Tuesday, April 29, 2014

New and Noteworthy Books from Our Paperback Table--Rake, The Boy in His Winter, The Last Time I Saw You, The Marrying of Chani Kaufman, and During the Reign of the Queen of Persia.

One of the reasons I like to browse the new paperbacks is to see what kind of changes publishers made to their hardcover books. But the other reason is that most independent publishers stick with paperback originals. It's not that I don't love the hard-soft process. As Gabrielle Zevin noted last night, when talking about The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, a hardcover that goes into paperback allows publishers a second try at the market. When you're paperback original, you usually only have one shot, but I should note that there are exceptions.

So the first book I came across is Rake (Counterpoint), by Scott Phillips, who is author of The Ice Harvest. It is a reprint from last year and in this case, the cover stayed the same. It's Paris Noir and all the elements are there--an Eiffel Tower, a glamorous embrace, discordant coloring. I couldn't find any acknowledgements in the book, which is where I figure out the editor and agent, but if someone jumps from Ballantine to Counterpoint, they are probably edited by Dan Smetanka, and sure enough, that was the case, as I learned from this interview. Phillips is a literary/mystery hybrid guy, with the Los Angeles Review of Books comparing him to Jim Thompson and Charles Willeford, old Black Lizard-y titles. A Megan Abbott quote also sort of sets the tone by calling Phillips "the unparalleled master of the noir anti-hero."

The Boy in His Winter (Bellevue Literary Press) has the subtitle "an American novel", and I think that's because it looks like a modern play on Huck Finn. What else would a raft mean? And sure enough, it's about what happens when Finn steps off his raft into Hurricane Katrina. Publishers Weekly writes that "(Norman) Lock plays profound tricks with language--his is crystalline and underline worthy--and with time, the perfect metaphor for which is the mighty Mississippi itself. This is another perfect example of how public domain works spur creativity. you can write whatever you want about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but don't you touch Gone with the Wind or The Great Gatsby or well, Steamboat Willie.

Our buyer Jason was in today and so I asked him what he'd put on a paperback round up. I played the distribution card and asked him about The Last Time I Saw You (Quercus), by Eleanor Moran, the story of a friendship cut short when one woman's friend dies in a car crash. Well, actually it was cut short first by a devastating betrayal. The cover says it all, two friends in the grass separated by a black band, both with missing heads. Actually they probably weren't trying to say decapitation--I'm just reading that into the artwork. Jason noted that the book has gotten really good reads at several New England indies, and that led him to suggest that his accounts buy the book in face out quantity, and this has led to a good number of reorders. Quercus's parent company was recently bought by Little, Brown's parent company (Hachette's Hodder division), so we'll see how that shakes things up.

The Man Booker prize is big deal, but there's always a finalist who, when the book finally comes out, sneaks a bit under the radar. I think that we have a number of customers who would be interested in Eve Harris's The Marrying of Chani Kaufman (Black Cat), which is finally out here as a paperback original. It's set in London's ultra-Orthodox community, shortly before the protagonist's wedding to Baruch Levy, a man she has only met four times. The Financial Times calls this "a sympathetic window on a way of life little glimpsed in contemporary fiction." Little glimpsed? I guess I'm drawn to the Nathan Englanders and Allegra Goodmans, so perhaps I read more in this area than the reviewer.

I mentioned early on that not many books get a second paperback publication. You've got to really break out, the way Meg Wolitzer did with The Interestings, leading to the republication of her first and third adult novels, or you might be lucky enough to be picked up by the NYRB Classics line. While their books are often enough titles that my friend John read (I think he's a secret editor there) and tried, unsuccessfully, to get me to read, sometimes a release comes out that I did read the first time around. That's the case with Joan Chase's During the Reign of the Queen of Persia, a book that had massive bookseller love a generation ago, but fell out of favor, perhaps because Joan Chase published little else. It's about three generations of women on an Ohio farm, and Chase's book has been compared to Alice Munro and Marilynne Robinson, and the quotes are from Margaret Atwood, Russell Banks, and Rita Mae Brown. It looks like the original typesetting--I might have requested a resetting, but at least the type size and margins are decent.

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