It's all over but the reading. With BookExpo America behind us, booksellers across the country are cracking the spines of those galleys and Advance Reader Copies to get a jump on the fall season. And there is optimism in the industry about a vast selection of books in all areas and genres that could create their own kind of autumnal foliage.
"I feel good," said Elaine Petrocelli, co-owner of Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif. "I don't think there's just one book that is going to be it. And I like it when it's a year with a lot of good stuff and not just one big book."
Although for the first time in a few years, a couple of buzz books did seem to shine at the show—a newcomer was introduced and an old favorite came through with a new title after an absence of many years. First-timer Leif Enger's Peace Like a River(Grove/Atlantic) was a hot galley grab, as was The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), whose Twenty-Seventh City (of 13 years ago!) is well remembered, especially by the literary-minded independents.
For Peace Like a River, Grove did a very smart thing. Weeks before BEA, the publisher shipped ARCs to selected booksellers and then invited several to a dinner with the author in Chicago. Of course, that didn't guarantee that booksellers would love the book. In fact, many told PW they were skeptical of the hype, even if they did admire Grove's track record with first fiction. "I was wary," said Petrocelli. "I said, 'Oh, yeah, right. Cold Mountain, here we come. Sure.' But it is really wonderful. I think it is going to be everything we hope it is." Already comparisons are being made to such classics as To Kill a Mockingbirdand The Catcher in the Rye.
It took Franzen eight years to write The Corrections, according to his publisher, Jonathan Galassi. "It's one of the most exciting books I've ever done," Galassi told PW. "It had been so long since The Twenty-Seventh City," observed Betsy Burton of The King's English in Salt Lake City about Franzen's new title. "He's written articles and reviews but I haven't seen another novel in a long time," she added (although Franzen's Strong Motiondid appear, to glowing reviews, in '92). "He really is a good writer and can handle real complexity. This is a great satire but it is also a book of great feeling."
In the world of nonfiction, the word was Welch—Jack Welch. Jack: Straight from the Gut (Warner) made headlines when the publisher paid more than $7 million for it, and the house is expected to throw another million bucks into promoting it. Welch, the CEO of General Electric, was on hand at BEA to shake hands and assure booksellers that he'd be out promoting the book himself this fall. He already has major media appearances lined up, and not just on the GE-owned NBC stations. Petrocelli predicted that Welch's book would sell well in her store, particularly if he promotes it himself. "People want to be in his presence because they've been amazed at what he's done," she explained. "Businesspeople really revere him and think he broke the mold and found a different way to do business." Whether that means the book will earn out its advance is another story altogether.
McGraw-Hill publisher and editor Jeffrey Krames has already edited four books on the legendary GE executive. In September his company will publish his first book, The Jack Welch Lexicon of Leadership, which will get some extra attention this fall for obvious reasons.
A Good Name Doesn't Hurt
Every season has its share of name authors. In the realm of nonfiction, that often means celebrity, and there are a few titles to note this year. With more than 400,000 orders for a book that isn't even due until January, Hyperion is expecting big things for Lucky ManbyMichael J. Fox. It's more than just a celebrity memoir—Fox delivers a poignant and funny account of fighting and living with Parkinson's disease. Vernon Jordan exhibited his own brand of poignant honesty at a bookseller luncheon, where he discussed his memoir, Vernon Can Read(Public Affairs), which he wrote in part to remember his grandfather and to show how far his family has come. Petrocelli said she thought Jordan's memoir could be one of the big books. "It's not about his 'in' with Clinton and all of that," she told PW. "It's about something very dear to my heart, the civil rights movement, and his growing up, and racism."
Two big-time musicians put down their instruments long enough to pen memoirs this year, and they came to Chicago to promote their titles. Wynton Marsalis even played a benefit concert. But Quincy Jones should not be dissed. His breakfast appearance is what attracted Oprah Winfrey to McCormick Place. The titles by these musical giants are Jazz in the Bittersweet Blues of Life, which Marsalis wrote with Carl Vigeland (Da Capo) and Q: An Autobiography(Doubleday). On the literary side, there's a memoir from John Edgar Wideman titled Hoop Roots (Houghton). Studs Terkel explores death and faith in Will the Circle Be Unbroken? (New Press).
Finally, Andrew Morton is back, with an unauthorized biography of Madonna (St. Martin's), which should get lots of attention because Morton's books always do and, besides, it's Madonna. A celebrity treat from an independent publisher brings readers the first moments on film of some of Hollywood's biggest names, from Greta Garbo to Julia Roberts in Their First Time in the Movies by Les Krantz (Overlook).
