Shelf Awareness for Tuesday, August 19, 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


Winchester Word: Deer Hunting with Jesus

Following up on yesterday's item about Tom Campbell of the Regulator Bookshop, Durham, N.C., who wanted to recommend Deer Hunting with Jesus by Joe Bageant to Senator Barack Obama, Jen Gyurisin of the Winchester Book Gallery writes:

My husband, Andy, and I own the only independent bookstore in Winchester, Va., the town Joe uses as an example of Southern life. We were the first bookstore to hold a reading for Joe's book and are strong supporters of Deer Hunting with Jesus.
Joe's book has done extremely well in our store with all class levels, but I am constantly amazed at the surprise local people express when hearing that the book is being read as part of college curriculums or as a way for the rest of the world to understand what is happening in our nation. It's almost as if folks don't want the "dirty little secret" of class struggle in Southern towns to be acknowledged. That said, there is a strong movement in our town for Sen. Barack Obama and I believe it is fueled by many of the people who agree with Joe's book. According to the August 3 Sunday Times, Obama's campaign has been in contact with Joe concerning his book and his understanding of Southern social and class issues.
Each day we sell a few copies of Joe's book and are always thrilled to think it may change a few minds or cause folks to recognize the real problems in our community.


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Chelsea Green's Challenge: B&N and Indies Not Happy

Chelsea Green's decision to make a new book, Obama's Challenge by Robert Kuttner, available first only via Amazon--via its BookSurge POD service--has led to some independent booksellers and Barnes & Noble to cancel orders.

The book won't be available to non-Amazon accounts for two weeks. In addition, the publisher intends to distribute 15,000 coupons at the Democratic convention, beginning next Monday, that offer a 25% discount on the book on Amazon.

B&N had ordered 10,000 copies of Obama's Challenge, an admiring portrait of the Illinois senator, and called the exclusive sales arrangement "unprecedented," according to the Wall Street Journal. B&N said that now it will sell the book only via special order and on its website.

The New York Times quoted B&N saying it bought Obama's Challenge believing the book would be "available to all booksellers simultaneously--an even playing field--which is common practice in book publishing."

Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, Calif., called the arrangement "a slap in the face," the Journal reported.

Chelsea Green said that it is publishing Obama's Challenge in this manner to make sure it would be available for Democratic convention-goers. "This election is too important to wait around for traditional publishing lead times," president and publisher Margo Baldwin said in a statement. According to the Times, she also wrote to booksellers, "If all of you cancel your orders, it will mean that a really good and important book on Obama will be effectively boycotted."


The ironies and oddities of this situation are striking. One wonders why a publisher that prides itself on progressive politics and sustainable living--which usually includes buying local--made an exclusive agreement with a company seen by some as the biggest threat to local bookselling. There are other POD organizations, and e-books in a variety of formats would offer a way of reaching people quickly. And isn't flooding the Democratic convention with this book preaching to the choir? Also we see clearly whom B&N considers its major competition--to the point of invoking a level playing field. And while we don't know about Amazon, most others on opposite sides of the fence in this brouhaha are rooting for Obama.


Soho Press: The Seep by Chana Porter

Notes: Keeping the Covenant?; Cafe Benefits

Small businesses in New Haven, Conn., are coping with soaring costs and big box competition, according to the Connecticut Business News Journal. Bea Dozier-Taylor, owner of A Walk in Truth/blackPRINT bookstore, is especially frustrated: she recalled that "when bestselling author Tavis Smiley's The Covenant with Black America was published in 2006, she learned that some of her best customers had purchased the book at Barnes & Noble and other giant retailers. Ironically, the book urged African-American to patronize businesses owned by African-Americans."

"These were 'conscious' folks who went to mainstream bookstores to buy this book," she said. "How do you do that and honor the covenant?"


"If More Than Words was in Alaska, I'd have to be there," Dayala Vilvalex, 16 and a one-time foster child, told the Boston Herald, which reported the Waltham, Mass., non-profit bookshop "that has put more than 70 youth from foster care, the court system and homeless shelters in paying jobs . . . is launching a trendy new cafe on August 20 with a grand opening."

"They really come out of this program with a lot of skills," said Frank Galligan, director of the Arlington office at the Department of Children and Families. "They do a lot of public speaking, giving tours, giving presentations. They learn interview skills. They learn customer service skills."


