Another Tour of Scientology
As far as salacious reading material goes, Scientology basically sells itself—an evil overlord named Xenu dumping a bunch of body thetans in a volcano, and then blowing them up with atom bombs? 75 million years ago? If it sounds like science fiction, you wouldn’t be far off the mark—L. Ron Hubbard, the church’s founder, got his start banging out pulp tales of adventures set in exotic lands, and he clearly learned during his long and mind-bogglingly prolific writing career what grabs a reader’s attention. But even the most productive author in the world (according to the Guinness Book of World Records) knew that moving copies wouldn’t cut it: “You don’t get rich writing science fiction,” he said. “If you want to get rich, you start a religion.”
But if being a new-age prophet isn’t your bag, writing ain’t a bad gig—especially if your angle is exposing the underbelly of what is arguably today’s most controversial religious movement. Pulitzer Prize–winner Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear, which began as a piece in the New Yorker, debuted at #13 on our Hardcover Nonfiction list three weeks ago. Since then it’s sold 26,470 copies and moved up a spot. While never a Scientologist himself, Wright went after the infamous organization by way of copious research and access to a high-profile defector, Hollywood director Paul Haggis.
Jenna Miscavige Hill, on the other hand, has a whole other take on the matter, though hers is no less damning. The niece of David Miscavige—the young, eerily handsome, and allegedly abusive leader of what Haggis bluntly called a cult—Hill grew up in the church and signed her life away at age six to the elite cadre of Scientology members known as the Sea Organization. The contract stipulated that she dedicate one billion—yes, billion—years of service to the church. In 2005, a few years after her parents decamped, she decided she’d had enough and finally fled. She’s since established a support Web site for people like her (ExScientologyKids.com), gotten married, and given birth to a daughter. Now she’s publishing her tell-all: Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape. The book debuts at #14 on our Hardcover Nonfiction list. With first-week sales comparable to Going Clear (Wright sold 5,825; Hill 1,000 less), all signs point to Beyond Belief becoming a cult classic.—Samuel R. Slaton
According to Gore
Nearly repeating his opening week sales, former Vice President Al Gore moves up two places in his second week on the Hardcover Nonfiction list with his 13th book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change. A dense treatise in the tradition of Earth in the Balance and An Inconvenient Truth, it perfectly matches Gore’s personality: the material never fails to be interesting, but its arguments are occasionally contradictory and the tone tends to be overly dry.
The early phases of his book tour have been less than comfortable, with media figures from Matt Lauer to David Letterman and Jon Stewart questioning the potential hypocrisy of Gore’s sale of Current TV to the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera Media Network, even as he rails against the influence of the fossil-fuel industry in American news media. Of course Gore’s rebuttal is that Al Jazeera, despite its ownership, doesn’t self-censor its coverage of topics dear to him like climate change, but that hasn’t stopped even his most sympathetic critics from dogging him for “Learjet liberalism”.
Those attacks aside, The Future has received mixed reviews so far, its grand ambitions and “think-tank talk” feel being the cited drawbacks. Nevertheless, the importance of its salient points—the emergence of a truly globalized economy, a shift in the balance of global political power, unsustainable growth and consumption, and the relationship between man and Earth’s ecological systems—cannot be underestimated. —Alex Crowley
Lisa Gardner Goes to Jail
Lisa Gardner’s Touch & Go, a novel of psychological suspense, debuts at #3 on the Hardcover Fiction list. On the surface, Justin and Libby Denbe look like they have it all—a luxurious townhouse in Boston’s Back Bay, a beautiful 15-year-old daughter, their own mega-construction company—but behind closed doors, their marriage is reaching the breaking point. One night, the couple return home to find the door ajar and a group of intruders terrorizing their daughter. They are quickly overtaken, stripped of their personal belongings, and thrown in the back of a van.
“I have always wanted to kidnap a family,” says Gardner. “Abduction is a time-honored suspense hook. The issue was how to take such a classic set-up and make it fresh. Where would you hide this family? Then, one day I toured a moth-balled maximum security prison, and something in my writer’s mind immediately clicked.”
Held captive in an abandoned prison and fighting for their lives, the Denbes are quickly forced to confront hard truths about themselves and their so-called perfect family. For their kidnappers have clearly done their homework. They know everything about the family’s home, business, and personal life—including the most effective ways to make each of them pay.
The national author tour started Feb. 5 in New Hampshire, the author’s home state, at Horsefeather Restaurant and White Birch Books in North Conway. After stops in Chicago, Louisville, Denver, Phoenix, and St. Louis, the tour concluded Feb. 11 at Toadstool Bookstore in Milford, N.H.—Peter Cannon
Sales Growth on the Western Front
This week’s Mass Market list includes two titles by William W. Johnstone—at #9 and 10—an author who may well be unfamiliar to many readers, despite the fact that he’s written hundreds of novels, revitalizing the western genre and keeping it alive and well. It was Owen Wister’s 1902 novel, The Virginian, that began the western genre’s ascent to respectability, no longer relegated to dime novels and the so-called “penny dreadfuls” of the era—most written, Johnstone liked to say, “by guys who had never been further west than Tenth Avenue in New York City.” The genre was further bolstered with the advent of such popular authors as Zane Grey, Max Brand, Luke Short, and, later, Louis L’Amour. With L’Amour’s death in 1988, however, and with an aging demographic, the western was headed for that last round-up.
Gradually, the western sections of the chain stores were dropped and the remaining few still being published were placed into general fiction. The late Walter Zacharius, founder and CEO of Kensington Books, almost single-handedly saved the western. His publishing wise philosophy was, “When everyone else gets out, that’s the time to move in.”
And move in they did. Though a less familiar name, Johnstone (1938–2004) was surprisingly influential and long-lived in the category. His first book, The Devil’s Kiss, was published in 1979, and his first western, The Last Mountain Man, in 1985. He wrote more than 300 books in numerous different series; and after family member J.A. Johnstone took over the books’ co-authorship, the Mountain Man series expanded to its present title, 2012’s Strike of the Mountain Man—which landed on the New York Times bestseller list.
According to Kensington executive editor Gary Goldstein— Johnstone’s editor for 10 years—“Bill told me he loved writing westerns because “the western is one of the few true American art forms.” —Dick Donahue