Although last fall was known for its "embarrassment of riches," this fall's title selection is plenty strong as well. "I feel great about the fall—the momentum is already here. I see tons of stuff about the end of the book is nigh, but I keep selling books," says Sheryl Cotleur, buying director of Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif., which has sold over a thousand copies of David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob Zoet this summer. "Besides," says Mark Mouser, manager of general books at University Book Store in Seattle, "a less crowded field gives us more opportunity to find unnoticed gems and sell the heck out of them."
Still, one question looms over this fall's indie lists: what's this year's Tinkers, the first novel that could? It launched with a very small print run, went on to win a Pulitzer Prize, and now has sold more than 100,000 copies in print and e-book formats.
Lise Solomon, a longtime sales representative with the Karel/Dutton Group, whose enthusiasm for Paul Harding's novel helped turn it into a megasuccess, looks to two very different buyers, Cotleur and Paul Yamazaki at City Lights in San Francisco, when she evaluates a book's breakout potential. "What it takes for me is whether it's going to sell at both," she says. "It has to have a commercial appeal and be [intellectually] interesting." Just as buyers read galleys and look for books that their customers will want to read, so Solomon scours lists for book buyer hand-sells. This year, though, she says, "I have to preface everything with, it may not win a Pulitzer Prize, but..."
The books that make her most excited, she says, "are books that, yes, the chains may be buying, but have more of a chance of finding readers at independents." These are novels like Cold Mountain and Tinkers that independents got behind early. For those, Solomon works hard to literally put them into the right hands, from general bookstore buyers to children's booksellers with a small shelf of adult books. Her selection this season is Angie Chau's Quiet as They Come. Not only did Yamazaki tell her, "Let's make this one work," but Consortium Book Sales & Distribution included it in its inaugural rep picks program.
Autobiography of Mark Twain. Vol. 1
Edited by Harriet Elinor Smith and other editors of the Mark Twain Project
Univ. of California Press
Nov., $34.95; 50,000 first printing
Excerpts in Granta, Newsweek, and Playboy; advertising
Twain insisted that the "Final (and Right) Plan" for telling the story of his life remain unpublished for 100 years to ensure that he would be "dead, and unaware, and indifferent." On the 100th anniversary of his death, the first of three volumes is being released. "In my almost 45 years of selling books..., there have been few times I could ever honestly refer to something as a publishing event. I count this as one of them," says Ron Watson, lead buyer (university presses), Ingram Content Group.
West of Here
Feb., $24.95; 50,000 first printing
15-city tour; trade show appearances at six regionals; 4,000 galley printing; 500 deluxe edition boxed galleys; one of six books selected for the Editors Buzz panel at BEA
Set in the fictional town of Port Bonia, Wash., this novel develops as a kind of conversation between two epochs—the town's founders circa 1890 and their descendants in 2006. Dan Chaon calls it "a novel of stunning sweep.... [It] lays bare the surprising web of connections that tie us to our ancestors, the ‘trappings of history' that bind us inexorably to the great myths of the past, even as our future fragments and scatters."
Life with Maxie
Author tour; $50,000 advertising; co-op; interviews on NPR and affiliates
This book has everything going for it, or just about—dogs and an award-winning NPR host. Rehm looks at her life through the story of Maxie, her long-haired Chihuahua. "Rehm has an uncanny ability to articulate emotions that many feel. That's why her book about Maxie will captivate dog lovers—or anyone who has found life-changing love," says Deborah Tannen.
Disaster on the Horizon: The Deepwater Well Blowout: What Happened and Why
Nov., $14.95 paperback original; 50,000 first printing
MSNBC exclusive launch; author tour; social media campaign
This book is the first to look at the environmental and economic catastrophe on the Gulf Coast. The author, a 30-year veteran of the oil and gas industry, deconstructs events and decisions made by BP, Transocean, and the U.S. government before and after the disaster—and their effects.
