Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, December 24, 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!

Editors' Note

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

This is our last issue of 2008, a year that was progressing reasonably well until the last few months. Since September book sales have slowed, and most major publishers have announced layoffs or consolidations or both. The larger booksellers, many of whose locations are in malls, have reported the most difficult retail environment in memory. But in recent weeks, we are encouraged to hear from many booksellers, particularly independents, that business has picked up again. Let's hope that continues and that the book business responds to the wider crisis with the wonderful intelligence, creativity and scrappiness that distinguishes it from many other industries.

In any case, this year we offer a special welcome to the New Year, which begins with a clean slate and fresh beginnings--in many ways.

See you again Monday morning, January 5!


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

Quotation of the Day

Gifts: The 'Life-affirming Experience' of Reading

"This week I have been reminded time and again of the experience that literature brings to life. You would think that in this 11th hour of holiday hubbub, shoppers would be frantic to buy whatever books remain on the shelf. But no, the readers who are giving books as gifts are very particular about the gift of language. They are calm and methodical in their quests for the perfect book, patiently listening to my staff about this storyline or that plot twist. . . . So in our busiest season, I've realized just how much literature has a calming effect. We read so that we can have the life-affirming experience that reading a book brings. And that's why we give the gift of books."--Sarah Bagby of Watermark Books, Wichita, Kan., in her store's e-mail newsletter yesterday.


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


To the Consumer, 'It's All Frontlist!'

Andrea Doering, senior acquisitions editor, Revell Books/Baker Publishing Group, writes in response to David Didriksen's letter on Monday:

I spent 14 years as a buyer for Crossings Book Club, one of the direct-mail clubs run by Direct Brands (Book of the Month, Doubleday, etc). What I learned again and again is that to readers, there is no such thing as a backlist book. There are books they have read, books they want to read, books they will never read. It's all frontlist! Amen to the idea of promoting great books, no matter their publication date.


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


Notes: Shopping Under Pressure; Reading More E-books

Calling last-minute Christmas shopping a case of "deferred gratification," the Daily Camera interviewed retailers about this trend, and Arsen Kashkashian of the Boulder Book Store, Boulder, Colo., said he noticed that gender played a role: "Traditionally, what we see in these last few days is the ratio of men to women shopping increases greatly from the rest of the year. You see a lot of men who haven't done any shopping yet."


Are you ready for Take a Chicken to Work Day? showcased Wild Rumpus bookstore, Minneapolis, Minn., "a place where the magic of books is cradled by a creative jumble of animals and art. While Pimento [the resident chicken] patrolled the aisles, an orange-tabby cat snoozed under a cage where three birds sang with gusto. A pair of chinchillas napped nearby. Anne Frank gazed from one of the book posters across comfy old reading chairs to a veritable zoo of toy tigers and bears."

"It's getting back to the basics," said customer Vickie Hawkins. "People want to get out of that big box mentality."


Williams' Book Store, San Pedro, Calif., will celebrate its centennial next month, and co-owner Anne Gusha, who is 89, told Bookselling this Week she can't recall a time when she wasn't either a customer or a bookseller at the landmark store.

"Customer service is what's kept us going," she said. "With all the online business, you have to kind of change the way you've been doing things. I might start stocking book-related things. But I'll always stock books. Reading a book on a computer is not the same thing as holding a book in your hand. But everything has to change--nothing stays the same."


Montford Books, Asheville, N.C., will open next month in the space formerly occupied by the Reader's Corner for 11 years until its closing last May, according to the Citizen-Times.

"We're hoping to certainly continue with all the good things that Gillian Coats had done when it was Reader's Corner, and I really want to give her credit for building a great bookstore business with lots of variety and quality used books," said owner  Kay Manley. "When we reopen, some of the differences will be that we're going to have a bit of a café atmosphere--just with coffee and tea--and try to make it a cozy place to hang out."


"Eons ago, in the Paleozoic Era, people went to bookstores to get books and to record stores to get records," noted the Stonington Times, which observed that "the people that work and own book shops and record stores are still experts in their fields and have opinions about what was good reading and good listening in 2008."


