Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Too Many Lincolns

It wasn't too far into the winter 2009 buying season that we realized there were a lot of Lincoln books coming out for the 200th anniversary of his birth. More than that, many of them were high profile, with big expectations.

It becomes harder for a book to break out. The books wind up getting reviewed as together as roundups. William Safire in The New York Times Book Review grouped together six separate Lincoln books. Though it made the cover of the section, the titles didn't get listed, almost nullifying their impact.

The Chicago Tribune went two better; there are fully eight Lincoln books reviewed together in their Saturday book section. And that doesn't mean there are only eight Lincoln books of note in the heap. Our buyer Jason's pick, In Lincoln's Hand: His Original Manuscripts With Commentary by Distinguished Americans, didn't show up on the Tribune list.

It was, however, featured on a nice segment on CBS Sunday Morning.

In the end, there's another problem confronting new Lincoln titles. It's that Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, is currently the de facto book to read about Lincoln, riding the wave of interest after being cited as an vital book to both Obama and McCain in the last election.

Here are our top 10 Lincoln books since January 1st through February 8:
1. Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
2. Manhunt, by James Swanson
5. Chasing Lincoln's Killer, by James Swanson (a kid's version of the popular Manhunt)
6. Abe's Honest Words, by Doreen Rappaport (another book for kids)
7. In Lincoln's Hand, edited by Harold Holzer
8. A. Lincoln, by Ronald C. White
10. Tried by War, by James M. McPherson, released last fall.

McPherson appears with two books on the list, and a strong recommendation for a third, the Ronald White biography. His credentials are built by his mammoth bestseller, Battle Cry of Freedom, which is still a steady seller in many bookshops.

Janet Maslin reviewed 1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History, by Charles Bracelen Flood in The New York Times. Perhaps this will help another Lincoln book break out of the pack.

My pick? Andrew Ferguson's Land of Lincoln. Mostly because it was very funny.

Let's see what happens with the Darwin books for his anniversary. There are far fewer titles coming out to mark this occasion.


Just in case you don't regularly read The Inside Flap, here's John Eklund's memories of life at the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops.

Our buyer Jason Kennedy collects his thoughts on Dan Simmons' latest novel Drood here. I may not read it, but it is inadvertently responsible for me reading Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White.

The Chicago Tribune raves about Milwaukee's Valerie Laken. She will be talking about and reading from her new novel Dream House at our Downer Avenue shop on February 19th, 7 PM. I am about 100 pages into this novel currently. I was very excited to see quotes from Charles Baxter and Nancy Reisman on the book. Even though we know that these quotes often indicate some sort of professional or personal connection, there is often some stylistic connection between the writers. I hope to talk more about Laken and her novel in an upcoming post.

I'd link you to the review, but it does not appear to be indexed. I'll just quote the first sentence: "The publication of Valerie Laken's thoughtful, tender, first novel is aptly timed, as shock waves from the subprime-mortgage meltdown continue to rattle the economy."

Coming up on March 4, Yiyun Li is appearing at our Shorewood location at 7 PM, to discuss and read from her novel The Vagrants. Here's a link to her extraordinary review in the Chicago Tribune. I bought a copy tonight at our Shorewood shop. Even though I received an advance copy, I will be definitely getting one signed for my sister Claudia who is head of the Chinese language department at Holy Cross.

Here's another great review, this time from The New York Times. This event sounds like a special treat. You could have seen Ha Jin (I mention this as my high-school-now-Facebook friend Nina has mentioned how much she likes this writer) early in his career at our shops; don't look back and regret not having gotten a signed copy of Ms. Li's first novel.

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