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July 15th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Publishing & Bookselling; Urban Life & New York City

Previewing Fall 2014 Books with NY State and NJ Booksellers


Audience at July 15 NAIBA eventHad a great time last night at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Soho, where a preview of two important Fall titles was put on by the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA). As soon as I arrived I saw Eileen Dengler, Executive Director of NAIBA, whom I’ve known since my days with Undercover Books in Cleveland. Among many booksellers on hand, I met Heidi Shira Tannenbaum, manager of the Housing Works store; Margot Sage-El, Watchung Booksellers, Montclair, NJ*; two female staff members from Word Bookstore‘s Jersey City location; Todd Dickinson, of Aaron’s Books in Lititz, PA; Ezra Goldstein of Community Bookstore in Brooklyn; Roy Solomon of Village Bookstore in Pleasantville, NY; and Bill Reilly of River’s End Bookstore in Oswego, NY, site of the US Army camp where during WWII nearly 1,000 refugees were brought for sanctuary by Ruth Gruber, then a member of the FDR administration. She chronicled this in her book HAVEN: The Dramatic Story of 1,000 WWII Refugees and How They Came to America (out first in 1985), which I republished in trade paper in 1999, when I was with Crown Publishing. Bill told me that HAVENwhich along with four other books by Gruber is now available from Open Road Media—is his store’s top-selling book of local history; indeed I found the Open Road edition featured on the left-hand rail of the store’s website. Though Bill’s store is in upstate NY, near Lake Ontario, he hadn’t even traveled the farthest to be at this gathering: that recognition went to a bookseller from Buffalo. I was also delighted to see longtime Random House sales rep Ruth Liebmann in the audience. A nicely stocked bar with appetizers was generously provided by book distributor Baker & Taylor.

The first writer to speak was Robert W. Snyder, Director of the American Studies Program at Rutgers. His forthcoming book is CROSSING BROADWAY: Washington Heights and the Promise of New York City, to be published in December by Cornell University Press. My first five years in NYC I lived in Washington Heights, on Bennett Avenue at 186th Street, on the west side of Broadway—still the defining artery of the neighborhood—so I very much enjoyed meeting Snyder, then hearing his presentation on the book. It chronicles the evolution of this northern Manhattan neighborhood over the past century, and how it stands todayas quite a stellar example of diverse urban populations living successfully side-by-side, even while it more and more faces the price of its own success, with gentrification, rising home prices, and distortions to the social weave that may already be diminishing its richness. I recall that when I lived up there my NY State Assemblyman was J. Brian Murtagh, a voluble Irish pol who was proud of saying that his constituents spoke some astonishing number of languages among themselves—more than fifty, I recall. The dominant groups had long been Irish, German-Jewish, and Dominican, but with many other nationalities, too. Separately, we spoke about upper Manhattan, which has been important in NY history since the Revolutionary War. I told him I cover it often here writing about the Little Red Lighthouse, underneath the eastern arch of the George Washington Bridge, aka the Great Gray Bridge, and High Bridge, where an original foot-bridge between Manhattan and the Bronx is being restored.

I appreciated that in introducing Snyder my longtime book biz friend, Christopher Kerr, who reps Cornell University Press, voiced a brief shout-out to me, evoking the years I lived in Washington Heights, when amid the ravages of the crack epidemic, the nabe was too often known most for its high crime rate. Actually, my part of the Heights had little crime, and I was able to pay less than $600 per month rent, in 1985, for a comfortable 2nd floor apartment in a 6-story building. I also had the good fortune to buy furniture and bookcases from the daughter of the German-Jewish woman who’d brought them from Germany decades earlier. I still have the bookcases today, though I moved to the upper west side of Manhattan in 1990.

The second author last night was Emily St. John Mandel, a novelist with Canadian roots, having grown up in western BC, who then lived in Montreal. I met her briefly during BEA in 2013, at a Greenwich Village reception sponsored by the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC). I recalled last night that she said then she was finishing a manuscript, now completed, titled Station Eleven. Each of her three previous novels has received great reviews, like this comment about her debut book, from an erudite bookseller/reader at Rainy Day Books, a top indie bookstore in Kansas City, KS.