McSweeney's (dist. by PGW)
Oct., $29; 8,000 first printing
14-city tour; three covers in different colors; excerpt mailing
This massive 1,026-page debut novel covers four days in the life of 10-year-old Gurion Maccabee, a potential Messiah and accused terrorist, possibly both, who was ejected from three Jewish day schools. "This is wonderful in a quirky way," says Sheryl Cotleur, at Book Passage, who is considering it for her Buyers Bookmark Club. "I see a great future for this author and really hope this book catches on. I'll do my part!"
Jessica Francis Kane
Graywolf (dist. by FSG)
Sept., $15 paperback original; 12,000 first printing
A Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection; 10-city tour; satellite radio tour; special promotion with Powells.com
During WWII, tube stations across London have been converted into bomb shelters; immigrants and East Enders alike sleep on the tracks and wait. But on March 3, 1943, as the crowd hurries down the staircase, something goes wrong, and 173 people lose their lives. When the neighborhood demands an inquiry, the job falls to a young magistrate, who is forced to revisit his decision decades later. "The Report is a stealthy, quiet page-turner that understands there is as much tension in reckoning a disaster as there is in the disaster itself," says Elizabeth McCracken.
KO Kids (dist. by PGW)
East Coast and West Coast author tour and school visits, including NCIBA; advertising; connections with the educational Facing History and Ourselves organization and the Cornerstone Projects
How can a number worth nothing become something? In Otoshi's follow-up to the award-winning One, which has 60,000 copies in print, she addresses body and appearance issues, values and character development, and courage and perseverance. Ages 4-8.
Safe from the Sea
Oct., $24.95; 10,000 first printing
October Indie Next and Midwest Book Connections pick; Midwest tour, including appearances at MBA and GLIBA
"Sometimes you come across a book that is simply magic," says Caitlin Hamilton Summie of Unbridled. "First, it captures your team, then your reps, and then you begin hearing buzz from others. And that's what's already happening for Safe from the Sea." In this first novel, a man returns home to Duluth to help his ailing father from whom he has been estranged. Meanwhile, his struggle to make a life with an absent father has found its real reward in his relationship with his wife, who makes a sudden choice to come to Duluth, too.
Quiet as They Come
Ig Publishing (dist. by Consortium)
Sept., $15.95 paperback original; 7,000 first printing
Set in San Francisco from the 1980s to the present, this debut collection explores the lives of several families of Vietnamese immigrants caught between two cultures. Sandra Cisneros says these are "heartbreaking tales of ordinary people lost between the extraordinary circumstances of history. Bitter and beautiful all at once."
A Fistful of Rice: My Unexpected Quest to End Poverty Through Profitability
Harvard Business Press
Nov., $26.95; 25,000 first printing
Named one of the world's most influential people by Time magazine in 2006, Akula writes about creating a business model that unites altruism and capitalism after he worked in a nonprofit microfinance organization in India. "Vikram's story... is a powerful example of harnessing for-profit models to combat poverty. SKS has enabled millions of people to improve their lives," says Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay.
Sleep in Me
Univ. of Nebraska Press
Sept., $21.95; 5,000 first printing
A Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection; regional tour in Norfolk, Va.
In this coming-of-age memoir, Filipino-American poet Pineda writes about the five years following a car accident that transformed his sister, Rica, from a high school cheerleader to a wheelchair-bound girl unable to talk. "[This] is a sharp portrait of place, culture, and growing up male and confused in weird America, while at the same time being a tender elegy for those lost," says Greg Bottoms, author of Angelhead.
Coffee House Press (dist. by Consortium)
Sept., $14.95 paperback original; 7,000 first printing
3-city tour; more than 1,000 galleys
"Through the eyes of three outsiders, Extraordinary Renditions takes the reader deep into the heart of Budapest, both its past and present," says Stewart O'Nan. "The whole city is here, the banks of the Danube brimming with history, intrigue, art, food, drink, and most important of all, music. His characters may be lost—even the one native is a foreigner—but Andrew Ervin is a sharp-eyed, sure-handed guide."
