Working at BookPage has a lot of perks, but one of the best, in my opinion, is getting to look at and read great new books before they're even in the stores. This fall will see the publication of plenty of nonfiction sure-to-be-bestsellers. Here are some of the season's highlights:
Laura Hillenbrand, author of the blockbuster hit Seabiscuit, returns on November 16 with a story of adventure and survival during World War II. Unbroken follows young bombardier Louis Zamperini through his incredible ordeal after his plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Hillenbrand's long-awaited follow-up to Seabiscuit will not disappoint her legions of fans.
Several excellent new biographies will hit shelves this fall, including Ron Chernow's Washington: A Life (Oct. 5); Jane Leavy's The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood (Oct. 12); Michael Korda's Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia (Nov. 16); and the Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1, which goes on sale Nov. 15. Twain left instructions that his memoirs should remain unpublished for 100 years after his death, so that he could feel free to speak his mind frankly. Who knows what revelations those pages might contain?
In other nonfiction news, Bill Bryson is back this season with At Home: A Short History of Private Life (Oct. 5), in which Bryson narrows his focus from A Short History of Nearly Everything to the confines of his own house, while Simon Winchester's Atlantic (Nov. 2) calls itself a "biography" of the Atlantic Ocean, weaving in both historical facts and personal details from Winchester's own experiences at sea. And on Oct. 26, Oliver Sacks (Musicophilia) treads new ground with The Mind's Eye, a collection of essays on the interplay between vision and recognition, reading and communication, and other brainteasers, including Sacks' reflections on his own experience with eye cancer.
And finally, for those looking for a lighter read, Nora Ephron once more taps into the thoughts and concerns of "women of a certain age" with I Remember Nothing (Nov. 9), a follow-up to the major bestseller I Feel Bad About My Neck, while Vicki Myron returns to the subject of her beloved "small-town library cat" with Dewey's Nine Lives (Oct. 12), a collection of stories about and inspired by Dewey.
With so many excellent books to choose from, which one will you read first?
Admit it: there's at least one fail-proof cue out there that is guaranteed to get you to pick up a book. A time period, a cover image, a setting, a theme—everyone has a trigger. Sometimes the book delivers, sometimes it doesn't, but either way you're going to at least give it a try.
Paging through the Crown catalog turned up one for me—A Man in Uniform, which goes on sale December 28. It set off the following alarms:
The next few months will bring two books inspired by the life and work of a long-dead French essayist. The first is a straight biography: in How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (Other Press), Sarah Blackwell takes on the literary giant's major question—How to live?—and answers it in 20 different ways based on his work.
Well educated and wealthy, Montaigne retired from society for a long period following the deaths of a daughter (one of six), his brother, his father and a close friend. It was then that he composed his essays in an attempt to understand himself and the world. The witty, intelligent writings had instant appeal and are full of quotable quotes that are still familiar today, such as the title of the second Montaigne biography, When I Am Playing with My Cat, How Do I Know that She Is Not Playing With Me? (Pantheon), coming in March.
Have you read Montaigne? Are you interested?
While many of us think of the summer months as prime reading season, publishers tend to save plenty of their sure-to-be fiction hits for fall. And this year’s crop of late 2010 novels is certainly no different.
Our September issue has already gone to press, and we are particularly excited about our interviews with Jonathan Franzen and Emma Donoghue. Franzen’s Freedom and Donoghue’s Room are two of the most talked-about upcoming releases, and we can’t wait to see what readers make of them once they go on sale in the coming weeks (for Freedom, that’s August 31 and Room, September 13).
September also marks the release of Sara Gruen’s follow-up to the smash hit Water for Elephants, Ape House, (Sept. 7), Ken Follett’s first part in a new trilogy, Fall of Giants (Sept. 28), another love story from Nicholas Sparks, Safe Haven (Sept. 14) and Michael Cunningham’s first novel since Specimen Days, By Nightfall (Sept. 28).
But things don’t slow down in October. Nicole Krauss is back (after The History of Love) with Great House on Oct. 12 (be sure to check out our interview with Krauss in the October issue of BookPage) and John le Carré returns with Our Kind of Traitor (also on sale Oct. 12).
In November, we’re excited about a new—and very dark—story collection from Stephen King, Full Dark, No Stars (on sale Nov. 9) and Dennis Lehane’s follow up to Gone, Baby, Gone, Moonlight Mile (on sale Nov. 2).
