Shelf Awareness for Friday, December 5, 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: General Retailers' November Drop; Times Top Ten Promo

Not surprisingly, general retail sales for November were dismal: sales at stores open at least a year fell 2.7%, the worst showing since at least 1969, when the International Council of Shopping Centers began compiling data, according to the Wall Street Journal. Only heavy discounting "appeared to work well." Excluding Wal-Mart, same-store sales fell 7.7%.

The Council's chief economist and director of research Michael Niemira called it "an awful start" to the holiday season, adding, "It looks to us as if it will be the weakest holiday season in our record."

Still, many stores beat Wall Street's even more dismal expectations, which helped their stocks yesterday.

Among the few gainers were Wal-Mart, where comp-store sales rose 3.4%, BJ's Wholesale Club, up 4.1%, and Costco, which was up 1%. Most retailers reported sizable comp-store drops: Saks was down 5.2%, Target fell 10%, the Gap was off 10%, Penney was down 11.9% and Macy's fell 13.3%.


Cool idea of the day: The New York Times Book Review is promoting its 10 Best Books of 2008 with a special site where booksellers and librarians may download pdfs and print stickers, shelf talkers and posters for use in the stores. The site also offers Web banners for use on websites. All of the material is free.


The Lincoln Bookstore, Charleston, Ill., which sells new and used books, has reopened. The Daily Eastern News has a short vlog featuring the voice of owner Jim East.

The Lincoln Bookstore is located at 619 Monroe Ave., Charleston, Ill. 61920; 217-345-6070.


"When the economy is like this, we see probably a 10% increase in business," Richard Hoyt, owner of ABC Bookstore, Chico, Calif., told KHSL-TV. "People, what we call book snobs, think they're only going to buy new books, they're now more willing to buy used books."


The Suburban Journals surveys several bookstores in the St. Louis, Mo., suburbs: Main Street Books, St. Charles, Encore Books of Harvester and Rose's Bookhouse, O'Fallon.

At Main Street Books, "We try to make it about location, cozy and homey, because the longer they stay, the more they buy," owner Vicki Erwin said.

"I think the greatest asset we provide for our customers is knowledge," Wendy Drew of Rose's Bookhouse commented. "First and foremost we are book lovers, and if we don't have a title in stock or can't get it in the time frame the customer needs, we try to give them ideas on where and how they can get the book."


Omnivore Books on Food is "the best little cookbook store in San Francisco," according to a recent SF Weekly profile of the bookshop where owner Celia Sack, "a passionate book collector, cleverly interweaves not just classic cookbooks that remain in print with the newest, glossiest, irresistibly illustrated hot-off-the-presses tomes, but also stocks used, rare, collectible, even precious antiquarian volumes. . . . San Francisco finally has the cookbook store its own long bookish and famously epicurean history deserves."


Writing for Read Street, the Baltimore Sun's book blog, Dave Rosenthal recalled that during his visit to Paris last week, "I was most struck by the rich culture of reading. We stayed in the Latin Quarter, home of the Sorbonne, and there was a bookstore on almost every block. . . . It was a joy to see so many stores devoted to reading--and so many people poring over the shelves. How did we lose that here in the United States?"


The Columbia Journalist profiles Aurora Anaya-Cerda, founder earlier this year of La Casa Azul bookstore, which has begun selling online. Anaya-Cerda had hoped to open a bricks-and-mortar store soon in East Harlem in New York City, but is having trouble finding funding in the current economic climate--she has commitments of about $50,000 but needs another $100,000 before she can open.

Still, many members of the communities want a bookstore to open and have rallied to support La Casa Azul.


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Holiday Hum: Behind the Scenes at Porter Square Books

At Porter Square Books, Cambridge, Mass., an increase in Black Friday sales came as a pleasant surprise. "It's not typically huge for us, although this year it was," said general manager Dale Szczeblowski. Sales slowed down on Saturday and Sunday, but the store is doing "remarkably well given the state of things," Szczeblowski added. In the four years since Porter Square Books opened, there has been a steady increase in revenue. At the beginning of this year, however, Szczeblowski had budgeted for a slowdown in the store's rapid growth. "The talk at the time was that the economy was going to be shaky, but no one knew what was eventually going to happen."

Sales at Porter Square Books were up in October and flat in November. "I don't know what to expect in December," Szczeblowski said. "We've been trying to anticipate that to some extent by trimming payroll and inventory, and I think it has set us in good stead. I'm nervous like everybody. At this point, it's all in motion. It's just a matter of execution and doing the best job we can for our customers."

