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This Week’s Reviews

The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out
edit. Yoshimi Kusaba, illus. Gaku Nakagawa, trans. Andrew Wong | Enchanted Lion Books | 9781592702893 | August 2020
“The illustrations accompanying the text play with design and perspective, capturing Mujica’s words in ways that give them great immediacy and vividness. An ideal vehicle to engage children in a discussion on the meanings of poverty, having enough, and social justice.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

The Tree and the Vine
Dola de Jong, trans. Kristen Gehrman | Transit Books | 9781945492341 | May 2020
“A careful and muted lament about the sorrow of restraint.”—Wall Street Journal

Andrew Durbin | Nightboat Books | 9781643620275 | July 2020
“The book revels in its loose, unfinished quality, weaving tidbits from Guibert’s life and work together with more immediate impressions and anecdotes.”—Harper’s Magazine

The Sprawl
Jason Diamond | Coffee House Press | 9781566895828 | August 2020
“A decade ago, Arcade Fire sang of 1970s childhoods spent in ‘The Suburbs’: Meant nothing at all. Jason Diamond would beg to differ. . . . [He] argues in a series of essays that the suburbs are essential to the development of American art and culture.”—Chicago Tribune

Ellen Bass | Copper Canyon Press | 9781556595752 | April 2020
“Reflects the unique perspective of an unusual poetic life and the complex traumas and pleasures of a thoughtful, observant sensibility. Indigo engages the reader with its willingness to face the contradictions of being a human being head-on.”—Los Angeles Review of Books

The Strange Birds of Flannery O’Connor
Amy Alznauer, illus. Ping Zhu | Enchanted Lion Books | 9781592702954 | June 2020

“Like little Flannery, the reader is enveloped by the spaces within these pages. Swathes of green, reds, yellow and blue. We are both in them, and also outside of them, in that often as a reader, we seem to be dwelling in the very mind of Flannery O’Connor herself. Certainly the beautiful paintings in this book, but also the beautiful words vibrate with energy. The pages reveal the vibrancy of this strange woman from Georgia.”—Dappled Things

Toxicon and Arachne
Joyelle McSweeney | Nightboat Books | 9781643620183 | April 2020
“McSweeney remains clever, far cleverer than I, but by the end of this masterful double-text⎯ in which even the unequal parts seem appropriate to staggering grief⎯ any sensitive reader should feel as if they’ve shared in the poet’s singular struggle: that of finding some form, some phrase, that might convey what’s inconceivable.”—Brooklyn Rail

“McSweeney’s poetry collection is a tour de force, forcing us to rethink everything: poetry, loss, language itself.”—Kenyon Review

DMZ Colony
Don Mee Choi | Wave Books | 9781940696959 | April 2020
“The more Choi commemorates the space between languages—that frontier of memory, replication, doubleness, mirrors—the more DMZ Colony’s structure disintegrates and its innovations begin.”—Rain Taxi

God’s Green Earth
Noelle Kocot | Wave Books | 9781950268023 | May 2020
“God’s Green Earth has a wonderful ability to soothe and slow its readers, offering a silent plenitude of spirit and luxuriating in depictions of solitude.”—White Review

Dorothea Lasky | Wave Books | 9781940696911 | October 2019
“While Lasky has undergone dramatic changes in her five books of poetry—a movement toward simpler, in-phase lineation at the same time that her range of fragmentation and references and masks has grown wider—an unmistakable continuity persists.”—Kenyon Review

Doomstead Days
Brian Teare | Nightboat Books | 9781643620022 | April 2019
“Composed of eight long poems, Doomstead Days is rooted, for the most part, in walking excursions through both natural and built environments… The length and formal intricacy of many of these poems engenders a discursive lyric that is sometimes diaristic, at other times documentary.”—Under a Warm Green Linen

Joon Oluchi Lee | Nightboat Books | 9781643620206 | June 2020
“A totally original narrative that could perhaps only be published by a dynamic, independent press.”— Asian American Literature Fans

