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Marthe McKenna, the WWI nurse who spied

We’re seeing tremendous interest in the books of Marthe McKenna (1892-1966) after the New York Times ran an “overlooked” obituary. A nurse, McKenna, who was Belgian, spied on the Germans for almost two years in World War I. Her book I Was a Spy! became a massive bestseller after the war. It’s still in print thanks to Pool of London Press.

A Scottish grandmother reads Wonky Donkey and creates a bestseller

A YouTube video of a Scottish grandmother reading the children’s book The Wonky Donkey to her grandson, and cracking up, has created worldwide demand for this title.

AbeBooks has seen interest from people around the world since the start of September. Hundreds of copies have sold. Wonky Donkey was the top search term on our UK and North American sites over the weekend. The Wonky Donkey is written by New Zealander Craig Smith and illustrated by Katz Cowley.  The grandmother, Janice Clark, lives in Australia.


The obscure 1965 novel where the U.S. president goes insane

Following Wednesday’s Op-Ed in the New York Times by an anonymous member of the Trump administration, AbeBooks.com has seen strong interest in an obscure out-of-print novel from 1965 about a US president who may be mentally ill.

Night of Camp David by Fletcher Knebel carries text on the front cover that reads: “What would happen if the President of the U.S.A. went stark raving mad?”

The novel was referenced widely on social media on Wednesday after the New York Times article described the president’s “erratic” behavior.

Night of Camp David was the most searched for book on AbeBooks.com on Wednesday.  Every copy priced under $15 sold. Only a handful of highly priced copies remain. It was last published in 1980 by HarperCollins.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Jim MacVeigh, an Iowa senator, who begins to doubt the sanity of president Mark Hollenbach.  The president’s erratic ideas include wiretapping every phone in the US, and merging the US, Canada and Scandinavia. (Imagine if Donald Trump proposed a new nation called Candinavia!)

This 2017 review on Medium may have sparked some of the interest.

Hollenbach takes every slight or feeling of disappointment he feels toward people around him and weaves them together into a perception that he is under attack at all times by a conspiracy.

Fletcher Knebel (1911-1993) specialized in political fiction featuring dramatic events. He also wrote a novel in 1962 called Seven Days in May about a military coup in the United States, which was adapted into a film starring Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Ava Gardner.


10 novels set in bookstores

Probably the best book about a bookstore is 84 Charing Cross Road, but what about fiction? There is actually a mini-genre of novels set in bookstores dating back 100 years to the books of Christopher Morley. Romance, mysteries, and tales about life-changing events seem to be the main themes. John Dunning, who still owns an antiquarian bookselling business in Denver (Old Algonquin Books), created an entire series of crime novels about a detective who loves books.

The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler

A witty, sharply observed novel about a young woman who finds unexpected salvation while working in a quirky used bookstore in Manhattan.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life using his intuitive feel for what the reader needs.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Clay Jannon has left life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. After a few days, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest.

Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley

Published in 1917. When you sell a man a book, says Roger Mifflin, the traveling bookman at the center of this novella, you don’t sell him just 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue, you sell him a whole new life. A romantic comedy.

The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley

A 1919 suspense novel that continues the story of Roger Mifflin. Not a ghost story, the title refers to the ghosts of the past in the form of dead authors and old books that can be found in a bookstore.

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

In a small East Anglian town, literature-loving widow Florence Green decides, against polite but ruthless local opposition, to open a bookshop.  A bookselling drama of small town politics.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

A. J. Fikry lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. But then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore.

The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard

A Danish literary thriller. When Luca Campelli dies a sudden and violent death, his son Jon inherits his second-hand bookshop, Libri di Luca, in Copenhagen. An arson attempt follows and Jon is forced to explore his family’s past. Unbeknownst to him, the bookshop has for years been hiding a remarkable secret.

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

Nina Redmond has a gift for finding the perfect book for her readers. But can she write her own happy-ever-after? This romantic comedy is a valentine to readers, librarians, and book-lovers the world over. Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village and buys a van, which becomes a mobile bookshop.

Booked to Die by John Dunning

Denver homicide detective Cliff Janeway is an avid collector of rare books. After a local book scout is killed on his turf, Janeway is on the (book)case, while also opening a small bookshop. The first in a series of crime novels featuring Janeway, the others are The Bookman’s Wake, The Bookman’s Promise, The Sign of the Book, and The Bookwoman’s Last Fling.


The Bookshop, a movie of bookselling drama

The Bookshop, a movie adapted from Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1978 Booker shortlisted novel of the same name, has finally opened in the US and Canada.

