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Friday
Sep022016

After The Unquiet Daughter Found Me

I am the sequel he never wrote. --Danielle Flood, The Unquiet Daughter

When I find the right book, or when the right book finds me, it's cause for celebration. There should be a ceremony. Maybe that's what this column is.

The Unquiet Daughter: A Memoir of Betrayal and Love by Danielle Flood was released yesterday by Piscataqua Press, which is run by Tom Holbrook, owner of RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, N.H.

Flood was a staff writer for the Associated Press and five newspapers, has freelanced for many publications and is currently working on three novels. She managed to earn a U.S. Coast Guard fishing boat captain's license along the way, and is a self-described "proud Mom" who lives with her husband, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, in Ogunquit, Maine. But (and herein lies an amazing tale), she was also the daughter of a complex (woefully inadequate word in this case) French/Vietnamese woman who was part of a wartime love triangle that inspired the one in Graham Greene's novel The Quiet American.

That was the initial hook I stumbled upon earlier this summer, and how the book found me. I'd read Greene's novel many times over the years, and was intrigued to know more about the story behind The Unquiet Daughter. While the Greene connection may have lured me in, it was Flood's compelling "sequel" that kept me riveted as she chronicled her often harrowing childhood, an intensive search for her real father, and finally the unraveling of impossibly fine threads woven between her parents' lives and Greene's fiction. Journalist and storyteller are in perfect sync in these pages.

Danielle Flood

I was also fascinated by the story of how The Unquiet Daughter had found its way to Piscataqua Press. So I asked both Flood and Holbrook to share that tale.

"For the last three years, Piscataqua Press has been doing what I tend to call 'assisted self-publishing,' and it's safe to say that our publishing endeavor has been instrumental in keeping the bookstore going," Holbrook said. "As we've been doing this, we've been keeping our eye out for books that we could produce as a regular publisher; books that we thought had the merit to be published by the big publishers but just never made it there. As a longtime bookseller, I've always secretly wanted to publish a book that was a commercial success. Danielle Flood has had a long career as a professional journalist, and I believe spent some time shopping the book through an agent before coming to us. I recognized right away that not only was the quality of the book a cut above, but that Dani had the ambition and drive to make sure that the book found readers."

Flood told me that she'd had an offer six years ago from one of the then Big Six publishers, "but 'something happened' and I don't talk about it because it wasn't the fault of the executive editor involved and I don't want her publicly embarrassed. As far as I'm concerned her strong actions in support The Unquiet Daughter were something that kept me fueled emotionally until publication." Two other big publishers had the manuscript for a month each, but Flood said her "disappointment when all fell apart caused me to be unable to try and sell the book again and unable to work on it for about four years." She left her agent when he declined to seek out independent and university presses. 

Tom Holbrook

Eventually, however, the story took an unexpected turn: "RiverRun and I decided upon each other after I discovered it while looking in its bookstore window. I saw a charming little sign that said: 'We Publish Books.' Tom Holbrook does help some authors get self-published, but this is not a self-published book; I don't need to self-publish a book, though I thought about it. Tom is publishing me and I find it kind of lovely that his little publishing house and my book support his independent bookstore. There's some kind of symphony there, it seems. And, what a breath of crisp, new air: I am treated nicely with respect, politeness; after the struggle, it's a delight."

The Graham Greene connection was not the primary reason for Holbrook being drawn to The Unquiet Daughter. "I was more interested in the mommy dearest type childhood, and the way Dani was able to portray that story through the eyes of her younger self," he recalled. "There are things going on that the reader understands but that young Dani doesn't understand--and this is a tough trick to pull off. There was a point in the book where somebody she was counting on actually came through for her, and I heard myself exhale because I had been so tense waiting for the next terrible thing to happen."

Flood said she is "excited about release day because I know in my heart that my book will help a lot of people and they will finally get to experience it. I wrote The Unquiet Daughter so that the fatherless feel less alone and in hopes that some young men and women would see how much it mattered to someone to have a father and that they might hang in there and stay together for a child, or at least stay in touch with their child. Just because plenty of people don't have fathers in their lives doesn't mean it's okay. It's not okay."

And now, a gifted author and a dedicated indie bookseller/publisher are just looking for some readers.

"I love, love stories and I love David and Goliath stories," Flood observed. "I am in favor of the thriving of all bookstores, but especially the smaller independent bookstores that in their spunk to stay alive sing of their identities and struggle to prevail. I say: bravo and bravissima. The independent bookstore is and can forever be a strong community force and book reading the best form of entertainment I can imagine."