Melville House (dist. by Random House)
Sept., $14.95 paperback original; 50,000 first printing
14-city tour; excerpt on Gawker
This could be Lin's breakout book. Although the title of this novel comes from the real-life writer Richard Yates, it has little to do with him. Instead, it tracks the relationship between a young writer in his 20s and his 16-year-old lover. Clancy Martin calls Lin "a Kafka for the iPhone generation.... [He] may well be the most important writer under 30 working today."
The Eden Hunter
Counterpoint (dist. by PGW)
Sept., $15.95 paperback original; 17,000 first printing
September Indie Next pick; 5-city tour; Hudson News and Baker & Taylor promotions; 1,500 galleys
Inspired by actual events, this debut novel tells the story of an enslaved pygmy who flees Florida, where he winds up in a fort with several hundred runaway slaves, who have been recruited by the British to fight in the War of 1812 and then abandoned to fend for themselves against the American forces. "This pygmy slave's journey from birth to myth is amazing in scope and storytelling power," says Jill McCorkle.
The Image of the Black in Western Art
Edited by David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Harvard Univ. Press
Nov., four volumes, $95 each; 4,000 first printing
Events at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute in Cambridge, the National Gallery of Art, and the British Museum
First published in the 1960s as a response to segregation in the United States, this series provides an illustrated history of representations of people of African descent, from ancient images of pharaohs to European masters and contemporary black artists. This fall Harvard will release three revised volumes from the original five-book series and one never before published book. The new series will encompass 10 books; the final release in 2014 will coincide with an international exhibition, Black Like Me.
Spiritual Envy: An Agnostic's Quest
New World Library (dist. by PGW)
Oct., $22.95; 10,000 first printing
Author appearances in the San Francisco Bay Area
The host of NPR/KQED's Forum with Michael Krasny seeks not to convince but to converse— with contemporary "new atheists" like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchins, as well as believers like T.S. Eliot and Paul Tillich. The result, says Joyce Carol Oates in the foreword, "is both a strikingly original, boldly candid, and poignant memoir of one man's dramatic experience with ‘faith' and a kind of everyman's pilgrimage."
Milkweed (dist. by PGW)
Nov., $16 paperback original; 5,000 first printing
Regional tour supported by a Minnesota State Arts Board Grant
Every winter Tommy Jack McMorsey makes the long haul from Texas to northern Minnesota to watch the meteor showers. One cold night, he picks up a Japanese tourist determined to find the ransom money from the movie Fargo, who dies of exposure in his care. A media storm ensues, jarring loose pieces of Tommy Jack's past: the horrors of Vietnam, a love affair, and the suicide of his closest friend. "This is Gansworth's first book with Milkweed, and we couldn't be more excited to have him aboard," says marketing/publicity manager Ethan Rutherford. It was inspired by Gansworth's brother and a friend, who are both American Indians who were soldiers in Vietnam.
Mathias Énard, trans. from the French by Charlotte Mandell
Open Letter (dist. by Longleaf Services)
Dec., $16.95 paper
U.S. tour in the spring
This 517-page novel, winner of the Prix du Livre Inter and the Prix Decembre, has an unusual conceit; it's told in a single sentence. Francis Servain Mirkovic, a French-born Croat, travels by train from Milan to Rome with a briefcase, whose contents he's selling to a representative from the Vatican. It contains information about the violent history of the Zone—lands of the Mediterranean basin: Spain, Algeria, Lebanon, Italy. Over the course of a single night Mirkovic visits the sites of the tragedies of these lands in his memory and recalls how his own participation in that violence has wrecked his life. Author and translator Christophe Claro acclaims it as "the novel of the decade, if not the century."
