Take a guess (without peeking) which book soared to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list this week. The Girl on the Train? The latest from James Patterson? Erik Larson’s gripping narrative about the sinking of the Lusitania?
Nope. The hottest seller on Amazon is a financial advice book by an economics professor and two journalists—Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security. The surging demand for the book stems from two factors: the complexity of Social Security benefits and the swelling tide of aging Americans, all determined to “get what’s coming to them,” in other words, the most they can possibly collect in Social Security benefits.
The book’s three co-authors packed its 300-plus pages with crucial strategies to follow, details on when to begin taking benefits, advice for the married, the divorced and the widowed, and helpful lists like “25 Bad-News Gotchas That Can Reduce Your Benefits Forever.” All three authors have credentials to back up their recommendations: Laurence J. Kotlikoff is a professor of economics at Boston University, Philip Moeller is an award-winning financial journalist and Paul Solman is economics correspondent for “PBS NewsHour.”
The idea for the book sprang from a chat between tennis buddies Larry (Kotlikoff) and Paul (Solman). As recounted in the book’s first chapter, Solman thought he had a solid plan for maximizing benefits for himself and his wife. But Kotlikoff suggested a different route (taking spousal benefits), which eventually led to almost $50,000 in extra benefits for the couple. Shouldn’t everyone have a chance to do what Paul and his wife did? Why, yes, they should, the authors argue, and that’s why they set out to share what they’ve learned about Social Security and its arcane rules.
Though the hardcover edition of Get What’s Yours is currently sold out on Amazon, it’s still in stock at some other vendors; eBook and audio versions are also available.
If you tried to buy a copy of Pioneer Girl but couldn’t get the book in time for the holiday gift-giving season, you’re not alone. Demand for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s real-life story of growing up on the prairie outstripped supply, according to the book’s publisher, the South Dakota Historical Society Press. All major online book retailers currently list the autobiography as “out of stock.”
“We anticipated high demand, but sales of Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography have outpaced the most optimistic pre-publication estimates,” SDHSP marketing director Jennifer E. McIntyre tells BookPage. “We attribute this to continuing publicity, well-placed advertising and enthusiastic reviews. The South Dakota Historical Society Press is temporarily out of stock but will begin shipping again in mid-January.“
Wilder wrote the autobiography in 1929-30, but was unable to sell it to a publisher. She later adapted much of the material from the book for her fictional Little House series, which became a beloved literary phenomenon. Pioneer Girl was finally published for the first time in November, in a beautifully illustrated and meticulously annotated edition, edited by Wilder biographer Pamela Smith Hill. The book received glowing reviews from numerous national publications, including BookPage.
McIntyre advises readers to check www.pioneergirlproject.org for updates on the book’s availability.
Karen Trotter Elley has always been a writer, turning her everyday experiences into inspirational essays that have appeared in many magazines and newspapers. She has also tried her hand at writing books, in genres ranging from inspirational stories for children to paranormal romance. Formerly a production designer at BookPage, Karen has been able to devote more of her time to writing since retiring in 2011, and is now working on a memoir.
Much of Karen’s writing deals with inspiration, faith and motivation, so we weren’t surprised to learn that one of her essays has been selected for inclusion in a new Chicken Soup for the Soul collection: Touched by an Angel. This uplifting volume includes “101 Miraculous Stories of Faith, Divine Intervention, and Answered Prayers.” In powerful stories, various contributors describe being touched by strangely coincidental reminders of friends and family who have died, receiving “urgent but gentle” commands from unseen voices or finding solace in final gifts from loved ones.
In a Behind the Book essay, Karen describes for BookPage readers how pluck and persistence (and maybe a little divine intervention!) helped her achieve her goal of becoming a published author. Any aspiring writer who’s struggling with rejection notices and unreturned calls will want to check out Karen’s inspiring story here.
