The season for ordering gift books has arrived. But booksellers are having a hard time seeing past the upcoming presidential elections as they assess the selection of eye candy and stocking stuffers.
Some, like Walter Boyer, co-owner of Bookends in Ridgewood, N.J., are planning to stock humorous political merchandise—like the Imagineering Company's Pat the Politician (May) and Bush Cards (www.bushcards.com), a set of playing cards featuring Bush administration personnel, which have sold nearly 200,000 copies. But many booksellers are scratching their heads about what to order for the holidays.
"There's a wariness out there," said Sally Lindsay, v-p of merchandising and marketing at Koen. This year, her buying strategy for the Moorestown, N.J., wholesaler is "much more conservative," she said. "I think people are nervous about spending money."
"It's the most peculiar holiday season I've ever experienced," agreed Diane Garrett, owner of Diane's Books of Greenwich in Greenwich, Conn. "I don't think it's a time for quirky books. I've been cleaning out the little cutesy gift books because I'm tired of looking at them, and I'm sure customers are tired of them, too. It's a pretty challenging fall."
But Garrett isn't giving up. She has high hopes for the $19.95 oversize hardcover
Homer for the Holidays (Viking Studio, Oct.) by Nancy Levine, in which the canine star of
The Tao of Pug (Viking Studio, 2003) helps the pug puppy Homer find a home. Pet books are generally a safe bet, which may explain why there are so many this year, including the $16 hardcover
You Are a Dog: Life Through the Eyes of Man's Best Friend by Terry Bain (Harmony, Oct.). That book presents a dog's-eye view of such topics as the toilet (e.g., "The advantage of drinking from the toilet is that the water is always fresh").
There are also cat books of every stripe: Jim Edgar's
Bad Cat (Workman, Oct.) is a chunky little $9.95 paperback collection of 244 mug shots of cats in hilarious poses, along with their names, ages and hobbies. They include wild-eyed Buzzy, whose hobby is simply "Fondue," and eight-year-old Spengler, suspended Spider-Man—style from a window screen. Mellower cats have their day in Pat Welch's
Catku (Andrews McMeel, Apr.), a five-inch—square 64-page hardcover priced at $9.95, which includes such verses as "Stealthy and silent,/ I stalk birds—but listen for/ The can opener."
Humans get the same humorous treatment in
The Penis Book (Sept.) by Joseph Cohen from Doubleday/Broadway. The heavily illustrated 107-page hardcover, ringing in at $12.95, offers plenty of facts about the male organ, including the cost of genital piercing in New York's East Village and the fate of many circumcised foreskins (often sold to pharmaceutical companies and bio-research laboratories). Originally issued in 1999 by a German publisher, The Penis Book sold more than 60,000 copies in the United States. With a timely mention in Esquire, the 22,000-copy first printing is likely to, ahem, stuff some stockings.
Also in the is-that-a-book-in-your-stocking-or-are-you-just-happy-to-see-me? vein is
XXX 30 Porn Star Portraits (Time-Warner/Bulfinch, Oct.), a $35 hardcover with photographs by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, which is a favorite of Koen's Lindsay. Harold Lloyd's
Hollywood Nudes in 3-D! (Black Dog & Leventhal, Oct.) comes with its own handy pair of 3-D glasses in an inside pocket and features the filmmaker's snaps from the 1940s through the 1960s, as well as a lenticular cover. An excerpt in the November issue of Vanity Fair is likely to spur sales of the 15,000-copy first printing of this $24.95 hardcover.
From Cerebral Books to Clever Kitsch
Bigger books, though more costly, could also sell well for the holidays. Garrett of Diane's Books said, "It's not small and quirky, but
The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker (Oct.), with 68,647 cartoons, is really interesting." This mammoth Black Dog & Leventhal book, which includes two CDs, contains all the cartoons the magazine has published since 1925. The $60 price is surprisingly low given its bulk and comprehensiveness. Susan Taylor, book buyer at Wellesley Booksmith in Wellesley, Mass., compared it to last year's
The Complete Far Side by Gary Larson, which despite its $135 price tag was a strong seller last year before Andrews McMeel ran out of stock. Editor Robert Mankoff will be lecturing in Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; and Chicago with some of the artists, as well as promoting the book heavily in New York City, to support the 175,000-copy first printing.
Tiny art fills Craig Robinson's
Minipops: Famous People Drawn Really Small (Mitchell Beazley, Nov.), which is bound to get readers squinting as they identify the half-inch-square, pixelated depictions of more than 700 figures ranging from the Beatles to David Hasselhoff. Many of the images first appeared on the Web site www.flipflopflyin.com, which draws more than 7,000 visitors each day. A half-page article in the September issue of Spin and a full-page article in the October issue of Wired should elicit further interest, and the $12.95 price isn't too steep.
While high art is popular at the holidays, the low stuff has its appeal, too. Kitsch has emerged as a kind of holiday classic of its own. Michael D. Conway's
Merry Kitschmas: The Ultimate Holiday Handbook (Chronicle, Dec.), a $14.95 paperback featuring wacky holiday projects, including a "weenie tree," was the "funny and silly" pick of David Joslin, buyer at Bay Books in Coronado, Calif. "It's almost as crazy as
Judaikitsch [Chronicle, 2002], my favorite holiday book ever," he said.