The Last Good War: The Faces and Voices of World War II
Thomas Sanders, text by Veronica Kavass
Welcome Books (dist. by Random House)
Oct., $45; 25,000 first printing
10-state tour; a selection of the History Book Club and the Military Book Club
Sixty years after the end of WWII, photographer Sanders began traveling the U.S. photographing hundreds of WWII vets, and Veronica Kavass interviewed them. The result is an oral and visual portrait of the war that includes veterans Ted Lumpkin, a Tuskegee Airman; Ernie Cortez, a survivor of the Bataan death march; and Louise O'Flaherty, a German code breaker. Introduction by Hampton Sides.
Doonesbury and the Art
of G.B. Trudeau
Yale Univ. Press
Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau was the first comic strip artist to win a Pulitzer Prize. This oversized book, which is being published to coincide with the 40th anniversary of his iconic comic strip, could become a collector's item. Sheryl Cotleur, at Book Passage, says, "I bought a ton of this. It looks fabulous."
And here are 20 more sleepers you can only read about online:
Hiroshima in the Morning
Rahna Reiko Rizzuto
Feminist Press at CUNY (dist. by Consortium)
Sept., $16.95 paperback original; 4,500 first printing
In June 2001, Rizzuto went to Hiroshima in search of a deeper understanding of her heritage. She planned to spend six months interviewing the few remaining survivors of the atomic bomb. Then the attacks on September 11 changed everything. Separated from her family and country, Rizzuto wrestles with her ambivalence about being a wife and mother. This memoir was a unanimous choice of the Consortium sales reps for the wholesaler's inaugural rep pick program. Rizzuto's first novel, Why She Left Us, received an American Book Award.
Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work
Sept., $19.95; 20,000 first printing
10-city tour; advertising
Inspired by Albert Camus's lecture of the same name, Haitian-American writer Danticat reflects on art and exile, examining what it means to be an immigrant artist from a country in crisis. Dave Eggers says, "This is the most powerful book I've read in years. Though delicate in its prose and civil in its tone, it hits like a freight train. It's a call to arms for all immigrants, all artists, all those who choose to bear witness, and all those who choose to listen. And though it describes great upheaval, tragedy, and injustice, it's full of humor, warmth, grace, and light."
The Anti-American Manifesto
Seven Stories (dist. by Consortium)
Sept., $15.95 paperback original; 15,000 first printing
While others mourn the damage to the postmodern American capitalist system, Rall sees opportunity in today's economic collapse. The best way to stop right-wing extremists from filling the power vacuum, he argues, is by revolution. "This great book," says Derrick Jensen, "lays the foundation for the revolution we all know is necessary. This is the book we've all been waiting for. Pick this book up. Read it. And then get ready to fight back."
A Novel Bookstore
Laurence Cossé, trans. by Alison Anderson
Europa (dist. by Penguin)
Sept., $15 paperback original
"We love Europa Editions here, and staff members have written so many recommendations we can fill a couple of shelves in our staff favorites display," says buyer Mary Shadoff at University Bookstore in Seattle. Among her new Europa favorites is this novel about a bookstore that sells only literary masterpieces selected by a secret committee of writers. Soon the owners face anonymous threats and violence. Winner of a Prix Drouot.
Graywolf (dist. by FSG)
Oct., $23; 12,000 first printing
10-city tour, including PNBA Author Feast
In a starred review, PW called this debut novel by the author of Refresh, Refresh "as close as you can get to a contemporary Deliverance." On a weekend hunting trip with his father and son, Justin is pushed to the limit by his father's taunting, the demands of the terrain, and the evidence of bear. All the while, he remembers the promise made to his wife to keep their son safe. Percy was included in the indie response to the New Yorker's 20 Under 40 list.
