Shelf Awareness for Friday, October 17, 2008

Dutton Books: A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor (The Carls #2) by Hank Green

HP Piazza: Regain Control of Your Publishing Content - Register Now

Post Hill Press: Personality Wins: Who Will Take the White House and How We Know by Merrick Rosenberg and Richard Ellis

Walrus Publishing: I Will Be Okay by Bill Elenbark

Parson Weems Publisher Services - Click Here!


Notes: Anastasia's Success Keys; Main Street Holiday Shopping

"Anastasia’s Books just had its best September in years," wrote Kansas City Star columnist Barb Shelly of the Raytown, Mo., used bookstore. "The superbly named co-owner, Anastasia Hope, doesn’t know how to explain the good fortune."

"We’re still trying to figure it out," said Hope, but Shelly offered her own two-part theory:

"Part One is that we have had our fill of excesses. Bigger is no longer better and the quest for the next new thing has given way to a search for equilibrium. Part Two is that times are hard and people are seeking escape. Where better to find both stability and oblivion than a small bookstore. . . ."

"Until recently, a business like Anastasia’s seemed almost hopelessly out of date in a world that rewarded change, growth, expansion and risk," Shelly continued. "Now, the methods Hope and [husband Michael] Tatham have embraced over 10 years seem as practical as a small car. Follow your passions. Know your customers. Don't get greedy. Even help your competitors--you're all in this together."


With the advice that "now more than ever, it's important to hearken back to business fundamentals," ABA CEO Avin Domnitz wrote in a letter to booksellers that "a basic business tenet--especially when credit is tight--is that 'cash is king.' The key to being in control of your business is to be in control of cash. Think in terms of cash even more than profitability."

Domnitz, who regularly leads financial seminars for ABA members, offered a range of advice on "proactive planning and analysis" stores can do now, and offered links to BTW's series on bookselling in tough times--whose latest installment focuses on staffing--and worksheets and other information from ABA educational seminars.


Think Main Street this holiday season. Bookselling This Week reported that the "Sustainable Business Network of the Greater Lehigh Valley (SBN) in southeast Pennsylvania plans to launch a Main Street, Not Wall Street campaign to highlight to consumers the advantages of spending their dollars at local independent businesses."

"There is a limited number of dollars out there, and we're trying to let consumers know how they can make the most impact with their money," said Stephanie Anderson of Moravian Book Shop, Bethlehem, Pa. "It's deceptively simple, what you can do [for your community] with a slight change of habits."

Anderson added that "people have lost faith with the economy. No one understands exactly how it all happened. The local economy is a lot easier to understand. If small businesses make money, pay their bills, they stay open. If they don't, they close. I think people are coming back to local economies because it's just more comfortable."


The damaged economy has claimed one bookstore before it even had a chance to get going. According to the Rockford, Mich., Independent, a "planned bookstore in downtown Rockford is not going to happen as a result of the recent volatility in the financial market."

Amanda Hall "was trying to get a business loan," said Tom Cronkright, owner of the building where Page One Bookstore and Café was to be located. "When the credit market started to tighten she got caught up in it. She was absolutely disappointed. It's one of those things where you look back but you can't control what happened."


The Chicago International Remainder and Overstock Book Exposition (CIROBE) takes place next week, October 24-26, in Chicago, Ill.

"Our exhibitors are really strong, including a lot of new ones," Chelsea Nash, show coordinator, told Bargain Book News. "Twenty-five percent of those displaying this year were not here last year. Several large vendors including Kudzu, Paragon and Publications International are lost, but we seem to have made it up in a lot of smaller exhibitors."

BBN reported that "the economy is affecting trade show attendance and a lot of people are making decisions later than earlier to attend."

There used to be a hard number a month out," said show owner Marshall Smith, "but not anymore--more registrations appear at the end."

"Last year we had about as many register at the door as preregistered," Nash added. "We are also seeing few people per company (attendees), which could be a cost saving measure, but we are not seeing any pattern really."


From the very funny, but "not a book trailer," department at Boing Boing: "John Hodgman's new book More Information than You Require hits the streets on October 21, but by no means is today's episode of Boing Boing tv any sort of, oh, how do the marketing people say it--it's not a book trailer, and it is by no means a promotional vehicle for said book."

