Hell of a Start
Posting the biggest debut of 2013, to no one’s surprise, is Dan Brown’s latest Robert Langdon mystery, Inferno. The title sold 369,000 copies in its first week at outlets reporting to BookScan, more than half of the sales for the entire top-50 frontlist hardcover fiction. That is, one out of every two hardcover novels sold last week was Inferno. Brown’s first novel since The Lost Symbol, Inferno enjoyed a debut that tops recent blockbusters like The Casual Vacancy (157,000), No Easy Day (254,000), and the most recent Wimpy Kid title, The Third Wheel (362,000). The Lost Symbol racked up first-week sales of 1.1 million back in 2009, but part of the discrepancy in sales for Inferno is surely due to the rise of e-books and Langdon fans migrating to digital since The Lost Symbol’s publication. Publisher Doubleday reports that Inferno sold 1 million units (print plus digital) in its first five days in the U.S. and Canada.
Focusing on hidden messages in Dante and set in Florence, Inferno has spread to all corners of the book world recently: short-attention-span Web site Buzzfeed posted an article called “How to Become Dan Brown”; scathing reviews and joke Twitter accounts attacked Inferno while a number of supporters defended the book; a bit of controversy cropped up over the book’s depiction of Manila as “the gates of hell”—the chairman of the Philippine capital wrote an open letter to Brown expressing his disappointment. Meanwhile, Florence is hoping for a spike in tourism as fans of the book travel to investigate the novel’s locations.
But for all the noise surrounding Inferno, it’s likely on its way to becoming the biggest book of 2013. Only a surprise—or perhaps the next Wimpy Kid book, coming in November—could prevent that.—Gabe Habash
Little Green, the 12th entry in Walter Mosley’s crime series featuring African-American PI Easy Rawlins, debuts at #20 on the Hardcover Fiction list. In Mosley’s last Easy Rawlins novel, Blonde Faith (2007), set in 1967, Easy drove drunkenly off a cliff. Now, after two months of sliding in and out of consciousness, Easy begins the long journey back to the living. Saved by Ray “Mouse” Alexander and the ministrations of Mama Jo, Easy is asked by Mouse to find Evander “Little Green” Noon, who went clubbing on the Sunset Strip and disappeared. Weakened but determined to keep moving, Easy is buoyed by Mama Jo’s potent brew she calls “Gator’s Blood” and the support of numerous friends, including Martin Martins and Jackson Blue. Things are changing in L.A., and Easy finds hope in the hippie culture.
The book has been supported by major national advertising, a 10-city author tour, pre-pub events in Los Angeles and New York (for local media and booksellers), and an exclusive excerpt in NPR’s First Reads program. Reviews have been rolling in from across the country, and national media and appearances still pending include features in the New York Times Book Review and O Magazine, NPR’s Crime in the City series starting up again on Morning Edition next month, a Spreecast in conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates, and an appearance by Mosley at BEA. Also this summer, Mosley’s first gallery showing of his artwork (he’s been quietly drawing for 50 years) will be on display at NYU from June through August.—Peter Cannon
Back in February, we talked to Rick Atkinson about the newest and final volume in his Liberation Trilogy, The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944–1945. The two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, quoting himself in an e-mail exchange with fellow WWII historian Sir Max Hastings, referred to his work as “yet another history” of the conflict. But that aw-shucks humility belies Atkinson’s passionate and abiding interest in the subject—in that same conversation, he admitted that even after more than a decade of writing about “the missed opportunities, the purblind personalities, [and] the wretched wastage” of the war, he still gets “heartsick.” In a recent interview with the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, he described it as “the greatest self-inflicted catastrophe in human history,” a tragedy that will “transfix people a millennium from now.”
If he’s right, one could easily imagine the class of 3013 using his books as their go-to tomes. Atkinson has called war “that merciless revealer of character”; as an author, he’s similarly merciless in calling out fault and failure for what it is. But he’s also quick to celebrate those moments of triumph and humanity in an otherwise inhuman and surreally violent struggle. All things considered, his is an empathetic, incisive, and brilliantly alive play-by-play of the war, from North Africa in An Army at Dawn, to Italy in The Day of Battle, and finally to Western Europe in The Guns at Last Light. His book debuts at #2 on our Hardcover Nonfiction list. He’s already been on MSNBC’s Meet the Press and NPR’s Morning Edition, and he’ll be spending the first few weeks of June touring around the country in support of the book’s publication. Appearances in Philadelphia, Seattle, Baltimore, and Grapevine, Tex. (for the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference) are open to the public, while those at Fort Benning, Ga., and Fort Lewis-McChord, Wash., will be restricted to anyone with military ID.
Though he’s finished with this long chapter of his writing career, Atkinson isn’t capping the pen anytime soon. Patricia Eisemann, v-p, director of publicity for Henry Holt, told PW that he’s set his sights on the Revolutionary War. Atkinson calls it our Aeneid, “a creation story that accounts for who we are as a country, where we came from as a people, and what we believe in as a nation.” Macmillan editor-at-large John Sterling bought world rights to the forthcoming trilogy from Raphael Sagalyn of Washington, D.C.’s ICM/Sagalyn Agency. If history really is bottomless, as Atkinson has said, it seems he’s more than willing to keep pouring himself into it.—Samuel R. Slaton
Ghouls Just Wanna Have Fun
On June 21, the film World War Z opens, with Brad Pitt starring as U.N. employee Gerry Lane, assigned to traverse the world in a race against time to stop a zombie pandemic. The film is adapted from Max Brooks’s bestselling World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Brooks, who’s been dubbed “the Studs Terkel of zombie journalism,” comes by his satiric wit legitimately, as the son of the 2000 Year Old Man and the late Anne Bancroft. Max’s first bestseller was 2003’s The Zombie Survival Guide, and it launched a cottage industry that includes such titles as Recorded Attacks, Zombie Survival Notes Mini Journal, et al. Broadway Book’s World War Z movie tie-in enters our Trade Paperback list at #21, with 4,407 copies sold; World War Z sales to date, according to BookScan, total 985,988 copies.—Dick Donahue
The Last Word on Gettysburg?
Approaching the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War’s bloodiest battle and turning point, Allen C. Guelzo, who is director of the Civil War Era Studies Program at Gettysburg College, debuts at #18 on this week’s Hardcover Nonfiction list with Gettysburg: The Last Invasion. It’s a somewhat remarkable feat for such a dense and lengthy affair (the book is nearly 700 pages long) to make inroads with the general public, but Guelzo has built a reputation for delivering diligent academic scholarship in graceful prose and making it more accessible to mainstream audiences. Here, he not only places the battle in its domestic and international context, he gets up close and personal with soldiers and officers, providing a previously unseen level of intimacy with those who strategized and fought the battle. Guelzo began his academic work as a historian of American philosophy, but a paper on Abraham Lincoln drew him into the study of the Civil War period and he’s never looked back, contributing what is considered a definitive volume on the Lincoln-Douglas debates (Lincoln and Douglas). This exacting account of “the last invasion” may well go down as the last word on its subject.—Alex Crowley