If there’s one person you want to ask about books, it’s Paul Yamazaki, head buyer at City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. He’s talking about Jeff Eugenides’s new novel, The Marriage Plot, but he is also touting what he called “a sleeper” on FSG’s list, The Barbarian Nurseries by L.A. Times columnist Hector Tobar. While Yamazaki concedes it’s not really his personal type of book, he’s convinced that “it’s going to work for a lot of readers. It’s a great book about race and class in Southern California, with a Mexican-American maid, who is also an artist, at its center. It’s exhilarating, moving, and beautifully written.” Yamazaki, always the champion of good books, brimmed with enthusiasm about the revived state of the book business. “There’s just so much good stuff out there!” he says. “Hardcover fiction is back,” with City Lights reporting consecutive quarters of “double-digit” sales increases.
Lanora Haradon, owner of Next Chapter Books in Mequon, Wis., thinks that Crown’s “geek” novel, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, “is fabulous, especially for people who’ve grown up in the ’80s.” As for Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Doubleday), a Buzz Panel book, she is over the moon: “This novel is going to be bigger than The Time Traveler’s Wife. It’s going to be bigger than The Secret Life of Bees!” Roxanne Coady of R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Conn., also calls it a winner, along with Turn of Mind (Atlantic Monthly) by Alice LaPlante, which deals with dementia and murder. Coady says LaPlante’s novel is “the most endearing story I’ve seen in a long time.” Coady is almost done reading Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers (Scribner), about the mass suicide of a splinter group of Jews at Masada in the first century. “I’m loving it.” she says.
Julie Stavinsky, events coordinator for Warwick’s in La Jolla, Calif., talked up Ballantine’s The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. “She did a terrific job of mixing social issues and the language of flowers.” Stavinsky also likes Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (Penguin). “It’s set in 1938 New York City and it’s very Gatsbyish. The author did a tremendous job of re-creating the era. It has all of it: the drinks, the clothes, the clubs. And there’s a twist, with a love triangle.”
Matt Norcross, co-owner, McLean & Eakin, Petoskey, Mich., is also excited about Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, but reserves his greatest compliment for State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (Harper). “It’s totally going to blow everyone away.” And he’s another fan of the new Alice Hoffman.
“There are three things I’ve read that stick in my mind,” says Bill Cusumano, book buyer at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, Mich. Cusumano adds to the consensus with Night Circus and The Dovekeepers. His third pick, though, When She Woke by Hillary Jordan, which Algonquin has been very hot on, has been a BEA hit. “It’s a futuristic thing,” Cusumano says, “with The Scarlet Letter theme but in the future. It’s powerful.” And the cover is a knockout.
“What I love about BEA,” says William McCully, of the Prospect Heights Public Library District in Illinois, “is that there are always surprises, like Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron (Algonquin),” winner of the Bellwether Prize, about a young Rwandan boy running to save his life. “This is one of my favorites, along with The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt (Norton), the story of a manuscript discovered 600 years ago that fueled the Renaissance.”
You can’t keep a good book down at BEA. The excitement about certain anointed books is contagious. It happens every show. Chuck Robinson from Village Books in Bellingham, Wash., is excited about When She Woke, and while he hasn’t read it yet, the imprimatur of Cathy Langer of Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver, Colo., who wrote an open letter to “Book-Loving Friends and Colleagues” telling them to pick up Hillary Jordan’s book at the Algonquin booth at BEA, was enough for him: “If Cathy thinks it’s great, I’m already convinced.”
Roberta Rubin, owner of the Bookstall at Chestnut Court, in Winnetka, Ill., raved about the latest by Tony Horwitz. His Midnight Rising (Holt) is a tale about John Brown and the raid on Harper’s Ferry. Horwitz “isn’t a historian, he’s a storyteller,” she says. “He really nails the story, and the research that went into it is impeccable. And he has such a sense of humor.”
But she too went on and on about When She Woke, calling it “one of my favorite books of the past 10 years,” while Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder holds that honor as her favorite of “the past six months.”
Daniel Goldin, owner of Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, is excited about Mission Street Food: Recipes from an Improbable Restaurant by Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz, published by McSweeney’s. “I like McSweeney’s and I like their take on a cookbook.”
Chris Rose, a bookseller at Andover Books in Andover, Mass., is jazzed about The Shooting Salvationist: J. Frank Norris and the Murder Trial That Captivated America by David R. Stokes (Steerforth). He calls it “enthralling” and a “skillful presentation of a shocking crime. The story is simply incredible and every word of it is true.” Readers won’t be able to put it down, he says.
While the booksellers still make books and are the go-to folks for the next big thing, there were books at the show that caught our fancy in the mystery and thriller category, where ice and snow continue to take center stage. Minotaur is hoping to channel Stieg Larsson with Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason, who takes a break from his crime series with Operation Napoleon, in which the crash of a German airplane in Iceland in the waning days of WWII has serious present-day repercussions. Soho Crime’s got The Boy in the Suitcase by Danish authors Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, with a Red Cross nurse protagonist who helps a small boy.
For a real-life thriller, there’s Sam Brower’s investigation into Warren Jeffs’s Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints, Prophet’s Prey, from Bloomsbury. Brower was raised in the mainstream Mormon Church and has snagged a preface by Jon Krakauer.
Debuts capturing the imagination at the show are Sleight, a first novel by poet Kirsten Kaschock about performance artist sisters and a mass murder. Little, Brown is high on American Dervish, a novel about an American Muslim family by Ayad Akhtar, and The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, which was a Buzz Panel book and has been talked about in the same breath as J.D. Salinger (and it’s about baseball). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has We the Animals, a poetic coming-of-age powerhouse by Justin Torres.
And the tried and trues: Dava Sobel with A More Perfect Heaven (Walker), about Nicolaus Copernicus and “the cosmic revolution he inspired”; Susan Orlean with Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend (S&S), about that gorgeous German shepherd who made Lassie look like the girl she was; Feast Day of Fools by James Lee Burke, the sequel to Rain Gods; and the return of Karl Marlantes, whose Vietnam novel, Matterhorn, was a huge surprise hit. Atlantic Monthly Press is hoping to hit again with the nonfiction book What It Is Like to Go to War, about his experiences in Vietnam.
Finally, one book whose buzz began weeks ago and kept rising after its .pdfs went viral, the wildly titled Go the F*** to Sleep by Adam Mansbach, illus. by Ricardo Cortés, from Akashic Books, is still going strong. Consortium president Julie Schaper reports that there are 225,000 copies in print, the pub date has been moved up to mid-June, and almost all the copies are “spoken for.” In addition, movie rights have been optioned and at least six foreign language rights deals have been struck. Dave Mallman, a bookseller at the Next Chapter, called it a “stroke of genius that irreverently expresses the frustrations all parents face when dealing with our beloved but exasperating children.”