and the crack staff will get on a handheld intercom and find it for you. They'll send you to the third floor where someone with another intercom will be waiting to greet you and take you to it."

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Dubbing Reading on Walden, Chicago, Ill., "the little bookstore that could," the Southtown Star profiled owners John and Michelle Presta, whose bricks-and-mortar store opened in 1991 but switched to an online operation in 1999. They "both miss in person interaction with customers, but Michelle said they still discuss books with customers via the telephone. Also, having an Internet business has allowed them the chance to pursue other neighborhood activities."

According to Michelle, "We are the sponsors of the Reading on Walden Bookstore book discussion group that meets at the Beverly Branch Library on the third Saturday of each month. And, we sponsor a political discussion group, coordinate political activities in the area, sponsor author events at the Beverly Branch Library, sit on the board of directors of the East Beverly Association, and participate in the neighborhood watch program. We do more than sell books." 

Included in that "more" category was an early connection with a local politician named Barack Obama.

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An English and creative writing graduate from Bard College, Leonora Stein, 25, has run her 500-sq.-ft. used bookstore, Babbo's Books, in Windsor Terrace in Brooklyn, N.Y., for more than a year, according to AM New York. Finances are helped because she lives with her parents five blocks away. "If I hadn't started breaking even quickly I would have gone under," she told the paper. "As luck would have it, the neighborhood has supported it."

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Baseball season begins this week, and the Chicago Sun-Times featured a roundup of new baseball books, introduced with this curiously elegiac opening: "Because of its grand history and leisurely pace, baseball wraps itself around its past more than any other team sport. By the time baseball looks forward, it's often too late. We've hit the 10-year anniversary of the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run derby, but now there's a melancholy remembrance of the fireworks. Those moments were as empty as a tryst with former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer."

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Baseball may be a harbinger of spring for many, but gardeners have their own claim on the season. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch showcased "this year's recommendations on great gardening books."

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Offering a spring book list that acknowledges the contributions of independent and university presses, the Kansas City Star recommended titles from "the kind of presses who get it all done with perhaps a dozen people instead of hundreds."

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If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs won this year's oddest book title award. Reuters reported that the winner of the Bookseller's 30th annual competition "took an impressive one-third of the 8,500 votes cast online." I Was Tortured by the Pygmy Love Queen finished a distant second.

 


Charlesbridge Publishing: Baby Loves the Five Senses by Ruth Spiro, illustrated by Irene Chan


Requiescat in Pace: Robert Fagles

Robert Fagles, the Princeton University professor emeritus whose translations of Homer and Virgil became classroom bestsellers, died last Wednesday, March 26, the New York Times reported. He was 74.

Fagles was best known for his translations of The Iliad, The Odyssey and The Aeneid, which appeared in 1990, 1996 and 2006, respectively. All were published by Viking and have sold millions of copies, including audio editions narrated by Derek Jacobi, Ian McKellen and Simon Callow.

"While faithful to the spirit and intent of the original, his translations were remarkable for their narrative energy and verve," the Times wrote. "His Iliad and Odyssey had a Homeric swagger, said the poet Paul Muldoon, a colleague at Princeton, who also compared Mr. Fagles's epic vision to that of film directors like Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah."

In interviews, Fagles said that he couldn't decide which of the epics was his favorite. The Times noted, "Some days were Iliadic, he said--you felt you were in a war--and some were more like the Odyssey, when all you wanted to do was go home."

Two years ago he told the Times that the publication of his translation of The Aeneid was unexpectedly timely. "It says that if you depart from the civilized, then you become a murderer. The price of empire is very steep, but Virgil shows how it is to be earned, if it's to be earned at all. The poem can be read as an exhortation for us to behave ourselves, which is a horse of relevance that ought to be ridden."

 


imon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books: Max & Ruby and Twin Trouble (Max and Ruby Adventure) BY Rosemary Wells


Pennie Picks Beneath a Marble Sky

Pennie Clark Ianniciello, Costco's book buyer, has picked Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors (NAL, $14, 9780451218469/0451218469), originally published in 2004, as her pick for April. In Costco Connection, which goes to many of the warehouse club's members, she writes:

"If only all of history could read like this work of historical fiction. When I first read . . . Beneath a Marble Sky, I was immediately pulled in by the gorgeous and descriptive writing. And I had to turn to the cover time and time again to remind myself that a male author was so adept at capturing the female heroine's thoughts and emotions. Shors tells the story through Jahanara, the emperor's daughter. As her father commissions the Taj Mahal to pay tribute to his dead wife, Jaharana deals with her own passion for the structure's architect."