Holbrook added: "We've found a side business that takes a lot of work, but is very rewarding and deeply tied to our mission, so much more fun than selling socks or coffee mugs or other sidelines. And who knows? We might find the next big thing--stranger things have happened."

Booksellers with questions about wholesale pricing or author events for The Unquiet Daughter can contact Holbrook directly at info@riverrunbookstore.com.

I'm glad The Unquiet Daughter found me this summer. That in itself is a story with a happy ending.

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2831

Friday
Aug262016

Recent Studies Show Reading Is (Fill in the Blank)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the release of a study that specifically links reading books to a longer life span. Reading is good for you. Who knew? It can, however, become a little complicated once academic researchers get involved. What did you think? That it was just about picking up a book and turning the pages? Silly reader.

This week, the Guardian reported on a paper just published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts that found "literary fiction by the likes of Salman Rushdie, Harper Lee and Toni Morrison helps improve readers' understanding of other people's emotions... but genre writing, from authors including Danielle Steel and Clive Cussler, does not."

"This is not to say that reading popular genre fiction cannot be enjoyable or beneficial for other reasons--we suspect it is," said David Kidd, one of the researchers. "Nor does the present evidence point towards a clear and consistent distinction between literary and popular genre fiction. Instead, it suggests that the broad distinction between relatively complex literary and relatively formulaic genre fiction can help us better understand how engaging with fiction affects how we think."

Author Val McDermid had some sharp and justifiable reservations about these findings: "So it seems that this research demonstrates fairly conclusively that people who pay attention to what they read and hear are also pretty savvy when it comes to doing quizzes. Hold the front page.... Good books make us care. It really doesn't matter whether they include murderers, aliens, philosophers or kings."

On another front, I was heartened by a New York Times column earlier this month headlined "The Merits of Reading Real Books to Your Children," in which pediatrician Dr. Perri Klass, national medical director of the program Reach Out and Read, used the release of the new Harry Potter book to examine the impact of "book-books" in kids' lives.

She noted that developmental behavioral pediatrician Dr. Jenny Radesky is one of the authors of an upcoming American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on media use for children from birth to age 5. "Preschool children learn better when there's an adult involved," Radesky said. "They learn better when there are not distracting digital elements, especially when those elements are not relevant to the story line or the learning purpose."

Dr. Klass wrote: "Part of what makes paper a brilliant technology may be, in fact, that it offers us so much and no more. A small child cannot tap the duck and elicit a quack; for that, the child needs to turn to a parent. And when you cannot tap the picture of the horse and watch it gallop across the page, you learn that your brain can make the horse move as fast as you want it to, just as later on it will show you the young wizards on their broomsticks, and perhaps even sneak you in among them."

Reading book-books as good medicine. I like that.

By the way, using readers as research guinea pigs has a long, and occasionally odd, history. Here's a sampling from the archives of the New York Times:

1883. "The boys of the Polytechnic showed a decided taste for the better class. For example, Dickens is the prime favorite of 43 Polytechnic boys and with only 14 of the public school boys. Horatio Alger, Jr., has 2 admirers in the Polytechnic Institute where he has 18 at the public school."

1929. "Dr. William S. Gray made a survey of the reading habits of Americans for the American Library Association. He found that stenographers as a class are interested in inspirational, and prefer the classics to sentimental novels."

1945: A "scientific and exhaustive nationwide survey of the taste of the American reading public revealed [that]... 95% of the people read the Bible, compared with the 84% who read Forever Amber and the 57% who perused A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.... 70% of all books published are read by 21% of the people; 94% of those on the market by 50% of the people."

Impromptu survey: Are you reading for longevity? Are you reading the right sort of books? And what about the kids?!!

In the Telegraph, Oliver Pritchett, tongue planted firmly in cheek, added some digital age perspective: "I have been interested in the recent correspondence about the menace of people reading books while walking along the street, becoming so engrossed that they bump into each other--or into us innocent passers-by. In my experience, it is the fiction addicts who are the worst."

Perhaps we need a research grant to study that curious phenomenon. Reading is complicated... and it's simple. But we already knew that.

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2826

Friday
Aug192016

Prospecting vs. Prospective Bookstore Owners

"I always dreamed of owning a bookstore," says almost every new bookshop owner to the media once the doors have finally opened. Most of us who worked as longtime frontline booksellers have probably entertained the ownership fantasy, if only briefly. In my case, the dream hit while I was in still college during the early 1970s. When I actually became a bookseller two decades later, the vision was long gone. By then I knew my limitations (and strengths, too, I suppose).

