Kicking off this year’s BookExpo, the Adult Editors Buzz Panel featured a number of bold-face editorial names, and a few titles that have already drawn attention for landing their authors major advances.
One title where the advance became an early story is Matthew Thomas’s We Are Not Ourselves. Simon & Schuster’s Marysue Rucci plugged the debut novel, which she had acquired for a rumored seven figures at the 2013 London Book Fair, on the panel. While Rucci did discuss the author’s appealing rags-to-riches backstory—he worked on the novel for a decade and was living in a one bedroom apartment with his wife and twins when he sold the book in a splashy deal—she focused on the work itself. Calling the novel, about three generations of an Irish American family, “transcendent” and “one of the most beautiful and moving” books she has “ever read.”
Lee Boudreaux, who recently decamped Ecco to launch her own imprint at Hachette, was touting a book which will be published by her soon-to-be-former employer. Another debut novel, Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist was another highly sought after work; Boudreaux reportedly bought U.S. rights for high six figures last year. Or, as she explained on the panel, in a “feverish” auction in which multiple bidders were vying for the work. The novel, which she said reminded her of Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest novel, The Signature of All Things, is set in the 1700s and opens with a young woman knocking on the door of the older, wealthier man to whom she has been betrothed. The title references a doll house the heroine’s husband gives to her, thinking it will be a source of entertainment. Boudreaux said the book is a novel of “secrets and hypocrisies” detailing how our private lives so often differ from our public ones.
Knopf’s Jennifer Jackson kicked off the panel touting Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, which is set in a post apocalyptic America and follows a traveling Shakespeare company. The novel, which marks the author’s fourth effort, is, according to Jackson, a "departure" for the author. Jackson continued: "I finished this book feeling utterly homesick for my life right now. ... I felt grateful for electricity and running water, for what Emily calls 'the sweetness of life on earth.' It changed the way I thought about the world. And what more can we ask for in fiction?"
One of the two nonfiction books on the panel is Eula Biss’s On Immunity: An Innoculation. Graywolf’s Jeff Shotts said the book, Biss’s sophomore effort, “hits a cultural nerve” as it explores the history of inoculation. Joking that he was destined to edit the book, given his last name, Shotts called out a reference Salon made in writing about Biss’s first book, the essay collection Notes From No Man’s Land, calling her “Joan Didion’s heiress apparent.” Shotts claimed that if “Biss’s previous book was in line with Joan Didion, this book is in line with Susan Sontag.” Ultimately, Shotts said, On Immunity explores the “myths and metaphors that govern our ideas about immunization and each other.” The book is coming out, Shotts jokingly noted, on September 30, “just in time for flu season.”
Amy Einhorn, whose departure from her eponymous imprint was recently announced, was touting M.O. Walsh’s debut novel, My Sunshine Away. The book, which kicks off with the narrator’s compelling statement that he was one of four suspects in a rape is, she explained, not a book about a rape. A “very southern novel,” as bookseller moderator Robert Sindelar called it, My Sunshine Away is set in Baton Rouge in the summer of 1989 and is, as Einhorn put it, “a meditation on memory” and a “love letter” to this southern city. And, while Einhorn said she didn’t want to invoke the novel she is best known for acquiring, The Help, she did make the comparison, saying Walsh’s work joins a long list of great southern novels from authors like Kathryn Stockett to Harper Lee.
Championing an author with a longer resume was Mulholland Books’s Josh Kendall. The author is Laird Hunt, and Kendall was singing the praises of his fifth novel, Neverhome, noting that his author was the “not new guy” on the panel. Kendall proclaimed: “I love this book. I believe in this book, and I can’t wait to talk about this book.” Set during the Civil War, the novel tells the story of Ash Thompson, a farmer’s wife who leaves her husband to fight for the Union. Likening the work to the novels of Ron Rash and Winter’s Bone, Kendall said the book is “not just a novel of love or war” but a work about “deception.”
Presenting last, Scribner’s Colin Harrison talked up the other nonfiction title of the bunch, Jeff Hobbs’s The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace. The book is subtitled, A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League But Did Not Survive, and Harrison said the book is one that early readers say “staggered” them. In introducing the book, Sindelar said that “literally” and “tragedy” are two over-used words, but that this this book was “literally a tragedy” on the level of the classic Greek works. Hobbs, who was Peace’s roommate for two years at Yale, began exploring his friend’s life after he got word of his murder. A brilliant young man who grew up outside of Newark to a poor, black, single mother, Hobbs studied molecular biology at the school, graduated and returned to Newark to teach. In New Jersey he began selling marijuana and was eventually murdered. Harrison, who compared the novel to works like Random Family, said it “achieves the highest possibilities of nonfiction” and is a “reportorial tour-de-force.”