The Motley Fool chose Barnes & Noble as this week's "Throw This Stock Away" feature, arguing that "it's hard to picture a superstore chain like B&N being more relevant in the future. The way we consume content is changing dramatically, and one only needs to look at something like the emptying bidding floor for rival Borders Group to realize that even bookworms aren't coming around to save this tired niche."

Among the three stocks nominated to take B&N's place in bookish portfolios?, because "the future continues to brighten for Amazon's Kindle. Citi analyst Mark Mahaney sees the Kindle as a $1 billion business for Amazon by 2010. . . . With the digital delivery of books sidestepping the superstore, Amazon doing a banner job of delivering actual books to your home without having to tax your gas tank, and even something as simple as the evolution of K-cup home coffee brewers making the once cozy B&N java houses less necessary, isn't it time for you to turn the page on the chain?"


Novelist Andrew O'Hagan "accused television presenters Richard and Judy's book club of treating their readers as stupid" at an Edinburgh International Book Festival "debate on whether or not the novel is overrated," according to the Guardian.

"We have an industry where we have a Richard and Judy culture," he said. "Certain totemic elements, certain gongs must be struck for a novel to be worthy of presentation to a mass audience. This is a coarsening. . . . [The Richard and Judy book club] is a wasted opportunity . . . They have a massive captive audience of people who aren't completely undiscerning; they aren't stupid. Why are they treating them as if they are stupid? There is an opportunity to use that connection to turn a generation on to good writing.

"We know it isn't impossible because Oprah Winfrey did it in America. I know she introduced a lot of cack, but along the way she had them reading Tolstoy and Jonathan Franzen--who wasn't happy to be read but that was inverted snobbery. You can't wave a wand over the audience for Richard and Judy and say: 'You should be reading Kafka.' It is a lifestyle show, but these books oversell a reduced, unimaginative notion of what people's literary enjoyment might be. If they were to up it just a little bit, that might be good news.'"


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

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Presidential Courage

Today on Fresh Air: Michael Beschloss, author of Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America 1789-1989 (S&S, $15.95, 9780743257442/0743257448).


Tonight on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, in a repeat: Senator Chuck Schumer, author of Positively American: How the Democrats Can Win in 2008 (Modern Times, $16.95, 9781594868139/1594868131).


Tonight on the Colbert Report, in a repeat: Lucas Conley, author of OBD: Obsessive Branding Disorder: The Illusion of Business and the Business of Illusion (PublicAffairs, $22.95, 9781586484682/1586484680).


Tomorrow Readers Review on the Diane Rehm Show focuses on A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.


Tomorrow night on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, in a repeat: Senator Mel Martinez, author of A Sense of Belonging: From Castro's Cuba to the U.S. Senate, One Man's Pursuit of the American Dream (Crown Forum, $26.95, 9780307405401/0307405400).


Tomorrow night on the Colbert Report, in a repeat: Bing West, author of The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq (Random House, $28, 9781400067015/1400067014).


Books & Authors

Attainment: New Titles Appearing Next Week

Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, August 26:

Silks by Dick Francis and Felix Francis (Putnam, $25.95, 9780399155338/0399155333) chronicles a particularly complex murder case for London barrister Geoffrey Mason.

Devil Bones: A Novel by Kathy Reichs (Scribner, $25.95, 9780743294386/0743294386) is the 11th book featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

The Black Tower by Louis Bayard (Morrow, $24.95, 9780061173509/0061173509) is the author's third historical thriller, set in the early 19th century in Paris.

Laughter of Dead Kings
by Elizabeth Peters (Morrow, $25.95, 9780061246241/0061246247) is the sixth suspense novel with art historian Vicky Bliss.

She Had It Coming
by Mary Monroe (Dafina, $24, 9780758212191/0758212194) follows a girl who witnesses the murder of a friend's stepfather on prom night.

by Anne Roiphe (Harper, $24.95, 9780061254628/0061254622) is a memoir of the author's life after the sudden death of her husband of nearly 40 years.

Creating Myself: How I Learned That Beauty Comes in All Shapes, Sizes, and Packages, Including Me
by Mia Tyler (Atria, $25, 9781416558606/1416558608) explores the challenges of the daughter faced by Aerosmith's Steven Tyler.