The New York Times reported that after years of largely unfulfilled hype, the age of the e-book may finally be at hand because Amazon's Kindle "has at least lived up to its name by creating broad interest in electronic books." Added to this is the fact that the Kindle is sold out at the moment, a shortage that may have opened the door for other devices, like the Sony Reader, to gain traction during the gift-buying season.

"The perception is that E-books have been around for 10 years and haven't done anything," said Steve Haber, president of Sony's digital reading division. "But it's happening now. This is really starting to take off."

There is another potentially strong competitor in this market, however. According to the Times, "Perhaps the most overlooked boost to e-books this year--and a challenge to some of the standard thinking about them--came from Apple's do-it-all gadget, the iPhone. . . . Publishers say these iPhone applications are already starting to generate nearly as many digital book sales as the Sony Reader, though they still trail sales of books in the Kindle format."


More about The Taqwacores, the novel by Michael Muhammad Knight that was highlighted yesterday in the New York Times. Knight self-published the tale about "imaginary punk rock Muslims in Buffalo" five years ago and it was picked up by Autonomedia, as the paper reported, but a revised version is coming out from Soft Skull Press March 1 ($12.95, 9781593762292/1593762291) and will be distributed by PGW.

Soft Skull is publishing several other titles by Knight, who converted to Islam:

  • Impossible Man (Or, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Rise of Islam) ($14.95, 9781593762261/1593762267), an autobiography to be published in March.
  • Blue-Eyed Devil: A Road Odyssey Through Islamic America ($14.95, 9781593762407/1593762402), with a May 1 pub date.
  • Osama Van Halen ($14.95, 9781593762421/1593762429), a July novel.


While e-books may be gaining ground elsewhere, the Buffalo News profiled Western New York Book Arts Collaborative, "a museum, workplace and inspiration center for people devoted to paper, ink and type."


Is Joshua Henkin "a marketing genius, an author stalker, or a little of both?" asked the Philadelphia Inquirer in its lighthearted profile of the author's dedication to book group appearances in person, by e-mail and over the phone to discuss his novel, Matrimony. Henkin "has visited more than 80 book groups in person or on the phone and, believe me, will visit yours even with only a few hours' notice," the Inquirer added.

"He's really kind of off the charts on it," said Wendy Sheanin, senior marketing manager at Simon & Shuster.


Great. Holiday. Campaign. At. Copperfield's!

To get ready for a challenging holiday season, Copperfield's in Sonoma and Marin counties, California, took IndieBound's Eat, Sleep, Read campaign a few steps further at its eight bricks-and-mortar and one online warehouse stores. The unusual campaign included having people in a bed outside one of its stores and Burma Shave-like roadside advertising.

"We threw a bunch of things against the wall, and things started to stick," CEO Tom Montan said. Led by Copperfield's marketing manager, Vicki DeAmon, the company invested about $6,000 and used publisher co-op money to kick off promotions, beginning with full-page ads in local papers before Thanksgiving and printing and posting red "Eat, Sleep, Read" and green "Read, Act Live" posters in the stores and around the community.

Knowing how tough it is to get consumer attention in this multimedia age, Copperfield's harnessed "the forces of the young" and hired locals to paste the posters on telephone poles. To celebrate the redesigned Santa Rosa store, the company had art students illustrate the "sleep" part of the IndieBound slogan by getting them to occupy a bed set up on Black Friday in the parking lot of the store.

Copperfield's had a better Black Friday than last year, Montan said, "which is pretty incredible." But Copperfield's didn't stop there; promotions continued through December. Copperfield's enlisted the help of other local retailers to distribute its holiday guides (with coupons). Then the bookstore promo team took to the streets.

Copperfield's rented space on both traditional and digital billboards along major freeways in Sonoma and Marin counties and took empty space along the nearby roads for a Burma Shave-like promo featuring a series of one-word signs touting: Eat. Sleep. Read. Copperfield's. Since it was empty space, the store didn't have to pay for it, Montan said, and the staff moved the signs around the county to reach more drivers.

Then Copperfield's hired two local high school cheerleading squads to chant "Read Em Up! Read Em Up! Read Em Up!" at busy intersections near its stores in mid-December.

The company plans to continue promoting both its stores and the shop local message by driving a colorful van around mall shopping lots right up until Christmas.

