Shelf Awareness for Friday, May 9, 2008

Grove Atlantic: The Yellow House: A Memoir by Sarah M. Broom

Feiwel & Friends: A Delayed Life: The True Story of the Librarian of Auschwitz by Dita Kraus

New Directions: Baron Wenckheim's Homecoming by László Krasznahorkai, translated by Ottilie Mulzet

Workman Publishing: Real Happiness, 10th Anniversary Edition: A 28-Day Program to Realize the Power of Meditation (Second Edition, Revised) by Sharon Salzberg

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci, illustrated by Jim Rugg

Clarion Books: The Thief Knot: A Greenglass House Story by Kate Milford


Notes: Discounters Do Well in Tough Economy

Distorted somewhat by an earlier-than-usual Easter, sales in April rose more than expected compared to April 2007, and not surprisingly discount stores did well, according to reports in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other sources. The soaring prices of gasoline and food, the credit crunch, the falling housing market and job losses had an obvious effect.

Concerning evidence that consumers are waiting until payday to spend, C. Britt Beemer told the Times, "I've never seen numbers like this. The numbers of consumers a day who are literally putting everything on hold right now and slowing down is incredible."

General retail sales rose 3.6%, the International Council of Shopping Centers said. Among the strong retailers were discounters Costco, whose sales at stores open at least a year rose 8%, Wal-Mart, up 3.2%, Target, up 3.1% and Kohl's up 3.5%. Some higher-end stores resorted to heavy sales to try to stem the loss of customers, with mixed results.


Sara Barnes, the new owner of Booked for Murder, Madison, Wis., was profiled in the Capital Times and explained that "living with and caring for her parents for almost a year, until October 2007" led to her new life as a bookseller.

"I dreamed a 'someday bookstore' in my head--what it would look like, what books I would carry," she said. "I even had a scrapbook I created. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that my someday bookstore would be Booked for Murder."


In what seems destined to be an ongoing feature, today's Ian Fleming update comes from the Guardian, which showcased six covers from Casino Royale editions (including the 1953 original designed by Fleming himself) as well as a Bond quiz to test your 007 IQ.


Proceeds from a Waterstone's charity auction of 13 "storycards" by well-known authors "will be donated to English PEN and Dyslexia Action," Bloomberg reported. Participating authors--including J.K. Rowling, Richard Ford, Tom Stoppard, Sebastian Faulks, Doris Lessing and Nick Hornby--have all contributed storycards "written on a blank A5 sheet."


In anticipation of the Beijing Olympics, USA Today noted that "publishers are releasing a slew of new books about China."


In November 2009, Barnes & Noble plans to open a store in Covington, La., north of New Orleans across Lake Pontchatrain. The store will be in the Colonial Pinnacle Nord du Lac lifestyle development at the intersection of I-12 and U.S. Highway 21.


In August, Borders will open another new concept store, a 24,000-sq.-ft. location in Allen, Tex., north of Dallas. The location will be at Watters Creek at Montgomery Farms at Highway 75 and West Bethany Drive.


Mongoose Press, Newton Heights, Mass., is now being distributed to the trade by National Book Network. The company specializes in books on chess.


Effective May 27, Jane Comins will join Yale University Press as publishing and marketing director: art, general interest and electronic publishing. She was most recently associate publisher and executive director of marketing at Hyperion and earlier was senior manager, retail marketing, at Little, Brown.



Ingram: Congratulations 2019 National Book Award Winners - Learn More>

Cool Idea of the Day: The War and Peace Challenge

Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan., is issuing a War and Peace challenge to customers: to wit, a summer-long book club designed to read the classic work by Leo Tolstoy and led by Watermark bookseller Mark David Bradshaw. The club has four meetings scheduled, starting in early June, and participants receive a 20% discount on the book. The group will read the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, published by Knopf last October.

Bradshaw writes: "For a Russian of Tolstoy's generation writing in the 1860s, setting a story during Napoleon's 1812 invasion of Russia would be much like an American novelist of today setting a book during the American Civil War: both periods stand as moments that defined nations and directed the push of history.

"For us to read War and Peace now, in the new-made 21st century, is to deepen our connection with the great movements of history in Europe and the West. The novel's enduring themes of patriotism, sacrifice, and common humanity remain timelessly relevant, and its broad, sweeping embrace of characters and ideas is ideally suited for group discussion and debate."

Marketing manager Beth Golay said that there has been so much interest, "we're finding it difficult to keep the book in stock."


Soho Press: The Seep by Chana Porter

Books & Authors

Awards: Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

Belgian author Paul Verhaeghen earned a rare double honor as winner of the £10,000 (US$19,558) Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for his work as both author and translator of Omega Minor (Dalkey Archive, $16, 9781564784773/1564784770).

