Life (After Death) Is Good

By Samuel R. Slaton

On childhood road trips to Tennessee, West Memphis was, to my mind, simply the place before Memphis Memphis, where my grandparents lived, and the location of the last possible Waffle House before the rush over the Mississippi via the green Hernando de Soto Bridge, past the still-bizarre Pyramid Arena, and into the perpetually under-construction tangle of downtown Memphis. But for most folks living in Arkansas in the 1990s, the little town on the wrong side of the great American river was synonymous with the West Memphis 3, a trio of teenage friends wrongfully convicted for the 1993 murders of three eight-year-old boys on Robin Hood Hill. Bumper stickers in support of their release were ubiquitous all over the state.

In 2011, after 18 years behind bars, the WM3 were finally set free, and Damien Echols has hit the ground running: his new memoir, Life After Death, is #16 on our Hardcover Nonfiction list after fewer than two weeks on the shelves. The PW review called it a "searing" and "finely wrought" book, wherein "Echols recalls his poverty-stricken childhood," the fateful trial that landed him in prison, "and the harsh realities of life on death row." Building off a shorter memoir that the then-incarcerated Echols self-published in 2005, his new book features facsimiles of surviving handwritten journal entries from his time behind bars, as well as photos of Echols and the small army of individuals who fought tirelessly for his release. In fact, a few of those folks continue to put their star-power behind the fight for the exoneration of Echols, Jessie Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin.

After the 1996 release of the HBO documentary Paradise Lost, some big names got behind the WM3, including the Academy Award–winning director Peter Jackson, Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder, and Johnny Depp. According to Echols's publicity team, "many of the celebs themselves have said publicly that they connected with [his] story on a personal level." West of Memphis, Jackson's documentary about the group's tribulations, will be released on Christmas Day; Echols and his wife, Lorri Davis, helped produce. Depp has also been involved in a big way: in addition to sharing a matching tattoo with Echols, he accompanied the author at a recent appearance at the B&N in New York City's Union Square. The actor's production company, Infinitum Nihil, has also optioned the rights to make a feature film out of Life After Death.

Over the following months, Echols will be jetting around the country for talks, signings, and radio promos, including stops at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, an appearance with punk rock icon Henry Rollins at the New York Public Library's main branch at Bryant Park, and an event at Harvard Book Store that's being co-sponsored by Amnesty International, one of many groups Echols is working with to abolish the death penalty. He's been out for just over a year, but Echols is quickly making up for a lot of lost time.

Woods and Stone

Severe Clear, Stuart Woods's 50th novel and 24th entry in his thriller series featuring lawyer Stone Barrington, debuts at #7 on the Hardcover Fiction list. The ensemble cast includes such series fixtures as NYPD Lt. Dino Bacchetti and lawyer Herbie Fisher as well as leads from other Woods series, notably U.S. president Will Lee and Holly Barker of the CIA, who join forces to thwart a terrorist attack on the Arrington, the palatial new Bel-Air hotel named for Stone's late wife, Arrington Carter.

Unnatural Acts, the 23rd Stone Barrington novel, appeared earlier this year. The 25th, Collateral Damage, is due in December. Putnam has also recently reissued Woods's first book, Blue Water, Green Skipper: A Memoir of Sailing Alone Across the Atlantic, originally published in 1977.

Nearly every Stone Barrington novel opened with Stone and friends dining at Elaine's, the Manhattan restaurant whose proprietor, Elaine Kaufman, turned the place into a hangout for George Plimpton, Woody Allen, Michael Caine, and many other celebrities. The restaurant survived the demise of Elaine Kaufman in late 2010 by less than six months. Stone and friends mourned the passing of both in Unnatural Acts, whose jacket depicts the restaurant with a "closed" sign on its front door.

—Peter Cannon

Ken Follett's Excellent Following

Ken Follett's Winter of the World, the second book in his Century trilogy, knocks Lee Child out of the #1 spot on the Hardcover Fiction list in its first week, resolutely eschewing "middle book" syndrome. Fall of Giants, the book that started the trilogy in 2010, also debuted at #1 and has to date sold over 600,000 copies in hardcover, trade paper, and mass market combined (in outlets tracked by Nielsen BookScan). Winter of the World sold 86,000 hardcover copies in its first week; the first printing was 630,000 and, unlike Fall of Giants, which went on sale across the world the same day, the new book is not getting a worldwide one-day laydown because, according to Dutton publicist Christine Ball, Follett "wanted to be able to promote in as many countries as possible and as close to their publication dates as possible." PW called Winter of the World "masterfully conceived" and "just as potent, engrossing, and prolix" as the first book in the series.—Mike Harkvey

According to Boyle

Perennial rock 'n' roller Boyle almost always delivers a book a year, and never disappoints. Imagining historical characters, like the cereal giant Kellogg, in Road to Wellville, or contemporary situations, like the Alaska commune in Drop City, or sociopolitical issues, like the controversial Tortilla Curtain, about illegal Mexican immigration in California (a book that's sold to date almost a quarter of a million copies), Boyle delivers page-turners in rollicking prose. With San Miguel sneaking onto our list this week at #24, his tour should send the book soaring up the list. Holly Watson of Viking reports that hundreds have appreared in Tulsa, Okla.; Seattle; Santa Rosa, Calif.; and the National Book Festival in D.C. Boyle puts on quite a show (we've seen him at the L.A. Festival of the Book) and writes a mean story to back up the pyrotechnics. With San Miguel, set on the island of the same name off the coast of California, Boyle deals with one of his favorite subjects—the environment—though, in his words, "not directly." —Louisa Ermelino

Notes from Underground

Debuting at #6 on the Nonfiction Hardcover list, acclaimed novelist Salman Rushdie's memoir Joseph Anton details his stranger-than-fiction experiences after receiving the Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa in 1989 for his novel Satanic Verses. Accused of a crime "against Islam, the Prophet, and the Qur'an," Rushdie lived in hiding for nine years, with constant police protection. During these precarious years Rushdie relied on the grace of those who housed and hid him, as well as the booksellers and publishers who continued to champion his work. Currently the distinguished writer-in-residence at Emory University, Rushdie helped found the influential PEN World Voices International Literary Festival, for which he still serves as c1hairman. The film version of Midnight's Children (named the "Best of the Booker") recently premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. —Jessamine Chan

Heavy Hitters Make the Grade

In September, children's publishers tend to bring out new fiction from some of their biggest names, so many of those books hit the bestsellers list all at once. A glance at this week's children's frontlist fiction rankings shows five such titles in the top 25. Bestselling thriller writer Harlan Coben's Seconds Away is a sequel to Shelter, his YA debut from 2011, starring Mickey Bolitar, the nephew of Coben's character Myron Bolitar, who has his own series for adults. Former Atlanta Falcon Tim Green is back with another in his line of football-themed middle-grade novels, this one called Unstoppable. The Raven Boys, a supernatural romance, launches a new young adult series from Maggie Stiefvater, known for her Shiver trilogy and her Printz Honor winner, The Scorpio Races. Ellen Hopkins, whose gritty novels-in-verse are extremely popular among teen readers, offers the stand-alone Tilt, a YA retelling of her adult novel, Triangles. And The Diviners, Libba Bray's latest YA novel, marks the beginning of more to come in a paranormal series set in New York City in the 1920s—and helps get autumn off to a roaring start.—Carolyn Juris