Incidentally Beneath a Marble Sky was published originally in hardcover by McPherson & Co. and sold well through McPherson's "partner bookstore" program, whereby "our books are more or less automatically distributed to 50 or 60 major independents around the country," according to Bruce McPherson. In addition, Shors has promoted his first book extraordinarily--he has spoken with more than a thousand book clubs, mostly by phone. Beneath a Marble Sky has done well internationally, too, particularly in Indonesia. Eriq LaSalle's Humble Journey Films has optioned the book, and a script is in the works.

 


Charlesbridge Publishing: Sumokitty by David Biedrzycki


Borders Rolls Dice on New Concept in Vegas

This Friday, April 4, Borders is opening its second new concept store, in Las Vegas, Nev. The 22,000-sq.-ft. store will be in the Town Square shopping area on Las Vegas Boulevard at the intersections of Interstates 15 and 215.

Like the first new concept store, which opened in February in Ann Arbor, Mich., this includes a digital center, where customers can download books and music, make their own CDs, print photos and make photo albums, use POD to print their own work as well as trace their roots through Borders Genealogy Services, provided by Ancestry.com. The digital center has computer stations and special staff.

The store also has sections that have their own "shop within a shop" areas--for travel, cooking, wellness, graphic novels and children's. Besides books, the travel section offers maps, GPS navigation systems, Sony Readers, portable DVD players for traveling as well as a kiosk for researching, planning and booking trips.

In the cooking and wellness sections, customers can watch programming on LCD screens and use kiosks to do research and receive advice. The graphic novels section offers books, gift items and software with which customers can create their own comic books.

Among children's section features is a mural on three walls by Australian author and illustrator Colin Thompson. Also Borders has moved the independent reader (ages 10-12) section out of the children's area so that it will appeal more to older children.

 


Atheneum Books: Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Alexander Nabaum


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Safire Updates His Political Dictionary

This morning on NPR's Morning Edition: Helen Mirren, author of In the Frame: My Life in Words and Pictures (Atria, $35, 9781416567608/1416567607). She will also appear tonight on the Late Show with David Letterman.

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Today on NPR's Fresh Air: Dwight Hopkins, editor of Black Faith and Public Talk: Critical Essays on James H. Cone's Black Theology and Black Power (Baylor University Press, $24.95, 9781602580138/1602580138).

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Today on NPR's All Things Considered: Jeff Gordinier, author of X Saves the World (Viking, $21.95, 9780670018581/0670018589).

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Today a new edition of the author interview program of Titlepage.tv appears and features nonfiction authors who "tell stories about the conflicts that occur when our freedoms meet our fears; stories about some of our most important, timely but sensitive subjects: censorship, racial tensions, sex, and education." They are David Hajdu, author of The Ten Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America (FSG, $26, 9780374187675/0374187673); Mary Roach, author of Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex (Norton, $24.95, 9780393064643/0393064646); Louis P. Masur, author of The Soiling of Old Glory: The Story of a Photograph That Shocked America (Bloomsbury Press, $24.95, 9781596913646/1596913649); and David Gilmour, author of The Film Club: A Memoir (Twelve, $21.99, 9780446199292/044619929X).

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Tonight on the Late Show with David Letterman: Jose Canseco, author of Vindicated: Big Names, Big Liars, and the Battle to Save Baseball (Simon Spotlight, $25.95, 9781416591870/1416591877).

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Tonight on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Senator Chuck Hagel, whose new book is America: Our Next Chapter: Tough Questions, Straight Answers (Ecco, $25.95, 9780061436963/0061436968). He is scheduled to appear on Charlie Rose tomorrow night.

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Tonight on the Colbert Report: Eric Alterman, author of Why We're Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America (Viking, $24.95, 9780670018604/0670018600).

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Tomorrow morning on Good Morning America: Julie Andrews, author of Home: A Memoir of My Early Years (Hyperion, $26.95, 9780786865659/0786865652).

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Tomorrow morning on the Today Show: Sam Zien, author of Sam the Cooking Guy: Just a Bunch of Recipes (Wiley, $18.95, 9780470043738/0470043733).

Also on Today: Bob Harper, author of Are You Ready!: To Take Charge, Lose Weight, Get in Shape, and Change Your Life Forever (Broadway, $22.95, 9780767928670/0767928679).

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Tomorrow on NPR's Fresh Air: Eric Lichtblau, author of Bush's Law: The Remaking of American Justice (Pantheon, $26.95, 9780375424922/037542492X).

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Tomorrow on NPR's News & Notes: Eric Jerome Dickey, author of Pleasure (Dutton, $24.95, 9780525950455/0525950451).

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Tomorrow on Oprah: Carlos H. Schenck, author of Sleep (Avery, $15.95, 9781583333013/1583333010).