If courtroom dramas and thrillers are your cup of tea, you are certainly in luck this fall. Vince Flynn, John Grisham, Lee Child, David Baldacci, Patricia Cornwell, James Patterson, Tom Clancy and Steve Berry all have new releases in the coming months.
So as the kids go back to school and the leaves change from green to red, be sure to pick up one of these new novels. You won’t be disappointed!
BookPage contributor Alden Mudge talked to Jonathan Franzen about his new novel, Freedom, in an interview scheduled for our September issue. As we count down the days until the novel's August 31 release, take a sneak peek at their conversation—and find a compelling argument for seeing the author on the road—below.
During my 2001 interview with Jonathan Franzen about his novel The Corrections, he spoke at length about how much he enjoyed doing public readings and the careful preparations he made to ensure that his readings were good events. This was just before the overblown contretemps with Oprah, after which at least some people judged Franzen to be an arrogant literary elitist (and therefore not interested in his readers) or a fool who was turning down a chance to broadcast his views to a wider audience (and who was, therefore, surely not interested in his readers).
When I interviewed Franzen about his new novel Freedom, despite a small dark urge, I did not bring the Oprah thing up. True, the controversy still lives vividly in the eternal archives of the internet. But it is really old, old, old news. And it is news (or should we call it ‘olds’ now?) that is simply dwarfed by Franzen’s achievements in Freedom.
To promote the new book Franzen will be doing an extensive book tour, and he spoke again about how much he enjoys that:
“I never seem to tire of doing readings,” he said. “I like the signing line. Those are very energizing things, because you actually get to have brief contact with people who actually care about books. I’m sure lots of mean, nasty people go to readings. But they sure don’t show up in the signing line. It’s basically just a stream of nice people who care about books. It’s just really energizing to shake hands with them.”
Somewhat later in our conversation, he returned to thoughts about his upcoming book tour:
“I feel lucky to be doing an old fashioned book tour, partly because I know what’s happening in the industry. But also, my dad traveled a lot for his various jobs, was out on the road for a week or two or sometimes even three at a time. Staying in hotels, getting up in the morning and moving on to the next city is a way of connecting with something I was never able to experience directly with him. The real work of writing is sitting, is pretty solitary. You get in a pretty weird state and you feel like some freakish sick child. [A book tour] makes me feel like I have a job and there’s a place for me in the world.”
Jonathan Franzen is a writer with towering literary ambition, and his masterful new novel Freedom largely lives up to that ambition. My experience is that a conversation with him is filled with surprises. So I highly recommend going to one of his readings. And joining the signing line.
We're pretty sure the answer to this question is "no"—which is why we're sharing our very first invite to a twitter launch party with you.
Novak will be chatting about the book with fans using the hashtag #bnparty. Fans will have the chance to ask questions about Novak's work and win prizes—including an iPad.
Have you ever attended a twitter launch party? Will you drop by this one? Tell us in the comments!
Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas
HMH • $19.95 • September 1, 2010
I have been eager to read Scarlett Thomas' latest since I first heard about it back in March. As predicted, it's another book full of big ideas. This time Thomas' main focus is narrative—its limitations, restrictions and role in our lives—which she explores through the story of Meg, a would-be literary author who works as one of many ghostwriters for the Zeb Ross series of adventure novels.
Then again, perhaps it's wrong to call this a story, exactly. One of the many notions batted around in this philosophical novel is the idea of the "storyless story," a tale that refuses to follow the traditional narrative structure, and Our Tragic Universe can definitely be read as such. It's difficult to pull an excerpt from a book with so many threads—but in the one below, Meg is thinking about the ways in which tragedy is different from genre fiction.
Oedipus is an almost perfect example of the deterministic, cause-and-effect-based plot, where Y can only happen because I has happened first. . . . But every time I re-read it I marvelled at how a narrative could do so much more than just tell a satisfying story with a beginning, middle and an end, which was basically what I was always teaching the people on the retreat to do, and what I'd always done myself. Somehow, Oedipus seemed to dramatise a fundamental puzzle of human existence. Anna Karenina did this as well. So did Hamlet. . . . I could see that most narrative was an equation that balance, a zero-sum game, and that tragedy was special because you got more out of the equation that you put in, but I had no idea how to write like that. The mechanics of Oedipus were simple enough to grasp, but where did one get all that feeling from?