Along the way, Copperfield's sent e-mail blasts promoting titles and a YouTube video--highlighting cheerleaders, bed-bound art students and all.

In part because of these promotional efforts, Montan said he expects the stores to go from being about 5% down at the beginning of December to about even with last year's sales. Montan said the marketing investment has paid off "with interest" as well--customer interest. "We've never heard so much about a program before." And the staff enjoyed it, too. "It helped the merryness in more ways than one," Montan added.--Bridget Kinsella


Media and Movies

Media Heat: An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination

On Friday on Talk of the Nation Science Friday: Miyoko Chu, author of Birdscapes: A Pop-Up Celebration of Bird Songs in Stereo Sound (Chronicle Books, $60, 9780811864282/0811864286).


This Sunday night on 60 Minutes: Joaquin Garcia, author of Making Jack Falcone: An Undercover FBI Agent Takes Down a Mafia Family (Touchstone, $24.95, 9781416551638/1416551638).


Nex Monday morning on the Today Show: Cheryl Scruggs, author of I Do Again: How We Found a Second Chance at Our Marriage--and You Can Too (WaterBrook Press, $13.99, 9781400074457/1400074452).


Next Monday morning on NPR's Morning Edition: Elizabeth McCracken, author of An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir (Little, Brown, $19.99, 9780316027670/0316027677).


Next Tuesday morning on the Today Show: Johnny Iuzzini, author of Dessert FourPlay: Sweet Quartets from a Four-Star Pastry Chef (Clarkson Potter, $35, 9780307351371/0307351378).

Also on Today: Ann Coulter, author of Guilty: Liberal Victims and Their Assault on America (Crown Forum, $27.95, 9780307353467/030735346X).


Next Wednesday on the Diane Rehm Show: Maya Angelou, author of Letter to My Daughter (Random House, $25, 9781400066124/1400066123).


Next Wendesday on Tavis Smiley, in a repeat: Toni Morrison, author of A Mercy (Knopf, $23.95, 9780307264237/0307264238).


Next Wednesday on the View, in a repeat: Carrie Fisher, author of Wishful Drinking (Simon & Schuster, $21, 9781439102251/1439102252).


Next Thursday on NPR's Talk of the Nation: Henry Alford, author of How to Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People (While They Are Still on This Earth) (Twelve, $23.99, 9780446196031/0446196037).


On Saturday, January 3, on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered: James Fallows, author of Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from China (Vintage, $14.95, 9780307456243/0307456242).


This Weekend on Book TV: Alphabet Juice

Book TV airs on C-Span 2 this week from 8 a.m. Thursday to 8 a.m. Monday and focuses on political and historical books as well as the book industry. The following are highlights for this coming weekend. For more information, go to Book TV's website.

Thursday, December 25

9:30 a.m. David Hackett Fischer, author of Champlain's Dream: The European Founding of North America (S&S, $40; 9781416593324/1416593322), recounts the life of the French explorer who founded Quebec. (Re-airs Thursday at 9:30 p.m., Saturday at 5 p.m. and Monday at 2 a.m.)
1 p.m. Roy Blount Jr., author of Alphabet Juice: The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof: Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret Parts, Tinctures, Tonics, and Essences, With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory (FSG, $25, 9780374103699/0374103690), examines the roots of several commonly used words. (Re-airs Friday at 1 a.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Monday at 5 a.m.)
2 p.m. For an event hosted by the Abraham Lincoln Bookshop, Chicago, Ill., Harold Holzer, author of Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter, 1860-1861 (S&S, $30, 9780743289474/0743289471), recalls the four months between Lincoln's election and inauguration.  (Re-airs Friday at 2 a.m.)
6:30 p.m. Historian Robert Dallek, author of Harry S. Truman (Times Books, $22, 9780805069389,/0805069380), talks about the life and political career of the 33rd president. (Re-airs Friday at 6:30 a.m. and Sunday at 7:30 p.m.)

Saturday, December 27

6 p.m. Encore Booknotes. In a program that first aired in 1998, Paul Johnson, author of A History of the American People (Harper Perennial, $20, 9780060930349/0060930349), discussed his book, which uses historical documents and quotations from personal diaries to detail race relations, immigration, war and customs in the U.S.

