Apostolos Doxiadis

BookExpo America 2009: The Big Books of the Show


There are so many “big books” being presented at the show this year, so many household name authors in every genre, that it couldn’t be a more exciting time for booksellers and booklovers. With so much uncertainty about the business of publishing and the winds of change in the industry, it’s a good time to focus on what BEA is all about: getting the word out about books. Although many wondered, “What’s going to happen when the tsunami of Dan Brown [The Lost Symbol, Doubleday, Sept.] hits the stores and takes over?,” it’s unlikely even Dan Brown can steal the thunder of the bounty to come.

And, according to Joe Drabyak, of Chester County Books in West Chester, Pa.: “I don’t think anybody’s going to make money on The Lost Symbol. For The Da Vinci Code he was embraced by the independents. We sold 2,800 hardcover copies. We were one of the stores that had him for a signing. It’s going to be like Harry Potter. Everybody’s going to have Dan Brown. I’m very concerned about the price war. Amazon is discounting it 48% and Barnes & Noble’s going to counter.”

Another overheard comment, positive this time, was that because there are so many strong lists from so many publishers, rather than the competition making sales more difficult, it will bring people into the stores.

“There are fabulous novels by William Trevor [Love and Summer, Viking, Sept.], A.S. Byatt [The Children’s Book, Knopf, Oct.] Margaret Atwood [The Year of the Flood, Doubleday/Talese, Sept.] and Dan Chaon [Await Your Reply, Ballantine, Aug.], said Sheryl Cotleur, buying director from Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif. “It’s as if all these authors jumped forward just when the publishing industry needed them. There’s also Paul Auster [Invisible, Holt, Oct.], Nicholson Baker [The Anthologist, Simon & Schuster, Sept.], Jeannette Walls [Half-Broke Horses, Scribner, Oct.] and Barbara Kingsolver [The Lacuna, Harper, Nov.]. For nonfiction, forthcoming are Malcolm Gladwell [What the Dog Saw, Little, Brown, Oct.], Rebecca Solnit (A Paradise Built in Hell, Viking, Aug.] and Diane Ackerman [Dawn Light, Norton, Sept.]. I was going through the catalogues just flipping out—not only who’s publishing but the quality. We couldn’t need it more.”

Dick Hermans, founder of Oblong Books in Milford, N.Y., is another happy bookseller. “Books will sell this holiday season. People realize buying books is the best investment you can make—14 hours for $25.” He added, joining the cacophony, “This fall is incredible. It’s going to be the best year ever.”

Mark Brumberg from the National Yiddish Book Center, Amherst, Mass., is “really looking forward to reading the new Nicholson Baker, billed as “a seductive meditation on poetry.”

Highly anticipated from Little Brown/Reagan Arthur in January is the sophomore effort from award-winner Joshua Ferris, The Unnamed, whose protagonist is a man who can’t stop walking. Michael Pietsch couldn’t stop talking about it at the autographing section and while he is the publisher, his enthusiasm went beyond business. Mary Ann Ryan, the owner of Ryan Books in New York City, has it high on her list. “Joshua Ferris’s first book [Then We Came to the End] was so great, I have high hopes for his second one.” Kelly Estep, a bookseller from Carmichael’s, Louisville, Ky. (and, incidentally, PW’s Bookseller of the Year) agreed: “His last book was so good, I can hardly wait to see what he’s doing next.”

Though the pre-BEA buzz was that the galleys would not be piled to the ceiling (this from PW’s own story), they seemed to be everywhere. There was some whining, but the publishers, in true sample sale mode, were staggering the distribution. And then there was Valerie Lewis from Hicklebee’s Books in San Jose, Calif., who was “so busy in meetings that I haven’t had time to get to the floor and look for galleys.” Hicklebee’s sent eight employees, who were all having a good time seeing people. “It’s like old home week around here,” she said.