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Tomorrow on the Diane Rehm Show: Roger Mudd, author of The Place to Be: Washington, CBS, and the Glory Days of Television News (PublicAffairs, $27.95, 9781586485764/1586485768).

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Tomorrow on 20/20: Paul McGlothin, author of The CR Way: Using the Secrets of Calorie Restriction for a Longer, Healthier Life (Collins, $15.95, 9780061370984/0061370983).

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Tomorrow night on Larry King Live: Jesse Ventura, former wrestler and Governor of Minnesota whose new book with Dick Russell is Don't Start the Revolution Without Me! (Skyhorse Publishing, $24.95, 9781602392731/1602392730).

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Tomorrow night on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart: William Safire, author of Safire's Political Dictionary (Oxford University Press, $22.95, 9780195340617/ 0195340612), in a newly revised edition. The book first appeared in 1968 as The New Language of Politics and was last revised in 1993.

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Tomorrow night on Late Night with Conan O'Brien: Wylie Gustafson, author of How to Yodel: Lessons to Tickle Your Tonsils and Funnybone (Gibbs Smith, $9.95, 9781423602132/1423602137).

 



Books & Authors

Book Sense: May We Recommend

From last week's Book Sense bestseller lists, available at BookSense.com, here are the recommended titles, which are also Book Sense Picks:

Hardcover

World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler (Atlantic, $22, 9780871139788/0871139782). "From the author of The Long Emergency, a novel of life in the Hudson Valley of New York after the industrialized world has run out of oil. A frightening, and moving, portrayal of the lives of a group of people attempting to maintain their community."--Mitch Gaslin, Food for Thought Books, Amherst, Mass.

The Man Who Made Lists by Josh Kendall (Putnam, $25.95, 9780399154621/0399154620). "Peter Mark Roget found the ultimate avenue for his obsessive, life-long list making when he created Roget's Thesaurus. His lists were the result of his education, experience, and coping skills, as he faced a number of tragedies in life. Reading The Man Who Made Lists gives us a fascinating slice of English culture."--Becky Milner, Vintage Books, Vancouver, Wash.

Paperback

Daughter of York by Anne Easter Smith (Touchstone, $16.95, 9780743277310/0743277317). "Anne Easter Smith has done a wonderful job of creating the life of this very powerful woman--Margaret of York--in a time period when men were the rulers and women were the pawns in political matters. Smith's research was well done and her writing is beautiful."--Dorothy Pittman, Horton's Books & Gifts, Carrollton, Ga.

For Teen Readers

The Opposite of Invisible by Liz Gallagher (Wendy Lamb Books, $15.99, 9780375841521/0375841520). "This is the story of an ordinary girl with problems we can relate to. Alice discovers the confidence to be herself, the opposite of invisible. She acquires and loses her first boyfriend, makes new friends, and finds a new artistic medium to explore."--Sara Carter, Children's Bookshop, Kent, Wash.

[Many thanks to Book Sense and the ABA!]

 


Book Review

Book Review: God's Middle Finger

God's Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre by Richard Grant (Free Press, $15.00 Paperback, 9781416534402, March 2008)



All that British travel writer Richard Grant had heard about the Sierra Madre Mountains in northern Mexico--violence, bandits, extreme machismo and anarchy--drew him there like a magnet for wild times and the promise of excellent raconteurs. His book, teeming with a cast of unimaginable characters, stories that range from hilarious to horrifying and enough local color to make a rainbow look drab, shows that his near-fatal attraction to these mountains was inspired.

On the first leg of his mountain adventure, Grant meets more than his share of expert fabulists. They speak of Jesus Malverde, a 19th century bandit that today's drug traffickers honor as their patron saint. They lead him to a children's amusement park whose centerpiece is a wrecked plane that had been used for transporting drugs. They recount the alleged secret sex lives of the muy macho drug lords. Astounded by the sheer lunacy of these tales, Grant thinks he has fallen into a paradise for people, like him, who love the surreal.

Like any travel writer, Grant has a list of must-see places and events. The story he brings back when he visits a formerly well-to-do town is a seemingly simple one about hanging out with new buddies and finding that after-hours you can still keep the party going despite curfews: grandmothers, unexpected paragons of modern commerce, pass cases of black market beer and baggies of cocaine out their cute little windows. On the profane end of the spectrum is Grant's report on Holy Week ceremonies celebrated by the Tarahumara tribe in Guadalupe Coronado.  A drinking contest between God and the Devil, epically carnal props, drunken dancing diablitos and untold pagan outrages against what the Jesuits first taught the tribe transport Grant to surreal and anarchic heights. And then he stops by Durango, a town both Pancho Villa and John Wayne called home.

