Sunday, December 16, 2018

Can I talk a little more about Rebecca Makkai's The Great Believers?

It's hard to choose a favorite book for the year, though I have to say that while I read a lot of nonfiction titles in 2018, and some of them were terrific, all my contenders are novels. First there was Chloe Benjamin's The Immortalists, which I first read back in March 2017. By the time the book came out, I had to read it again. Then there was Liam Callan's Paris by the Book, which has been a joy to sell, and sort of was nine years in the making, since I first started working with Liam in 2009*. We've just heard that the advance orders for the paperback are very good - how cool is that?

My underdog book for 2018 is definitely Hotel Silence, by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir. It's been a Boswell team effort, but we're hard pressed to find another bookstore whom we can compete with to sell the most books! Our flyover country book is Virgil Wander, by Leif Enger, which I call the best book about small-town Wisconsin published this year, only it's set in small-town Minnesota. In a way, the perfect book to hand-sell is Daniel Mason's The Winter Soldier, being it's incredibly well-written, but doesn't have the time shifting and multiple perspectives I generally love that nonetheless throw off traditional readers. I would have to say my favorite mystery/thriller for 2018 was Nick Petrie's Light It Up, and I never thought I'd pick a book that wasn't a stand-alone or first in a series for this slot. The most powerful book I read is There, There, by Tommy Orange, but while I'm blown away by the book, it's got a coolness that says "Admire me" more than "Love me." By the way, Barbara Bush Pierce's favorite novel of 2018 was There, There. If you want to know Jenna Hager Bush's top pick was Tayari Jones's An American Marriage, which was also a must-read novel for me. If you loved it, go back and read Silver Sparrow.

 As much as I loved being the champion of the underdog for 2017 with Don Lee's Lonesome Lies Before Us, and I continue to stand by that book's greatness, and I hope that Norton still decides to do a paperback edition, it's fun to be excited about a book that has so much love being thrown at it, so I decided my favorite book of 2018 is The Great Believers.  We've hosted Makkai for every book since 2011's The Borrower, and it's so exciting to see how her reputation has grown for each book. Short-listed for the National Book Award, named one of the ten-best books of the year by The New York Times (and that makes it one of the five best fiction books, being that they mix fiction and nonfiction together) and who knows what else. But this might not be the accolade that most impacted at me.

Let me digress and mention that my favorite television show of the 2017-2018 season was a sitcom called Great News, which got cancelled after two seasons. It's about Katie (Briga Heelan) a producer at a soft news magazine show, whose mother Carol (Andrea Martin) becomes the intern at the magazine. It's got a 30 Rock vibe, being that it's from Robert Carlock and Tina Fey, and I'm sad to say when I talk about it to most people, they never saw it. I watched it in first run and then I subscribed to Netflix just so I could watch it again. Perhaps it's greatest achievement was that it made me fall in love with Nicole Richie. I have now watched the episode "Love Is Dead" three times, and I know that more will come.

Andrea Martin was one of the regulars on SCTV, but her greatest success has come from Broadway, where she's won numerous accolades. So when she wrote up her thoughts on The Great Believers in The Wall Street Journal and the impact it had on her, I got teary. Then I read it to a fellow bookseller and they got teary. It's that kind of book. I know that WSJ is paywalled, but if you can find a way to read this article, it's fascinating, just for the reading list of Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally - so glad to hear Megan finally read Stoner!

From Martin: "When I picked up Rebecca Makkai’s beautiful, tender, harrowing novel The Great Believers, I knew it was going to be sad. But I didn’t imagine it would unravel me. It is a vivid, passionate, heart-wrenching story about the AIDS crisis in Chicago between 1985 and 1992, the devastation of young lives lost and of profound friendships forged in the face of inexplicable dying."

It might be the holiday season, but that didn't stop me from taking a few hours to drive to Illinois so that Makkai could sign more books for us. We have a limited supply and the author added a big orange heart to her signature, which seemed for the book, as it's about as big-hearted a book as you can read this year. We also have signed copies of The Immortalists, Paris by the Book, There, There, and Virgil Wander. If you want an interesting tidbit about the book that I learned from the author, it's that there was a version of the jacket in purple tones.

Additional note: Apologies on the misprint of sales info. That was for a different Penguin Group. book. Though I wish it were the case, we have not sold 500 copies of The Great Believers yet.

No comments: