Monday, November 24, 2008

Vive La France, Part Deux

This week we received word that Europa, the little publisher that could, has gone back to press for 20,000 more copies of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, bringing the total up to 65,000 copies. Europa publisher Kent Carroll (you may recognize his name from the old imprint Carroll and Graf) states “Given the current economic climate, the book’s growing popularity is remarkable. It now appears that it may duplicate here its European pattern of growth from modest to phenomenal.” Quel magnifique!

When our “Inside Flap” blog featured a report from Paul Schmidtberger on what was selling in France last year, I never suspected that one of those titles would be a runaway bestseller for us in the fall of 2008. We have fallen for this gem as much as France, and it’s clearly one of the cornerstones of our French Revolution of 2008.

We recently sent an email newsletter with various booksellers waxing about the charms of Barbery’s novel, and you’ll find it featured in our Holiday Gift Guide’s centerfold as one of our favorite fiction titles of 2008. I’ve taken to calling it “L’Elégance du Hérisson” but my accent is a bit Hercule Poirot (Sacre bleu!) and is not taken seriously.

What of Kent Carroll’s contention that this book could jump from indie favorite to mainstream American phenomenon? Would the stylized cover work in mass merchants? We love the philosophical discussions of the characters, the appreciation for Japanese design esthetic, the subtle pokes at class consciousness, and the ending (no, I won’t give it away) that veers the story away from the sentimental. Can this resonate with the American mainstream? The answer from Europa is a qualified yes.

Europa’s success was just what they were hoping for when they moved their distribution to Penguin. Their paperback sales force, under the guidance of the incomparable Trish Weyenberg, has become well-know for creating paperback breakout bestsellers of The Kite Runner, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter and The Friday Night Knitting Club. To me, it seems comparable to the higher profile that NYRB classics had after moving distribution to Random House. Last year, our bookshop had enormous selling John Williams’ Stoner and Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado.

This year our hopes are pinned on a reissue of classic Daphne Du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now, led by Schwartz Bookshop buyer Catherine Wallberg, who called Du Maurier “a phenomenal talent.” She’s also been very hot on Justine Picardie’s Daphne, a novel about Du Maurier’s obsession with the Brontes. So you could say Wallberg is obsessed with Picardie who is obsessed with Du Maurier, who is obsessed with the Brontes.

Catherine was also our original cheerleader for Elegance of the Hedgehog. So what does she think of Europa’s attempt to duplicate their success in 2009 with another French-Japanese mashup, the novel Tokyo Fiancee? She replied in classic bookseller fashion, “I’m waiting for the reads.”

More about Europa Editions and their French Voices program here.

Next Up: a wonderful book on thankfulness that did not quite take off in paperback the way we expected.

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