Jessica Stockton Bagnulo and Rebecca Fitting at Greenlight

We've all known colleagues in this business who wanted their own bookshop and eventually realized that dream. For example, I recall meeting two people when their bookstores were still long-term goals, and then watching as they carefully planned and executed those visions--Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, co-owner (with Rebecca Fitting) of Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn; and Janet Geddis of Avid Bookshop in Athens, Ga. From the beginning, they were genuine "prospective bookstore owners." The real deal.

On the other hand, one of my bookselling colleagues long ago had joined the staff to learn the book trade while she scouted for possible locations in New England to open her own bookshop. Less than a year into her research, she decided the dream was not for her, and that decision was also carefully thought out and, for her, absolutely the right call. She was also a genuine prospective bookstore owner.

So I've been thinking this week about the difference between the words prospective ("of a person expected or expecting to be something particular in the future") and prospecting ("look for; search for") as they relate to running a bookstore.

What led me to this Dog Days of August rumination was Kat Kruger's recent piece in Quill & Quire about her tenure as a prospecting bookseller at the Open Book in Wigtown, Scotland. We wrote about the AirbnBookseller concept last year: guests pay a nominal fee and are "expected to sell books for 40 hours a week while living in the flat above the shop. Given training in bookselling from Wigtown's community of booksellers, they will also have the opportunity to put their 'own stamp' on the store while they're there."

I was just a little cynical when I first read this. Bookselling, even in a quaint used bookshop in Scotland, is complicated, and Kruger begins (you guessed it): "Many book lovers, myself included, dream of running a bookstore." Her account is a chronicle of the bookselling fantasy: "After closing most days we'd grab a pint at the local pub, where a cat named Izzy would often sit with us. Then we'd head upstairs to the flat, closing all the room doors to keep the heat in before bundling up next to the faux electric fire. The bookshop holiday didn't deliver the chaos of a rom-com, but the adventure certainly made me pause and appreciate the revisions I've made in my life's script."

Earlier this year, Dan Dalton shared his Open Book experience on Buzzfeed: "Romantic notions of bookselling might not hold up in a national chain or a busy city, but here, in a small Scottish town by the sea, surrounded by the smell of used books, they just might."

He asked Shaun Bythell, who owns the Bookshop in Wigtown and whose parents own Open Books, about the romantic expectations of bookselling versus the reality. "I think people think it'll be sitting in front of a fireplace reading Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. But it's mostly moving boxes," Bythell said.

Librarians Rosie and Liam wrote this on the Open Book's blog in March: "To work in a bookshop for two weeks has been a bit of a dream come true and we will definitely be taking new ideas and a fresh prospective back to our day jobs. Librarianship and book selling are obviously two very close professions. When we think of the fundamentals of librarianship, this has been reflected at some point over our two weeks in the Open Book."

A more recent "proprietor" of the Open Book, Diane Mawhinney, offered a few tips to future prospecting booksellers, including: "Finally, and most of all (besides the amazing hospitality), I will forever remember the first moments of opening the bookshop, the jiggling of the skeleton key, the tinkling of the little bell, the unique scent of the ages-old texts probably combined with the weekly deliveries of fresh shortbread from Nanette (customers would ask, What is that smell, like exotic gingerbread?!), and the fairy-like quality of the lights as the electricity slowly flows from the switch to announce with ethereal music that business is open."

Maybe prospecting booksellers aren't so bad after all. The dream lives on, vanquishing my cynicism.

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2921

Friday
Aug122016

The Reading Life You Save May Be Your Own

This has been a banner week for celebrating booklovers and booksellers, as if we needed an excuse. Tuesday was National (or, really, international) Booklovers Day and tomorrow is National Bookshop Day in Australia. We also received the equivalent of a Fountain-of-Reading-Youth prescription with the release of A Chapter a Day: Association of Book Reading with Longevity by Avni Bavishi, Martin Slade and Becca Levy from the Yale University School of Public Health.

Published in the September issue of Social Science & Medicine, the report specifically links books to a longer life span. Bavishi told the Guardian: "We found that reading books provided a greater benefit than reading newspapers or magazines. We uncovered that this effect is likely because books engage the reader's mind more--providing more cognitive benefit, and therefore increasing the lifespan." The study notes that there are two cognitive processes involved that could create a "survival advantage." Reading books promotes the "slow, immersive process" of "deep reading," a cognitive engagement that "occurs as the reader draws connections to other parts of the material, finds applications to the outside world, and asks questions about the content presented."

