I was having dinner at the annual FSG dinner, and wound up striking up a dinner with Jake Halpern, whose name I recognized from his New Yorker articles. As we talked more, I realized he as everywhere--a children's series called Dormia, a This American Life contributor with a story called "Switched at Birth" that continues to be one of the top five most popular pieces five years after airing.
His new book, coming this fall, is Bad Paper: Chasing Bad Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld, immediately went onto my must read list. It's about a banker and a former bank robber who collaborate on finding "paper", spreadsheets of uncollected debt that can be purchased for a fraction of the original amount, which can then be profitably collected, sometimes using nefarious tactics.
The Lost City of Z was one of his heroes. Holy moly, that's the second time David Grann came up in conversation in two days, and neither time by me. The thing was that the previous day, I had been trying to come up with his name to use as a comparison for Daniel James Brown, as I was putting together a Facebook promotion for our event with Daniel James Brown, author of The Boys in the Boat. A lot of folks are saying that this true story is the best adventure book of the past year, and sales have been explosive, particularly on the west coast.
These are the comparisons I was looking for--Laura Hillenbrand, Nathaniel Philbrick, James Bradley, Jon Krakauer--folks who are really great storytellers whose tales are sort of part history, part adventure. These are all folks who developed a following where folks say "this is the best book I've read in years!" OK, sometimes it's just months, but the point is that the story generates that kind of enthusiasm.
Here's what some of the above authors have said about the story.
From Nathaniel Philbrick: “The Boys in the Boat is not only a great and inspiring true story; it is a fascinating work of history.”
And this from James Bradley, author of Flags of our Fathers and Flyboys: “In 1936 nine working-class American boys burst from their small towns into the international limelight, unexpectedly wiping the smile off Adolph Hitler’s face by beating his vaunted German team to capture the Olympic gold medal. Daniel James Brown has written a robust, emotional snapshot of an era, a book you will recommend to your best friends.”
Here's Matt Damsker in USA Today. "The Boys in the Boat is Daniel James Brown's cogent history of that shining moment, and a surprisingly suspenseful tale of triumph. But it's not about individual glory; in crew, the winning boat is a clockwork mechanism of timed strokes, each rower almost mystically attuned to the other as they strive, often in agony, for the swing of perfect rhythm and maximum speed."
Still need to be convinced? Here's an interview in the Chicago Tribune with Daniel James Brown and Joseph Sutton-Holcomb.
The truth is that I could go on all day with these. But I want to end with a story. And it's the story about how Daniel James Brown got this story. As you may know, Brown has written several other books, including Under a Flaming Sky, about a disastrous fire in Minnesota in 1894. So out in Washington, a woman was reading this book to her father, and he was captivated.
She asked him if he'd like to meet the author, and he said yes, so she invited Mr. Brown over. They got to talking and eventually, the father, Joe Rantz, told Brown a little about his experiences on the 1936 crew team. Brown said I think this is a story, and Rantz said, you can tell it, but the story isn't about me, it's about the whole team. And what a story of teamwork it is--the book made news when the new CEO of Microsoft quoted from The Boys in the Boat when talking about teamwork.
We are thrilled that Jenny and Matt are attending our event with Daniel James Brown on Thursday, June 12, 7 pm. We've been billing our event as a great tie-in to Father's Day and I'm touched to say that we're celebrating Joe Rantz not just as part of a celebrated team, but as a father too.
As you know, tickets to this event are $18 and include a paperback copy of The Boys in the Boat paperback, plus admission for two. Hope to see you there.