Lea Albert from Cat’s Meow in Arizona confirmed that he was having no problems finding galleys. “This year’s show seems at least as busy as L.A. and the last one in New York.” And his thoughts on what’s hot? His bet is the Jonathan Lethem book, Chronic City (Doubleday, Oct.), and Level 26 (Penguin, Sept.) by the creator of the TV hit C.S.I., Anthony E. Zuiker, which the publisher describes as “an industry-redefining multi-platform media property, a “Digi Novel” with codes embedded that will lead to videos on a Web site.” A bookseller from Annapolis Bookstore was on the same page: “The digi-novel isn’t to my taste, exactly, but I think it’s going to be hot.”

As for graphic novels, two of them felt like the most exciting books at the show. Logicomix from Bloomsbury (Oct.), a bio of Bertrand Russell, and a star of the Book Buzz panel, Stitches (Norton, Sept.) by David Small, the award-winning children’s illustrator. This memoir of his traumatic childhood is a masterpiece, with striking art and a story that will tear you apart. Norton asked the author to send a copy to his brother, from whom he was estranged for years. As a result of the book, the brothers have reunited. The power of art!

Happy by Alex Lemon (Jan. 2010, Scribner) was another Book Buzz standout. “An amazing story,” said Bill Cusumano of Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, Mich. “Lemon was a hard-partying student at Macalester College when he had his first stroke at age 19. He teaches at Macalester now, and his biggest battle is with himself. This book really hits you in the gut. It’s what James Frey meant to do, but Lemon didn’t make it up.”

Terry Lucas, the owner of Open Book in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., was all about the new Pat Conroy book, South of Broad (Doubleday/Talese, Sept.) This one’s a family saga set in Charleston, covering two decades, starting in the 1960s. “I love Pat Conroy. He hasn’t written anything in a long time and he’s a beautiful writer,” Lucas said.

Don Harary, owner of Euclid Books in Los Angeles, is “really excited” about Pete Dexter’s new book, Spooner [Grand Central, Sept.]. George Baker, who owns Sawtooth Books, Boise, Idaho, is also jazzed about Spooner: “You can’t go wrong with anything Pete Dexter writes.” This one’s about a troubled childhood and adolescence that leads to a violent and troubled adulthood.

Tom Lowenburg, who owns Octavia Books in New Orleans, said, “I’m really excited to read anything Richard Russo writes. I’ve heard That Old Cape Magic is good, and that it’s different from the other ones. Russo has such an ear for humor. Of course, his books aren’t humor books, but I’ve heard this new one really taps into his sense of humor.”

Dwayne Richard, the owner of Mizzou Books, Scottsdale, Ariz., is all over Michael Connelly. “He always sells well for me, and so does James Patterson, both his adult books and his YA books. They draw the same audience into my store.” A special edition of Connelly’s The Scarecrow was handed out with a teaser inside for the forthcoming Nine Dragons (Little, Brown, Oct.), and James Patterson had a massive double galley that included I, Alex Cross (Nov.) and Alex Cross’s Trial (written with Richard Dilallo), due out in August from Little, Brown).

Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You (Dutton, Aug.) is the first pick for Larry Dunphy of Books on First in Dixon, Ill. The story of a family forced to spend time together when their father’s last request is that they sit shiva appeals to him since “it sounds like a dysfunctional family that everyone can relate to.”

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s new translation (by Breon Mitchell) of Gunter Grass’s classic The Tin Drum is generating buzz, and Margaret Drabble’s memoir, The Pattern in the Carpet. HMH’s big giveaways were The Big Burn by Timothy Egan (Oct.), about the seminal forest fire that led to America’s idea of conservation and How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood by William J. Mann (Oct.), which sports a drop-dead cover photo.

Summing it up, off the record, one of the most powerful women in publishing said: “There’s something for everyone in the seasons to come. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

From her lips to God’s ears.

Read the article at the Publishers Weekly website here.

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