There are plenty of name authors in the forthcoming fiction category as well. On just about every bookseller's radar it seemed was Isabel Allende. Her Portrait in Sepia (HarperCollins) is not a sequel, exactly, but it does continue on from themes in Daughter of Fortuneand leaves the reader back at the beginning of The House of the Spirits. Proving once again that she can do just about anything, Joyce Carol Oates wrote a romance this time, titled Middle Age(Ecco). Other fall titles from some of the old reliables include The World Below by Sue Miller (Knopf); Fury by Salman Rushdie (Random); Total Recall by Sara Paretsky (Bantam); Swift as Desireby Laura Esquivel (Crown); The Jazz Bird by Craig Holden (S&S); Futureland by Walter Mosley (Warner); Violets Are Blue by James Patterson (Little, Brown); and Niagara Falls All Over Againby Elizabeth McCracken (Dial). This fall's Stephen King is the work of collaboration with Peter Straub on a sequel to The Talismancalled Black House (Random).
When PW spoke with Paul Ingram, a buyer at Prairie Lights in Iowa City, before BEA, he said something that indicated a movement in fiction: "One trend that I've noticed is that more really good writers are using history." Certainly "historical fiction" is no longer a euphemism for romance books. This year World War II seemed to be the backdrop of choice. Book Passage's Bill Petrocelli usually leaves the handicapping of titles to his wife and partner, but he told PW that The Good German by Joseph Kanon (Holt) looked like a winner. Several booksellers commented that Kanon, the author of Los Alamos, gets better with each book, and that they had high hopes for this latest, which is set in postwar Germany. The author of A Small Death in Lisbon, Robert Wilson, returns to that locale for a thriller that begins in WWII and ends with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, titled The Company of Strangers(Harcourt). Set in Scotland in the shadow of the war is Eva Moves the Furnitureby Margot Livesey (Holt), author of The Missing World.The post-Vietnam military world is the subject of a few titles, too, including James Webb's latest, Lost Soldiers (Bantam), which starts with the air-lift at the U.S. Embassy. For his debut novel, Sharkman Six(S&S), author Owen West drew on his experiences as a former marine commander. Another first novel from S&S, City of Dreamsby Beverly Swerling, goes back further in history. It is an epic of a Dutch and English family from the time New Amsterdam was a raw and rowdy settlement, to the triumph of the Revolution, when New York became a new nation's city of dreams. Carter Beats the Devil (Hyperion), a debut novel by Glen David Gold, takes the postwar, pre-Depression era, in which Americans were hungry for distraction and illusion, as its backdrop, using the real character of Charles Carter—aka "Carter the Great," a magician whose reputation rivaled Houdini—as its protagonist. A novel inspired by more contemporary events (and the author's own family history) is The Feast of the Goat by Edith Grossman (FSG) about Rafael Trujillo, a one-time American puppet ruler in the Dominican Republic, who became a dictator.
Two new novels that involve history as well as a subject especially dear to those in this industry—namely, books—are The Grand Complicationby Allen Kurzweil (Hyperion/Theia) and The Last Summer of Reasonby Tahar Djaout (Ruminator). PW heard several booksellers talking up the Kurzweil''s, a novel in which a librarian who fears he will be banished to the bookmobile is instead hired to uncover secrets associated with an 18th-century inventor and stumbles upon a few grand complications along the way. Sadly, Djaout culled his tale of a bookseller's plight from his own experience in the face of Islamic fundamentalism in his native Algeria, where he was assassinated in 1993. A percentage of the proceeds from The Last Summer of Reason will go to American Booksellers for the Freedom of Expression.
In the past few years, stories about the sea and/or ice adventures dominated the market, but this season things have heated up. "It's funny how we've moved from water to fire," said Petrocelli, referring to both The SmokeJumper by Nicholas Evans (Delacorte) and Fire (Norton), a nonfiction collection of tales about forest fires by the chronicler of master seamen, Sebastian Junger. (There will be more on Junger in the nonfiction section.) Attendees might have noticed a similar hot title at BEA from indie publisher Context Books: Holding Fire: A Love Story, a first novel about firefighters and the people who love them—including a writer who strips to make ends meet—by Elissa Wald.