Bookazine buyer Joe Wedick pointed to the "retro" popularity of the aluminum Christmas tree, first introduced in 1959 in Manitowoc, Wis., which now has its own biography in J. Shimon and J. Lindemann's
Season's Gleamings: The Art of the Aluminum Christmas Tree (Melcher Media, Sept.). The 6 1/2"×8 1/4" hardcover features 50 shiny photographs. The publisher is also supplying aluminum trees to bookstores willing to create window displays.
Other kitschy possibilities include
Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes from the Horrible '70s (Crown, Oct.) by James Lileks, author of
The Gallery of Regrettable Food (Crown, 2001), and John Boswell and Lenore Skenazy's
The Dysfunctional Family Christmas Songbook (Doubleday/ Broadway, Nov. 2), which contains such classics as "Evil Brother Stevie," sung to the tune of "Good King Wenceslas." A 35,000-copy first printing is planned for the slim $9.95 hardcover.
For those who prefer to create their own kitsch, the holiday season always brings an onslaught of kits. This year Running Press has Nancy Armstrong's
Mini Snowman in a Box. Bookazine buyer Andy Collings called the palm-sized kit "among the season's best book 'n' thing offerings." The cleverly designed $6.95 package includes a 3"×3" book that offers a lesson in "Snow Sculpture 101" along with a minuscule pipe and plastic carrot nose. The press's
The Night Before Christmas Cookie Cutter Kit (Oct.) has the same price and dimensions and is equally cunning.
But Rose Katz, manager and events coordinator of Black Oak Books in California's Bay Area, said "for pure silliness" nothing beats
Gnome & Garden: A Gnovelty Kit (Sept.) by Marcus Mennes from Quirk Books, which includes a miniature cold-cast gnome and faux lawn, along with a 4"×5", 64-page hardcover offering an illustrated history of the gnome. The 30,000 copies of the kit have already sold out in less than a month, prompting Quirk to go back for a second round that is already in stores.
You Look Familiar
A couple of last year's highly successful gift books have spawned sequels. Debbie Stoller, whose
Stitch 'n' Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook (Workman) returned to press for a total of 215,000 copies after it was featured on the Today show and in major newspapers, is back with
Stitch 'n' Bitch Nation (Oct.), which offers 50 new patterns and the same sassy attitude.
Ben Schott, whose
Schott's Original Miscellany became a surprise bestseller for Bloomsbury with more one million copies in print worldwide, has also returned.
Schott's Food & Drink Miscellany (Aug.) is another $14.95 hardcover, offering such trivia as the final meal requests of several Texan death penalty victims and Herman Melville's thoughts on eating whale meat.
Several books with numbers in their titles are also trying to seize on the success of Workman's surprise hit
1,000 Places to See Before You Die, which now has 490,000 copies in print. For the $19.95 hardcover
The Experts' Guide to 100 Things Everyone Should Know How to Do (Potter, Sept.), syndicated columnist Samantha Ettus interviewed make-up master Bobbi Brown about applying lipstick and CNN Crossfire host Tucker Carlson about how best to knot a bow tie. Her 14-city tour will conclude in early December.
50 Jobs Worse Than Yours (Bloomsbury, Nov.) may cheer readers with the story of a salesman who wears an inflatable cell phone suit to work and a hapless make-up tester who is actually a rabbit. Ingram senior buyer Nancy Stewart said the occupations will "make you happy to stick with whatever it is you do—no matter how much you kvetch." A 40,000-copy first printing is planned for this $14.95 hardcover.
As always, this fall will also see some titles that defy pigeonholing. At Ingram, Stewart applauded Corinne May Botz's
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death (Monacelli, Oct.) for its unexpected quirkiness. The book collects photographs of the so-called "nutshell dioramas," miniature recreations of crime scenes that Frances Glessner Lee, founder of the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard Medical School, built to dollhouse scale in the 1940s and 1950s. The $35 hardcover may be particularly intriguing to mystery fans.
Stewart is also bullish on
Molvania: A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry (Overlook, Sept.), a faux travel guide to a nonexistent Eastern European country (see Book News, July 5, 2004). It's part of the "Jetlag" travel guide series, based on the notion that "for a travel experience to be truly authentic, it must also be arduous, foolhardy and possibly involve illegal border crossings." The $13.95 paperback perfectly mimics the style of modern travel guides, crediting mythic Molvania as "the birthplace of the polka and the whooping cough."
Speaking of kvetching, a Little, Brown September title offers something for those who light menorahs rather than hang stockings with care:
Yiddish with Dick and Jane is a $14.95 paper-over-board spoof of the classic primer, only Dick is a schmoozer and sister Sally teaches "Transgressive Feminist Ceramics." After authors Ellis Weiner and Barbara Davilman read at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles on September 19, the title's Amazon numbers increased perceptibly, and the copies the authors had on hand sold out "in minutes," according to associate publicist Marlena Bittner. The authors should be kvelling, defined in their own glossary as "To beam with pride and joy, usually parental or grandparental."