Shelf Awareness for Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Thank You Booksellers For Making Our Award-Winning Books a Success!

St. Martin's Press: Remain in Love: Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, Tina by Chris Franz

Walker Books: The Good Hawk (Shadow Skye, Book One) by Joseph Elliott

Tor Books: Deal with the Devil: A Mercenary Librarians Novel by Kit Rocha


Notes: Airport Stores Take Off; e-Mississippi

Media companies, including newspapers and TV and cable channels, are opening more stores in airports in a bid to expand their brands, the Associated Press (via the Ledger) reported.

Among examples: USA Today and Sports Illustrated stores, the first for both, which open tomorrow in the Detroit airport as well as New York Times, CNBC and Fox News airport stores. (Incidentally Borders is opening a store and newsstand, too, tomorrow in Detroit's new North Terminal.)

"Airport travelers are a unique customer set, with an unusually high demographic of age and income," Laura Samuels, spokesperson for the Hudson Group, which operates some of the stores. "These are people who thrive on information."

Some of the stores sell books, including those of Fox and the Times, the latter of which has shelves "well stocked with titles on its own best-seller lists or featured in its Sunday Book Review section."


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, published by Knopf today, is the latest pick in the Barnes & Noble Recommends program. B&N said that one of its booksellers commented, "This gritty thriller is packed with deceit, treachery, and plenty of dirty family secrets--enough to fill an entire basement with skeletons." Another B&N bookseller called The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo "gripping! I even read at stop lights and while I was brushing my teeth."

We loved the book, too, as noted here yesterday (Shelf Awareness, September 15, 2008).


Even as independent bookstores in Mississippi are "embracing new technology, [they] are managing to maintain the qualities that make them special," the Mississippi Business Journal reported.

"We get a good response from all of it," said Jamie Kornegay, owner of TurnRow Book Co., Greenwood, who sends out e-mails, has a store website with online ordering and Rhythm & Books Blog. "We don't have a cookie cutter approach. That's what independent bookstores have going for them. People feel connected. We're seeing an increase in traffic on our website. . . . There's so much out there on the Internet and people rely on it. Those who know what they're doing use it avidly."

Joe Hickman, manager of Lemuria Books, Jackson, added, "We've got to accept it and move on. People are in front of computers all day. . . . People everywhere like independent bookstores, the atmosphere, and we're trying to replicate that experience on the Internet. It helps us reach more people. They learn about us on the Internet and want to visit."

At Square Books, Oxford, manager Lyn Roberts observed, "Anything that can help us do our jobs better, we do it. We probably use it more than is apparent to visitors to the store. We sell books online and sell collectibles through other sites, but people like to look at books and hold them. Technology is wonderful. We have some really smart young people working here, and they keep us up to date with it."


NPR's All Things Considered discovered book trailers last week.


Man Booker Prize quandary: Does anyone still care?

In the Independent, Boyd Tonkin asked whether "the British audience for ambitious fiction [is] dying off, losing faith, or just drifting away? . . . It does seem, however, as if a dwindling band of domestic readers shares this annual passion. In the five weeks after the long-list announcement on 29 July, the 13 titles of the "Booker dozen" sold fewer than 14,000 U.K. copies; on average, barely 1,000 each. This is, frankly, pathetic. Writers and retailers will pray the shortlist delivers a bigger boost. Before the early-1980s Booker battles caught the public imagination, the prize tiptoed politely from year to year as a small-time coterie event. Now, a quarter-century of starlight has begun to fade. Both marketplace and media offer ever-shrinking space for 'literary fiction.' The prize ceremony, which once secured its own BBC programme, now has to make do with a scrappy insert in the news."


Did they mean Wall Street?

New York magazine offers a doom-and-gloom feature on book publishing whose title says it all: "The End."

Here's Boris Kachka's cheerful starting point: "Sales at the five big publishers were up 0.5 percent in the first half of this year, bookstore sales tanked in June, and a full-year decline is expected. But pretty much every aspect of the business seems to be in turmoil. There's the floundering of the few remaining semi-independent midsize publishers; the ouster of two powerful CEOs--one who inspired editors and one who at least let them be; the desperate race to evolve into e-book producers; the dire state of Borders, the only real competitor to Barnes & Noble; the feeling that outrageous money is being wasted on mediocre books; and, which many publishers look upon as a power-hungry monster bent on cornering the whole business."

He investigates some of the problems and profiles HarperStudio, the new HarperCollins imprint, as an example of a new kind of publisher that might point the way to better times.

Then the end of "the End":

"The kind of targeted, curated lists editors would love to publish will work even better in an electronic, niche-driven world, if only the innovators can get them there. Those owners who are genuinely interested in the industry's long-term survival would do well to hire scrappy entrepreneurs at every level, people who think like underdogs.

