Shelf Awareness for Monday, September 22, 2008

Shambhala: Wait: A Love Letter to Those in Despair by Cuong Lu

Other Press: Nuestra América: My Family in the Vertigo of Translation by Claudio Lomnitz

Scholastic Press: Muted by Tami Charles

Berkley Books: The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba by Chanel Cleeton


Notes: Oprah's Pick; Scrooge's Holidays; Books for Barack

Oprah's next book club pick is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, published by Ecco. In a statement, Oprah said, "I think this book is right up there with the greatest American novels ever written."

O: The Oprah Magazine wrote in part: "Wroblewski's plot is dynamic--page by page compelling--and classical, evoking Hamlet, Antigone, Electra, and Orestes, as Edgar tries to avenge his father's death and his paternal uncle's new place in the affections of his mother. The scope of this book, its psychological insight and lyrical mastery, make it one of the best novels of the year, and a perfect, comforting joy of a book for summer."


"As economists predict the worst holiday sales season since the recession of 1991, retailers are fighting back with an arsenal of new selling strategies, staff cutbacks and more emphasis than ever on low prices," the Wall Street Journal reported. General retailers are also beginning to sell Christmas merchandise now--this year's holiday season is shorter than usual--and "gift cards will be fancier."

The financial meltdown is expected to take a toll on luxury retailers, and already warehouse club Costco is expecting to offer more branded, high-end products that distributors can't sell to their traditional outlets.

"The psychological impact goes beyond just people who are laid off," Raphael Moreau, a retail analyst with Euromonitor International, told the paper.

During this sluggish year, many retailers have tightened inventories and are using job-scheduling software, which should help them deal better with a difficult fourth quarter, the Journal added.


After Barnes & Noble shares gained more than 40% in the past two months, Standard & Poor's has changed its recommendation on the stock to "sell" from "hold," the Associated Press reported. B&N has risen above S&P's target price of $26 a share.

S&P analyst Michael Souers wrote that although the company is "managing costs effectively in a challenging environment, we remain concerned about further gross margin erosion, driven by competitive pressures from online peers." He also said he had what the AP called "concern about a continued decline in adult readership levels."


The winner of the BuzzBooks competition at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association trade show last week in Portland, Ore., was We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee (Weinstein Books). Booksellers and librarians at the show voted on seven competing titles; the voters then were themselves eligible for three $250 randomly drawn prizes. Those winners were: Marcia Vanderford, Vanderford's Book & Office, Sandpoint, Idaho, Debbie Buck, Vintage Books, Vancouver, Wash., and Johnna Hickox, Winter River Books, Bandon, Ore.


As the song goes, "If I can make it there . . ."

The New York Times asked, "Can an independent bookstore with the right formula still make it in New York City?" The answer, apparently, is a qualified "maybe," with hope resting on a blend of hard work, pragmatism and faith.

"People say, 'Are you out of your mind?'" said Cynthia Conigliaro, whose Lexington Avenue store, Archivia, opened nine months ago. "They want to come in and look at you like you're some curiosity. . . . It's been a cash flow roller coaster. I'm cautiously hopeful that people recognize that there's still some value to a bricks and mortar bookstore run by passionate bookstore owners who know their names, who know their books."

The Times reported that Idelwild Book's owner David Del Vecchio "is hoping that by specializing, and by creating a community space in a residential part of town, he'll be able to survive when so many others have not."

"It's a curated store that reflects a certain sensibility," he said. "I don't think it can be a chain store but smaller and cuter--it has to have a strong concept.”

The qualified conclusion by the Times to its own question? "So maybe independent bookstores could have a bright future in New York: Those updated design choices may give them a fresh identity, a boost that could dovetail nicely with the increasingly popular movement to support local, community-based retailers."


The Boulder Examiner offered a preview of "book lovers paradise" Boulder Book Store's 35th anniversary festivities next month.


More than 750 authors have contributed signed copies of their books to novelist Ayelet Waldman, who created Books for Barack, an online promotion whereby people who donate $250 to Senator Barack Obama's campaign through her site receive a mystery bag of 10 books. The books include a canvas tote bag with the Books for Barack logo. The first bags will be sent out this coming Friday, September 26.

Waldman wrote that another 40 books arrived this past Saturday, "a slow day. . . . My living room is a nightmare as you can imagine, so at some point Michael [Chabon, her husband] may put the kibosh on it."