Last Night in Montreal took me by surprise in the most wonderful ways….From the very first chapter, I was drawn in to her provocative, delicately grim world full of wanderlust, betrayal, and the quest for answers. Each of [Mandel's] deliciously real characters are searching for answers to the questions of their lives, compelled to hunt them out no matter how shocking or painful those answers may be. Mandel’s novel, though relatively short, amazed me with its intricacies and complexities. As days go by, I find myself thinking of more and more reasons I so loved [it].”—Elizabeth Lewis, Rainy Day Books

St. John Mandel’s new novel will be published September 9 by Knopf in the US, then separately in North America by Harper Canada, and Picador in the UK.  I’d expect there will also be foreign language editions. It’s a very impressive book, and she spoke about it beautifully. St. John Mandel began by explaining that she’s always loved reading post-apocalyptic fiction, like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and she wrote her new novel as a kind of love letter to the present, a meditation on what we would miss most if all that we’re used to went away, and what we would long for most keenly. In literature, she imagined that the sudden subtraction from our midst of the works of Shakespeare would be one of our greatest losses, so she conceived a traveling theater troupe who continue performing Shakespeare’s plays, even while the world around them is withering away. She had me at theatre troupe, as I quickly remembered novels I’ve enjoyed, like Robertson Davies’ early book Tempest-Tost, about a community group putting on “The Tempest,” and the funny, ribald, and wrenching Canadian TV series Slings & Arrows, which features recurring characters in a theater company staging “Hamlet,” “Macbeth,” and “King Lear” over three seasons. For the apocalyptic part, on the subway downtown, I’d been reading a battered copy of Nevil Shute’s post-nuclear classic, On the Beach, so you can imagine I was immediately eager to begin Emily’s book, leaving Shute’s book in my knapsack on the ride home. Station Eleven was a Buzz Book at BEA in May but I had missed the presentation given about it then by her Knopf editor, Jennifer Jackson, who introduced her author last night and has written an eloquent ode to the book for booksellers that’s printed in the ARC. On the subway I found myself immediately captured by the wistful voice and St. John Mandel’s exquisite sentence-making, where prop snowflakes stand in for the creeping coldness falling all around us.

Here are pictures from last night’s enjoyable reception, with thanks to all the booksellers, publishers, reps, sponsors, hosts, and authors.

* I was excited to discover on the Wachtung Booksellers’ website that NY Times reporter Harvey Araton—whose novel Cold Type I picked up at BEA, and which I loved reading, making it my #FridayReads on June 14—will be at the store in Montclair for a signing on July 23. I hear Montclair is a great town for books and reading.

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July 12th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing

#FridayReads, July 11–My Personal Faves for this Week

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July 8th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels; Publishing & Bookselling

Remembering Earl I. Turner, February 7, 1918-July 8, 1992

Earl I. Turner, Moraigne Lake, Canadian Rockies, July 1982My father Earl I. Turner, about whom I’ve previously written on this blog, died twenty-two years ago today. Recently, my sister Pamela Turner found a letter Earl gave to his three children when we as a family (Pamela; our brother Joel; Earl, mom, Sylvia; and myself) began operating Undercover Books, on May 4, 1978. His letter is kind of an ethical will, full of wisdom, and I invite you to read it for yourself.

Earl Turner letter, May 8, 1978

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July 6th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics & History

Slight Sliver of Light in the Aftermath of Teenagers Killing Teenagers in Israel and Palestine

The families and communities grieving the recent kidnapping/killings of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers are trying to console one another. From Times of Israel coverage today:

“The uncle of the slain Israeli teenager Naftali Fraenkel offered his condolences Sunday in a phone call to Hussein Abu Khdeir, whose 16-year-old son was murdered last week in what police believe was a revenge killing by Jewish extremists. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said he too spoke to Abu Khdeir and, on behalf of the residents of Jerusalem, condemned the killing of his son Muhammad [age 15]. The call came hours after two Palestinians from the Hebron area paid a visit to the grieving Fraenkel family.”

