With the passing of the presidential election, there's finally a little breathing room for other serious subjects. This season will see three nonfiction titles about capital punishment at a time when debate among elected officials over whether the sentence is being imposed fairly has intensified. While previous books on the subject, like lawyer-cum-author Scott Turow's Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty (FSG, 2003), have examined the theory behind the death penalty, these new titles illuminate the issue through personal stories.
Echoing other booksellers, Linda Ramsdell, owner of Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vt., compared the potential impact of Tim Junkin's Bloodsworth (Algonquin, Sept.) to that of Jonathan Harr's A Civil Action (Random House, 1995). Ramsdell said, "I don't anticipate selling a lot of copies during the holidays, but it's such a compelling and important subject. It's a book that could change people's ideas and opinions."
Author Junkin and his subject, Kirk Bloodsworth, who was the first death row inmate to be exonerated by DNA evidence, have taped a full hour appearance on Larry King Live that will air 0n November 26 and are touring together. Algonquin has shipped 18,000 copies so far.
At Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh, N.C., the book has sold 85 copies following an event with Bloodsworth and Junkin in conjunction with the North Carolina Coalition Against the Death Penalty. Owner Nancy Olson compared Bloodsworth, which booksellers and reviewers praised for the moving way in which it conveys the story, to Timothy B. Tyson's Blood Done Sign My Name (Crown, May), which has sold an impressive 378 copies at the store.
Bill Kurtis'sThe Death Penalty on Trial (Public Affairs, Nov.) went back for a second printing before its official on-sale date. The author—who anchors the program American Justice on A&E and produces the network's Cold Case Files as well—will read at bookstores in Illinois, New York and California and has also taped a Larry King Live appearance. Doris Plechman, assistant manager of Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, Ill., ordered more than 100 copies and noted that some residents of Illinois—where Kurtis lives—maintain a special interest in the issue because of then-governor George Ryan's 2000 moratorium on executions.
The Death of Innocents (Random House, Dec. 28), by Sister
Helen Prejean, author of the Pulitzer Prize— nominated bestseller Dead ManWalking (Random House, 1993), which became a 1995 movie starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, has the highest profile of the three upcoming books. "Prejean broke the ground on the subject from the other side of the bars," said Virginia Harabin, manager/editor at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C, one of the stop's on Prejean's eight-city January tour.
At Book People in Austin, Tex., book buyer Liz Sullivan reported that she'd ordered seven copies of Prejean's new effort, in part because the opera based on Dead Man Walking had been staged in Austin in 2003 and she believes that was likely to create buzz for the book. Besides, said Sullivan, "We're in Texas. There's always an undercurrent on this issue. Every two weeks somebody gets executed in Texas."