The promotion started with the idea of auctioning a handful of signed books at an Obama fundraiser but grew when Waldman e-mailed other authors, who responded in droves. Among them are Stephen King, Ursula LeGuin, Judy Blume, Lemony Snicket, Richard Price and Amy Tan.

---, a "'democratically compiled' multimedia dictionary, which asks all and sundry to post video definitions of their favourite words," has debuted with the immodest goal of becoming "the largest and most authoritative free dictionary available online," the London Times reported.


"There is only so much a 15th century building can take," Susan Mirabaud, owner of the Fifteenth Century Bookshop, told the Sussex Express after her historic Lewes bookstore was hit by a bus for the second time in five years.


Was the Whole Earth Catalog a 1970s version of blogging? Boing Boing linked to a post by Kevin Kelly, who was once editor-in-chief at the Whole Earth Review and is now editor and publisher of Cool Tools. While looking at an old copy of the Whole Earth Catalog, Kelly felt "it all seemed comfortably familiar. Then I realized why. These missives in the Catalog were blog postings. Except rather than being published individually on home pages, they were handwritten and mailed into the merry band of Whole Earth editors who would typeset them with almost no editing (just the binary editing of print or not-print) and quickly 'post' them on cheap newsprint to the millions of readers who tuned in to the Catalog's publishing stream. No topic was too esoteric, no degree of enthusiasm too ardent, no amateur expertise too uncertified to be included."


Aftershock Comics: Kill a Man by Steve Orlando and Phillip Kennedy Johnson, illustrated by Alec Morgan

Powell's Books Revamps Buying, to Add Eight Buyers

The Powell's Books flagship store on Burnside Avenue in Portland, Ore., probably the largest bookstore in the country, is reorganizing its buying procedures by creating a team of eight buyers, all new positions. The buyers will report to Gerry Donaghy, formerly backlist inventory manager and now new book purchasing supervisor.

Buying at Burnside had been done by 35 section heads who bought from catalogues. Mark Ingraham, who remains head frontlist buyer, combined the orders and met with publishers reps. Ingraham will continue to meet with reps and adjust the suggested orders from the new buyers.

Kathi Kirby, purchasing and publisher relations manager for Powell's, told Shelf Awareness, "Although the section heads did a great job of buying for their sections, we saw there was room for improvement. This is a huge change for us, but we will be more adept at keeping up with the changing world of publishing. For example, if you're a genre buyer, you need to know about mass market publishing. If you're a history buyer, you need to be familiar with university press publishing."

Reps seemed pleased. Michael Croy, field sales director, Western region, for S&S, commented, "I am very excited about the opportunity for our reps to spend more focused time with Powell's. This will greatly increase our nimbleness with the merchandising of our titles."

[Many thanks to intrepid reporter Jenn Risko!]


GLOW: Beacon Press: Boyz n the Void: a mixtape to my brother by G'Ra Asim

Media and Movies

Media Heat: The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War

This morning on Good Morning America: Alec Baldwin, author of A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce (St. Martin's, $24.95, 9780312363369/0312363362).


This morning on the Today Show: Candace Bushnell, author of One Fifth Avenue (Voice, $25.95, 9781401301613/1401301614).


Today on the Diane Rehm Show: Marcia and Thomas Mitchell, authors of The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion (Polipoint Press, $23.95, 9780981576916/0981576915).


Tonight on the Late Show with David Letterman: Bob Woodward, author of The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008 (S&S, $32, 9781416558972/1416558977).


Tomorrow morning on Good Morning America: Robert J. Wagner, author of Pieces of My Heart: A Life (HarperEntertainment, $25.95, 9780061373312/0061373311).


Tomorrow morning on the Today Show: former New York Giant Tiki Barber, author of Go Long! (S&S, $15.99, 9781416936190/141693619X).


Tomorrow on the new syndicated show the Doctors: Lynda Madaras, author of Ready, Set, Grow! A "What's Happening to My Body?" Book for Younger Girls (Newmarket Press, paperback $12, 9781557045652/1557045658; hardcover $22, 9781557045874/1557045879).


Tomorrow on CNN's Glenn Beck Show: Ted Bell, author of Tsar (Atria, $26.95, 9781416550402/1416550402).


Tomorrow on Dr. Phil: T.D. Jakes, author of Before You Do: Making Great Decisions That You Wont Regret (Atria, $25, 9781416547280/1416547282).