Elsewhere today, Israeli police arrested six Israeli Jewish males, some teenagers, in the murder of the young Abu Khdeir, found dead some hours after passengers in a passing car abducted from an east Jerusalem street.  It was reported by ynetnews.com that Israeli authorities believe that one night before the accused perpetrators grabbed Abu Khdeir, some of them tried and failed to abduct a nine-year old boy who, with his mother, fended off the attempted kidnapping. Finally, in a related development, a clandestine video recording had been made of Israeli soldiers arresting and beating a teenager, Tariq Khderi, who is an American cousin to Muhammad Abu Khdeir, visiting family for the summer. It has been a very terrible month in Israel and the Occupied Territories. When teenagers are torturing other teenagers, something is seriously wrong in a society.3 murdered Israeli teenagersMuhammad Abu Khdeir

The Times of Israel story mentioned above reported at some length on the exchange of sympathies among Jewish and Palestinian civilians, a slight sliver of light amid the bad news:

“One of the [Palestinian] visitors told the Hebrew NRG website that Fraenkel’s statements last week after Abu Khdeir’s murder ‘touched a large portion of the Palestinian people.’

‘I come from a bereaved family, I lost my brother and I have family that were former prisoners, unfortunately we also threw stones at you. What can you do?’ he said.

In a statement last week, the Fraenkels condemned the murder of Abu Khdeir, saying in a statement that ‘There is no difference when it comes to blood. Murder is murder; there is no justification, forgiveness or atonement for any murder.’

‘The moment we learn to deal with each other’s pain and stop the anger against one another, the situation will be better,” the [Palestinian] visitor said. “Our mission is to strengthen the family and also to take a step forward towards the liberation of my people. We believe that only through the hearts of the Jews will our liberation happen.’

He described the warm welcome the Fraenkels gave him, and said: ‘We are sorry for any harm against people, whether Jewish or Muslim. We don’t want anyone to be hurt, and want to reach a political agreement.’

The two Palestinians also described an upcoming initiative called the ‘Hunger Strike Against Violence,’ next Tuesday, on which the Jewish fast of the 17 of Tammuz coincides with the ongoing Muslim Ramadan holiday. ‘Palestinians that I knew wanted to come visit and console the families, so I brought them,” [Fraenkel family friend] Ostroff said. ‘The family welcomed them in a remarkable way. They didn’t even think twice to let them in; it was obvious to them that it was okay.’”

I will close this post by referring to a tweet I sent out last night, regarding a sober analysis of the current situation from a longtime Israeli security official.

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July 6th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Sports

Remembering the Late Jim Brosnan, Major League Pitcher and Trailblazing Athlete-Author

Jim Brosnan, APWonderful NY Times obit of the pitcher-writer whose first book, The Long Season, a diary of a major league season, ushered in the modern genre of realistic baseball literature, preceding Jim Bouton’s more celebrated Ball Four by more than a decade. Delighted to find a line quoted in it from sportswriter at the time, later publisher, and a book biz friend, Al Silverman*. In a Saturday Evening Post profile at the time, Silverman wrote: “Brosnan is quite possibly the most intellectual creature ever to put on a major league uniform.”

In 1990, after Brosnan’s book, and Bouton’s, were established as classics of contemporary sports literature, I had the privilege of publishing the 20th anniversary edition of Ball Four, shown below. In 2002, I got to publish another gem of sports lit, a posthumous short story collection called The Heavenly World Series, by Frank O’Rourke, whose example was opposite to that later established by the two pitcher-authors. O’Rourke was professionally a sports reporter, and a pretty good ballplayer; he got invited to a spring-training tryout with the Philadelphia Phillies before the 1948 major league season. Though he didn’t make the team, he later used the experience to write brilliant short fiction from the viewpoints of ballplayers themselves. From the flap copy: “A writer who belongs alongside Ring Lardner and Mark Harris [O'Rourke] captures the essence of baseball in elegiac, unsentimentalized fiction that blends dazzling description of on-the-field action with compassionate off-the-field portraitsPennant races, old veterans passing down their wisdom to rookies, and an unforgettable dash around the bases by a player modeled on the young Jackie Robinson highlight these unforgettable tales.”

Here are covers of the Brosnan, Bouton, and O’Rourke books:

*Silverman is also an author, of the marvelous oral history, The Time of Their Lives: The Golden Age of Great American Publishers, Their Editors, and Authors.