Although he is entitled to take the full purse, which is traditionally divided between author and English translator, Verhaeghen "does not plan to do so," according to the Guardian.

"Part of this book is about the rise and aftermath of Fascism in Nazi Germany," he said. "And it's hard to miss the analogous things happening in the U.S. I refused the Flemish Culture award after I realised around $5,000 (£2,555) of the winnings would go to the U.S. Treasury. So this time, I decided to give the money to the American Civil Liberties Union, which works for civil rights. The money won't be liable for tax." 


G.P. Putnam's Sons: Providence by Max Barry

Book Brahmins: Tom Rob Smith

Tom Rob Smith was born in 1979 to a Swedish mother and an English father and studied English Literature at Cambridge. He worked on Cambodia's first-ever soap opera and wrote screenplays until he started work on the novel Child 44, just published by Grand Central. Film rights have been bought by Ridley Scott, and Richard Price will adapt the novel.

On your nightstand now:

Robert Conquest's The Great Terror. Conquest was the first historian I read when I decided to write Child 44. His The Harvest of Sorrow was pivotal in making me realize how much I wanted to write my story.

For some reason, I don't like reading books by the same author back to back, so it's taken me a year or so before I've got around to reading The Great Terror. It is an amazing book.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I loved anything by Roald Dahl and Tolkien.

Your top five authors:

I'd feel guilty naming just five--there are so many more that I love. But if I were going to name five authors I love who influenced this book in some way, I'd name Graham Greene, Robert Louis Stephenson, Dan Brown, Thomas Harris and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Book you've faked reading:

I'm sure I must have faked reading some at school. A French novel called Grandeur Nature springs to mind. However, I'm a little uneasy with the question. I think the premise that if you haven't read some books, you're deficient is wrong. That kind of pressure turns people off reading. They feel like it's a duty rather than a pleasure. There can a million different reasons why someone hasn't read a particular book. I don't see that there's any reason to pretend.

Book you are an evangelist for:

I'm careful about recommending any book. I'd need to know the person I was speaking to.
Book you've bought for the cover:

I don't think I've ever bought a book simply on the basis of its cover although if I'm looking for a particular book and I don't like its cover, I'd almost certainly try finding another edition.
Book that changed your life:

The Harvest of Sorrow!
Favorite line from a book:

I never remember quotes. I remember stories, details and great moments. I'm also terrible at remembering names.  
Book you most want to read again for the first time:

I know exactly what you mean by this question. You come to the end of the book and you feel kind of sad, like you're saying goodbye to a friend and you can't recapture that friendship by re-reading the book, because that's almost like looking through a photo album rather than re-living the experience. There have been so many books like this. Recently, I felt this way over Philip K. Dick, Margaret Atwood and Randy Shilts, to name several that spring to mind.  


Book Review

Book Review: The Delighted States

Delighted States: A Book of Novels, Romances, & Their Unknown Translators, Containing Ten Languages, Set on Four Continents, & Accompani by Adam Thirlwell (Farrar Straus Giroux, $30.00 Hardcover, 9780374137229, May 2008)

This is a gorgeous stew of a book, stuffed with everything from dollops of boldly idiosyncratic literary criticism to chunks of gossip-filled biography, with a generous helping of striking photographs and even some enigmatic line drawings (the "squiggles" of the book's subtitle) from Laurence Sterne's 18th century comic novel, Tristram Shandy, tossed in for good measure. British novelist Adam Thirwell has set for himself the daunting task of creating what he describes as "an inside-out novel, with novelists as characters," tracing the history of the Western novel from its 17th century origins to the present. At its most engaging, it's unlike anything you learned in your freshman English Lit survey: a dazzling work, sure to excite the imagination of any lover of literature.
Thirwell's theme revolves around the concepts of style (which he describes as "timeless and placeless") and translation. Through his witty and insightful analysis of the work of titans like Kafka, Joyce and Nabokov as well as lesser lights (at least to most Western readers) like Poland's Witold Gombrowicz and Bruno Schulz, he patiently demonstrates the universality of various literary styles and the influence they exert through generations of writers without regard for national or linguistic boundaries. "I tend to think that literary history is haphazard," he observes. "It is a system of interlinked revisions and inspirations like Franz Kafka's importation of Gustave Flaubert. All techniques are portable."
Thirwell is particularly adept at tracing lines of connection between writers across long stretches of time and in ways far from self-evident to the common reader. Linking Cervantes, Flaubert and Austen through their creation of characters preoccupied by their literature-inspired fantasy lives, he writes, "Catherine [Morland, of Northanger Abbey] is another name for Don Quixote, or Madame Bovary." This is only one of several literary "families" (another is Stendahl as the progenitor of both Tolstoy and Bellow) he sketches out in the course of the book. "A tradition is a more complicated series," he concludes, "where certain elements are maintained, while other elements are morphed into new variations."
The Delighted States is a charming, lucid work, guaranteed to ignite sparks of curiosity in the minds of readers willing to follow Adam Thirwell on a frequently circuitous, but always rewarding, path. It's a journey of discovery likely to inspire another look, with fresh eyes, at some classics of Western literature. That's a trip well worth taking with Thirwell as a learned and decidedly unstuffy guide.--Harvey Freedenberg


