PW contacted the editors of this season’s most talked-about adult books to find out how they discovered each book and why they wanted it for their list.
Gillian Blake, senior v-p and editor-in-chief at Crown, on The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir (Aug. 18) by Sara Seager:
All editors know that many of the luckiest turns of their careers come when inheriting an extraordinary book and author. That’s what happened with The Smallest Lights in the Universe, which I took over when I arrived at Crown last year. What a gift: a book that blends the wonder of scientific discovery with the heart wrenching ups and downs of love and loss. From the opening scene when Sara Seager, grieving the recent death of her husband, meets the Widows of Concord through the fascinating descriptions of her work as an astrophysicist searching for exoplanets, this is a book that illuminates our universe while exquisitely rendering the struggles and triumphs of life here on earth.
Caroline Bleeke, senior editor at Flatiron Books, on Migrations (Aug. 25) by Charlotte McConaghy:
The first time I read Migrations late into the night, I was mesmerized by the fierce, urgent voice of its narrator, Franny. Over the course of the novel, we follow Franny from Greenland to Antarctica as she chases the world’s last flock of Arctic terns south, across the Atlantic. Alongside this gorgeous and transporting sea voyage is her intense emotional journey. Franny is at moments an unreliable narrator, but watching her confront the traumas of her past is heartbreakingly real. Migrations is also a love letter to the natural world, and to the wild places and creatures threatened by climate change—yet it’s never without hope.
Dawn Davis, v-p and publisher at Simon & Schuster’s 37 Ink imprint, on Aftershocks: A Memoir (Jan. 12, 2021) by Nadia Owusu:
When Meredith Kaffel Simonoff sold Aftershocks to Ira Silverberg, I asked her to keep me in mind for beautifully written memoirs by authors whose experiences are exotic yet familiar. A few months later, I got to meet Nadia Owusu at the Whiting ceremony when she won an award and sat next to her at the Whiting breakfast the following morning. She talked so elegantly about family trauma and the power of writing and the stories we tell ourselves to heal, I couldn’t wait to read the manuscript. When Ira left and I was asked if I’d consider taking it over, I leapt at the chance. It’s quickly established itself as one of my favorite books.
Sally Kim, senior v-p and publisher at G.P. Putnam’s Sons, on The Prophets (Jan. 5, 2021) by Robert Jones, Jr:
The Prophets is the story of two enslaved men in the Deep South, and the forbidden love and human refuge they find in each other. While this is a historical novel, the issues it covers are as timely and relevant as ever, and though it is an unflinching exploration of troubling issues that continue to plague us today, it somehow manages to be an incredibly hopeful book: a look at love in all its forms—and the enormous, heroic power of love. I’m inspired by Robert Jones every single day, by his ability not only to be a part of the conversation, but to lead it. The Prophets is a book we need more than ever.
Tim O’Connell, senior editor at Knopf on Betty (Aug. 18) by Tiffany McDaniel:
I saw a draft of Betty almost a decade ago. What struck me immediately—what I never forgot—was Tiffany’s writing. It was unlike anything I’d read: sentences so sharp they could cut, coupled with images so powerful, it felt like Tiffany had re-imagined the world. She is a master of using landscape as a mirror and capturing how it feels to be young—the way we look at loved ones when they take care of us, disappoint us, or even betray us. I wasn’t able to acquire Betty then. But I tried again. I simply had to publish it.
Jessica Williams, executive editor at William Morrow on Plain Bad Heroines (Oct. 20) by emily m. danforth:
My childhood in the ‘80s was sort of defined by reading horror and watching slasher films (which evolved into a love for all things gothic). So when I first read Plain Bad Heroines, I immediately saw it as both an ode to my beloved horror genre and a hilarious satire of it—and yet also entirely its own thing. I had simply never read anything like it before. And what’s not to love about a meta-gothic sapphic romp? Honestly, it has been an utter joy to live inside this brilliantly constructed world for a little while.
The Adult Editor’s Buzz panel will take place May 29 from 10–11:30 a.m. ET, live online at the BookExpo Facebook page.