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June 22nd, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Canada; Honourary Canadian; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels; Urban Life & New York City

Happy in Toronto at NXNE

For the fourth consecutive year I’ve traveled to Toronto for the North by Northeast festival (NXNE); to see my client ExpertFile.com; and hold some publishing meetings. I am having a great week and have been posting frequently on Twitter and Facebook about the great events I’ve attended, and on the sister blog to this one, HonouraryCanadian.com, where I wrote about comedian and podcaster Marc Maron’s rousing keynote remarks.

Late last night I lucked in to an impromptu show at the great venue the Cameron House w/one of my musical heroes, Matt Mays. He had been invited by frontman Sam Cash to sit in with his band the Romatic Dogs. Matt began by leading the band, and the audience, in Neil Young’s “Helpless.” Matt and I spoke afterward, exchanging heartfelt appreciations. I conveyed my condolences for the sudden loss last year of his bandmate Jay Smith. He thanked me for remembering his old friend. I told him about Honourary Canadian and gave him my card for which he thanked me and said it would be going in “a special place.” Here’s a shot of Sam and Matt from last night:

I’ll also be posting more here about NXNE after I return to NYC next week.

 

 

 

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June 15th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Philip Turner Book Productions; Publishing & Bookselling

One More BEA in the Books—2014 Edition

I’ve noticed we live now in an age of reunions, with various landmarks in our lives regularly memorialized. There are invitations to school reunions, throw-back Thursdays in our social networks (aka #tbt), and much (re)greeting and (re-)meeting at occasions related to our professions. Most recent among these for me was Book Expo America (BEA), held in NYC May 28-31 at the Javits Center.

I’ve been attending the annual book convention most years since 1978, when I got started in the book business with Undercover Books, the bookstore chain I ran with my siblings and our parents until 1985, when I came to NY and began working in publishing. Over the past ten years BEA has almost always been held in NY, though in earlier decades the book industry held its trade show in Chicago, New Orleans, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Dallas, Anaheim, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. For a long time the event was called ABA, until the American Booksellers Association, the trade group of indie booksellers that ran it, sold the show to Reed Exhibitions, a corporation that runs such conventions. The regular meetings with many of the same people over many years accounts in part for the warmth and chumminess that makes the book business such a special field to work in.

A hunger for human connections, for friends new and old, in business and in our lives, has long been part of human nature, and I believe it’s increasing. Our society is in the third decade of the Internet, with more and more virtuality in our lives all the time, so true human contact is welcomed, especially with the economic stresses so many live with, leading us to crave actually seeing old friends and establish new relationships, giving us a chance to speak of our latest enterprises and tell our personal stories, while listening to those of our friends and counterparts. I think this appetite for the actual is also responsible for the growth I’ve noticed in the field of educational conferences—public events that have thematic programming, and often quite interesting public speakers, who may speak on their own, often with projected slides, or as part of panels with multiple speakers in conversation.

I think this also helps explain why a company for which I consult, ExpertFile.com has made a good business for itself the past few years. I began working with them after I met CEO Peter Evans at Digital Book World in 2011, when they were known as SpeakerFile. One of the areas in which they’d established themselves was to help meeting planners connect with the right speakers for each event, sort of like an eHarmony for the conference industry. In their name change ExpertFile identifies the gaining of expertise as a great need of modern professionals. They still work in the conference area, but now concentrate on helping organizations amplify and promote their in-house talent through online expert centers created with ExpertFile’s unique software, enabling members of the media, businesspeople, and conference organizers to discover these uniquely talented people. During BEA, I was tweeting tech stories from the floor that I found compelling, like this one.

