At the close of the opening day of BEA, in a packed, windowless conference room off the show floor, Granta acting editor John Freeman emceed the Editors' Buzz panel. Freeman kicked off the session by noting that everyone in the room—reporters, booksellers, publishers, editors, etc.—was all part of a community and, at the end of the day, was here to celebrate the discovery of great books. And, Freeman added, booksellers remain a key component in the discovery of those books as they're uniquely positioned to "actually transmit their passions to the consumer."
With that sentiment in mind, Paul Elie, of FSG, kicked off the session by promoting Harvard professor Michael Sandel's Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do. Spun off from Sandel's popular Harvard lecture of the same name—Elie said the class is the school's most popular, drawing some 1,100 students every time it's offered—the work is, per Elie, "a grand, rangy book about the place of justice in our society." Calling the title a "kind of wisdom literature for the age of Obama," Elie noted how Sandel is the kind of thinker, in the ranks of Harold Bloom and Steven Pinker, who is primed now to be broken out of academia. And Justice, which asks myriad big and small questions—Is affirmative action reverse discrimination? Is it wrong to lie to a murderer? Is life unfair?—is the kind of book Elie thinks is perfect for right now, because it asks what we expect from each other as a community.
Another book of its moment—the right book, at the right time, from the right author—is, according to Ben Sevier, at Dutton, Jonathan Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You. Tropper's fifth book, and his first with Dutton, could be, Sevier thinks, his breakout. In this humorous, heartbreaking look at family, love and marriage—the book, which takes place over the course of a week, follows a guy who learns his wife is having an affair, and is pregnant, on the same day he finds out about his father's death—Sevier said Tropper walks "the line between heavy and light" in what's a "funny, emotional, raw novel." Noting the author's cult following—one California bookseller sold 1,200 copies, on her own, of one of Tropper's former novels—Sevier thinks this is the book that could make Tropper a household name, comparing him to authors like Nick Hornby and Tom Perrotta. (Per Sevier, if you like either of those writers, "you will like Jonathan Tropper.")
Deb Futter at Grand Central was buzzing "a throwback to the grand tradition of storytelling" with the debut novel Roses. The book, by a former Texas schoolteacher named Leila Meacham—who gave the manuscript to agent David McCormick while he was visiting his in-laws in the Lone Star state—is something Futter said you can "give your grandmother, your mother, your sister or your wife." A "multigenerational Texas novel," which Futter urged everyone in the audience to grab and put in their beach bag, is something she likened to sweeping epics like The Thorn Birds and Gone with the Wind. It is, as Futter phrased it, "un-putdownable."
Alexis Gargagliano, at Scribner, was pushing Alex Lemon's new memoir, Happy. Gargagliano, recounted how, when she received the manuscript, she assumed it wasn't for her—the book follows poet Alex Lemon's struggles with addiction and the stroke he suffered in college at age 19. "When I first got [the manuscript], I was dubious I would want to read some story about a cocky college kid who's done too many drugs," she told the panel. But after tearing through the book on a plane flight, Gargagliano found the book to be "the kind that reminds you what it's like to be alive." (Lemon, who was the star pitcher on the baseball team at Macalaster College, came face-to-face with his mortality, and his frat boy lifestyle, when he woke up one morning and had lost feeling in half of his face.) Lemon found himself when he started writing poetry (he's been published widely in, among other places, Bomb and Tin House), and Gargagliano called the book "an electrifying roller coaster ride of his survival."
Another memoir of survival was on the table in front of Bob Weil, at Norton. Weil was buzzing a chilling graphic memoir from Caldecott winner David Small called Stitches. Small, who had a childhood that sounds as if it was invented by a crueler Grimm brother—Weil called it a life "so terrifying it could have been imagined by Kafka"—grew up in Detroit in the '50s, with a strict, closeted gay mother and frustrated radiologist father. Small's father wound up giving his son massive doses of radiation to cure unknown ailments, which resulted in two tumors whose removal resulted in significant scarring and the loss of the author's voice. Weil, who never edited a graphic work before, said he saw Stitches as "a silent movie masquerading as a book." (Some titans of the comics world have also blurbed the book, among them Stan Lee and Jules Feiffer.)
The last panelist, Harriet Popham Rigney of Tor, had no galleys for the secretive book she was unveiling, Brandon Sanderson's Memory of Light. A continuation of Robert Jordan's hugely successful fantasy epic, Wheel of Time, Sanderson (a Tor author) was selected by Popham Rigney to pen three more books in the series after Jordan died in 2007. (Jordan wrote 12 Wheel of Time books, each of which, according to Popham Rigney, debuted at #1 on the Times bestseller list.) Although Popham Rigney had no galleys, Sanderson will be speaking at BEA; the book is getting a national laydown on November 3.
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