June 12, 2008
Trolling between the lines: Collecting titles at Publishers’ BookExpo
Perhaps it's the state of the book industry, the economy or just the cost of gas, but this year's convention was not as well attended as in past years. The last time BookExpo was in Los Angeles, the convention floor was constantly, overwhelmingly crowded, with so many booths that the author autographing section had to be relegated to a basement hall.
This time, many editors did not even make the trip, and some publishers or imprints decided not to pay for a stand. For example, I was surprised that Bloomsbury USA didn't have one, given that they represent several Los Angeles authors with just-published or forthcoming books, including Seth Greenland ("Shining City"), Rachel Resnick ("Love Junkie") and Mark Sarvas ("Harry, Revised"). Still, the smaller turnout really didn't put a damper on the excitement, the conviviality and the parties, which seemed to take over Los Angeles from downtown to West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Bel Air and Santa Monica.
At BookExpo, publishers were not only showcasing current titles, they also were trying to create excitement for books that will come out this summer and fall. Translation: Free books were given out.
Among the those I sought while trolling the aisles were the highly anticipated Salman Rushdie novel, "The Enchantress of Florence" (which is already receiving decidedly mixed reviews), Oscar Hijuelos's "Dark Dude" (Atheneum) and Andre Dubus III's "The Garden of Last Days," which is shaping up to be a novel of major importance.
Among the stacks of desired new books were John LeCarre's "A Most Wanted Man" (Knopf), Dennis Lehane's "The Given Day" (Morrow), Michael Connolly's "The Brass Verdict" (Hachette) and Wally Lamb's "The Hour I First Believed" (HarperCollins). Harper is also pushing Alafair Burke's "Angel's Tip" -- if the name seems familiar, it's because Burke's father, James Lee Burke, writes the Dave Robicheaux series.
Just as from small acorns grow large oak trees, small presses sometimes deliver great novels. Steerforth Press, which published Karoly Pap's "Azarel," an undiscovered gem of a novel of pre-war Hungary, was at the convention with Benjamin Taylor's "The Book of Getting Even," which Philip Roth has already hailed as: "Among the most original novels I have read in recent years."
This September, Algonquin books will publish Ariel Sabar's "My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for his Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq." Sabar is a political reporter for the Christian Science Monitor covering this year's presidential campaign. His father, Yona Sabar, is a UCLA professor. The book tells of their father-and-son journey to today's postwar Iraq to visit Yona's birthplace and to reconcile past and present.
Speaking of fathers and sons, Adam Nimoy, son of you-can-guess-who, has written "My Incredibly Wonderful, Miserable Life," which Simon and Schuster has dubbed a "hilarious anti-memoir" about facing life "as a newly divorced father, a fortysomething in the L.A. dating scene, a recovering user and a former lawyer turned director turned substitute teacher ... in search of his true self."
Among the grand dames signing books were Jackie Collins (I passed) and Barbara Walters (I waited in a long line to get a signed copy of "Audition" [Knopf]).
No one likes the expression "chick lit," but what should we call light reads targeted at the "Sex and the City" audience? Female-driven entertainment? Part of the problem is that this grab-bag term encompasses quasi-literary fiction ("Bridget Jones"), commercial fiction ("The Starter Wife") and a sort of gossipy insider's revenge book ("The Devil Wears Prada").
Call them what you like, but buy them you will. Some female-friendly titles you may spot this summer or in early fall include former E! hostess Jules Asner's "Whacked" (Weinstein Books), Julie Buxbaum's "The Opposite of Love" (Dial Press), Claire Lazebnik's "The Smart One and The Pretty One" (5 Spot), subtitled: "A Novel about Sisters" -- (I happen to know one of the sisters, Nell Scovell, but I'm not saying which one I think she is) -- and Jodi Wing's "The Art of Social War" (HarperCollins), which has already been sold to the movies.
Speaking of politics -- and who isn't these days? -- Public Affairs, a division of Perseus Group, is the publisher of Scott McLellan's book, and it has had no problems getting publicity for the book. It also has a book forthcoming about censorship that should generate some debate called, "Obscene in the Extreme," an account of the burning and banning of John Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath." It's by Rick Wartzman, a senior Irvine Fellow of the New America Foundation and a former Los Angeles Times Magazine editor.
Public Affairs was launched in 1997 by Peter Osnos, my former editor at Times Books, and I was very happy to run into him, looking dapper as ever, at the Hotel Bel Air, where he was hosting a BookExpo party.
That same night, the New York Review of Books also hosted a party at the Bel Air, and it's worth commending it not only for its party-giving skills, but for its publishing program. Recently, the NYRB Classics have brought back into print editions of Vassily Grossman's masterpiece, "Life and Fate," and the Yiddish classic, "The Family Mashber" by Der Nister.
Most recently, it published new editions of Stefan Zweig's final novel, "Chess Game," and his earlier novella, "The Post Office Girl." Zweig, who committed suicide in 1940, was one of the most-published authors of the first half of the 20th century. The NYRB editions are getting rave reviews and returning Zweig to the popular consciousness.
One of the most interesting and companiable hours I spent at the BookExpo was speaking to Nicolas Neumann, a Paris-based art house publisher. Our meeting occurred because, as I was wandering past his booth, I heard him speaking French.