The Deeds of My Fathers: How My Grandfather and Father Built New York and Created the Tabloid World of Today
Paul David Pope
Rowman & Littlefield/Philip Turner
Oct., $24.95; 25,000 first printing
Pope draws on more than 500 interviews and research done for several unpublished books about the family to chronicle his grandfather, Generoso Pope Sr., publisher of the Italian-American newspaper Il Progresso, and his father, Gene Pope Jr., publisher of the National Enquirer. Dominick Dunne describes it as "a real page-turner. A true story that keeps you glued to the pages."
Milkweed (dist. by PGW)
Sept., $25; 10,000 first printing
October IndieNext pick; regional tour supported by a Minnesota State Arts Board Grant
On leave from his parish for committing a serious transgression, Fr. James Dressler finds himself torn between his commitment to the church and his longtime attraction to his high school sweetheart. In a starred review PW called this "[a] potent debut.... Reimringer has crafted a suspenseful, illuminating, and highly readable saga."
The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma
Oct., $16.95 paperback original
A columnist for six Indian newspapers and author of India Unbound, Das uses the Indian epic The Mahabharata to answer questions of how and why individuals, politicians, and business people devolve into moral ambiguity and downright malevolence.
The Still Point
Counterpoint (dist. by PGW)
Jan., $25; 8,000 first printing
Longlisted for the Orange Prize, this debut novel follows Arctic explorer Edward Mackley, who set out to reach the North Pole at the turn of the 20th century. He vanishes, leaving behind his young wife, Emily, who awaits his return for decades. One hundred years later, his great-grandniece makes a discovery that splinters her image of Edward and Emily's romance. The Financial Times calls this "an exceptional debut novel.... She writes like a younger Rachel Cusk, precise poetry undercut by dry wit."
Turn and Jump: How Time and Place Fell Apart
Down East (dist. by NBN)
New England author tour; co-op
Mansfield confronts the disconnection of time and place. Once a local affair, timekeeping changed in 1883 with the expansion of the railroads and the creation of standard time zones, followed by international time zones the following year. The title is drawn from vaudeville, where actors would take their "turn" on stage and "jump" to the next city.
Black Cat (dist. by PGW)
Sept., $14 paperback original; 9,000 first printing
East Coast tour, including an appearance at SIBA
This collection of linked stories about a child of Colombian immigrants who grows up in New Jersey then heads to Miami has gotten advance praise from Junot Díaz ("the debut I have been waiting for") and Chris Abani ("pitch perfect"). In its starred review PW says, "[Her] prose is refreshingly devoid of pomp and puts a hard focus on the stiff compromises Sabina and her family have had to accept; there's a striking perspective to these stories."
Am I a Monkey? Six Big Questions about Evolution
Francisco J. Ayala
Johns Hopkins Univ.
Oct., $12.95; 7,500 first printing
Advertising and exhibits
An evolutionary biologist—winner of the National Medal of Science and the Templeton Prize—lays out the basic science underlying evolutionary theory and shows why evolution is not a threat to religion. Harry Frankfurt calls this "an important book and a lucid account of evolutionary theory."
How We Got Barb Back: The Story of My Sister's Reawakening after 30 Years of Schizophrenia
Red Wheel Weiser/Conari
Sept., $22.95; 15,000 first printing
Barnes & Noble and Borders promotion; Facebook author event, Twitter book club; Amazon Vine and Amazon Fall New Releases Store
The Chicago Sun-Times art critic, whose debut novel, A Year of Cats and Dogs, came out last year and who has a new novel this fall, How to Survive a Natural Disaster, recounts the 32 years between 1971 and 2003 when her sister's schizophrenia went undiagnosed and untreated. "This is a heartwarming story of a family's struggle to come to terms with severe mental illness and find hope and love on the other side. What it shows us, once again, is that most of what we think we know about mental illness is just plain wrong," says author and physician Mark Vonnegut.