And just so there's no promotional misunderstanding, the article also ends with this proviso: "(Serious face: this episode isn't an ad, we're just ridiculously hardcore fans of Hodgman. Watch our trufan-trailer here, then, seriously, go buy the book)."


Cyberpunk chic? Author William Gibson "has lent his name to some very cool bags and jackets (and sneakers)," according to Boing Boing. "The products are a joint effort of two Japanese firms, bag company Porter, and Buzz Rickson, remakers of vintage military clothing."


Journalist Roberto Saviano, author of Gomorra--a nonfiction book about the Naples Mafia that has sold more than 1.2 million copies and been adapted into a play and film--plans to leave Italy because of threats on his life, according to Reuters (via the New York Times).


Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Francaise, an exhibition on view until March 22, 2009 at New York's Museum of Jewish Heritage, is "a solemn show," according to Bloomberg. Items on display include the author's manuscript for Suite Francaise--a "handwritten draft, crammed with tiny blue script on unlined notebook paper"--as well as "photographs that capture Némirovsky's wide smile and empathetic eyes" and  "correspondence, clippings and video interviews."


Disney-Hyperion: The Mirror Broken Wish (Mirror #1) by Julie C. Dao

Media and Movies

Awesome Nightline Shots in California Bookstore

Ohmygod. Nightline ran a segment Tuesday night focusing on Lisi Harrison, author of the Clique series of YA novels that are wildly popular among girls. Some of the episode was filmed during a summer event at Laguna Beach Books, Laguna Beach, Calif., where young fans elaborated on why they like the series.

Incidentally Danielle Bauter of Laguna Beach Books wrote that Harrison, who lives in Laguna Beach, "wanted to do the event at our store as a way to support independent bookstores."


GLOW: Inkyard Press: Come On In: 15 Stories about Immigration and Finding Home edited by Adi Alsaid

Movies: Tim Burton Filming Alice in Wonderland

Filming has begun on Tim Burton's version of Alice in Wonderland, which features several inspired casting choices including Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Anne Hathaway as the White Queen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen.

The Los Angeles Times observed that "the defining pop-culture version of the story for modern American audiences is the 1954 Disney animated adaptation with its little blond Alice in her blue dress with white pinafore. That film was met with acidic reviews by the literary world (especially in England) for its bland and blunted vision of the Carroll classic. Burton is not a fan of the film, either, and, as with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it appears his mission is to reclaim a children's classic, resharpen its edges and remind everyone that sapping the weirdness out of a tale often renders it flat and forgettable."

"It's a funny project," Burton said. "The story is obviously a classic with iconic images and ideas and thoughts. But with all the movie versions, well, I've just never seen one that really had any impact to me. It's always just a series of weird events. Every character is strange and she's just kind of wandering through all of the encounters as just a sort of observer. The goal is to try to make it an engaging movie where you get some of the psychology and kind of bring a freshness but also keep the classic nature of Alice. And, you know, getting to do it in 3-D fits the material quite well. So I'm excited about making it a new version but also have the elements that people expect when they think of the material."


Atheneum Books: Saucy by Cynthia Kadohata, illustrated by Marianna Raskin

Books & Authors

Awards: FT/Goldman Sachs Business Book; German Book Prize

Mohamed El-Erian's When Markets Collide: Investment Strategies for the Age of Global Economic Change won the 2008 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award.

The Financial Times observed that the book, which was published "before the latest convulsions of the credit crunch . . . breaks new ground for the Business Book of the Year Award, launched in 2005, by being the first winner to offer explicit investment advice, alongside its economic and geopolitical analysis."


Uwe Tellkamp won the €25,000 (US$34,000) German Book Prize for his novel Der Turm (The Tower). According to the Guardian, prize judges said TellKamp's "1,000-page novel about the downfall of the German Democratic Republic . . . succeeded in creating 'the panorama of a society staggering towards its end' with the use of 'a whole host of scenes, images and linguistic styles.'" The announcement coincided with the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair, and the Guardian suggested that the novel "is expected to be the subject of lively interest from foreign publishers keen to snap up translation rights at the book fair."