Kimono Couture: The Beauty of Chiso
Vivian Li, Christine Starkman, contributions by Riyo Kikuchi and Yukio Lippit | GILES | 9781911282662 | June 2020
“An insightful guide to the intricacy, character, and artistry of kimono design. Kimono Couture embroidery textile art magazine.”—Embroidery: The Textile Art Magazine

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This Week’s Reviews

GG | Koyama Press | 9781927668726 | January 2020
“With minimal text and color, GG translates the thoughts and feelings playing on repeat for many living with depression.”—Women Write About Comics
“The picture GG manages to paint with her elegant style, calculated layouts, and poetically-timed statements gives the reader a look into the author’s mind with the subtlety of a scraped knee: not enough to draw tears, but enough to create emotional scratches that will be felt for days.”—Comics Bookcase

The Unseen
Roy Jacobsen, trans. Don Shaw and Don Bartlett | Biblioasis | 9781771963190 | April 2020
“Through a host of powerful linguistic choices, the translation evokes an archaic way of life that’s slowly being displaced—and a visceral approach to the natural world that can be bracing and unsettling in equal measure.”—Words without Borders

Four by Four
Sara Mesa, trans. Katie Whittemore | Open Letter | 9781948830140 | May 2020
“Sara Mesa pulls off the impressive feat of sustaining a mood of ambiguous dread throughout this novel. It’s a work that abounds with deceptions (some more sinister than others) and abuses of power; there’s also a hint of dystopia to the larger world. For readers who enjoy mood, menace, and just a dash of the Gothic, there’s plenty to savor here.”—Words without Borders

Apsara Engine
Bishakh Som | The Feminist Press at CUNY |
9781936932818 | April 2020
“Much like a map, Som’s novel opens up a portal and lets us imagine all the places it could take us to.”—Hyperallergic

The Ethical Meat Handbook
Meredith Leigh | New Society Publishers | 9780865719231 | February 2020
“Leigh, who had been scheduled for a spring book tour, is instead sharing information on her website about how people can network, collaborate and even barter to obtain beef and pork.”—Mountain Express

Even When Fall Is Here
Ruth Estévez, art by Erick Meyenberg, contrib. Eloisa Haudenschild | DoppelHouse Press | 9781733957915 | April 2020
“In the rich interplay of the many sources Estévez pulls together, questions are generated that don’t have easy answers. The reader cannot escape the heavy weight of historical representations of gardens, and the significance given to them by observers and toilers alike. . . . How do we live more fully in the seasons, the uncertainty, and the revealing? Created over a two-year period, the project ultimately produced a six-channel video, 45 paintings by Meyenberg, and this book. There is beauty in the instruction manual and color ranges that Shea left for Haudenschild to keep her garden alive, much of which is reproduced in this book. Although the book is a composite of the real and unreal, at the heart of it is an honest conversation—a marker of a man’s final months and legacy, and the remembering of his place in his world. A place we will all find ourselves in one day; hopefully in or near a garden.”—The OC Art Blog

Art of Pernille Ørum
Pernille Ørum, edit. 3dTotal Publishing | 3dTotal Publishing | 9781912843152 | April 2020
“This 152-page hardcover is a beautiful artbook that talks about Pernille’s career. . . . This is one of many fantastic artist-centric artbooks that 3DTotal has been putting out recently.”—Parka Blogs

Beginner’s Guide to Digital Painting in Procreate
edit. 3dTotal Publishing | 3dTotalPublishing | 9781912843145 | April 2020
“This is an insightful book for those who want to learn the ins and outs of Procreate and get serious with it.”—Park Blogs

Felix After the Rain
Dunja Jogan, edit. and trans. Olivia Hellewell | Tiny Owl Publishing | 9781910328583 | June 2020
“Explores the power of utilizing a support system when it comes to mitigating grief and bringing levity and perspective to upsetting situations.”—Lets Talk Picture Books

Niam! Cooking with Kids
Kerry McCluskey | Inhabit Media | 9781772272550 | April 2020
Woven in amongst the tacos and the sugar cookies are ways to use cooking to give back to the community, traditional Inuit knowledge about country food, and lists of skills that kids will develop as they work their way through each recipe. With recipes for even the littlest chef, this book offers the most delicious kind of learning.” School Library Connection