A Skeptic's Guide to Writers' Houses
Univ. of Pennsylvania
Trubek tours the country in search of truths about what house museums of writers like Hemingway and Twain reveal about their inhabitants.Brock Clarke calls this "a remarkable book: part travelogue, part rant, part memoir, part literary analysis and urban history. It is like nothing else I've ever read. In wondering why we look to writers' houses for inspiration when we could be looking to the writers' work, Trubek has... reminded us why we need literature in the first place."
The Memory of Love
Atlantic (dist. by PGW)
Jan., $24.95; 12,00 first printing
Two author tours: 8 cities in January and a second tour in April
This novel brings together in a hospital in Sierra Leone a young surgeon, a man who was young during the turbulent postcolonial years, a British psychiatrist, and a woman at the center of their stories. When it was published in the U.K. earlier this year, the London Times wrote, "She threads her stories like music, imperceptibly into the reader's consciousness. One is left hauntingly familiar with the distant and alien; not quite able to distinguish the emotional spirits of fiction from the scars of reality."
Rebel Buddha: On the Road to Freedom
Nov., $21.95; 15,000 first printing
5-city tour; excerpt in Shambhala Sun magazine; November Book-of-the-Month selection on Tricycle magazine's Web site
Ponlop studied under some of the greatest masters from Tibet's final pre-exile generation, yet he is in touch with Western popular culture and even blogs for the Huffington Post. Here he shares his knowledge of the pursuit of happiness and lasting freedom. "Dzogchen Ponlop shatters old myths and sweeps away cultural baggage, presenting the essence of Buddha's teachings in a fresh, contemporary voice. This is a small book with a big message that is timely and important," says Pema Chödrön.
Gay Bar: The Fabulous, True Story of a Daring Woman and Her Boys in the 1950s
Will Fellows and Helen P. Branson
Univ. of Wisconsin
Oct., $26.95; 4,000 first printing
As a gray-haired grandmother, Branson ran a gay bar in Hollywood at a time when it was a criminal offense—and wrote about it. This book interweaves her memoir, written a dozen years before Stonewall, with Fellows's biographical sleuthing, cultural criticism, and historical research to create a time capsule of the '50s. Philip Gambone calls it "fascinating, poignant, hilarious, and eye-opening."
GemmaMedia (dist. by IPS)
Oct., $14.95 paperback original
Northern California tour, including NCIBA and Books Inc., Opera Plaza
"In all my years of publishing, I have rarely come across a character as memorable as Nea," says Gemma founder Patricia O'Hare. A Chinese Cambodian teenager and refugee from the Khmer Rouge, Nea and her family make it to Texas where they discover that a wealthy aunt and uncle made it to America as well. Once reunited, the past and a forbidden love threaten to tear the family apart. Robert Olen Butler calls this coming-of-age novel "a remarkable act of literary magic." May-lee Chai is the author of five books, including The Girl from Purple Mountain.
PM Press (dist. by IPG)
Oct., $24.95 paperback original; 5,000 first printing
East Coast, West Coast, and European tour
For five months in 1994 and 1995, photojournalist Voeten lived, slept, and worked in the tunnels underneath Manhattan. He describes what happened to the Vietnam vets, hippies, crack addicts, Cuban refugees, convicted killers, and runaways who lived underground. "Voeten has found yet another frontier in the great American experiment—the one underground, in the tunnels of Manhattan—and deliver[s] it to us in an utterly charming and fascinating account," says Sebastian Junger.
Habit of a Foreign Sky
Haven Books Publishing (dist. by NBN)
World launch with appearances in Iowa City, Iowa; New York; Singapore; Hong Kong; Beijing; and the Philippines.
Life goes into free fall for a mixed-race, single mother when she loses her only child and her mother in the span of two years. All she has left is a career at a global investment bank. Don Lee calls this novel, which was a finalist for the Man Asian Literary Prize, "smart, eloquent, cosmopolitan... a scintillating accomplishment." Xu Xi has written seven works of fiction and essays, and is writer-in-residence at City University of Hong Kong, where she founded the first international M.F.A. program specializing in Asian writing in English.