"It'll be rough going in the meantime; some publishers will transform, some will muddle through, some will die. And there will, no doubt, be a lot of editors for whom even this diminished era will look like the last great golden age, when some writers were paid in the millions, some of their books produced in the millions, and more than half of those books actually sold. Book publishing is still a big-league business, and that's a hard thing to let go of. 'There’s something terrible,' says an editor at a prestigious imprint, 'about admitting that you’re not a mass medium.' "


Effective September 22, Terri Harker joins Hachette Book Group Canada as marketing director. She has been director of distributor sales and retail marketing for Simon & Schuster's children's division in New York. Before that she spent 15 years with S&S in Canada.


G.P. Putnam's Sons: You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle

Bookstore Sales: Thanks to Harry, July Slows

In July, bookstore sales fell for the second month in a row, hurt, of course, by a comparison to July 2007, when the last Harry Potter book was published.

During the month, bookstore sales dropped 7.3% to $1.124 billion, according to preliminary estimates from the Census Bureau. For the year to date, bookstore sales have risen 1.7% to $8.66 billion.

By comparison, total retail sales in July rose 4% to $351.5 billion. For the year to date, total retail sales were up 3.1% to $2,365.7 billion.

Note: under Census Bureau definitions, bookstore sales are of new books and do not include "electronic home shopping, mail-order, or direct sale" or used book sales.


Running Press: Thank You! Now on Instagram!

Media and Movies

Media Heat: A Year of Mornings

Today on the Newshour with Jim Lehrer: Linda Robinson, author of Tell Me How This Ends: General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq (PublicAffairs, $27.95, 9781586485283/1586485288).


Tonight on the Charlie Rose Show: Bob Woodward, whose new book is The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008 (S&S, $32, 9781416558972/1416558977).


Tomorrow on the Martha Stewart Show: Maria Alexandra Vettese and Stephanie Congdon Barnes, authors of A Year of Mornings: 3191 Miles Apart (Princeton Architectural Press, $19.95, 9781568987842/1568987846).


Tomorrow on the Diane Rehm Show: Laurence Tribe, author of The Invisible Constitution (Oxford University Press, $19.95, 9780195304251/019530425X).


Tomorrow night on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Peggy Noonan, author of Patriotic Grace: What It Is and Why We Need It Now (Collins, $19.95, 9780061735820/0061735825).


Tomorrow night on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno: Meghan McCain, author of My Dad, John McCain (Aladdin, $16.99, 9781416975281/1416975284).


Tomorrow night on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson: Alan Alda, whose Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself (Random House, $15, 9780812977523/0812977521) is now out in paperback.


BINC: Double Your Donation with PRH

Books & Authors

Attainment: New Titles Appearing Next Week

Selected titles appearing next Monday and Tuesday, September 22 and 23:

The Given Day: A Novel by Dennis Lehane (Morrow, $27.95, 9780688163181/0688163181) chronicles the social turmoil in Boston during and after World War I.

A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce by Alec Baldwin (St. Martin's, $24.95, 9780312363369/0312363362) chronicles the confusing and tumultuous world of divorce litigation.

The Pritikin Edge: 10 Essential Ingredients for a Long and Delicious Life by Dr. Robert A. Vogel and Paul Tager Lehr (S&S, $25, 9781416580881/1416580883) provides tips for combating obesity and related illnesses.

One Fifth Avenue by Candace Bushnell (Voice, $25.95, 9781401301613/1401301614) follows the wealthy residents of a New York City apartment building.

Night of Thunder
by Stephen Hunter (S&S, $26, 9781416565116/1416565116) is the fifth thriller with former marine Bob Lee Swagger.

Tsar: A Thriller by Ted Bell (Atria, $26.95, 9781416550402/1416550402) follows spy Alex Hawke as he thwarts a Russian bid for world domination.

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter (Grand Central, $19.99, 9780446407410/0446407410) tells the true story of an abandoned kitten who became the main attraction of a Midwestern library.

Green Goes with Everything: Simple Steps to a Healthier Life and a Cleaner Planet
by Sloan Barnett (Atria, $19.95, 9781416578451/1416578455) gives advice for creating a greener household and lifestyle.


G.P. Putnam's Sons: A Tender Thing by Emily Neuberger

Book Review

Mandahla: Asking for Murder

Asking for Murder by Roberta Isleib (Berkley Trade Pub, $6.99 Mass Market Paperbound, 9780425223314, September 2008)

Dr. Rebecca Butterman is my kind of person: "Spring, and a young woman's fancy turns to Louis' Lunch: broiled square hamburgers on toast, loaded with cheese, tomato, and onions." She's on her way to meet her friend and fellow therapist Annabelle for their annual spring rite at Louis', but when she arrives at Annabelle's office, it's closed. After phoning and getting no answer, she goes to Annabelle's house, where she finds her friend crumpled on the bedroom floor, beaten nearly to death. The police think it was a botched break-in; Rebecca thinks otherwise, especially after someone tries to run her down in a parking garage, and someone else snatches her purse. Even more puzzling and frustrating is that she can't visit Annabelle in ICU, ejected repeatedly from the ward by the hospital social worker and Annabelle's sister, Victoria. Rebecca decides to do a bit of sleuthing.