Bavishi observed: "We had seen some mixed effects in previous literature that seemed to indicate that there may be a survival advantage to general reading; however, we were impressed with the magnitude of the difference of effect between reading books and reading newspapers/magazines."

Reason enough to celebrate...

National Booklovers Day
The first good reading vibe I noticed under the hashtag #NationalBookloversDay came from Sir Paul McCartney ("Love that book! Happy Book Lovers Day."), but many soon followed, including:

Mr. B's Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, England: "Today is #NationalBookLoversDay celebrate with us & shout WE LOVE BOOKS! What are you reading on this special day?!"
Brazos Bookstore, Houston, Tex.: "Ben's fantastic #nationalbookloversday stack, ft: THE SADNESS, or "The Author's Narcissism" #jkpleasedontfireme"
Books & Books, Miami, Fla.: "RT @newtropicmiami book recommendations from Mitch Kaplan at the @BooksandBooks in Wynwood #NationalBookLoversDay"
Square Books, Oxford, Miss.: "Happy #NationalBookloversDay!! All these staff picks are overflowing with love. What's your favorite book?"
New York Botanical Garden: ("It's all about that centuries-old book smell on #NationalBookLoversDay. Especially in our Rare Book Room.")
Maggie Stiefvater: "Happy #NationalBookLoversDay. Spending it in my office writing."

A prevailing sentiment seemed to be gently questioning the choice of a particular day for our everyday obsession:

Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe & Phoenix, Ariz.: "Today is #NationalBookLoversDay, a.k.a. Every Single Dayum Day around here. Happy unofficial holiday, book lovers!"
Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Mich.: "In honor of National Book Lovers Day (every day, in our opinion), here's an aerial picture of all those pretty books."
Copper Canyon Press: "How about #NationalBookLoversDay every day?"
Books Are My Bag: "Well, *technically* it's every day but let's be greedy and celebrate anyway!"

Kenny Brechner, owner of Devaney Doak & Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Maine, summed up the National Booklovers Day bookselling spirit nicely in a CentralMaine.com article (while providing the health & wellness reference I needed to keep my theme intact):

The rise of digital media has made the physical book a source of not only refuge, but balance in people's lives. When you think about the term 'interactive,' in a very real way there is nothing more interactive than a real book, to have the words relay into your mind. There is a privacy there and there is a quiet and there is power. And bookstores provide a place for us all to connect and share reading. The physical book is just a different experience. It provides an experience that is a very healthy, balanced antidote to the more ephemeral experience the people are immersed in online.

National Bookshop Day
The reading-as-healing theme continues tomorrow in Australia with #NationalBookshopDay. As Joel Becker, CEO of the Australian Booksellers Association, wrote: "Whether you're having a 'book doctor' prescribing books; having visiting authors; putting on a party; presenting readings, or offering cupcakes (I always make sure I visit my local, Fairfield Books, for some home baked goodies served up by one of the many authors who visit the shop), National Bookshop Day is an opportunity to highlight your business, and have a party with your customers."

So, where's the party? Among many participating shops in the country are Matilda Bookshop in Adelaide ("Come and celebrate with us with free books all day... Share this to tell people who like books, bookshops or, for that matter, us!) and Avid Reader Bookshop in Brisbane ("Narrative busking? A literary kissing booth? Doggy dress-ups? The Great Bookish Bakeoff? It must be National Bookshop Day at Avid Reader!"). 

Unable, or unwilling, to escape medical references, I'll conclude with one last event. At Beachside Bookshop in Avalon Beach, "a clinic for frustrated book worms will open its surgery on Saturday to mark National Bookshop Day.... Owner Libby Armstrong has lined up writers including Kirsty Eagar and Helen Thurloe, Sophie Hardcastle and Louise Park as doctors."

Reader, heal thyself. The Yale study concludes that "the benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read them... The robustness of our findings suggests that reading books may not only introduce some interesting ideas and characters, it may also give more years of reading." Time to refill that reading prescription, folks. Oh, wait. I don't have to tell you that, do I?

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2816

Friday
Aug052016

The Olympic Bookathlon

via

"Beach reading" takes on a whole new meaning for the next couple of weeks as the 2016 Olympic Games open in tropical Rio de Janeiro. And even though idealistic visions of Chariots of Fire dudes running in slow motion have been replaced by cautionary news reports of polluted waters, Zika virus and doping scandals, the beachy opening ceremonies will nonetheless be staged tonight with all the anticipated five-ring hoopla.