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This Week’s Reviews

City on Fire
Antony Dapiran | Scribe | 9781950354276 | June 2020
“[A] commanding firsthand account of the recent—and ongoing—protests. . . . Excellent reportage that is of critical importance in understanding contemporary Chinese politics.” —Kirkus Reviews

In My Anaana’s Amautik
Nadia Sammurtok, illus. Lenny Lishchenko | Inhabit Media | 9781772272529 | April 2020
“This gentle story elevates the feelings of comfort and security that the amautik enable.” —Horn Book

Stardust to Stardust
Erik Olin Wright | Haymarket Books | 9781642591583 | July 2020
“The overall effect of his fortitude and humor is one of delight. These touching, wise remembrances demonstrate how joys can arise from even the darkest moments.”—Publishers Weekly

I Don’t Expect Anyone to Believe Me
Juan Pablo Villalobos, trans. Daniel Hahn | And Other Stories | 9781911508489 | May 2020
“[An] entertaining farce.” —The New York Times

The Eighth Life
Nino Haratischvili, trans. Charlotte Collins | Scribe | 9781950354146 | April 2020 
“This multigenerational epic . . . offers not only a critique of Soviet and Russian imperial ambitions but a necessary reappraisal of Georgian history.” —The New Yorker

Dorothea Lasky | Wave Books | 9781940696911 | October 2019
“Personally, Lasky has convinced me to never underestimate the tragic power of this world, and committed to continually expand my conception of what is possible.”—Prism Magazine

Sion’s Misfortune
Chen Jiafei, illus. Wang Ran | Karadi Tales Picturebooks | 9788193654255 | September 2020
“The artwork provided by Wang Ran provides a beautiful complement to this story. . . . Perfect for children over the age of four years.”—Youth Services Book Reviews

I Belong to Vienna
Anna Goldenberg, trans Alta L. Price | New Vessel Press | 9781939931849 | June 2020
“The value and virtue of this book is that it personalizes and humanizes a global reign of terror into an understandable drama.”—Arts Fuse

The Blue Absolute
Aaron Shurin | Nightboat Books | 9781643620169 | February 2020
The Blue Absolute‘s sonic felicity binds each page to a common score which draws from song its deep notes, an encompassing melopoeia that subtends the whole. Whether held in a knot of anguish or bliss, whether echoing hollow nights or breathing along pelicans, wind, trees, and storms, the poem will always tilt toward an upper limit, melody, which is its own kind of transcending shiver.”—Fence

Michael DeForge | Koyama Press | 9781927668696 | September 2019
Short form in narrative and physical size, Michael DeForge’s Stunt delivers a concentrated, high-octane hit.”—Broken Frontier

The Story I Am
Roger Rosenblatt | Turtle Point Press | 9781885983787 | April 2020
“A hymn of praise for the craft of weaving words in order to survive.”—Washington Independent Review of Books

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“A Bookstore Is Not Meant to be Empty”: A Word with . . . Matt Keliher

In this week’s A Word With You, we spoke with bookseller Matt Keliher about how he’s handselling at a distance and the industry-wide changes he’s fighting for. Matt is the manager and head buyer of Subtext Books in St. Paul, Minnesota. Follow his twitter @MAKeliher to hear what indie book you should be reading next.

So…how are you? 

I’m doing all right. Putting one foot in front of the other, day after day. I’m getting real tired of going to an empty bookstore every day. Bookstores aren’t meant to be without people in them. I’m basically pulling at the pant legs of my postman to sustain a conversation.

What’s some good advice you’ve received recently?

I think the best advice I’ve heard recently is that we shouldn’t feel bad about charging for the cost of postage because most people know that it’s an added expense and that it cuts significantly into the margin of the book and therefore most people are fine with paying a couple extra bucks for postage if it helps the bookstore remain whole.

What are publishers or bookstores doing now that you are particularly excited about? Who is inspiring?

