What will independent booksellers be handselling this season? We spoke with 12 booksellers throughout North America who are looking forward to pushing everything from buzzed-about debuts and under-the-radar experimental novels.
Bookseller: Brad Johnson
Bookstore: Diesel, a Bookstore in Oakland, Calif.
Book: Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue (Riverhead, Feb.)
Why the fuss: Ostensibly about a tennis match between Caravaggio and Quevedo, the novel, Johnson explained, is a “kaleidoscope of different stories” that usually start “with a historical basis.” Calling the book a “handseller’s dream,” he thinks it’s going to be a hit with readers who “love a challenge.”
Bookseller: Jonah Zimiles
Bookstore: Words Bookstore in Maplewood, N.J.
Book: In a Different Key: The Story of Autism by John Donvan and Caren Zucker (Crown, Jan.)
Why the fuss: Zimiles’s bookstore stocks more than 300 titles about autism, and this one stands out. About “the inspirational civil rights story of parents and other champions of individuals with autism,” he thinks this book is the store’s “top choice” for a reader looking to learn more about the developmental disorder.
Be Frank with Me
Bookseller: Anne Holman
Bookstore: The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City
Book: Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson (Morrow, Feb.)
Why the fuss: Holman said this novel, about a boy and his once-famous, now reclusive author mother, is charming. The young boy, who may have Asperger’s syndrome and has a penchant for dressing like he lives in the 1930s and ’40s, is a highlight. “When you read about him, he kind of changes your life.”
Bookseller: Jack McKeown
Bookstore: Books & Books in Westhampton Beach, N.Y.
Book: Dictator by Robert Harris (Knopf, Jan.)
Why the fuss: The final volume in Harris’s bestselling trilogy about ancient Rome is McKeown’s favorite book of the winter. About “Cicero’s vain attempt to preserve the roman Republic against the vicissitudes of civil war and unquenchable political ambition,” McKeown thinks the title is ideal for election season. “With [Cicero’s] principled conservatism, he acted as a moderating influence between the Roman classes and as a buffer against demagoguery. Needless to say, Harris has written a timely book.”
Bookseller: Emily Ballaine
Bookstore: Green Apple Books on the Park in San Francisco
Book: The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson (reissue from Graywolf Press, Apr.)
Why the fuss: In this nonfiction work, Nelson (The Argonauts) explores the trial of the man who murdered her aunt,. For Ballaine, The Red Parts is an excellent example of a wonderful, but lesser known, early book by a now-established author. It presents “all these questions about women, safety, and violence, and is a very important book.
Bookseller: Arlo Klahr
Bookstore: Skylight Books in Los Angeles
Book: Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta (Scribner, Mar.)
Why the fuss: For Klahr, this novel, about two women who come of age in 1980s L.A. and go on to become filmmakers, touches on a hot-button issue: sexism in Hollywood. Spiotta, Klahr noted, is in familiar territory here, having written about fame and the music business in her lauded 2011 novel, Stone Arabia. “She has a sense of creative people and people in the arts,” he explained, adding that she is “sensitive to that world.”
Bookseller: Daniel Goldin
Bookstore: Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, Wis.
Book: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond (Crown, Mar.)
Why the fuss: Desmond, a Harvard sociologist, follows eight Milwaukee families in this examination of poverty. And, though the work presents plenty of fascinating research, Goldin was pulled in by the personal narratives. “[Desmond] shared these people’s lives,” Goldin said. And, in doing so, he makes his subjects “more than statistics.”
Bookseller: Kris Kleindienst
Bookstore: Left Bank Books in Saint Louis, Mo.
Book: The Girls by Emma Cline (Random House, June)
Why the fuss: About a California teenager who joins a Charles Manson-esque cult in the late 1960s, this buzzed-about debut novel—its 25-year-old author reportedly received a $2 million advance for a three-book deal—is, Kleindienst said, “really good.” Not only does Kleindienst appreciate the writing, she was impressed with Cline’s “creative use of a historical incident to build a story.” Ultimately, Kleindienst said, this tale “stays with you.”
Bookseller: Pamela Klinger-Horn
Bookstore: Excelsior Bay Books in Excelsior, Minn.
Book: Wintering by Peter Geye (Knopf, June)
Why the fuss: Geye’s third novel follows a man who flees his crumbling marriage, with his son in tow, planning to reenact the lengthy journeys of 18th-century voyageurs (travelers engaged in the fur trade in Canada and parts of the upper Midwest). Calling the novel a “modern American masterpiece,” Klinger-Horn said it’s “the perfect storm of gorgeous lyrical prose, an evocative setting, and characters that will haunt you all your days.”
Bookseller: Sheila Koffman
Bookstore: Another Story Bookshop in Toronto
Book: 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad (Penguin, Feb.)
Why the fuss: In this novel about a woman struggling with body image, the Canadian author delivers a “poignant, sometimes funny, and often heartbreaking account” of a young girl coming to terms with her own body image and the expectations of the culture at large. For Koffman, the dialogue “rings true” and the book has mass appeal.
Bookseller: Sharon Budnarchuk
Bookstore: Audrey’s Books in Edmonton, Alberta
Book: The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel (Random/Spiegel & Grau, Feb.)
Why the fuss: In this “wonderful modern fable” by the Man Booker–winning author, readers are treated to three tales about characters struggling with the grieving process. For Budnarchuk, the novel, which is a departure from Martel’s bestselling Life of Pi, is about how grief “helps us understand the meaning of life, love, and faith.” Because of this, she thinks the bok will leave readers “thinking about, and questioning, their own beliefs.”
The Sport of Kings
Bookseller: Natalie Cunningham
Bookstore: Morris Book Shop in Lexington, Ky.
Book: The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May)
Why the fuss: Morgan, a local author, has written a novel about horse racing that Cunningham feels is “pure Kentucky.” Calling the author a “big supporter” of the store, Cunningham said she and her staff have been waiting for Morgan’s sophomore to drop. “It’s completely different from [her first novel] All the Living,” Cunningham said, adding, “but it’s just as cool.”
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of bookseller Jonah Zimiles' name.