Book Brahmin: Laura Pedersen

Laura Pedersen was the youngest columnist for the New York Times; prior to that she was the youngest person to have a seat on the floor of the American Stock Exchange and wrote her first book, Play Money, about that experience. In 1994, President Clinton honored Pedersen as one of Ten Outstanding Young Americans. She has appeared on CNN and on such shows as Oprah, Good Morning America, the Today Show, Primetime Live and the Late Show with David Letterman. She has also performed stand-up comedy at the Improv and writes material for several well-known comedians. As if that weren't enough to keep her busy, she has written five novels and a collection of short stories. Pedersen's humorous memoir, Buffalo Gal, is being published this month by Fulcrum. More information can be found at

On your nightstand now:

By all counts a marathon of sesquipedalian subtitles--Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century by Tony Judt, Beaton in the 60s: The Cecil Beaton Diaries As He Wrote Them 1965–1969 by Cecil Beaton, Mencken: The American Iconoclast by Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, The Hudson: A History by Tom Lewis and Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O'Connor. Teaching grammar hit a rough patch back when I attended public school, along with red M&Ms, and I intend to catch up, one of these days, maybe.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
by Judy Blume. Reading about kids growing up in the middle of Manhattan was fascinating to a suburban upstate New York girl. And I loved the part where Fudge dumps a bowl of peas over his head and says, "Eat it or wear it."

Your top six authors:

Graham Greene (Travels with My Aunt), Sinclair Lewis (Main Street), Charles Portis (True Grit), Georgina Howell (Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations), Sarah Orne Jewett (novels and stories), Fred Kaplan (biographer of Dickens, Vidal, Twain, et al.).

Book you've faked reading:

Due to poor time-management skills and extensive social commitments, I never got around to reading Willa Cather's My Antonia in high school. I didn't completely fail the test, as it turns out that living in a dugout on the prairie in Nebraska was not all that different from growing up in frigid Buffalo during the energy crisis.

Book you're an evangelist for:

West with the Night by Beryl Markham, her 1942 memoir, which chronicled growing up in Kenya (British East Africa) and then making the first solo flight across the Atlantic from west to east. It's a beautifully crafted book, but the fun is in the provenance. Markham didn't have much education and wasn't a natural wordsmith, as her other writings demonstrate. However, her third husband, Raoul Schumacher, a journalist and ghost writer, was an enormous fan of Shakespeare and alcohol, apparently in equal parts. Both denied that he had anything to do with the book. It's rather obvious that he did, but even more interesting to me is the idea that he was a terrific writer who on his own never connected with a story worthy of his talents and she had an amazing story but without his assistance wouldn't have been able to tell it so captivatingly and with such grace. I love that synergy. Tell me again why Simon & Garfunkel broke up?

Book you've bought for the cover:

Monet's haystacks are lovely but I'm a sucker for funky and will take those dogs playing poker on velvet every time. Come Back, Dr. Caligari by Donald Barthelme for its Magritte-like cover of headless purple shades with fake beard and mustache.

Book that changed your life:

The Strangest Secret by Earl Nightingale. I was coming off a year-long Hermann Hesse bender (before they gave teens medication for everything), and this early self-help book that offered hope to the underdog transitioned me back into society.

Favorite line from a book:

"If a story is not about the hearer he [or she] will not listen . . . A great lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting--only the deeply personal and familiar."--John Steinbeck, East of Eden.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen. When you get older, you realize the entire high school history curriculum was revisionist and designed to make you into a good little flag-flying patriot.

Favorite fun books:

Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady by Florence King, The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald and essay collections by Barbara Holland.

Anecdote antidote:

In case you've had too much fun: The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan, about the Dust Bowl, aka the Dirty Thirties.


Book Review

Mandahla: Messy Faith

Messy Faith: Daring to Live by Grace by A Gregory (Fleming H. Revell Company, $12.99 Paperback, 9780800732844, October 2008)

While reading Robert Gray's Shelf Awareness discussion about religious books, I wondered how far out of the safe-title sphere bookstores ventured in their selections. If you'd like something provocative to spice up your religion section, A. J. Gregory, a 30-something author who has struggled with anorexia and bulimia, drinking, drugs and sex, has written the perfect book. In Messy Faith, she is sure to offend some with her honesty and language, but her straight talk and her message of hope are stimulating and challenging.