Coffee House Press rolled out their Coffee House Writer’s Project that helps put money in the hands of booksellers and writers. It’s a great, innovative program I hope many more people become aware of and lend their support. I’m inspired every day by booksellers doing their best to continue providing their communities with the services that their communities require. It’s a different battle for everyone, and everyone is handling each day and each challenge differently.

I’ve been particularly impressed by Volumes in Chicago. They’re not only dealing with this crisis, but also handling a new landlord from NYC that seems to care very little about whether or not they remain a tenant. That landlord/renter dynamic can be challenging to overcome. And their GoFundMe has some sweet perks like the dance from The Breakfast Club performed by all-star authors.

What does business look like right now? 

It’s weird. It’s the weirdest, strangest thing, every single day. Our business is strong, online sales are strong, phone orders and special orders are coming in faster than we can move them out most days. But it’s just bizarre. A bookstore is not meant to be empty and quiet. A bookstore is not meant to have its door locked when the sun is highest. It’s all of my least favorite parts of bookselling—processing, sealing packages, bookkeeping, emails, etc.—and none of my favorite parts—talking to people about dope books.

But St. Paul has impressed the hell out of me. We’ve been offering a Surprise Me buy option on our website that has been hugely popular. Basically, you give the booksellers a clue about what you like, and we pick something awesome and mail it to you. It’s like if you were asking a bookseller to handsell you something in person . . . except now I always pick the right book. And it’s a big help to us also because it allows us to sell books that we have in stock which is more financially beneficial than ordering more books from our distributor every week. It’s my favorite part of every day.

We also were fortunate to have author Nora McInerny run a preorder campaign for a new book, Bad Moms. She made it her personal mission to drive me to be overwhelmed by sales, and absolutely succeeded in that task. It was more orders over a shorter period of time than our store has ever taken on. It’s been incredible to see, and entirely overwhelming, in the best way.

Do you have any new practices you hope to continue doing even after this crisis subsides? 

Definitely. There’s a lot of little process and method kind of things that we updated to make our operations more efficient from what we’ve learned in the last month or so. We’ll keep the Surprise Me option available on our website forever, I think—that’s how much I love it. We’ll be continuing to improve our website to better handle a high volume of sales. I think bookstores all over are winning the long term support of many, many new customers in their communities as a result of the personal and effective service we have been providing lately.

Photo credit: Caroline Yang

What do you hope for the future of bookselling?

Greater solidarity among all workers across the industry, fighting, arm in arm, for the best for all of us. I’d like to see a national booksellers union. Higher wages across the board, from booksellers to publicists to warehouse workers. I’d like to see publishers take on a greater role in creating a more equitable playing field for all facets of the industry. I’d like to see broader and better messaging about how the book industry would benefit greatly from progressive government policies like Medicare For All. If you believe in independent bookstores, either as a reader, publisher, book reviewer, or wholesale distributor, without believing in healthcare as a human right, then you aren’t really supporting independent bookstores. Also, pay your interns or do not have internships. Oh, and another thing, there is no reason in the year 2020 that publishing must be centralized in New York City, one of the most expensive cities in the world. I’ll stop now.

What are you reading?

I am reading Denis Johnson’s short stories. I haven’t been able to lend my attention to a novel in some time. And I’m pairing it with John Prine, homemade pizza, more whiskey than I care to admit, and Money Heist on Netflix. (Psst: *whispers* if you like Money Heist, I have some translated fiction to tell you about.) 

Looking for a way to support independent bookstores? Make a donation to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC), purchase a book online from your favorite bookstore, or visit Bookshop.org.

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“The creativity and community action is extremely encouraging”: A Word with . . . Annie Metcalf

In this week’s A Word With You, we spoke with bookseller Annie Metcalf about virtual events in the age of coronavirus and the perfect book & brew pairing. Annie is the Marketing & Events Coordinator at Magers & Quinn Booksellers in Minneapolis, Minnesota and reviews Young Adult literature for BookPage. Follow her excellent Twitter, @AndrewMeatcliff.

So . . . how are you?