First fiction is probably the hardest to get a hold of at the show, but it's the category in which booksellers often find many of the year's handselling gems—an even sweeter find when it comes from one of the small publishers. MacAdam/Cage attracted some attention for two of its debut novels: Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn, an epistolary story of a town that loses a bit of the alphabet (and thus, communication) as letters start falling from a monument; and Pretty Is as Pretty Does by Alison Clement, a book that sounds remarkably like The Bridges of Madison Countybut which displays a thoroughly original story and voice. From the not-so-small Chronicle Books comes The Distant Land of My Father: A Novel of Shanghai by Bo Caldwell, which stands out both as a debut set in a magical and intriguing location and for being one of the few fiction titles from the press that brought us The Beatles last year. Booksellers pointed out a couple of first novels from the larger publishers: Wide Blue Yonder by Jean Thompson (S&S), which is really about the weather, and The Speed of Lightby acclaimed poet Elizabeth Rosner (Ballantine), about dysfunctional families.
Speaking of dysfunctional families, Douglas Coupland dives right in with his new novel, All Families Are Psychotic (Bloomsbury). "That appeals to me because I'm a sick person," joked Nancy Olson, owner of Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, N.C., PW's Bookseller of the Year. "It says it's about the most disastrous family reunion in the history of fiction. That just appeals to me." Olson also liked the idea behind This Rockby Robert Morgan (Algonquin), a story about two brothers as different as Cain and Abel set in 1920s Appalachia by the author of Gap Creek, an Oprah pick.
Poetry, which often gets neglected, was front and center at the two-story Sourcebooks booth. Known for its fusion titles that mix media, Sourcebooks applies its bestselling formula to verse in Poetry Speaks, which features the work—both written and performed—of the most influential poets from 1892 to 1997. Edited by Elise Paschen, executive director of the Poetry Society of America, Poetry Speaks lists Robert Pinsky, Rita Dove and Dana Gioia as its advisers. Just about any poet you can name is in there, on the page and on CD.
Certainly not new to fiction but what might just be an event this year is Houghton's re-packaging of The Lord of the Rings trilogy to coincide with the first of three feature films based on J.R.R. Tolkien's classic, coming out from New Line Cinema in December. Houghton offers a variety of other tie-in titles as well as the original books.
Back to the Facts
Moving back to nonfiction, true-life adventure stories are still gripping readers. Yes, Sebastian Junger is back with Fire. While some booksellers wondered how well a collection of stories would do from the author of The Perfect Storm, others were certain he'd meet with success again. "Frankly, he could write about garbage trucks and I'd still read it because he really does a good job," is how Petrocelli expressed her expectations for Fire.
This year there is also a fair number of Into Thin Air—type tales. For historic adventure, there's The Coldest March: Scott's Fatal Antarctic Expedition by Susan Solomon (Yale). Solomon, a climatologist, explores the 1911 doomed expedition of Captain Robert Falcon Scott in search of the South Pole. Down the Great Unknown by Edward Dolnick (Harper) is about the discovery of the Grand Canyon. Enduring Patagoniaby Gregory Crouch (Random) could be shelved among the first-hand travel adventures.
Considering the popularity of outdoor adventure stories, Last Breath: Cautionary Tales from the Limits of Human Enduranceby Peter Stark (Ballantine) might be a just-in-time reality check for those who want to do more than read about adventure. The book grew out of an article Stark wrote for Outside magazine called "As Freezing Persons Recollect the Snow." Using real tales of adventure turned disastrous, in Last BreathStark examines the physiological, psychological and emotional stages the human mind and body endure at the brink of death.
Science/nature-made-accessible still seems to be a growing field, and Stephen Hawking is back with The Universe in a Nutshell (Bantam). As Susan Wasson of Bookworks in Albuquerque, N.Mex., observed, "If anyone could put the universe in a nutshell, it would be him." In its Don't Know Much About series, Harper tackles the same subject in Don't Know Much About the Universeby Kenneth C. Davis. Walker & Company—of Brunelleschi's Dome and Longitude fame—seems particularly adept at such titles and adds a few new ones to its list this fall, among them Diamond: A Journey to the Heart of an Obsessionby Matthew Hart and Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky, author of The Basque History of the World. A much-anticipated followup book is The Map That Changed the World (Harper) by Simon Winchester, who wrote The Professor and the Madman. This time, he writes about the genesis of geology.