Porter Square Books held an event nearly every day from September through November. In December the store curtails events because fixtures would have to be moved to create space, which would disrupt holiday shopping. It was by "happenstance," said Szczeblowski, that two events were lined up to kick off the season this year.

The store held a "Holiday Books Ideas" gathering on Wednesday night at the suggestion of two Random House reps, who shared gift recommendations. Their choices included Alan Bennett's comic fable The Clothes They Stood Up In--described as the perfect anti-Christmas book--and Blindspot by historians Jill Lepore and Jane Kamensky, both of whom live in Cambridge. Their novel, set in Boston on the eve of the American Revolution, goes on sale December 9.

The store is holding a second holiday-themed event this weekend with Boston Globe contributor Lisa Zwirn. On Sunday afternoon, along with signing copies of Christmas Cookies: 50 Recipes to Treasure for the Holiday Season, Zwirn will treat shoppers to baked goods made from recipes in the book.

Titles selling well that Szczeblowski expects will maintain momentum during the holiday season are Wally Lamb's The Hour I First Believed, Terry Tempest Williams's Finding Beauty in a Broken World--spurred by a store signing and an interview on a local NPR show--and Muriel Barbery's novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog. "We've sold several hundred copies of Elegance, and it's not slowing down at all," said Szczeblowski.

Coffee table tomes by two Cambridge photographers are proving to be popular gift selections. One is Szczeblowski's staff pick for December, Alex MacLean's book of aerial images, Over: The American Landscape at the Tipping Point (which has an introduction by Bill McKibben), and the other is Rosamond Purcell's "unusual and amazing" Egg & Nest, which showcases pictures of avian habitats.

A Cambridge connection is boosting sales of a sideline item: soaps from Arghand, a cooperative in Kandahar, Afghanistan, founded by former NPR reporter and Cambridge resident Sarah Chayes. Arghand's Soap Stones are made from pomegranates, roses and other fruits and flowers and hand-molded to resemble pieces of marble.

For young readers, children's book buyer Carol Stoltz recommends Pete & Pickles by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Berkeley Breathed. Other favorites are The 13 Clocks, a revamped version of James Thurber's gothic fairy tale (with an introduction by Neil Gaiman) and the anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out. The store has taken "a pretty strong position" on The Tales of Beedle the Bard, which went on sale yesterday, although pre-pub buzz for the J.K. Rowling tale has been quieter than Szczeblowski expected. "Certainly we have not seen the pre-order frenzy that we did with the Harry Potter books," he said.

To help get books into the hands of children in need during the holidays, Porter Square Books is working with the Cambridge Public Library. Store customers receive a 20% discount on book donations, which are distributed by the library to families living in transitional lodgings.

So far this season there is no must-have title, noted Szczeblowski, who is concerned that if one does emerge in the next several weeks "we're all going to be chasing it and the publisher won't have it" due to tighter inventory controls. "There are a lot of good books out there, and that's always a healthy situation rather than having one book drive sales. But we probably could've used that one big book to make people come in."

Porter Square Books will open on January 1 from 1 to 5 p.m. for an annual sale (everything in the store is 20% off). Szczeblowski came across the idea several years ago in a Bookselling This Week article about Changing Hands in Tempe, Ariz., and other stores that have had success with a New Year's Day sale. Beginning mid-December, the sale is promoted with bag stuffers and on-air NPR spots. "It has grown every year," said Szczeblowski. "We see it as a way to thank customers for supporting us during the holiday season. Plus it's a great alternative for people who don't want to sit around and watch football all day."--Shannon McKenna Schmidt


Soho Press: The Seep by Chana Porter

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Sir David Frost on CBS Sunday Morning

Now on WETA's Author, Author!: Domnica Radulesca, author of Train to Trieste (Knopf, $23.95, 9780307268235/0307268233).


Tomorrow on NPR's Only a Game: Bob Smiley, author of Follow the Roar: Tailing Tiger for All 604 Holes of the Season (Harper, $25.95, 9780061690259/0061690252).


Sunday on Weekend Edition: Alaa Al Aswnay, author of Chicago (Harper, $25.95, 9780061452567/0061452564).


On CBS Sunday Morning: David Frost, author of Frost/Nixon: Behind the Scenes of the Nixon Interview (Harper Perennial, $14.95, 9780061445866/006144586X).


A Sunday Hallmark Hall of Fame "television event" will feature Brad Cohen and his book, Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had (St. Martin's Griffin, $13.95, 9780312571399/0312571399).