For many writers, especially the authors of memoirs, it can be hard to predict where and how readers will make the strongest connection to their stories. For Richard Blanco, whose The Prince of los Cocuyos is one of our favorite memoirs of 2014, the part of his book that seems to be attracting the most attention is especially surprising: It involves a can of Easy Cheese.
Growing up in Miami in a family of Cuban immigrants, little Ricky Blanco accompanied his cantankerous abuela (grandmother) to Winn-Dixie, a rare incursion onto the turf of los americanos. Blanco yearned to fit in with his American schoolmates, so he asked his abuela to buy a can of that uniquely American food, Easy Cheese. ("What? Queso en una lata? she questioned, unable to fathom the idea of cheese in a can. But I could tell from the tone of her voice that she was intrigued.") We won't spoil the story by telling you what happened next, but it's clear that the anecdote is making an impression on readers.
Blanco, the inaugural poet at President Obama's second inauguration in 2012, recently began a tour to promote The Prince of los Cocuyos. During one of his first stops, at Brookline Brooksmith in Massachusetts, a reader presented him with a very special gift—you guessed it: a can of Easy Cheese.
Will the gifts become a trend? No Easy Cheese was evident during Blanco's weekend appearance at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, but we have a feeling that Blanco might end up with a lifetime supply of canned cheese before his book tour is over.
To learn more about Blanco and his tender and keenly observed coming-of-age memoir, check out our Q&A with the author.
Sunday, August 24 will mark the 200th anniversary of the night British troops set fire to the White House, the only time other than 9/11 when the U.S. capital city sustained a direct attack. First Lady Dolley Madison had fled the building just hours before the redcoats arrived, famously exclaiming "Save that painting!" and ordering that a precious Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington be removed from the wall and carted off to safety, along with the red velvet curtains from the White House drawing room.
British journalist Peter Snow gives a stirring account of that fateful night, as well as the days before and after, in When Britain Burned the White House: The 1814 Invasion of Washington. The book was published in the U.K. last year to glowing reviews and was released this week in the U.S. by Thomas Dunne Books.
Snow keeps the action moving and adds immediacy by citing the letters, diaries and other accounts of those who witnessed (or participated in) the attack. As the British advanced, Americans on horseback sounded the alarm to the fearful residents of Washington, D.C. "Fly, fly! The ruffians are at hand. If you cannot get away yourselves, for God's sake send off your wives and daughters, for the ruffians are at hand." Under the command of Admiral George Cockburn and Major General Robert Ross, British invaders set fire not only to the White House, but to the U.S. Capitol building as well. "Never shall I forget my tortured feelings," one resident recalled, "when I beheld that noble edifice wrapt in flames, which . . . filled all the saddened night with a dismal gloom."
If you've always been a bit hazy about what led to the War of 1812 (and why it was still going on two years later), Snow's excellent account of these crucial events in U.S. history will sharpen your understanding—and make you surprised and grateful that the U.S. today counts Britain among its staunchest allies.
The book currently near the top of Amazon's Movers and Shakers list is one you may not have heard about — and we hadn't either, until today.
The surprise title is The Most Dangerous Animal of All, which had been kept under wraps by publisher HarperCollins until today's release date. Author Gary L. Stewart, writing with co-author Susan Mustafa, asserts that a search for his biological father led to a disturbing conclusion: Stewart's father was the notorious Zodiac Killer, who murdered at least seven people in an unsolved crime spree in Northern California in the 1960s and 1970s. The killer's murderous rampage inspired the 2007 David Fincher film Zodiac, as well as several documentaries. While many suspects have been mentioned, no conclusive proof of the killer's identity has ever emerged.
A HarperCollins spokesperson told New York magazine that the book had been vetted by company lawyers who concluded it was "legally sound." The company says Stewart, who was adopted and now lives in Baton Rouge, began his search for his father at the age of 39 after his birth mother contacted him for the first time.
Expect much controversy in the coming weeks as experts on the mysterious case debate the merits of Stewart's evidence.
