Friday, August 17, 2018

Display Focus: What to Read After A Gentleman in Moscow

It's been almost two years since the release of A Gentleman in Moscow, and still Amor Towles's second novel continues to show up on hardcover bestseller list. Paperback publication is 2019 at the earliest. And when a book makes that sort of cultural impact, it's time to come up with a "what to read after" list.

This sort of list is very popular on websites that are filled with lists. Here's one that just appeared in Pop Sugar on books to read after Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects. And then another list appeared three days later on Hello Giggles. It's not that I don't use other people's lists to make our list. I cribbed like crazy for our Afrofuturism table*. But when it comes to A Gentleman in Moscow, there are lists on Book Browse and of course Goodreads, but nothing really thought out about what makes A Gentleman in Moscow tick. And I wanted something besides other books that are well written and people like, like Beautiful Ruins. After I thought about it, I saw how Pachinko might fit, but it's not on my list. Here's Indian Prairie Public Library's list.

Of course in this case, we certainly recommend that fans go back to his first novel, Rules of Civility. But as booksellers, we've got to do better than that. I brainstormed with Jane and we came up with three broad categories.

First up - books that have hotels as their centerpieces. I'd been thinking about this table off and on for about a year, but I think one of the things that got me to act was our store's growing passion for Hotel Silence, by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir. The book is being passed from one bookseller to another with ever-increasing enthusiasm. I was just speaking to Nancy, my former Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops colleague who would conspire with several us to sell lots and lots of copies of books we loved, like The History of Love (which you probably know) and Astrid and Veronika (which you likely don't if you're not an old Schwartz customer). I said, "You would love this book," and she said, "I already read it, and I do." That's paraphrased.

Several other books came to mind. There's Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac and Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. But the book that's really taken off from this table in this category is Vicki Baum's Grand Hotel. Baum was an Austrian Jewish writer who was a prolific and popular writer in the twenties (while she was also an editor at a German publishing house). Grand Hotel came out in 1929, was translated into English by Basil Creighton, and became an MGM movie starring Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, and received the 1933 Best Film Oscar. OF the book, Shelf Awareness wrote "Grand Hotel prefigures Downtown Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs by examining multiple characters from different classes (both guests and the hotel staff) in a single-setting microcosm of society and lives up to its reputation as a modern classic."

For a while, Jane kept pointing out how hot Russian literature and history was in inspiring contemporary fiction.Some of the recent releases which had a place at our (display) table :
--The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden (recommended by Jen)
--I Was Anastasia, by Ariel Lawhon
--The Noise of Time, by Julian Barnes
--Patriots, by Sana Krasikov
--The Revolution of Marina M., by Janet Fitch
--The Romanov Empress, by C.W. Gortner.

And finally, a more generalized theme that we selectively used to draw from was the idea of perseverance. We were discussing this when Kathleen Rooney came to visit for Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk***.  I told her about the table I was working on (yes, this was two months ago) and she told me that fans are continuously coming up to her to say that they thought that Lillian was a great follow up to Gentleman. And when I pitched this to Jane, she said, "Absolutely!"

*And convinced a publisher to release an old book in paperback due to its appearance on multiple lists. But that's for another post.

**Thematic resonance. I'm reading a 2019 novel with a similar revelation.

***Speaking of Nancy, she told me that Lillian is still the best book she read this year. I am working on my top 5 for 2018 for Jason (don't ask) and since we're allowed to put one reprint on, I cam close to including this. I always read books on paperback publication, which I'm told is a bit unusual for a bookseller, but between our paperback events and the book club I lead, I find it very useful. Plus my taste can be all over the place in hardcover - sometimes it's better for me to know what other people are generally coalescing around.

1 comment:

Eric and Sarah said...

Thank you for the list! I've been scouring the "What to read after A Gentleman in Moscow" lists for a year now, and mostly I have met with disappointment. I look forward to reading a number of the titles you suggest.

May I make one suggestion? You postulate different reasons Gentleman in Moscow resonates so deeply. Among all of the lists I have found (maybe they like historical fiction! Maybe they like Russia!), no one has suggested that it is the character of the Count himself that so enraptures many of us. Nearly everyone that reads it expresses a desire to befriend the fictional count. Yet no one suggests lists of books with truly compelling, charismatic, irresistible characters.

Sure, they may only be one Count Rostov, but surely there are other truly transcendent characters?! (Personally, I would push my luck and hope for one that appears alongside masterful writing, but I want my calorie-free cake and to eat it, too.) I for one would love to hear if you have any feedback along those lines.