A Portrait of a Lady
“Studying abroad” is collegiate shorthand for taking typical undergrad activities—that is, drinking, hooking up, and, yes, sometimes studying—and outsourcing them to a sexier locale. For Amanda Knox, however, studying abroad meant years of detention in a foreign land. While attending the University for Foreigners in Perugia, Italy, in 2007, the then-20-year-old Seattle native was arrested and later convicted of murdering her British roommate, Meredith Kercher. During the highly publicized trial, the terrified, sometimes vilified, and—in her estimation—wildly misunderstood Knox spent nearly four years in an Italian prison, where she endured sexual harassment, suicidal thoughts, and merciless (and often blatantly sexist) media scrutiny. Finally, in October 2011, the conviction was overturned, and within the week she was back in Seattle, trying to make sense of how she had gone from college sophomore to an exonerated murderer.—Samuel R. Slaton
Relying on journals penned in jail, Knox finally tells her side of the story in Waiting to Be Heard. People are listening: the book debuts at the top of our Nonfiction Hardcover list, with over 21,000 copies sold in the first week. You’d think that’d be the end of that, but just one month before publication, the Court of Cassation—Italy’s supreme court—overturned the acquittal and ordered a new trial. Never mind that Rudy Guede, a Perugia-raised Ivorian, was also convicted of the Kercher murder in 2008 and is currently serving a 30-year sentence. If it were crime fiction, readers might condemn the author for dragging out a twisted Jamesian plotline. But this is real life, and the jury’s still out. Knox’s testimony couldn’t be timelier.
He was born in London, the son of a printer, and became Member of Parliament at age 29. After five years, he resigned from the House of Commons when a Canadian company he invested in went into bankruptcy, and three directors were later sent to jail. At 34, determined to pay his creditors in full, Jeffrey Archer sat down to write his first novel, with a suitably ironic title: Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less. The parliamentarian had found his niche: Archer’s 1976 debut was sold within a year to 17 countries and made into a successful serial for BBC Radio 4 in the early 1980s. In addition, a BBC Television adaptation was broadcast in 1990. A string of bestsellers followed, most notably Kane & Abel, which topped the charts and was made into a CBS-TV miniseries in 1985. The following year, Granada TV screened a 10-part adaptation of another Archer bestseller, First Among Equals, which told the story of four men and their quest to become Prime Minister. In 2011, Archer began the Clifton Chronicles, a five-book series following the fortunes of Harry Clifton. The series launched with Only Time Will Tell and was followed by The Sins of the Father. The third book in the series, Best Kept Secret, which lands at #7 on today’s Fiction List, will be followed in March 2014 by Be Careful What You Wish For. Book #5 is set to be published in 2015. Not surprisingly, Lord Archer was very vocal about Margaret Thatcher after her death; he attended her funeral and spoke to several media outlets about her legacy and how he plans to depict Thatcher later in the Clifton Chronicles series (she’ll be in book #5). When asked if there might be another female prime minister, Archer said, [the Americans] “will get Hilary Clinton and realise how good she is and then they’ll wake up. She’ll make a very good president.”—Dick Donahue
Remembering Bunker Hill
Nathaniel Philbrick’s Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution, debuts at #9 on the Hardcover Nonfiction list. Philbrick turns his eye to prerevolutionary Boston—a city of 15,000 inhabitants packed onto a land-connected island of just 1.2 square miles—and the gradual uptick of tension that climaxed in June 1775 with the Battle of Bunker Hill, the first major battle of what became the American Revolution and the War of Independence. The triumvirate of Founding Fathers generally associated with Boston—John Adams, Sam Adams, and John Hancock—was far from the scene when the city erupted. The real work of choreographing the Revolution’s outbreak was done by a 33-year-old physician, Joseph Warren, who emerged as the on-the-ground leader of the patriot cause.
But the real central character is Boston, where vigilantes fill the streets with a sinister and frightening violence even as calmer patriots struggle to see their way to rebellion. The action tracks in detail the 18 months following the Boston Tea Party, as Boston turned from the center of patriot defiance to a British-occupied city under a patriot siege.
Philbrick is also the author of In the Heart of the Sea, a National Book Award winner; Mayflower, which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist; Sea of Glory; and Why Read Moby-Dick? He lives on Nantucket.
Bunker Hill has been optioned for film by Ben Affleck and Warner Bros.—Peter Cannon
Joe Hill’s ‘Nosferatu’
When I was studying creative writing at Columbia, one of the discussions going around at the time was about genre fiction and literature and bestselling genre authors who wanted the respect of the literary establishment. Stephen King’s fiction was just starting to cross the border around that time, showing up in McSweeney’s and the New Yorker. Since then, King and contemporary literary fiction writers who grew up reading him have weakened the borders between genre and literature, and this week Joe Hill, one of King’s sons, arrives at #6 on our Hardcover Fiction list with his third novel, NOS482. Last month in the New York Times, Janet Maslin called it a “throat-grabbing novel” that “loves playing with words.” Back in 1977, the same publication’s Richard Lingeman had this to say of Hill’s father, upon the publication of his third novel: “he is a writer of fairly engaging and preposterous claptrap.” That novel was The Shining. Reviewing NOS482 for PW, Joe R. Lansdale wrote, “Horror is too simplistic a word.... It’s as much fantasy-thriller as a descent into the maelstrom.” Hill has created a platform with the graphic novel Locke & Key and novels, including Heart-Shaped Box, which sold around 175,000 copies, roughly the same number of people who follow Hill on Twitter. There, Hill is very active, posting funny photos of himself with fans and offering opinions on classic texts, like this from last Thursday: “GATSBY don’t even belong in the same sentence with MOBY DICK. Just stop right there. DICK eats GATSBY like whales scarf plankton.”—Mike Harvkey
Don’t Mess with Messud
There’s no such thing as bad press. We agree. Our interview with Claire Messud, in which we rankled her sensibilities with a question about the unlikability of her character Nora, gave Messud an opportunity to show her chops: “For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that?” was the start of her response. The reviews for her latest novel have been mixed, but Messud’s been getting a lot of attention (as has our question and her answer), and The Woman Upstairs debuts this week at #20 on our Hardcover Fiction list with sales just shy of 4,000 copies. Her previous novel, 2006’s The Emperor’s Children, about three Ivy-educated friends turning 30 and struggling in post-9/11 New York was a surprise bestseller, with numbers hitting close to half a million. The Woman Upstairs is set in Cambridge, Mass., with Nora, the protagonist with “the unbearably grim” outlook (that PW interview again), finding refuge in the exotic Shahid family. Messud has a lot going for her; she’s well-educated and married to the critic James Wood, with Robin Desser as her Knopf editor, and a well-regarded reputation as a writer, even without that bestseller. We’re so glad we had that conversation.—Louisa Ermelino