This fall, Jesmyn Ward followed up her 2011 National Book Award-winning novel Salvage the Bones with Men We Reaped, a poignant memoir in which she reflects upon the untimely deaths of five men in her life over the course of five years. Our reviewer calls the book—which came in at #4 in our list of the Best Books of 2013—"searingly honest and brutal." (Read our full review here.) We were curious about the books Ward has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites. She graciously agreed, sharing four recommendations, in fact:
SON OF A GUN By Justin St. Germain
Justin St. Germain’s memoir Son of a Gun has stuck with me like few other books this year. He and I have both written about our losses, to understand them better, and so others will, too. Although the circumstances are quite different, we bonded over these shared experiences. Justin tragically lost his mother to murder, in 2001, just after the World Trade Centers came down. She was shot by Justin’s step-father, his mother’s fifth husband. I remember that time clearly: a whole nation suffering from grief. I had recently lost my brother, so spent those days doubly reeling, as did Justin. We both began our books as Stegner Fellows and spent time talking about how to approach these challenging topics. Son of a Gun is not a who-done-it, and it’s more than simply a memoir of loss, although that would be enough. Justin looks at the wider context of guns and violence in the United States, particularly in the West, where he’s from. And he examines the terrible plight of women who are victims of domestic violence. In his careful telling, Justin helps us all understand not only his mother but the culture of violence that leads to stories like these.
THRALL: POEMS By Natasha Trethewey
I am a new mother and I teach, so poetry, which I’ve always loved, has real appeal for pleasure reading. Natasha Trethewey’s Thrall is among my recent favorites. Natasha was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, not far from where I grew up, and she and I have tread some similar terrain in our work, too, about race and history, complicated family, the South, but she does it with so much elegance! Her use of imagery, the precision and grace of her language, the overall craft of her work. She is rightly our Poet Laureate.
As part of our Best Books of 2013 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
On April 9, 1959, the world was introduced to the Mercury Seven—instantly turning America’s first astronauts into mega-celebrities. Along for the ride were their wives, swept up in a whirlwind of swanky parties, LIFE magazine photo shoots, even tea with Jackie Kennedy. Lily Koppel turns the spotlight on these women, interviewing more than 30 of them to craft a fascinating and touching account of the good, the bad and the ugly of their extraordinary lives.
Remember the days when "snail mail" was just, well, plain ol' mail? Simon Garfield's new book, To the Letter, is a timely ode to the art of letter writing, which is quickly on its way out of practice, thanks to the advent of all things digital. As Garfield explains it, “It is a book about what we have lost by replacing letters with email—the post, the envelope, a pen, a slower, cerebral whirring, the use of the whole of our hands and not just the tips of our fingers.”
Bookworms and lovers of the written word will especially enjoy Garfield's exploration of letters by authors such as Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Lewis Carroll and Virginia Woolf. The book also includes photographs of especially quirky or historically important letters—and yes, even the love letter gets some attention.
Watch the trailer below and get inspired to dig out your stationery:
Do any of you keep up with letter writing? Interested in reading To the Letter?
Do you find yourself compulsively re-watching Rushmore, The Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Life Aquatic? Is your go-to Halloween costume a member of the Tenenbaums? If so, The Wes Anderson Collection is definitely a book for you.
Written by Dallas film critic Matt Zoller Seitz, who has been following Anderson's work since his film debut in 1993 with the 12-minute short Bottle Rocket, this book is brimming with candid conversations between Seitz and Anderson, details on his creative process, charming original artwork by Max Dalton and stills from each of his films. Seitz calls this book “a tour of an artist’s mind, with the artist as guide and amiable companion.”
Check out the fantastically made book trailer (in the visual style of Mr. Anderson, naturally) from Abrams:
We know there are plenty of Wes Anderson fans out there! Does this look like a worthy Christmas gift for anyone on your list?