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

Movies: Depp Acquires In the Hand of Dante

Infinitum Nihil, Johnny Depp's production company, has acquired screen rights to In the Hand of Dante by Nick Tosches. "The novel will be developed as a potential star vehicle for Depp," Variety reported. A number of film adaptations are on tap for Infinitum Nihil, including Depp's portrayal of Hunter S. Thompson in The Rum Diary next March, as well as "an adaptation of The Invention of Hugo Cabret that will be directed by Chris Wedge; an adaptation of the Gregory David Roberts book Shantaram that was scripted by Eric Roth; and The Bomb in My Garden, the Mahdi Obeidi/Kurt Pitzer book that has a script by Robert Edwards. Infinitum Nihil also is developing an adaptation of Inamorata that was scripted by the book's author, Joseph Gangemi."


Books & Authors

Awards: Guardian First Book; Best Translated Book Longlist

The Rest Is Noise, "an intricate, kaleidoscopic, all-embracing history of 20th-century music" by the New Yorker's music critic Alex Ross, was the "clear and undisputed winner" of the £10,000 (US$ 14,661) Guardian First Book Award, the Guardian reported.

"In some quarters this book has been seen as not having a popular appeal," said Claire Armitstead, chair of the judging panel and Guardian literary editor. "Our prize--which, uniquely, relies on readers' groups in the early stages of judging--proves that, on the contrary, there is a huge appetite among readers for clear, serious but accessible books."

The shortlist included A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif, God's Own Country by Ross Raisin, A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz and Stalin's Children by Owen Matthews.


The fiction longlist of 25 semifinalists for the 2008 Best Translated Book of the Year is available at the Three Percent website.


Midwest Connections: Old Farm; A Cook's Journey

From the Midwest Booksellers Association: four recent Midwest Connections picks. Under this marketing program, the association and member stores promote booksellers' handselling favorites that have a strong Midwest regional appeal:

Old Farm: A History by Jerry Apps featuring photographs by Steve Apps (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, $29.95, 9780870204067/0870204068). Lisa Baudoin of Books & Company in Oconomowoc, Wis., commented: "Jerry Apps captures the history, stories and cycles of the farm he and his family live on. A perfect gift for anyone living on a farm, carrying memories from a farm, or just dreaming of moving their life to a farm."

A Cook's Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland by Kurt Michael Friese (Ice Cube Press, $26.95, 9781888160369/1888160365). Joyce Frohn of Apple Blossom Books in Oshkosh, Wis., said, "When you hear 'farm-fresh' what do you think of? If your mental images include cows, rolling hills, you're thinking of the Midwest. If I say 'organic,' and 'slow food,' do you think of the Midwest? You should, as chef Kurt Michael Friese proves in his new book. Inside this book you find great restaurants, people who want to make the world a better place, great ideas, places to shop and Al Capone's favorite whiskey. This book will teach you how to slow down and enjoy good food with great people."

Driftless by David Rhodes (Milkweed Editions, $24, 9781571310590/1571310592). Keri Holmes of the Kaleidoscope in Hampton, Iowa, said, "The residents of Words are so fully realized, you'll recognize them; the dialogue so authentic, you'll be looking for the tape-recorder; the hurts so real you'll ache; and the hopes so fragile you'll pray. If Jesus came to show our forebears how to live, July Montgomery shows us how he might have lived today. There's nothing religious or preachy about July. His is a ministry of presence--he notices, he listens carefully, he affirms, he acts--and somehow in as humble and invisible a way as possible, we're better for having known him. Yes, I meant to write 'we' just there. Because if you allow yourself to connect with the citizens of Words you too will come to know July Montgomery, and you too will be better for it. I know I am."

Downtown Owl: A Novel
by Chuck Klosterman (Scribner, $24, 9781416544180/1416544186). Carl Wichman of NDSU Bookstore in Fargo, N.D., said, "If you've ever had any experience in small town living, you will enjoy reading Downtown Owl. Everyone I know who has read my WELL WORN advance copy can recite the names of every character in the book, from the new teacher in town to the football coach. It's the typical small town with more bars than churches and the new young teacher being hit on by every single guy in Owl. The book ends with an actual weather happening that I experienced in North Dakota, too! It's a fun read, and I highly recommend it!"