I'd once speculated about what would have happened if Zeb Ross had written Hamlet. There'd be no ghost, for a start. Or at least, the ghost would be reduced to a troubled teenager's hallucination, and Hamlet, with the help of his plucky love interest, Ophelia, would come to realise that his new stepfather didn't really do something as improbably and stupid as pour poison in his father's ear, and had in fact tried to save his life! Hamlet would start seeing a counsellor—perhaps Polonius, who dabbles in the self-help industry himself, would recommend someone—and come to terms with his bereavement and realise that it's OK for his mother to have sex with her new husband (although there'd be no 'rank sweat of an enseamed bed' or anything icky like that) and he'd go back to university happy, having now accepted the change in his family circumstances, with Ophelia in tow. Then I realised that if I'd written Hamlet it probably would have been like that too.
Some of you expressed strong opinions (mostly negative) when we posted about Katherine Heigl getting tapped to play Stephanie Plum in the film adaptation of Janet Evanovich's One for the Money. So we thought you'd be interested in this picture of Heigl on set, which we found via Jezebel.com.
What do you think? Anyone still pining for Sandra Bullock? Variety says that Sherri Shepard will play Lula, a choice we can definitely get behind.
Janet E. is also in the news these days for other reasons: She's currently renegotiating her contract with publisher St. Martin's Press. Reportedly Evanovich, who is represented by her son Peter, wants around $50 million for her next four "Plum" books, and St. Martin's is apparently not ready to pony up quite that much (the last four books in the series cost them about $40 million). Evanovich isn't saying much about the "private" details of the negotiation, but industry pros are wondering if she might take her fan base and self publish if she can't find a publisher ready to pay the asking price.
We've written about blurbs here on The Book Case before, most recently when our editor Lynn Green admitted that in spite of some skepticism, they led to her discover of A Mountain of Crumbs.
Very rarely, a few times in a lifetime, you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same. Walls have been pulled down, barriers broken, a dimension of feeling, of existence itself, has opened in you that was not there before. To the End of the Land is a book of this magnitude. David Grossman may be the most gifted writer I’ve ever read; gifted not just because of his imagination, his energy, his originality, but because he has access to the unutterable, because he can look inside a person and discover the unique essence of her humanity. For twenty-six years he has been writing novels about what it means to defend this essence, this unique light, against a world designed to extinguish it. To the End of the Land is his most powerful, shattering, and unflinching story of this defense. To read it is to have yourself taken apart, undone, touched at the place of your own essence; it is to be turned back, as if after a long absence, into a human being.
Whoa. Not only is this a bit . . . intense, one has to wonder if it caused any tension in the Krauss-Foer literary household. The Guardian notes that Grossman's story—"of an Israeli mother, Ora, who sets out for a hike in Galilee with her former lover in order to avoid the 'notifiers' who might tell her of her son's death in the army"—sounds interesting in its own right, and he's received many accolades for his past works for fiction and nonfiction. Still, as someone who's looking forward to Krauss' own October release, Great House, this recommendation, however effusive, does make me more inclined to pick up this 592-pager.
What about you? Does a blurb like this make you more or less likely to read the book?
Some of you were pretty psyched when we posted about Jan Karon's In the Company of Others back in April. So when the galley came in today's mailbag, I felt like I had to share the opening lines with you:
Sheets of rain lashed the windshield; the high beams of their hired car barely penetrated a summer twilight grown black as pitch. It was a classic Irish downpour.
The road had narrowed to a single lane scarcely wider than a sheep track and was bordered by dense hedges. He took Cynthia's hand; his wife's fear of being hemmed in was only slightly greater than his. Crammed into the rain-hammered Volvo with a carton of books and a testy driver and pressed on either side by the sullen hedges, he counted this very moment as the reason he was no traveler.
The flight from Atlanta to Dublin had lived up to his worst expectations. Following a delay of seven hours due to storms in the Atlanta area, the trip across the Pond had been an unnerving piece of business which shortened his temper and swelled his feet to ridiculous proportions. Then, onto a commuter flight to Sligo airport at Strandhill, where—and this was the final straw, or so he hoped—they met the antiquated vehicle that would take them to the lodge on Lough Arrow. When he located an online Sligo car service a month back and figured out how to dial the country code, hadn't he plainly said the trip would celebrate his wife's birthday as well as her first time in Ireland? Hadn't he specified a nice car?
Excerpt from In the Company of Others by Jan Karon, published October 19, 2010 by Viking Books.