Among the most daunting questions I’m often confronted with is: “What should I read next?”
Recently, I traveled to the depths of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York for BookExpo 2009, the annual American Bookseller’s gathering, where I crisscrossed the convention floor, Indiana Jones-like, to gather publishers’ catalogues and advance-reader copies of so many books that when I headed back to Los Angeles, American Airlines threatened to make me check my so-called “carry-on luggage.”
“These are books!” I told them — although they responded as they would to a drug dealer trying to make a home use defense. One day, I explained, these may all reside on an e-book reader, but until then, my motto is: Shlep, I must. They let me on.
So, bookwise, what’s hot?
As in the movies, brand names rule, and the big books of summer and fall include Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” (Doubleday); “The Swan Thieves” (Little Brown) by Elizabeth Kustova of “The Historian” fame; Pat Conroy’s “South of Broad” (Doubleday) as well as “Sully,” (William Morrow) the story Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger III, America’s hero pilot.
But what, you might ask, am I most excited about? For summer pleasure I am eager to read Alan Furst’s “The Spies of Warsaw” (Random House), just out in paperback, and Elmore Leonard’s “Road Dogs” (HarperCollins), just out in hardback.
The fall will bring new novels from Nick Hornby: “Juliet, Naked” (Riverhead), September; Jonathan Lethem: “Chronic City” (Doubleday), October; and Philip Roth: “The Humbling” (Houghton Mifflin), November — by the way, is there anything more humbling than Roth’s talent and output?
There’s good word on Lauren Grodstein’s novel, “A Friend of the Family” (Algonquin), about a father’s fall from grace, as well as a C.S. Lewis-style fantasy, “The Magicians” (Viking), August, by Lev Grossman, TIME’s book critic.
Betsy Carter (whom my wife once worked with) has a new novel, “The Puzzle King” (Algonquin), out in August that sounds right up my alley — a story of two German Jews who escape to New York and fall in love, only to become obsessed with rescuing the families they left behind.
But if you are looking for a sure thing, here’s a prediction: Mitch Albom will move us all to tears with “Have a Little Faith: The True Story of a Last Request” (Hyperion), September.
One of my favorite publishers, New York Review Books (NYRB), is celebrating its 10th anniversary by continuing to publish books that deserve to be called “classics.” Among them, “The Old Man and Me” by “Dud Avocado” author Elaine Dundy — the tale of American ingénue Honey Flood’s adventures in London’s swinging ’60s; Tibor Dery’s “Niki: The Story of a Dog;” and Alastair Reid’s “Ounce Dice Trice,” illustrated by Ben Shahn.
In November, NYRB will issue Jakov Lind’s novella and short stories, “Soul of Wood,” and a new edition of the great Soviet author Vasily Grossman’s last novel, “Everything Flows.”
Europa Editions, which I very much admire for its works in translation, has Lia Levi’s “The Jewish Husband” set in 1938 fascist Italy, which won the Moravia Prize for fiction.
Also of note is Tin House’s “Rasskazy,” a collection of “new fiction from a new Russia.”
This fall, The Other Press is publishing Miklos Vamos’ novel, “The Book of Fathers,” (fodder for yet another Hungarian-flavored Tommywood column), and Aly Gotz’s nonfiction account, “Fromms,” which tells the story of how German Jewish entrepreneur Julius Fromm’s condom empire fell to the Nazis.
Speaking of kinky, in October, Kinky Friedman will share his tales of celebrities and their pets in a still unnamed book (Simon & Schuster) — his book tour is going to four cities — all of them in Texas.
There are many forthcoming books of note by or about celebrities, including late-night talk-show host Craig Ferguson’s “American on Purpose” (HarperCollins); Shel Silverstein, “Silverstein and Me,” by Mary Gold (Ren Hen Press); and, in October, a bio of one of our favorite converts to Judaism, Elizabeth Taylor, by William J. Mann (Houghton Mifflin). At the same time, Susie Essman, of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” fame, has a self-help book, “What Would Susie Say” (Simon & Schuster) — I have a feeling that’s some tough love she’s offering.