Book Review: Creative Capitalism

Creative Capitalism: A Conversation with Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Other Economic Leaders edited by Michael Kinsley (Simon & Schuster, $26, 9781416588418/141658841X, December 2008)

At the 2008 World Economic Forum, Bill Gates proposed an idea for ameliorating world poverty. He dubbed it "Creative Capitalism" and briefly outlined his vision: that successful corporations look more closely at how their business acumen and resources could contribute to fighting disease and poverty while also furthering their business goals either through exploiting previously underserved markets or through recognition for their efforts. Gates provided examples of possible approaches that would provide the incentives he described from his experience at Microsoft and at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As he emphasized the enormity of the challenge and the need to bring more resources to bear on the problems, he also asked his fellow corporate executives, economists and others to ponder his proposal and generate further ideas.

To foster a discussion on the topic, Michael Kinsley conducted a series of web-based conversations with representatives from business, academia, the media and nonprofit organizations, including Warren Buffett, Richard Posner, Lawrence Summers, Robert Reich and Jagdish Bhagwati. The resulting book is fascinating on many levels.

One theme that runs through the conversation is the desperate need for eliminating corruption in target countries, along with establishing rule of law and basic infrastructure--nobody wants to channel their funds into a sinkhole. A surprising number of respondents missed the concept of market-based incentives in Gates's proposal and continued to view the idea in terms of corporate philanthropy. Moving away from abstractions about the future, David Vogel recounts the unexpected economic benefits Sears reaped from sponsoring 4-H Clubs; he also states that the average corporate expenditure on philanthropy is currently 0.7% of pretax earnings. Among other positively-engaged participants, Loretta Michaels discusses a new Vermont law that creates a charity hybrid that could serve as a model of conduits for funds.

Economic history is filled with new ideas that initially met with skepticism until they became run-away successes. Gates's well-intentioned proposal faces that predictable skepticism, along with much defensiveness and veiled hostility. As Loretta Michaels wisely notes: "The debate here tends to assume that the world is divided into two camps: the nonprofit, charitable sector with its focus on 'good' causes, and the for-profit, free-market-driven worlds of business with its focus on, well, profits." Rather than sinking the enterprise, however, that opposition adds spice to the "conversation" just as rancorous roundtables on television are stimulating and entertaining. In its own way, Creative Capitalism becomes a guidebook to bridging those age-old divides and helping us all get beyond the limitations of binary thinking.--John McFarland

Shelf Talker: Creative Capitalism is a warts-and-all round table on the ways in which corporations might be able to contribute expertise and resources to ameliorating world poverty while still advancing their own business agendas.


Book Brahmin: Jesse Kornbluth

Jesse Kornbluth published his first book review at eight and, noticing how some of the third-grade girls were impressed, kept at it. Decades later, he has published seven books and has written reams of journalism for Vanity Fair, New York and other magazines. In 1996, with Carol Fitzgerald, he launched; in 1997, he became editorial director of America Online, where he created such book events as the "Monicathon," designed to promote Andrew Morton's book on Monica Lewinsky. He now edits, a four-day-a-week cultural concierge service that, unsurprisingly, mostly focuses on books. (Editor's note: His reviews will increase your reading list considerably.)

On your nightstand now:

The Second Book of the Tao by Stephen Mitchell, Shining City by Seth Greenland (for the second time), By Way of Sainte-Beuve by Marcel Proust.

Favorite book when you were a child:

We Die Alone by David Howarth. In the winter of 1943, a Resistance raid in Norway goes wrong, and Jan Baalsrud has to get across the country without supplies or warm clothes. An early lesson in self-reliance--and community.

Your top five authors:

Somerset Maugham, Guy de Maupassant, Jean Rhys, J.M. Coetzee, Thich Nhat Hanh.

Book you've faked reading:

Middlemarch. I could barely endure one of the storylines.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You're 80 and Beyond by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, M.D. Nothing literary about this book--it's a brutal fitness regime, bluntly written. But there's no point dreaming of books if you're too decrepit to read and write them. Or dead.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis. The Will Barnet painting of a young girl playing chess with an unseen male while a cat looks on from a perch on the window suggested the game's aggression and the girl's loneliness. I raced through the novel and immediately optioned the film rights. How I wish I still had them.

Book that changed your life:

Maugham's Cakes and Ale. A novelist's wife is flagrantly unfaithful, he's not distressed, and she's not punished. When I was a kid trying to color between the lines, this book showed me I really didn't need to bother.

Favorite line from a book:

"The secret of being a bore is to tell everything."--Voltaire.

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

A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter, though the smell of wood smoke and the crunch of leaves underfoot in the South of France in the fall is, thanks to this novel, always with me.


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