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Mamas, Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Readers

I can almost hear Willie Nelson reworking the lyrics of his classic cowboy song:

Mamas, do let your babies grow up to be readers.
Please let 'em write essays and read some great books . . .

Mother's Day is a bookseller's dream, as well as an absolute field day for greeting card sales. I flew my initial solo bookseller POS flight one week before Mother's Day in 1992, assuming full control of a cash register without a co-pilot for the first time. My UPC scanning and monitor watching skills were put to the ultimate test:

I think you rang that card in twice!
How can this card be $5?
I love your cards!
I think some of your cards are in very bad taste.
Don't you have Mother's Day cards for stay-at-home dads?

Okay, I made the last one up, but I emerged from the experience a better cashier with a new appreciation for this particular holiday. As a bookseller--and as a son, of course--I'm still a believer, in part because mothers play such a critical role in the development of children's reading lives, or lack thereof. And while it's easy as apple pie to criticize the commercialization of Mother's Day, bookstores still offer the best ways to acknowledge moms as parents, teachers and readers.

"I love my mama who, like many moms, is not interested in the traditional Mother's Day fare," advises Heather Gain in the e-newsletter from Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, Mass. "Frankly, she wouldn't be impressed by a box of calorie-laden chocolates and a bouquet of soon-to-wilt carnations. Instead (spoiler alert, Mom!), I'm planning on giving her--you guessed it--the long-lasting and feel-good gift o' books."

In its special Mother's Day e-newsletter, Northshire Bookstore, Manchester Center, Vt., highlights a "Green Moms" promotion, suggesting that, for "mothers especially looking for ways to help preserve the environment for future generations, Northshire has a sustainability section that includes books, home-cleaning kits, and recycled, reusable bags and accessories."

One of my favorite bits of advice comes from University Book Store, Seattle, Wash., whose website sagely advises, "Make a fuss over mom . . . You know how mom always says: 'Oh, honey. You don't have to make a fuss over me for Mother's Day. . . . ' Well, she's lying."

"Mothers, mothers, mothers," Paul Theriault exclaims in the b-mail newsletter from Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, Mass. "I'm a father now, and now Mother's Day has taken on a whole new meaning. It means something like 'ignore at your own peril.' While the Booksmith can't serve up breakfast in bed and a foot massage, we've certainly got something for your moms, who nevertheless deserve soooo much more. Come on in to the store and you'll stumble right into the display up front overflowing with gift ideas . . . Or just grab one of us, that's what we're here for!"

Laura Ponticello of Creekside Books, Skaneateles, N.Y., offers a book list that "pays tribute to women who positively influence others through acts of kindness or words of wisdom. All of these women face moments of self-doubt. For some women it comes naturally to care for children with a compassionate heart, while other women struggle to emerge from self-imposed perceptions, and lastly some of us serve best by following our passions that potentially inspire others with hope."

There is a moving post at the staff blog for Nomad Bookhouse, Jackson, Mich., that includes the following testimony to the power of maternal storytelling: "For anyone that rallies claims that fiction is pure fantasy or lacks opportunity for application in our lives . . . well, they don't read fiction. This book [The Rest of Her Life by Laura Moriarty] has taken me to a place that I had neither expected nor found anywhere else in recent years. I respect my mom more tonight for having read fiction. I want to live more fully with my daughter tonight for having read fiction."

Books Inc., Burlingame, Calif., which held a "Mothers' Night Out" earlier this week, also offers what might be considered an antidote to the sentimental approach with its Not Your Mother's Book Club.

And if you're one of the unlucky children whose mother "gets under your skin," don't despair. Head north immediately and you may still find the perfect gift, since "Indigo and Chapters bookstores are recalling 10,000 Mother's Day tote bags after tests revealed they could cause skin irritation," according to the Ottawa Citizen.

Oh, oh. There's that cynic again. Sorry, Mom--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)


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