She says she is speaking to people who have already found themselves broken for reasons only they know.  People who don't like where they are now but are stuck because it's easier than being anywhere else. People who are longing for something, but are afraid of grace. She speaks to them powerfully:

"I used to be a spiritual masochist. I would have rather gotten whipped by God than freely received the foreign gifts of mercy and grace. Every time I messed up or did something stupid, I wished to hear a booming voice from heaven--appropriately accompanied by a trembling iron fist, a sound track of roaring thunder, and sharp flashes of blinding lightning--bark at my frailties and literally scare the living daylights out of me. I hoped for some visible evidence of punishment: a slap on the wrist, a kick in the butt, maybe even a broken leg from a car accident. I imagined it was necessary to make reparations for my messy journey of faith."

Gregory writes about one of the conundrums of faith: "I want to tell you that you will always get your answers to prayer, but I can't. I will tell you, however, that what you will definitely get is his presence." Even in God's presence, her sense of peace is hard-won, and not without past and current struggle, but her journey led her to a grace that was difficult only in that she fought it so long. In faith and doubt, in brokenness, in finally running to God as a last resort with a shamed heart and timid spirit, she found that he doesn't sneer and say it's about time. "No. I believe he takes my face in his hands, wipes the tears away, and whispers, 'I'm so glad you decided to come. I've been waiting for you.'"

A. J. Reynolds knows deeply about doubt, faith and trust, and the often-meandering, sometimes destructive path it takes to get to belief. Her first chapter epigraph from Alice Abrams sums it up: "In life as in dance: Grace glides on blistered feet."--Marilyn Dahl

Shelf Talker: A woman's struggles with trust and faith result in a compassionate and honest book about her search for God and grace.


Deeper Understanding

Shelf Talk: Listening to Audio (And a Review)

Shelf Awareness would like to introduce Beth Henkes, our new audiobooks maven. She began her bookselling career in 1994 at Shakespeare & Co. in New York City, migrated to Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati, Ohio, and completed her westward trek with stints at both Third Place Books and University Book Store in Seattle, Wash. A fierce advocate of independent bookstores, she also has a passion for audiobooks. Here is the first of a new quarterly column about audiobooks and the audio business.

I'm a reader. I love books: the weight of them in your hands; the sound of the pages as they are turned; the smell of the ink, no matter how long it's been there. So I suppose it's surprising that, quite by accident, I also got attached to audiobooks.

It all began when I was assigned the audiobook section at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati. I had just moved from New York City, where I was pursuing a career in the theater, and it was thrilling to find such an amazing bookstore so far away from the publishing Mecca. As I began to explore the section, I realized that so many of the actors I had come to love as clients and performers were also doing a booming business as readers of audiobooks. My worlds had collided.

Twelve years, a move west and two bookstores later, I find that I'm still immersed in audio. I've been fortunate to judge the Audie Awards for nine years, in nine categories. As a reviewer, I am repeatedly introduced to titles I might not have picked up on my own, expanding my knowledge of readers just as I discover new writers.

How is it that I, the one who loves the physical book so much, have continued listening all these years? I doubt there's one simple answer to this question, but I suspect it has a couple of components: publishers have committed to the quality of their productions, and our busy society is discovering the treasures that audiobooks hold. The latter, of course, creates more demand for the former.

First, let's address the publishers. It's tempting to play favorites, but I'll speak in generalities for now. Since that first day in Cincinnati when I made the connection between performers and their voices, I've noticed that publishers have become more attentive as well. More actors have discovered this angle of the business, resulting in a larger talent pool. Production values have gone up as well, and depending on the publisher, some audios are as good as any film or stage show--just without the visuals.

Then there's our busy society. We're in the car, on the train, riding the bus, at the gym, walking the dog: all opportunities for audiobook listening. At first, it's tough to get around to downloading a title to the MP3 player or putting that CD in the car, but once you do, it starts to become habit. Like me, you'll probably find yourself walking that extra block or sitting in a parking space a few extra minutes just to get to the end of the chapter.