Directed Spaniard Isabel Coixet, the film stars Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, and Bill Nighy.  The story is set in the late 1950s in a small town in Suffolk in the UK as Florence Green (Mortimer’s character), a widow, attempts to open a bookshop. Small town politics and prejudices, and the Lolita rumpus are thrown in for good measure.

The filmmakers needed around 250 lookalike first edition copies of Lolita, which posed a problem for Coixet, according to an interview with the New York Post.

“It took us about a year to get all those books,” the filmmaker said, adding that she and production designer Llorenç Miquel settled on a mixture of actual vintage tomes and convincing reproductions of the real thing. “It was really important for me to have details that really belonged to the moment of the film — from the food, to the landscapes, to, of course, the books.

Aside from “Lolita,” Fitzgerald’s tale cites few other real titles, which meant that Coixet could stock Florence’s fictional shop with some of her favorite volumes, including 1929’s A High Wind in Jamaica, by Richard Hughes, and Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles.”

“Many of them actually come from my own library,” says Coixet, an avid vintage-book collector. One such gem? “The Jessie H. Bancroft book of physical exercise,” she says, referring to the 1940s edition of an early 20th-century manual that one of the townsfolk is seen ogling at the shop.

Bill Nighy’s character, Edmund Brundish, is an eccentric avid reader, who devours the classics until Mortimer introduces him to a new generation of literature through Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

The book, although well received in the late 1970s, is mostly forgotten. Penelope Fitzgerald (1916-2000) wrote nine novels, a collection of short stories and a biography of the artist and designer Edward Burne-Jones. Fitzgerald’s literary career only began in 1975, when she was 58. She had a rather up and down life, being homeless at one time, teaching at the famed Italia Conti drama academy, and working in a bookshop in Suffolk.

She won the Booker Prize in 1979 with a novel called Offshore. It’s all about living on boats in Battersea, which Fitzgerald did, although she lost many of her belongings and papers when her houseboat sank. It displays an eccentric community caught between the land and the water

Find copies of The Bookshop

Nighy plays a bibliophile who comes to the aid of The Bookshop’s owner

The decision to stock Lolita ruffles feathers in small-town Suffolk

Emily Mortimer plays a widow with a taste for Silas Marner


Amy Stewart on history, fiction and crime-fighting women

Amy Stewart, author of the Kopp Sisters crime novels

Author Amy Stewart is an old friend of AbeBooks. We’ve been following her writing career for many years and saw her move from non-fiction to historical crime fiction in 2015. She is also the co-owner of Eureka Books, a used and rare bookshop in Northern California, so she understands the book business better than most authors.

In September, Amy’s latest novel is released. Called Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit, this book is the fourth installment in the Kopp Sisters series. A mystery set in the middle of hotly contested local election in 1916, Constance Kopp, one of the America’s first deputy sheriffs, battles prejudice as a woman is declared insane in peculiar circumstances.

Amy is interviewed in our latest Behind the Bookshelves podcast where she speaks about the real Constance Kopp, her readership, her research methods, and the book she just purchased from Powell’s in Portland, Oregon.

For good measure, here’s a complete list of Amy’s books so far.

From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden. A gardening memoir.

The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms. A natural history of this under-rated creature.

Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful. An overview of the global flower business.

Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities. An illustrated compendium of poisonous plants.

Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects. An illustrated compendium of poisonous insects.

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks. Alcohol and plants.

Girl Waits With Gun. Amy’s fiction debut, an historical novel based on the adventures of Constance Kopp and her sisters Norma and Fleurette.

Lady Cop Makes Trouble. Constance Kopp tracks down an escaped prisoner.

Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions.  More Kopp sleuthing with young women arrested on morality charges.

Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit. Released in September, this is a mystery set in the middle of hotly contested local election.


1968’s Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada is still making Americans pause for thought

Fifty years ago, one of bestselling books in the United States was the Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada.

This book served as an introduction to Canada for Americans who wished to avoid fighting in the Vietnam War by dodging the draft. It’s a book of an age when America was in absolute turmoil. Its military suffered heavy losses in Vietnam during 1968 and student protests spread across many US universities as it became clear that there was no end in sight to the war.

Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada was published by Canadian publisher House of Anansi Press. The first edition was a rough affair with just 5,000 copies printed. It was a major hit instantly and the next printing, two months later, featured 20,000 copies.

House of Anansi had started out in 1967 and initially operated out of a basement of a rental house. The Manual was its first bestseller. Today’s it’s still going strong with a bank of superb authors on its books.

A drab but important book for draft dodgers

The book is a practical guide with information on the immigration process, and key aspects of Canadian society, such as history, politics, culture, the provinces, weather, work, housing, and education. The Manual went through several editions from 1968 until 1971.