In the spirit of the Olympics and their long, if occasionally stumbling-at-the-starting-line, history, I thought I'd officially propose adding a Bookathlon competition for booksellers to the 2020 Tokyo Games, with the following events:

Weightlifting (stacks of books)
Precision Shelving (timed event)
High Jump (for books on top shelves)
Staircase Sprint (with an armload of books)
Sales Floor Speedwalking (dodging customer hurdles)

Yes, I'm just a bit of a cynic when it comes to the spectacle. Reading David Goldblatt's brilliant The Games: A Global History of the Olympics recently has only fanned my world-weary Olympic flame. But reading is my way through most things. Find the best stories, like the ones Goldblatt shares.

Signature recently featured a "Summer Olympics primer: 10 books for the Rio de Janeiro games"; and Electric Literature recommended "18 books for your Summer Olympics deep dive." The July issue of Words Without Borders, "Brazil Beyond Rio," offered a compelling and "different look at the South American giant that will host this year's Olympic Games. The writers here--both those from abroad and those from Brazil--set out to rediscover and portray the diverse Brazils within this dynamic country."

Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin reads Knuffle Bunny for One Book 4 Colorado.

On a lighter note, Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin shared her "Rio Reading List" with Travel & Leisure magazine. "I'm a huge reader," she said, adding that a visit to the bookstore is generally part of her pre-packing routine. "A few days before a trip, I have a great time researching what everyone is reading and picking the books for my flight.... I really have to make sure that I have a good library set for me before takeoff."

Don't forget the kids. "Read your way to Rio! Your family's summer Olympics primer," Brightly advised. And Changing Hands bookstores in Tempe and Phoenix, Ariz., have been in the spirit with a Summer Olympics Reading Program.

A Rio bookseller has had his Olympic moment, too. In June, we reported that Rodrigo Ferrari, co-owner of Livraria e Edições Folha Seca, had to remove a sign from his display window that included the word "Olympics" because of product licensing violations. "I was worried, so I took it down, despite finding it absurd," he said.

Absurdity is something of an Olympic tradition, as the amazing BBC Four series Twenty-Twelve proved in the run-up to the London Games. There's even a Rio connection in scenes where British organizers discuss the "proper gift for a visiting Brazilian Olympic delegation," and then take them on a less-than-successful bus trip to tour facilities under construction and meet Lord Sebastian Coe.

A notable 2012 Olympic bookselling moment was the Quixotic, if well-intentioned, effort by David Mitchell, owner of Scarthin Books in Cromford, to act on his belief that the Olympics "should mark the efforts of those who come fourth in their event" by creating a new medal himself. No word on whether the organizing committee set its licensing wolves after him.

The arts have long played a role in Olympic tradition. In his introduction to The Games, Goldblatt notes that Baron de Coubertin, who organized the first modern Olympics in 1912, "had long believed that sport was not antithetical to the arts, but a distinct and important component of a society's cultural life. It therefore seemed natural to him, though not too many athletes and artists at the time, that the Olympic Games should also stage artistic, literary and musical competitions on the theme of sport."

While the 2012 London Games, for example, featured an ambitious "Cultural Olympiad," Rio's efforts have been hampered by drastic funding cuts, and "for the first time since 1992, the Olympic host city has not organized a four-year cultural program to culminate in the Games. Instead, it has focused on activities throughout its Olympic year and during Games time.... Organizers admitted there had been setbacks but said the line-up would be revealed soon and would feature flashmobs and 'surprises,' " Deutsche Welle reported.

What's an Olympic cynic to do? Maybe I'll just follow the sound advice Goldblatt offered in a recent Vice Sports interview:

A good dose of skepticism, a splendid sense of humor, and a deep sense of history, I think, are the essential equipment to take to the sofa.... I'm not asking people to take the weight of guilt upon their shoulders. And I don't think we're colluding by watching. But take a critical air, read around, and above all I encourage people to think, how could it be otherwise? It doesn't have to be as it is. There are things we like about it, but there will be a thousand things one finds irritating or irksome or unjust about it. And here's the critical moment to say: how can it be otherwise? What else would we like? It's a spring to the imagination.

So lift, shelve, reach, climb, walk and, above all, "read around." You're a future Olympic bookathlete in training. Act like one.

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2811