Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What a Great Week for New Books--Selections from Lawrence Block, Herman Koch, Karen Russell, Tanis Rideout, and Tara Conklin.

I looked at the cart this morning of new releases and saw a huge cart of Random-House-distributed titles. I asked Jason, "Is this all that's coming out?" but it turned out the other cartons hadn't been opened yet. There were key titles fro several other publishers as well.

The big novel from Harper is The House Girl (Morrow), by Tara Conklin, a novel that travels between a young lawyer working on a class action lawsuit seeking reparations for the descendants of American slaves, and a 17-year-old house slave on a Virginia tobacco plantation. Conklin, a litigator-writer (not an odd combination, I've found) lives in Seattle, which might account for a lovely quote from Maria Semple, author of Where'd You Go, Bernadette (coming May 1 to Boswell), who calls this "a wise, stirring, and startling debut." The finish is matte--that's my theme for this week.

Jason noted that Morrow is continuing the silhouette profile cover image that was popularized by the success of Little Bee. I should note that at least as of now, Simon is moving away from that image for the paperback of Gold, which is more in the wide-eyed child mode. Marie Clare called The House Girl the book club book of 2013.

From Penguin Group, Jason thought the #1 priority for a bookstore like ours was Above All Things (Amy Einhorn), by Tanis Rideout, whose cover quote is from David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z, which calls it "a fantastic read" and to me, targets it a bit more to men, as that was a nonfiction and somewhat upmarket adventure story. Sometimes you need a quote like this because as many a woman writer has noted before, sometimes men won't buy books written by women, no matter how tough.

The novel is the story of George Mallory's third attempt to climb Mount Everest, told from his perspective and that of his wife, Ruth, who was left behind. Tanis (yes, a woman) is Canadian (another secret we like to keep from Americans) and won the Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award for Emerging Writers. I would like to note that while many of you have never heard of Bronwen Wallace, I actually read a collection of Wallace's short stories many years ago, bought while I was in Canada, and liked them quite a bit.

So how good is the book? Well Jocelyn McClurg in USA Today is astounded by its power, nothing that "Above All Things, finally, rises to the historic, even mythological occasion. Rideout's powerful prose about a tragic, brutal end will haunt you." Call it a mashup of Paula McLain and Jon Krakauer if you'd like, but note that I coined this without actually reading the novel.But I can tell you that the book's jacket is textured matte, which is Jason's favorite option for jackets, though it can play havoc if you put a label on it.

How long has Lawrence Block been writing for Mulholland Books, a division of Hachette Book Group? I don't know, but that's who is publishing his new novel, Hit Me, in which Block returns to Keller, whose a drop-dead deadly hit man. Speaking of book jackets, this book is velvet gloss--I don't know if that's the actual name for these things, but that's what it feels like. Publishers have gone crazy for this finish. I don't remember feeling it ten years ago, but now we even sometimes get it on advance copies. Some folks love it, some don't, sort of like flan, right Halley?

So this Keller, under the alias "Nicholas Edwards" is working as a house flipper in New Orleans, whose hobby is, wait for it, stamp collecting. In between he kills people. Bruce DeSilva writes in the Associated Press, with the Greenfield, Indiana Reporter offering us the link, "In the hands of a lesser writer, the philately passages would be insufferable, but Block makes them interesting in their own right as well a window into the soul of a hit man who can dispatch innocent bystanders without remorse but won't cheat on his wife and insists on being scrupulously honest in the buying and selling of collectible stamps."

You've already read about Vampires in the Lemon Grove, by Karen Russell, at least twice, as she got the front-page New York Times Book Review spot (from Joy Williams) plus a great review from Mike Fischer in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  He writes, "As is true throughout this collection, 'Proving Up' exhibits the gorgeous writing that has characterized Russell's work from the beginning. And without quoting the passage (can't you trust Mr. Fischer?) can I also say that he calls Russell "a writer who has once again mapped the dark country between our everyday and more primal selves?"

All this, plus we received autographed copies in our initial shipment. I think she signed the books too, and not just sheets, as the book was flapped to the full title page. Leave it to Knopf to know where to sign. The book jacket is matte, it's set in Bembo, the edges are rough cut (unlike the previous titles) and the great Jordan Pavlin edited. It's always nice to see a shout out to the publicist, and even better when you've worked with them--we may have a very exciting event coming up booked with publicist Kate Runde (who is thanked in the book), and though not Russell, we're as excited as if it were Russell. I'll let you know who it is when it is booked, but you all have to promise to come, 'kay? (Note--I cleaned this up a bit. Much as I would love Kate Runde to come for an event, it's with one of her authors).

Also with rough-cut edges, but with a gloss jacket (showing it's trying to straddle two genres, more on that below), is Herman Koch's The Dinner (Hogarth), the Dutch novel that's had a lot of pre-pub buzz, including a great rec from our own Stacie. As Gillian Flynn (who?) notes, "The Dinner begins with driniks and dark satire, and goes stealthily and hauntingly from there." It starts with a dinner between two couples in Amsterdam, and I guess ends there two. But these couples are connected by their 15-year-old sons, who are "united by their accountability for a single horrific act." I am immediately reminded of another dinner in Amsterdam from Ian McEwan. I wonder if there is some homage there?

Carol Memmott writes in USA Today: "The Dinner is the sixth of Koch's seven novels, but the first to be translated into English. As with the works of other internationally celebrated writers including Stieg Larsson, Camilla Lackberg, Jo Nesbo and Oliver Potzsch, American readers may demand access to all of Koch's books. If they're half as good as The Dinner, we'll want to devour all of them."

And for those of you who like a good backstory ,this Wall Street Journal piece offers a good one, and the division between whether the book is mystery or literary fiction. Janet Maslin's not a fan, alas. These things happen. I should note that The Daily News was disappointed by Russell, but I'm not going to link to them--do your own work to unsell yourself. But this book, which has been a huge international bestseller, has been compared to The Slap (which you know I love) and the best work of Michel Houellebecq, which like everything else here, I've never read.

As I mentioned, there are several more good Random House-distributed titles that came out today. M apologies to Jim Crace and his new novel Harvest (Nan Talese), with whom I many years ago shared a dinner at the home of David and Carol (the Schwartz owners), but sadly, I have other things to do today. I can post a bit more about new titles later this week, as I'll be in DC for my nephew's wedding and won't be able to chatter about what happened to our event sign in the front door. 

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