America’s favorite Holocaust survivor, Haganah fighter and sexologist offers “Dr. Ruth’s Top 10 Secrets to Great Sex” (Wiley), which I haven’t read, but here’s my own advice for great sex: Put down the book!
Pop Culture quiz: Who hosts two shows, one of which is my daughter’s favorite and the other my wife’s? That would have to be Tom Bergeron, who hosts both “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and “Dancing With the Stars” and whose book is called, not surprisingly, “I’m Hosting as Fast I Can — Zen and the Art of Staying Sane in Hollywood” (HarperOne).
Another cute volume is Jerry Levitan’s “I Met the Walrus” (Collins Design) about how, as a teenager, he interviewed John Lennon and the impact that had on his life, with illustrations and a DVD of his interview (only later did I discover we share a literary agent).
Alyson Books has “My Red Blood,” Alix Dobkin’s memoir of growing up communist, of the Greenwich Village folk scene and of recording the first openly lesbian album, “Lavender Jane Loves Women.”
Ang Lee’s August film, “Taking Woodstock,” starring Demetri Martin and Emile Hirsch, is based on Elliot Tiber’s charming and funny memoir (Square One Publishers) being released in paperback to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the three-day festival that rocked the world.
If you are hungering for a little nosh, David Sax’s “Save the Deli” (McClellan & Stewart) shares his journey into the heart of ... well, heartburn. By contrast, if you want to lose your carnivorous appetite, in November, Jonathan Safran Foer will make the case against “Eating Animals” for Little Brown, no doubt in his own illuminating, loud and incredibly close way.
As for serious nonfiction, Daniel Goldhagen returns this fall with “Worse Than War” (Public Affairs), his first book since “Hitler’s Willing Executioners,” this one an investigation into political mass murder the world over in modern times. Goldhagen wrote the book in conjunction with a WNET-TV documentary, in which he visits killing fields and speaks with some of the murderers to develop his own theories of what he calls “eliminationism” and postulates what the international community can do to intervene.
If it’s politics you are interested in, California Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) issues “The Waxman Report: How Congress Really Works” (Twelve) in July, while Frank Luntz of “The Contract With America” fame lets us know “What Americans Really Want,” (Hyperion), at the end of September.
What do you want in business books: good news or bad? Ace Greenberg tells his version of the fall of Bear Sterns, while Dan Senor and Saul Singer offer “Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” (Twelve).
In the ever-growing world of graphic novels, prize-winning children’s author David Small’s memoir, “Stitches” (Norton), has been getting a lot of good word of mouth. Judge Sonia Sotomayor will be happy to know Nancy Drew is also available in graphic novel form — issue No. 17 features “Night of the Living Chatchke” (their spelling, not mine).
I can’t wait to see “The Book of Genesis” (Norton) as illustrated by R. Crumb, who promises “Nothing left out!” — but if that concept seems not safe for work or for home, you can always hide Crumb behind a copy of The Jewish Publication Society’s “JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible” — the word of God as retold by Ellen Frankel and illustrated by Avi Katz.
Janet Peer, author of “Yiddish for Dogs,” now offers up “Yiddish for Babies” (Simon & Schuster), to which I can only say vey iz mir. One of our favorite children’s dogs, Mo, who last year starred in the scent- enhanced “Mo’s Nose” returns with “Mo Smells the Holidays,” by Margaret Hyde and Amanda Giacomini, complete with scent-filled stickers.
Finally, Rebecca Rubin, the newest American Girl Doll and a child of Jewish immigrants, is accompanied by “Meet Rebecca,” which will surely be on many Jewish New Year’s lists (if you can hold out that long).
What to read next? You decide. New or old, serious or slight, fiction or non, just follow the dictum of the late Jack Lord and “book ‘em.”
Tom Teicholz is a film producer in Los Angeles. Everywhere else, he’s an author and journalist who has written for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Interview and The Forward. His column appears every other week and his Tommywood (the blog) appears daily, pretty much.