7 p.m. Navy SEAL officer Eric Greitens, author of Strength and Compassion: Photographs & Essays (Leading Authorities Press, $65, 9780971007802/0971007802) contends that, "in times of great hardship and in the face of great evil, people with strength and compassion can live with courage." (Re-airs Monday at 1 a.m., Saturday, January 10, at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m., and Sunday, January 11, at 3 p.m.)
10 p.m. After Words. Historian Peniel Joseph interviews Philip Dray, author of Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen. (Houghton Mifflin, $30, 9780618563708/0618563709). Dray discusses the prejudice that the 16 representatives faced and the many issues they advocated for. (Re-airs Sunday at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., Monday at 12 a.m. and 3 a.m., and Sunday, January 4, at 11 a.m.)


Two Movie Tie-Ins: Valkyrie, Marley & Me

While not an official tie-in to the movie starring Tom Cruise, which opens tomorrow, Valkyrie: An Insider's Account of the Plot to Kill Hitler by Hans Bernd Gisevius (Da Capo, $15.95, 9780306817717/0306817713) was published earlier this month to tie in to the movie's major publicity and is an abridged version of To the Bitter End, Gisevius's account of various acts of resistance to Hitler beginning with his seizure of power in 1933. One of the few conspirators to survive, Gisevius had used positions in the Gestapo and the Abwehr (military intelligence) to help the plot.

In addition, Running Press has published two editions of Bad Dogs Have More Fun: Selected Writings on Animals, Family, and Life by John Grogan for the Philadelphia Inquirer to tie in with the opening of Marley & Me, also tomorrow. The paperback edition ($12.95, 9781593154905/1593154909) appeared earlier this fall, and the Miniature Edition ($4.95, 9780762435340/0762435348) came out this month.

David Steinberger, president and CEO of Perseus Books Group, which includes Da Capo and Running Press, said that Valkyrie, with 50,000 copies in print, is doing well in accounts. "We think it's a scrappy, innovative way to leverage all Tom Cruise's appearances and the movie marketing machine." Similarly he called the Grogan title "another kind of creative publishing."


Book Review

Book Review: The Invention of Air

The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America by Steven Johnson (Riverhead Books, $25.95 Hardcover, 9781594488528, January 2009)

For 57 years my alma mater, Dickinson College, in Carlisle, Pa., has bestowed an award on a scientist who makes discoveries that contribute to the welfare of mankind. That award is named after Joseph Priestley, whose life, and especially whose turbulent times, are chronicled in Steven Johnson's brief, engaging study of a man he describes as a "transformative figure" in the fields of chemistry, electricity, politics and faith, "not so much a biography as it is the biography of one man's ideas."

Johnson does not bring the training of a professional historian to his investigation of Priestley's life, but that's what gives this occasionally quirky book much of its appeal. He's more interested in trying to unravel intellectual puzzles such as why Priestley experienced an extraordinary burst of productivity between 1767 and 1775 (a combination of leisure time and his involvement with a stimulating group of fellow scientists part of England's "coffeehouse culture," Johnson concludes), or the impact of measuring devices on scientific progress, invoking concepts like "ecosystem theory," "long zoom" science and the Gaia hypothesis to make his points.

Readers only vaguely aware of Priestley as the "discoverer" of oxygen (a discovery for which Johnson is willing to accord him only partial credit, although he's quick to recount the delightful tale of Priestley's serendipitous discovery of soda water in a brewery) may be surprised by the breadth of his involvement in the vibrant intellectual and political life of the late 18th century. A close friend of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, Priestley was a vocal religious dissenter who helped found the Unitarian Church and was an ardent supporter of both the American and French Revolutions.

It was his sympathy for the latter that forced Priestley into exile in a small town in central Pennsylvania in 1794, not too far ahead of an angry mob that had torched his Birmingham home in 1791. Even here he was dogged by controversy, as his political writings almost resulted in his deportation under the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts. That episode, Johnson notes, became a major focus of the famous correspondence between Jefferson and John Adams later in their lives.

