Six editors pitched their favorite forthcoming books to an enraptured crowd of 300 booksellers, editors, and librarians who packed the Adult Book Editors' Buzz Panel on the opening afternoon of BookExpo. If there’s one thing that links the books, a mix of fiction and memoirs, it’s their blunt assessments of the times.
Heralding a book that "demands to be read and reckoned with," Jonathan Cox, editor at Simon & Schuster, spoke passionately about How We Fight For Our Lives (October), Saeed Jones's memoir of growing up as a gay black man in America. The title was one of Cox's first acquisitions as an editor in 2015 and took four years for Jones to complete. "He wanted to write the book that he needed as a young man," Cox said. The result is a work that is poetic in style, and which Cox compared to Claudia Rankine's Citizen. "It is a stunning coming of age memoir and an astonishing portrait of America," Cox said
Like How We Fight For Our Lives, Kiley Reid's novel, Such a Fun Age (Putnam, Jan), is a story of race, sexuality, and the vulnerability of youth in America. Editor Sally Kim introduced the book in deeply personal terms, recounting the day she was first hired at a publishing house, when she encountered a prominent writer at a diner. Kim, who is Asian-American, approached the author, who promptly shoved a fistful of cash into her hand. "She assumed that I was one of the waiters," said Kim, who felt that At Such a Fun Age captured the same feeling of casual racism and disrespect that she had encountered. The book follows a young babysitter named Emira who is accused of kidnapping the white toddler she cares for in a video that goes viral. "It's one of the best explorations of race and class and injustice in our time," said Kim, "but it also has a beating heart."
Youth and sexuality are at the heart of My Dark Vanessa (William Morrow, Jan.), a novel about a 15 year-old girl who is forced to confront the sexual relationship she has with her teacher after he is accused of sexually assaulting another student. Kate Elizabeth Russell began writing the book when she was 16 and it took 20 years for her to complete. Jessica Williams, who acquired the book, said she had, "never been so moved by a submission."
"Kate once told me her goal with this novel was to immerse the reader in a story about a predator who asks for consent and victim who says yes more than she ever says no. In this way My Dark Vanessa is asking us to rethink our own understanding of abuse, to see how insidious and subtly manipulative it can be."
Lara Prescott’s The Secrets We Kept is, in the words of Knopf's Jordan Pavlin, "a cross between Hidden Figures and Mad Men." as it tells a tale of women in the life of writer Boris Pasternak, from the CIA office secretaries to the author's lover. Pavlin said the book reminded her, “of all of the powerful women who have been underestimated over time. This is not a novel about Pasternak," Williams said, "This is a novel about the fierce and brilliant women who made him possible."
Invisibility and power are at the heart of Anna Wiener's memoir, Uncanny Valley (FSG, Jan), in which the author explores the culture of Silicon Valley and what it shows about a privately controlled corporate surveillance state at a personal and a global level. Editor Emily Bell described the arc of the book in both sweeping and precise terms. "We see Anna alone in her apartment a lot, with the Internet, navigating the tech landscape as both a user and an employer," said Bell. Incrementally, Bell said the book pans back, "showing us how and where blind eyes were turned in the name of progress."
Where Wiener is looking at the present day, Rob Hart's The Warehouse (Crown, Aug) casts an eye on a not-too-distant future where citizens clamor to get a job working for Cloud, a tech company that has supplanted the power and authority of governments in a world of climate collapse and dying democracies. Julian Pavia, who also edited The Martian and Ready Player One, said that the comparisons to the a real-world online retailer that resembles the Cloud will be apparent to readers, who will be horrified by what the characters discover once they get their dream jobs. However, unlike the other books in the panel, he added that some relief may come from the fact that, "The Warehouse feels just far enough removed from reality that it's delicious and entertaining."