Victoria, on her third husband, has a history of cleaning out the previous ones--how does she fit into the puzzle? Or Annabel's other sister, Heather, who is bipolar and off her meds? Something is very wrong, and Rebecca pursues the truth with the help of friends, colleagues, some sandplay therapy and strange affinity for Purell. She may charge into the morning like a white knight and "[straggle] out like a captured pawn," but she's relentless, even while believing that most problems recede a bit with a bowl of split pea soup--she loves to cook (there are no recipes in the book, there are enough guidelines to make a pot of soup or pasta carbonara). She's a bit chubby, hates golf and moonlights as an advice columnist, writing as Dr. Aster for Bloom! e-zine. She has a cat named Spencer (an homage?) and takes in Annabelle's cat Jackson (a further homage?), so at first glance Isleib's book falls into the cozy category, but it has some seriousness about it, especially with a minor character who is a battered wife. Rebecca says, "When we're with our patients, we let them think that any problem can be shrunk small enough to let them feel safe. If only they talk things over, life improves. The truth is, we could all be flattened like bugs tomorrow. Today."

The third in Roberta Isleib's Advice Column mystery series, Asking for Murder is enticing and provides a perfect reading segue into fall, when you are still in summer mode and can't quite believe it's already September--and almost October.--Marilyn Dahl

Shelf Talker: Asking for Murder is good escapist reading, a charming and sometimes gritty mystery with an appealing protagonist who sleuths, cooks and psychoanalyzes.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Read Any Fun Novels Lately?

Something happened at the bookstore Saturday that compelled me to share what is at once an unsettling and commonplace incident in the lives of most frontline booksellers. A customer asked me the following question:

Can you recommend a novel that is just pure fun?

You know the feeling when that question comes up. You look into the face of this aspiring optimist and you marvel that such a creature still exists. You want to help if you can, especially when your customer smiles and adds:

Everything I read is so depressing. I just want to be entertained.

Life is hard. You understand. And it's not as if you're unprepared to field this deceptively innocent query. You won't laugh or lecture because you are neither an elitist nor an idiot. You accept the challenge, aware that any response except a helpful one is not going to make either of you feel better.

Then you consider your fiction section and think: What the hell is fun? Maybe, somewhere in the mischievous recesses of your bookseller mind you consider a Tolstoyan riff:

All happy novels are alike; each unhappy novel is unhappy in its own way.

If you do not know this customer, you begin where you always begin. You ask questions, get a sense of the wind and water before setting sail. You find some way to delve into their conception of how "fun" might translate to the printed page. Even as you ask about all this, however, other unspoken questions may occur to you.

Are comic novels, where humor often springs from the darkest shadows of human experience, fun? Are serious novels with redemptive endings more fun to read than serious novels with unhappy endings? Is snark fun? Is satire fun? Is literary slapstick fun? Come to think of it, what is literary slapstick and where can I find some?

Among the five or six novels I'm currently reading, I'd nominate Steve Toltz's A Fraction of the Whole as the fun one of the bunch. It is dark and hilarious, with lines that make me laugh out loud alone (an unsettling experience I'm sure you've had, too). What contributes to the fun-ness factor of this relatively dark story is its exquisitely sharp narrative tongue ("People are not mysterious because they never shut up."), and dialogue that snaps with brittle, sometimes painful humor, as in this exchange between mother and teenage son:

"You talk to yourself," she said, placing her hand on my forehead. "Do you have a temperature?"
"A little warm," she said.

"I'm a mammal," I mumbled. "That's how we are."

Is this what my customer meant by "pure fun"? Apparently not, since my noble efforts--replete with energetic description and selected, funny quotes--to convince this particular reader that the prospect of a "fun read" existed between the covers of such a novel generated some laughs but no sale.

In the end, we settled for one of the usual suspects fun titles I can always handsell in this situation. A few of them are opening line hits, where you simply suggest they read the first sentence and try to resist continuing. Others are easy handsells because of particular characters or odd but humorous plots.

Nonfiction readers have it easy. The "Health" section of the Los Angeles Times recently featured a helpful list of "some of the happiness books that have hit shelves in recent months."

And Huffington Post's Lloyd Garver complained he "was in a bookstore the other day, and you know what? It's getting harder and harder--especially in a big chain bookstore--to find a book. I mean a real book. Literature. Or and least something that you can't read while you're also watching TV. The reason you can't find the kind of book you're looking for is that all the self-help books about how to be happy fill up the shelves. Ironically, this makes some of us quite unhappy."

Granted, some of Garver's "happy books" qualify rather tenuously as nonfiction, but what's to be done about my reader who's looking for works of "light" or "entertaining" fiction?  

I could tell you what happy titles I usually recommend, but I'm not going to. Not yet, anyway.

Instead, I'd love to hear what your "fun fiction" answers are to this ongoing sales floor challenge. How do you handle the fun novel question in your bookstore when customers demand their fundamental right to the pursuit of literary happiness?--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)


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