Now in paperback

Cold Hearted by Beverly Barton (Zebra, $6.99, 9781420100495/1420100491).

Critical by Robin Cook (Berkley, $9.99, 9780425222881/0425222888).

Stone Cold by David Baldacci (Vision, $9.99, 9780446615648/0446615641).

The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright (Berkley, $13, 9780425223475/0425223477).

Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult (Avon, $7.99, 9780061374968/0061374962).


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: A Segue from Politics to Religion in Bookstores

In the bookstore last weekend, I could almost hear titles screaming at one another. The Obama Nation had some terrible things to say to The Audacity of Hope; Faith of My Fathers was called out by The Real McCain. During a presidential campaign, August seems to enhance its languid Dog Days with insistent barking, and even the deceptive silence of book jackets can be measured in decibel levels.

"Those who love their own noise are impatient of everything else," wrote Thomas Merton. In that thought dwells the spark for this week's transition to a new conversation because it is August and because, at summer picnics, you should never talk about two things with Uncle Ralph or Aunt Pearl--politics and religion.

We will talk about them. Since it was the debut of a Countdown to President Obama Hope Clock that got our political discussion going, perhaps we can let it serve as a vehicle of transition here as well.

In a recent edition of her e-mail newsletter, Susan Weis, owner of breathe books, Baltimore, Md. wrote, "I have 'hope' for sale . . . not that I want to be overly political, but I decided to sell hope in the form of the official Barack Obama Countdown key chain." Susan hadn't carried the George Bush countdown clocks because they "seemed so negative, and well, I shouldn't really get into all that here. Suffice it say--I'm happy to have Barack's face looking up at me and to see the clock counting down."
In a subsequent post on her bookstore's blog, she noted that in spite of "a few e-mails expressing dismay," the general response had been quite positive: "Some bookstore owners say they want to remain neutral, they don't want to alienate customers or the community they are in. . . . That's not me. breathe books is a reflection of me. One of the reasons I opened breathe books was to deepen my spirituality, surround myself with books, music, beautiful items and other people--all that would help immerse me into a lifestyle of learning, wellness, wholeness, authenticity. That others wanted to come along too is a blessing and a thrill. So when I promote Barack Obama, it's the same as promoting Louise Hay, Jack Kornfield or Eckhart Tolle. It's another way of surrounding myself with healers. And I'm not ashamed to say it!"

Whether the issue is politics or spirituality--or both--booksellers make daily inventory choices that influence customer decisions and have the potential to incite reactions. I couldn't help wondering if religion presents even more of a challenge for book buyers than politics does.

And so I ask you: What about the religion section in your bookstore?

You may think the inspiration for this new direction came from Rick The Purpose Driven Life Warren's faith and politics interviews with the presidential candidates last Saturday, but the real catalyst was an e-mail we received from Sharon Roth, sales representative for Loyola Press.

"Your columns in Shelf Awareness made me think about another subject: religion and how bookstores handle stock selection, placement and display of this category," Sharon wrote. "I know religion, like politics, is one of those topics that one shouldn't discuss at a dinner party, but how do bookstores handle this category? Religion is something that is even more personal than politics. Interesting in this political year the religion of the candidates seems to be an important issue. I think especially in this day and age allegiance to a political party is changed based on a candidate and his/her position on particular issues. People are not as apt to change religions as quickly, although often it is done for the same reason. Religion affects our world view and our dealings with people."

Sharon offered her insights on the topic, which I'll share with you next week. She also asked a few intriguing questions. In fact, I think I'll just step aside and let her ask you directly:

  1. What role does a book buyer's religion play in ordering and merchandising?
  2. How do bookstores select books for the religion category?    
  3. How do they promote and merchandise these titles?    
  4. Does a bookstore feel its customers would be better served in a religious bookstore for their wanted religious books?
  5. For this reason, would they carry only religious books that are on the bestseller lists?
  6. Does a bookstore have any responsibility to the community to carry religious books?
  7. Should a bookstore carry The Koran and books about Islam?
  8. What about books that are anti-religious?

Please take a look at your religion/spirituality section and tell me what you see.--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)


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