For all the thrills, Grant can't deny that the meeting of the Sierra Madre vendetta culture with the traffic in illegal drugs has not been a good thing. The narcotics trade, which some estimate accounts for more than 50% of the Mexican national income, has overwhelmed the quirky age-old wildness of the Sierra Madres by the power of money and heavy artillery. "It's become the kind of anarchy that gives anarchy a bad name," his friend Joe Brown had told Grant, and this thrilling book shows Joe was speaking the truth.--John McFarland

 


Deeper Understanding

Voyage of Discovery Via Codex 632

Portugal is justly famous for many things--castles, beaches, Fatima, romantic language, exploration, fado music, cod, port, Christopher Columbus . . . back up. Christopher Columbus? Not so much? If José Rodrigues dos Santos has his way, with the publication tomorrow of Codex 632: The Secret Identity of Christopher Columbus (Morrow, $24.95, 9780061173189/0061173185, April 1, 2008), Columbus will no longer be considered Italian, but Portuguese; in fact, a Portuguese Jew.

Pictured left at the Monastery of Jerónimo, José Santos, whose name is pronounced Zhoosay Santoosh, is a TV journalist, evening news anchor for Portugal's highest-rated station, journalism professor, CNN World Report contributor and five-time novelist. Possessed of an insatiable curiosity (and stamina--he has reported from such hot spots as Karachi, Kurdistan, Baghdad, Afghanistan, East Timor, Lebanon and Tibet), his novels contain an amazing array of information that he mixes with current issues. Scientific proof for God, quantum physics, Einstein and Ben-Gurion, global warming, the Antarctic, the East Timor uprising, Tibet--it's all data for his writing. He says, "Small doors can lead to large rooms," and after spending three days with him while he opened some doors into the history of Portuguese politics and exploration, one could only marvel at the rooms he uncovered.

Who knew that a big debate on Columbus's nationality began around 1892, and forged documents were produced to back up Spanish and Italian claims? Italy won the PR battle, partly by insisting that the two competing Columbuses were the same man. But how did a lowly Genoese silk weaver become an educated navigator versed in cosmography? Or, even more difficult, marry into Portuguese nobility? Why did he write in Castilian, Latin and Portuguese, but use a translator for Tuscan or the Genoese dialect? Even more provocative are the clues pointing to his being Jewish or a Marrano, a Jew pretending to be a Christian. His signature was kabbalistic. He used astronomical tables written in Hebrew. The crew on his voyage to the New World included 40 Genoese, at a time when "Genoese" was code for Jewish. And why did he set sail in 1492? He was working for King John II, to throw Spain off the track in the competitive search for a sea route to India. The 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas had divided the world between Spain and Portugal, and India was the sought-after crown jewel.

All the facts are true--it's a matter of interpretation.

In Codex 632, history professor and cryptographer Thomas Noronha is approached by the Americas History Foundation to continue the research started by Martinho Toscano, who has mysteriously died in Rio de Janeiro. Toscano was investigating the true story of the discovery of Brazil, and the Foundation asks Noronha to decipher Toscano's notes, which include a strange phrase, Moloc Ninundia Omastoos. Cue the dramatic music, and the academic hunt is on. As Noronha pursues information from Rio to Jerusalem, he discovers conspiracies both old and new involving the Foundation, the Knights Templars, the Kabbalah and Iberian politics and espionage. The usual suspects, but with the twist of Columbus's actual identity and mission, plus seafaring adventures during the Age of Discovery, a seductive Swedish student, the secret language of flowers and Foucault's Pendulum.

A bestseller in Portugal (where it beat out Harry Potter), Santos' book is more a novel about history and interpretation than a thriller. The codes and the mystery are a framework for discoveries, ours and the voyagers'. The Spanish press has compared it to Umberto Eco, the Brazilian press to Dan Brown. His style is influenced by writing for TV and radio; his favorite author is Somerset Maugham. In Portugal, he says, authors like Crichton, King or Grisham don't sell as well as one would think, because they aren't "literary" enough. Santos's book does not seem to be literary either until you find out that the original book is much longer than the heavily-edited English version. What's missing? According to Santos, character development and a lot of writing about food and meals, which are important to the Portuguese. According to Jorge from the tourism bureau, sex scenes. What's left, while a bit light on character, is still a captivating history lesson.
 
José Rodrigues dos Santos has written a book that fascinates and informs as well as entertains; it's also a mini-travelogue of an incredibly beautiful country. His passion for discovery, and for sharing that passion, is captured in an excerpt from the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa:

Put all you are
Into the smallest thing you do.
The whole moon will then gleam in every pool,
Because it rides so high.


--Marilyn Dahl

[Many thanks to Morrow, TAP Portugal Air and Turismo de Lisboa for giving Shelf Awareness the opportunity to meet the author.]

 


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