Draft dodgers started arriving in Canada in 1965.  This was nothing new – Americans have been fleeing to Canada since the days of slavery when the Underground Railway helped escaped slaves to freedom north of the border.

Once in Canada, there was really no way back for these draft dodgers in the late 1960s. They were giving up their friends and family and looking for a new life among strangers. Returning meant being arrested if they had already been drafted and the Manual makes this very clear.

The Manual helped many to make the decision to flee the United States. It had a plain cover featuring one red maple leaf and became one of the key accessories of the American anti-war movement. Estimates put sales of the Manual at 65,000 but the book was also widely pirated across anti-war groups.

It wasn’t easy.  U.S. Customs confiscated shipments destined for college bookstores. The FBI weren’t thrilled by the book. US newspapers condemned it.

The driving force behind the creation of the Manual was an American activist and draft dodger called Mark Satin. He was committed to helping Americans escape to Canada and became the first director of the Toronto Anti-Draft Program. Satin wrote part of the Manual himself and found Canadian academics and activists to help. It was he who persuaded House of Anansi to publish the book and it was him to relentlessly lobbied the Canadian media on behalf of incoming draft dodgers.

Why was a Manual even necessary? Well, international travel was nowhere near as common as it is today. Canada might look similar to the US but its social infrastructure is completely different – it’s bilingual, there’s a Queen in the mix, has a very different set of laws, huge tracts of wilderness and is brutally cold in most places.

There is guidance on completing the forms, and being interviewed by immigration officers, and advice on what to expect on arrival. Soundbites include:

“Although Canada is the second largest nation on Earth, it has never launched a war…”

“Discrimination against immigrants is strictly prohibited…”

“Get a good night’s sleep, bathe, shave, and get a haircut. You must appear neat. Applying for status is a suit and tie affair, even in 100-degree weather.

“There’s no restriction on the admission of cats into Canada.

“The Communist Party is legal in Canada but doddering…

“There is indeed very little intellectual life among adults in Vancouver.

The book goes on to list of more books to read, a few friendly lawyers, and helpful organizations to contact in Canada and the United States. Loom fixers, dentists, paper makers, and librarians are just three of the many trades listed as being in demand in Canada. Six books are recommended for describing Canada:

Morley Callaghan’s Stories

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen – yes that Leonard Cohen.

The Journal by Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau

Kingdom of Absence by Dennis Lee (scarce now)

The book was reissued in 1967 to commemorate 50 years of Anansi Press. Mark Satin wrote an afterword for the edition where he reveals it was a miracle that the book got published at all because of the internal politics that racked the anti-war groups such as the Toronto Anti-Draft Program. It appeared to be complete chaos.

So why read the Manual today? It’s a valuable piece of social history. Immigration is again a key issue in North America. The US is described as not being a welcoming place. History always has lessons for us and there is a tendency to things to be cyclical.

The Vietnam War ended in 1975. Jimmy Carter pardoned draft exiles in 1977. Mark Satin went home and now lives in California. Canada did very well out of the draft dodging. The people who came were highly educated, and the ones who stayed often went on to make major contributions to Canadian society.

Find copies of Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada


Book review bingo

Found on Twitter. He has a point.


Amy Bronee interview: from blogger to published cookbook author

Amy’s cookbook features mouthwatering photography

Amy Bronee has a wonderful cookbook to her name. It’s called The Canning Kitchen: 101 Simple Small Batch Recipes, and it was published by Penguin Canada in 2015.  Amy works just around the corner from the AbeBooks HQ in Victoria, British Columbia, and she recently visited our office.

Amy Bronee

Her blog, Familyfeedbag.com, which features recipes on homemade food, played a key role in helping this writer get spotted. She explains her story and much more in our latest Behind the Bookshelves podcast, which will interest would-be food writers looking for that debut publishing deal.

The Canning Kitchen features easy to understand recipes for putting jams, jellies, marmalades, pickles, relishes, and chutneys into jars, along with superb photography, which Amy took herself, to inspire you (see below). There are also sections on sweet and savory sauces for good measure. We thoroughly recommend the book.

Recipes include strawberry rhubarb jam, crunchy dill pickles, salted caramel pear butter, bing cherry barbecue sauce, and sweet thai chili chutney. In addition to year-round recipes, The Canning Kitchen describes the techniques and equipment that you will need along with tips on selecting the fruit and vegetables for your canning.


Our latest podcast: books set in London

Charing Cross Road features in one of our recommendations

In our latest AbeBooks Behind the Bookshelves podcast we go beyond Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle to recommend books set in London. From a genre-defining non-fiction book about Arsenal FC to fictional descriptions of the immigrant experience by Zadie Smith and Hanif Kureishi, we cast our eye across a wide selection of books.  For more recommendations, visit our literary tour of London page.