Superheroes Battle Up the Charts

Two graphic novels set in the colorful world of superheroes burst onto the charts this week: Superman: Earth One, Vol. 2 by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis at #18 and Avengers vs. X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis and a team of collaborators at #21.

Superman: Earth One, Vol. 2 is the follow-up to 2010’s bestselling Vol. 1, which has sold 39,783 copies to date. Straczynski has imagined a younger, fresher version of Superman’s origin story more suited to the Twilight generation than grizzled comics veterans. In this book, a new-to-Metropolis Clark Kent is exploring his career and discovering romance. “He has to focus in on his own part in that world,” Straczynski told MTV. “He’s always kind of hidden from the world, from life—now he has to actively engage it in ways far more extensive than anything he might have previously imagined, and that’s a real challenge for him.”
Avengers vs. X-Men or AvX, as it was known among fans, was a sprawling event that preoccupied Marvel’s two mega-teams for the better part of a year. The story line, conjured by Marvel’s top writers but mostly penned by Bendis, features the return of the Phoenix force, a far-too-powerful-for-any-mortals force that once inhabited Jean Grey, beloved of X-Men leader Cyclops. The resulting clash interweaves some 40 years of comic book history with such massively popular characters as the Hulk and Wolverine in a huge battle that ends with several major characters dead—or as dead as any comic book character can be. The present volume collects not only the 12-issue miniseries but the six-issue AvX: VS, which features nothing but fights, MMA style, and the AvX Infinite comics originally available in digital form. At more than 800 pages, it’s the War and Peace of superheroes—minus the peace.—Heidi MacDonald

Seeing Things

Amateur pharmacologists, wannabe Ken Keseys, curious stoners, and—yes—scientists and lay folk alike have been flocking to bookstores this past week to pick up Oliver Sacks’s newest; in our review, we call it “a fascinating exploration of neuropsychiatric weirdness.” Hallucinations debuts at #16 on our Hardcover Nonfiction list.

If he weren’t a respected doctor and professor (currently of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine), those unfamiliar with his work might think it was the stuff of fantasy, science fiction, or perhaps grim parable: in 2007’s Musicophilia, Sacks alighted on the tragic life of Clive Wearing, a British composer who suffers from retrograde and anterograde amnesia—he cannot remember the past, and he cannot create new memories. He does, however, remember his wife, and he can still somehow play the piano—beautifully. In 1985’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, the physician profiled—among other bizarre cases—twin autistic savants who are able to spontaneously identify fantastically large prime numbers. Both of those books have done extremely well: combined hardcover and trade paper sales for each number in the hundreds of thousands—not too shabby for a couple of science books. Knopf publicist Lena Khidritskaya attributes their success to Sacks’s penchant for “deliver[ing] scientific knowledge by describing—always with deep respect—stories of what real people are going through.” Storytelling is this doctor’s spoonful of sugar. Like its predecessors, Hallucinations showcases Dr. Sacks’s enthusiasm for the strange science behind exceptional experiences: the blind woman seeing falling snow and all manner of vibrantly dressed folk has Charles Bonnet Syndrome, a condition wherein the brain makes up for missing sensory information with elaborate visuals. And that man having a conversation with a spider about Bertrand Russell—that’s Sacks himself, and drugs are to blame for that far-fetched (though given the topic of discussion, possibly illuminating) tête-à-tête. Hallucinations is shaping up to be a great trip.—Samuel R. Slaton

Nate Silver’s America

Silver, the number-crunching savant who founded the FiveThirtyEight blog, hosted by the New York Times, had a good week. Though he was trashed by the right-wing media for concluding that President Obama’s chances of winning a second term were near 80% (and desperately embraced by the hopeful Left for the same reason), his calculations as to the final electoral vote count were dead on. He didn’t miss a thing (though Jon Stewart, after the election, chided him for “missing the senate race in North Dakota”). Of course, Silver also has a book out—his first, The Signal and the Noise, about why predictions often fail but sometimes don’t. He’s now America’s expert on that subject. One might think that his book—which, in the week of the election, showed a 144% increase in print sales—trended better in blue states and American cities than in the heartland. That prediction would be wrong. Nielsen’s geographic breakdown reveals that his sales at least doubled in all eight geographic regions (tripling in the East North Central). Most surprisingly, the breakdown of sales in City, Suburb, and Rural went 2,437, 2,697, 2,278. Paul Ryan last week blamed the election on “high urban turnout.” But with the rural population in the U.S. being only 21%, such a strong rural turnout for Silver’s book in the week he was crowned king of numbers might reveal something else. Maybe Paul Ryan needs a copy.Silver’s book is #7 on our Nonfiction Hardcover list this week. —Michael Coffey

Taylor’s Tour Tales

On Election Day, Little, Brown released Days of Blood & Starlight, Laini Taylor’s sequel to Daughter of Smoke & Bone, with much fanfare. That day, Taylor began a seven-city tour, with a simultaneous blog tour designed to drum up interest in her new romantic YA fantasy while keeping the plot a mystery. The blog tour’s unusual format entails each blogger selecting a random page from the novel, after which the author chose a quote from each selected page. Taylor then provided insight into what was going on in the story at that point, as well as her writing process. “We didn’t want to reveal too much of the novel on the blog tour—we wanted readers to discover it organically,” Taylor told PW. “It’s fun to do it this way, as opposed to answering interview questions, which can be repetitive. Another aspect of Taylor’s live tour was a raffle, at each event, of a piece of jewelry based on the books, designed and manufactured by Cadsawan. Taylor will donate 100% of her proceeds on sales of the jewelry collection through January 31, 2013, to the Red Cross’s Hurricane Sandy relief effort. With her tour just concluded, she’s now writing the conclusion to her trilogy, which is scheduled for April 2014 release. —Sally Lodge

Kingsolver Takes Off

Flight Behavior hits at #3 on our Fiction Hardcover list with debut-week numbers (over 20,000 ) indicating that Kingsolver’s latest is on its way to racking up the hundreds of thousands of copies in sales that publisher HarperCollins is used to getting from this consistently well-received and popular author. Kingsolver is eminently readable and equally laudable (The Lacuna won the Orange Prize; The Poisonwood Bible was nominated for the Pulitzer); as we go to press, she is in San Francisco with HC publicist Jane Beirn, who reports that the crowds on her tour have been “huge and enthusiastic.” Flight Behavior takes on environmental issues and climate change through a rural woman who leads a life of quiet desperation on her failing farm until she discovers a lake of fire in a serene valley, her vision triggering religious, scientific, and political elements that pull her into the larger world. Beirn also notes that the “unfortunate coincidence of Hurricane Sandy gave the book an added timeliness.”—Louisa Ermelino

Keep Your Brain Young

Can you think your way to a better, healthier life? Entering the Nonfiction Hardcover list at #20 is Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being, the latest from bestselling author and physician Deepak Chopra, teaming with Harvard Medical School professor Rudolph E. Tanzi (coauthor of Decoding Darkness: The Search for the Genetic Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease and director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital). Combining science and spirituality, the book promises to help readers train their brains to overcome “memory loss, depression, anxiety, and weight gain” through “increased self-awareness and conscious intention.” By unpacking myths in what PW called “a fascinating treatise,” the authors suggest that “the brain’s limitations are imposed by us, not by its physical shortcomings.” Promotional appearances have included interviews on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday and CNN (with Sanjay Gupta). In addition, the authors are working hard to promote the book through social media, including a free course download; Super Brain inspiration quotes and infographics; numerous blog posts; and videos.—Jessamine Chan