Tomorrow night on the Late Show with David Letterman: Tom Dreesen and Tim Reid, authors of Tim and Tom, An American Comedy in Black and White (University of Chicago Press, $24, 9780226709000/0226709000).


Berkley Books: Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q Sutanto

Books & Authors

IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

From last week's Indie bestseller lists, available at, here are the recommended titles, which are also Indie Next picks:


The View from Garden City by Carolyn Baugh (Forge, $25.95, 9780765316578/0765316579). "Through the eyes of an American student living in Cairo, we meet a group of Egyptian women, women who endure, struggle alone and in family groups, and tell their amazing personal stories with grace and grim good humor. I can just imagine the lively book club discussions that will arise from Carolyn Baugh's The View from Garden City."--Laura Hansen, Bookin' It, Little Falls, Minn.

My Father's Paradise by Ariel Sabar (Algonquin, $25.95, 9781565124905/1565124901). "Ariel Sabar relates an intimate and moving account of how he reconciled his own Kurdish Jewish past, and, at the same time, he gives all of us who have been similarly touched by parents or grandparents who have been affected by the diasporas of the 20th century a way of dealing with our own sense of identity and dislocation."--Mitchell Kaplan, Books & Books, Coral Gables, Fla.


The Crow Road by Iain Banks (MacAdam/Cage, $14, 9781596923072/1596923075). "This delightful and complicated novel begins, 'It was the day my grandmother exploded,' and just gets better from there. Weaving between two generations of family secrets, with an innocence and charm that's rare in modern fiction, I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a book this much!"--Carol Schneck, Schuler Books & Music, Okemos, Mich.

For Ages 4 to 8

Bad Rats
by Eric Drachman (Kidwick, $18.95, 9780970380944/0970380941). "Young rats meet with a teacher-rat who will teach them to be good, not bad. Why are they bad? Because they're artists, and have been told anything that distracts from survival is dangerous, and therefore bad. The youngsters help their teacher relearn how to appreciate life's beauty. A lovely book with an inspiring message."--Ann Burlingham, Burlingham Books, Perry, N.Y.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]


Book Review

Book Review: The Wink of the Zenith

The Wink of the Zenith: The Shaping of a Writer's Life by Floyd Skloot (University of Nebraska Press, $24.95 Hardcover, 9780803211193, September 2008)

This collection of 17 essays is the fourth in a series of memoirs poet and novelist Floyd Skloot has written since he was stricken in 1988 with a rare virus that temporarily devastated his memory and left him unable to write. But it's the first that unearths the roots of his writing life, providing a moving, humorous and thoroughly delightful exposition of that subject.
Skloot's recollections range widely, from his childhood in Brooklyn, through an unlikely stint as an analyst in the Illinois Bureau of the Budget, to an often-comical recent trip to France. There are many highlights in the collection, but two essays that focus on Skloot's college years stand out. The first recounts his work recording books for a blind English professor who became his mentor. "I got an education in how language flowed or failed to flow," he writes, "how breath acted as a hidden punctuation within the rhythm of prose." His description of the challenges and rewards of reading The Sound and the Fury aloud reveals new aspects of Faulkner's work. The other describes how his senior honors thesis required him to read all 14 of Thomas Hardy's novels, in the process gaining a rare appreciation for the arc of a writer's career.
Not all of the essays focus directly on writing. Skloot chronicles the summer he spent pretending to be one of the Hardy Boys, on the lookout for spies and other evildoers at the Lido Hotel on Long Island. Another relives the summer of 1958, when an erroneous diagnosis of leukemia turned out to be nothing more than mononucleosis ("I wasn't in fact fatally ill, just inconveniently ill."). There are reminiscences about his mother's decline and death from Alzheimer's disease, made all the more poignant by the troubled relationship Skloot had endured with her and his own loss of memory.
Skloot is self-deprecating almost to a fault and serves as a companionable guide as he wanders along some of the back roads of his writing recollections. The significance of writing to his identity is clear, which must have made the lengthy impairment he suffered all the more painful: "Great writing . . . could stop time and thereby make time come to life, transporting the reader, as it must have transported the writer, into another dimension."
It's impossible to know whether, with this volume, Skloot finally has reassembled all the "shards of memory" scattered by his illness. If it is, we can be grateful for the hard and sometimes painful work it took to gather them and share them in such an eloquent and affecting form.--Harvey Freedenberg
Shelf Talker: An elegant and stimulating collection of essays that describe the diverse formative influences shaping one writer's life.


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