Johnson's central thesis in The Invention of Air is that the "vital fields of intellectual achievement cannot be cordoned off from one another and relegated to the specialists, that politics can and should be usefully informed by the insights of science." It's a worthy aspiration, and in advancing it he's chosen a fine exemplar of that ethos to describe in this stimulating work.--Harvey Freedenberg

Shelf Talker: Polymath Steven Johnson delivers a fascinating glimpse of Enlightenment intellectual and political history through the prism of the life of Joseph Priestley.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: What If It All Works Out?

Once upon a time, BookWorld was a happy land, where many volumes of good and even great works of literature were created using the Old Ways. Enlightened BookWizards took the simplest ingredients--mere letters--and conjured words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs that captured a story's light exquisitely and reflected it forever.

Then those words were passed along to the BookBuilders, who brushed the stories onto sheets of paper culled from the Secret Parchment Forest. Once finished, wise and passionate BookSellers distributed the magic tomes to thousands of BookReaders, who eagerly awaited each new treasure.

Everyone loved books. Everyone was happy. La, la, la.

But then came the BadTimes, and the BookReaders began to disappear, lured away by the siren songs of WebWorld, the hypnotic glow of E-Readers and the firebreathing Economic Dragons that finally decimated the landscape.

Where were the BookWizards? Shunned. Where were the BookBuilders? Downsized. Where were the BookSellers? Petrified.

The End?

No, you're just imagining things.

Since this is my final column during a year that has seemed fully in tune with that old curse, "May you live in interesting times," I decided to end on a positive note by considering the role imagination plays in our lives as professional book people.

Look it up. In the Oxford American Dictionary, imagination is "the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses." It is also "the ability of the mind to be creative or resourceful."

We are in the imagination business by either definition, and because of this we, more than most people, should be aware of the dangers and possibilities inherent in that magic word.

For starters, BookWorld has always been crumbling, readers have always been too few and the dragons have always been breathing fire at our gates. Consider this excerpt from the recently published fourth volume of A History of the Book in America, edited by Janice A. Radway and Carl F. Kaestle:
Worries that book buying was increasing insufficiently prompted the Joint Board of Book Publishers and Booksellers to pass a resolution in 1940 calling for a campaign to increase book reading in the United States and creating the American Book Council to foster such efforts. The failure of earlier efforts to increase book sales prompted skepticism among some in the trade. Indeed, it had become common to bemoan the state of book distribution ever since the publication of O.H. Cheyney's Economic Survey of the Book Industry in 1929. Cheyney had concluded that the operations of the book industry were haphazard and wasteful, that book distribution was ineffective, that educational provisions were weak, and that more could be done to promote book buying and reading. . . . Worries about the extent of reading in the United States were exacerbated not only by the political atmosphere but also by the appearance of new media. Radio and movies not only competed with books and print for the attention of Americans but also, some thought, seemed to provide more titillation than thoughtful analysis.
And what of the vanished herds of brilliant BookReaders that once roamed the literary plains? In The Locusts Have No King, Dawn Powell's brilliant satire of the New York publishing world in the late 1940s, a "contemporary novel-writing" class at the League for Cultural Foundation is described as involving "a careful survey of the Sunday book review magazines and keeping up with guest authors on radio programs for inside information."

During a group discussion that leans heavily on secondary sources (Miss Corey opines that The West Waits "was long-winded and not what the public expected of Nackley. . . . It didn't live up to the promise of his other book, The Nevada Moon, at least not for me. That's what the New York Times said."), one of the participants dares to say, "I liked it," which inspires a stern rebuke: "I suppose you'd set up your opinion against the nation's leading critics. I don't need to read the book to know it isn't up to standard . . ."

As 2008 comes to an end, I mourn neither the hazardous present nor an illusory past. For 2009, I'll simply begin a new conversation by imagining possibilities:
  • What if the shop local movement continues to gain momentum nationwide?
  • What if we work even harder to nurture the readers we have instead of bemoaning those we've lost?
  • What if we begin paying more attention to all the fine books, including translated works, being published by independent and university houses?
  • What if some of those bright minds and good people who are unfortunately no longer working for major publishers decide to create more smart, dynamic and lean indie presses?
  • What if, with common sense, fierce adaptability and, yes, imagination, it all works out?

Here's to an imaginative New Year.--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)


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