As scientists continue to unlock the human genome, Context Books has a title that presents a cautionary look at this very new science: Babel Shadow: Genetic Technologies in a Fracturing World by Pete Moore. A related title is Fly: The Unsung Hero in the History of Genetics by Martin Brookes (Ecco). A Knopf book by Lucy Jago, appropriately titled The Northern Lights, explores the discovery of the aurora borealis. Science fiction writer Ben Bova turns to fact in The Story of Light(Sourcebooks), which explains how light affects everything from religion and art to sex. So is sex a science? In Sex: The Natural History of a Behaviorby Joann Ellison Rodgers (W.H. Freeman) you just might find out everything you wanted to know about it but didn't know how to ask.
Another small press with a book of big ideas is Four Walls Eight Windows. One of its fall titles is The Bone Museum: Travels in the Lost Worlds of Dinosaurs and Birds by Wayne Grady, who traveled with paleontologists in search of fossils of animals that looked like dinosaurs but appear to have had feathers. And birdman David Allen Sibley follows up his huge success last year with The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior (Knopf).
There are two books that examine the all-too-human world. From Scribner comes The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, which grew out of a New Yorkerarticle on the subject by author Andrew Solomon. Galleys of My House Is Killing Me!: The Home Guide for Families with Allergies and Asthma by Jeffrey C. May went quickly at the Johns Hopkins University Press booth.
Real Lives, Real Voices
One of the hottest galleys to grab at BEA was I Thought My Father Was God and Other True Tales from NPR's National Story Project(Holt) from editor Paul Auster. The National Story Project invited real Americans to tell their stories in snips of memoir that were broadcast and then gathered into this collection.
When it comes to memoir, Krista Hunter at Village Books in Bellingham, Wash., told PW that she thought more of them are focused on one aspect or incident in a person's life, rather than the whole life. "That really started with The Liar's Club," she observed. Prairie Lights's Ingram added that, with such a crowded shelf, for any memoir to be successful it must be about an extraordinary life.
Does the life of a founder of the Weathermen who witnessed and participated in the turbulence of the '60s—including the Greenwich Village explosion that killed Diane Oughton and others—who then comes to be a respected college professor and father, qualify as extraordinary? If so, Fugitive Days by Bill Ayers (Beacon) has lots of potential in the memoir category. Some of the more unusual memoirs include: Trials of the Monkey: An Accidental Memoirby Matthew Chapman (Picador), the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin; Crying at the Moviesby Madelon Sprengnether (Graywolf), who examines life by examining the images she has seen on the silver screen; the self-explanatory Strip City: A Stripper's Farewell Journey Across America by Lily Burana (Talk/Miramax); and In the Shadow of a Saint by Ken Wiwa (Steerforth), the son of the martyred Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.
Jack Welch will not be the only business executive with a memoir this year, that's for sure. And in this age of dot-bombs, Wiley has an intriguing book by Stephan Paternot co-founder of theglobe.com, called A Very Public Offering: A Rebel's Story of Business Excess, Success, and Reckoningby Stephan Paternot. The subtitle says it all. Defying the notion that only an accomplished life makes for an exciting memoir, the Scottish press Canongate has already had success in the U.K. with Misadventures by Sylvia Smith, for whom writing a memoir was her only accomplishment. Already the topic of many articles in England and featured in the Wall Street Journal's center column, Canongate brings Misadventures to these shores in association with Grove Press.
Not exactly memoirs are books in which the authors use their own experience to examine and issue or an institution. Naomi Wolf does both in Misconceptions: Truth, Lies and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood(Doubleday). Wolf charts the joys and excitements of motherhood along with the effect it has had on a generation of women raised to value their independent identities. Fewer than 200 people have ever served on the FBI's hostage rescue team, and special agent Christopher Whitcomb provides a first-hand account of the elite operation in Cold Zero (Little, Brown).
Those looking for more straightforward nonfiction will not be disappointed this year. One to note is Empire: A Tale of Obsession, Betrayal and the Battle for an American Icon (that's the Empire State Building) by Mitchell Pacelle (Wiley). Luis Rodriguez, author of Always Running, takes a fresh look at our culture in Hearts and Hands: Making Peace in Violent Times(Seven Stories). The bestselling co-author of Flags of Our Fathers, Ron Powers, analyzes the state of childhood in America in Tom and Huck Don't Live Here Anymore(SMP).
Perhaps the Powers title, along with two others—A Murder Mystery and a Marriage, an illustrated version of an unpublished story by Mark Twain (Norton) and Mark Twain: An Illustrated Biography by Geoffrey C. Ward, Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns (Knopf), a companion book to Burns's PBS documentary—indicate that Tolkien might not be the only oldtimer to see a resurgence in interest this fall.
Having just skimmed the surface of the well of fall titles, there's enough to keep booksellers busy for months.