I note that during the recession, while so many industries floundered or sunk, conferences (like Aspen Institute, TED, TEDx, and Digital Book World flourished). Though O’Reilly and F&W Media shuttered Tools of Change after 2013, they still run a bunch of other conferences. By contrast, it must be said that the convention business—with events like BEA, where attendees still stroll aisles of booths set up by exhibitors—is relatively weak. BEA is trying to affiliate itself with more programmed events, but at its core it’s still been a trade show with floor exhibits mounted mostly by, in our case, publishers. Significantly, in 2013, and again this year, BEA has on its last day opened the show to the reading and bookbuying public—fans of authors—an inevitable evolution that I endorse. This latter part of BEA is now called BookCon, and Shelf Awareness reports that next year Reed will extend the the convention by a day, into Sunday with a second day of BookCon. This move, mixing an industry show with a consumer show, echoes ComicCon, a very successful show in Reed’s line-up. This year BookCon seemed to go very well, with more than 10,000 members of the reading public buying tickets and attending, as you’ll see from some photos below.

I’m going to reserve my book and publisher commentary for the captions accompanying the pictures below, most of them taken by Kyle Gallup, my wife, a painter, and Managing Editor of Philip Turner Book Productions.

Before that, I’ll say I’ve already read and enjoyed one book I got at Book Expo, Harvey Araton’s newspaper novel, Cold Type, which I made my #FridayReads this past weekend. I also want to add an observation that despite the continuing struggles of book publishing, it was actually quite an upbeat convention. Business has stabilized since the depths of the recession, and people are tired of feeling lousy, and talking as if the earth’s going to swallow us all. And, business has definitely gotten better in some areas. Also, many bookpeople I know were heartened this year by the fact that Amazon is taking it on the chin in many quarters of the press and in public opinion for their quarrel with Hachette over wholesale discount policies that the Seattle company is reportedly trying to dictate to the publisher. I don’t know when or how the standoff will end, but it makes many bookpeople, including me, feel good, or a bit better, to see the shine on Amazon’s reputation get tarnished a bit. With that, I’ll say I enjoyed I seeing many old friends, and making new ones at this year’s BEA. If you there were, dear reader, and we somehow didn’t bump in to each other, I hope you had a good convention, and I hope to see you next year. Here are many of the pictures Kyle and I took:

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June 14th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Publishing & Bookselling

#FridayReads, Harvey Araton’s Newspaper Novel, COLD TYPE

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#FridayReads, Harvey Araton’s newspaper novel, COLD TYPE, being published July 2014.

Memorable and likable characters dominate this realistic and very enjoyable novel by longtime New York Times sports reporter Araton, who also spent years at the NY Daily News. The progtagonist is Jamie Kramer, son of Morris, a longtime printer and union member at a NY paper called the Sun, which has recently been acquired by a marauding Anglo-Irish press baron, Leland Brady. Jamie works at the paper, too, though his one big story, on covert policies in his native Brooklyn that limit the sale of real estate to white people, a well-reported expose, earned him nothing but trouble. He hasn’t received the laurels bestowed on his hotshot cousin, Steven, a heroic columnist, at least in his own eyes. The book is set during a newspaper strike, apparently resembling in some respects a strike that occurred at the Daily News in the early 1990s. Araton makes entirely believeable the tension among the eight different unions striking the paper, triggered by the intemperate drivers.

Other characters include Jamie’s wife, Karyn, from whom he’s separated; their son, two-year old Aaron; and Jamie’s Latina colleague Carla, a savvy ally in the newsroom, and a sympathetic soul who knows Jamie’s secrets, even while she has many of her own. One subplot concerns Karyn, who’s in the midst of being recruited by a talkative entrepreneur in Seattle who’s starting a new business selling books on the Internet, still so new at this point in the ’90s. He even wants to recruit Jamie, who wants desperately to maintain a connection to Aaron, and so flirts with the idea of moving across the country. Araton never gives this Jeff-Bezos avatar a name but he hardly needed to do so. One irony that Araton doesn’t seem to have anticipated for his novel is that Bezos is now himself a newspaper owner, of the Washington Post, an inheritor of the world that Jamie Kramer and his father inhabit.

I will say very little about the ending, except that it’s a treat, as just desserts are served all ’round. This is a really enjoyable, sort of old-fashioned novel, offering a social portrait and a really rich story. Kudos to Mr Araton and Cinco Puntos Press, of El Paso, Texas, for writing and publishing this worthy novel. Thanks to Bobby Byrd of Cinco Puntos, who at BEA gave me the autographed copy I finished reading today. I’m going to be recommending COLD TYPE for weeks.

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