Finding your favorite title on audio has become easier than it used to be. Although retail sales continue to be tough for some bookstores, libraries jumped on the audiobook bandwagon a long time ago and continue to stay current. Andrew Medlar, youth materials specialist and Chicago Public Library's "Librarian of the Year," tells me that the Chicago library has offered downloadable audiobooks to patrons through OverDrive since March 2006 and, "as demand and circulation continues to be enthusiastically strong, we add new titles for kids, teens and adults on a regular basis." The library's purchasing budget is not compromised by its download offerings, so they also have plenty of CD titles on hand. You may have missed the recent news about Borders partnering with OverDrive to offer downloadable titles to their customers; most indie stores haven't had cause or desire to involve themselves to this level, but we'll all be watching the Borders/OverDrive partnership closely.

The consumer base for audiobooks has changed a bit during the last decade. Although audio continues to be an excellent choice for the visually impaired or for those who might have difficulty holding a physical book, the spoken word is making its way into mainstream society. This, of course, will bring about more changes in audio production, so I suggest you start sampling now to get the best perspective on your options (multi-voice productions, "vanilla" productions, abridged vs. unabridged, etc.).

What have I learned about audio since my early bookselling days? I no longer just appreciate unabridged productions; I prefer them. Sure, they're often time intensive, but now I don't wonder what might have been left out of the abridged production. While I have my preferences as far as publishers go, I've often been surprised by the stellar production quality of some smaller audiobook houses. Sometimes I'm more apt to try a book out on audio instead of reading it; perhaps I like the reader or I simply don't have the time to sit down with a great book. I confess that I'm not always one to read the hottest bestseller on the list, at least not until the hype settles down, so occasionally I'll pick up the title on audio if I feel the need to be in the know. I've even reached the point where I no longer read new books by certain authors--I prefer to listen to them read their own work (David Sedaris, Bill Bryson).  

When I first began listening to audio, I felt I was betraying the power of the written word. I've gotten over that feeling now and am proud to say that I am both a listener and a reader. Anyone can be a listener, and audio has the power to turn busy non-readers into literary addicts. Exposing kids and adults to books is a goal we all share, and I hope everyone can embrace the world of audio in order to further our goal.

For those of you who may have already discovered audiobooks for yourselves, congratulations! I'd love to hear about your favorite readers and titles. Also, let me know how you use audio in your stores, libraries and community programs. As for all you audio publishers out there, keep the quality coming!--Beth Henkes


Audiobook Review: The Lace Reader

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry, read by Alyssa Bresnahan (Harper Audio, $39.95, unabridged on 10 CDs, 9780061661556/0061661554, July 29, 2008).

Brunonia Barry's prose, combined with the production quality of the audio, perfectly evokes the feel of Salem, Mass., during the 1990s. It's obvious that first-time novelist Barry knows the area, and her talent for showcasing the unusual vibe of this incredible place is considerable; everything the characters encounter, from witchcraft reenactments to the physical description of the town, is dead on.

The story opens as Towner Whitney returns to Salem upon the news that her elderly, beloved Aunt Eva, a "reader" of lace (a sort of fortune teller), has gone missing. What follows is a riveting story that mingles Towner's family secrets with the undertone of the witchcraft trials, the strength of women and the discovery of one's true path in life. Most of the plot takes place in the present, but Towner is still haunted by the death of her twin sister; the psychology of twins and the special bond they share drives the story, occasionally giving way to the past. There are also constant hints of the future, as each chapter begins with words from Eva, who has written her own "how to" book: The Lace Reader's Guide.

Reader Alyssa Bresnahan is a young actress with an impressive audiobook resume; she's one of a select number of AudioFile Magazine's "Golden Voices," and it's clear why she's earned that honor. The production embellishments are minimal, but Bresnahan's mesmerizing voice instantly places the listener in the world of Towner Whitney. In her tone, we hear Towner's dreams and fears, mingled with the memories and confusion that are so much a part of Towner's existence. We come to know Eva as she introduces each chapter with another revelation about the lace, a grounding force in the story. The only shortcoming is that Bresnahan's male characters sound forced on occasion, and all have a similar tone, making it difficult to distinguish their voices. However, most of the characters in this engaging story are female, and this talented actress commits to giving each her own voice. Alyssa Bresnahan holds us hostage with the captivating words of Brunonia Barry, hurling the listener into the shocking twist at the finish and leaving one spellbound, even in the silence that follows.--Beth Henkes


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