Like many, I’m generally doing well, if a bit stressed. But I just feel extremely fortunate to have my health, a job, and a safe place to nest during all this. Ironically, I moved apartments about 3 weeks ago, so I have yet to experience shelter-in-place boredom! While I don’t necessarily recommend moving during a pandemic, it does have the benefit of keeping you extremely busy; I’ve been unpacking, organizing, and hanging shelves and art for weeks.

What have you read recently? What would you pair it with?

I am SO close to finishing Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light. It’s a must for anyone who enjoyed Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, the first two books in her Cromwell trilogy. I can barely describe her prose style other than it’s constantly and deliberately disorienting, but it’s also full of forward momentum. Basically, this book is more engrossing than any 700-page historical fiction about 16th-century English religion and finances has a right to be.

I’m usually more of a hop-forward person, but I would absolutely pair this with the Almond Milk Stout from Eastlake Craft Brewery (open for delivery), and a scrumptious snack from Potter’s Pasties (also doing take out and delivery!).

What are publishers or bookstores doing now that you are particularly excited about? Who is inspiring?

I’ve been inspired by all the fantastic ideas I’m seeing in discussion groups, on social media, and in newsletters. If I could reverse-engineer the philosophy behind all this creativity, it seems clear that we booksellers need to be open to new technologies, but use it to capitalize on what sets us apart: our individuality and taste, our connection with our communities, and our deep knowledge of our customers.  

Live story times? Instagram multi-person events and Zoom book clubs? A Discord channel for book recs (shout out to our friends at Next Chapter)? These are fun, accessible, and creative ways to reach our communities in the virtual space, which is something I sincerely hope we are able to continue even when it becomes safe to gather in person again.

What does business look like right now? How are events going?

Magers & Quinn is lucky enough to be a busy, high foot traffic store under normal circumstances. So, we are certainly feeling the loss of our day-to-day customers, sales-wise, (and also we just miss seeing and talking to folks about books). And our wholesale and business to business departments have not been very active during this time, understandably.

However, the support we’ve seen through online sales has been astounding. We were able to get designated an essential business, so we do have a skeleton crew of folks in the store working on our web orders and with our online customers. We’re shipping only—no pick-up option at the moment. We’re pulling more orders than ever before off our shelves for shipping from right here in Minneapolis, and are also fulfilling orders for out-of-stock items from distributors.

Event-wise, we just had a very successful pre-order/virtual event campaign with romance author Abby Jimenez for The Happy Ever After Playlist. Her publisher was fantastic at rolling with the changes, and set up a “private” stream for the virtual launch conversation. Only those who purchased through Magers & Quinn got access—which is amazing, because Abby has fans all over the country! Abby was a champion at driving pre-orders to our site, so it was by far our largest pre-order project ever, and the virtual event went off without a hitch. 

We have a few more virtual event partnerships in this same vein coming up. And as time goes on, we hope to be able to offer more simple, free, live-streams. I’m definitely getting a crash course in all the different platforms. . . . Stay tuned to our events pages on the website and Facebook!

Also, check out this new image created by our friends at Kenspeckle Letterpress in Duluth. We were in the midst of working with them on new designs when the COVID-19 situation reached Minnesota, so they surprised us with this new mask-wearing logo.

Do you have any new practices you hope to continue doing even after this crisis subsides?

People want a relationship with us. Social media can be very time-consuming and can easily fall to the bottom of the to-do list when we’ve got a week of back-to-back events or the sales floor is crazy busy. We’re going to work very hard to maintain the dialogue we’ve started on social media, even after we can see our lovely customers face-to-face again. 

What do you hope for the future of indie bookselling?

Again, the creativity and community action this situation has revealed is extremely encouraging. This is a business that can be slow to change, but I think we’ve all learned that we can adapt and update our practices quickly when the need arises. I look forward to seeing that spirit carry over into a brighter future where we can have a mix of physical and virtual togetherness.

Looking for a way to support independent bookstores? Make a donation to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC), purchase a book online from your favorite bookstore, or visit Bookshop.org.

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