bd0040693e50f5ed2b7aecbdbb56addc“When is it coming out in paperback?” — one of the most frequently asked questions in any bookstore.

“There’s no hard-and-fast rule about when the paperback should ride in for that second release. A year to paperback used to be standard, but now a paperback can release earlier — to capitalize on a moderately successful book before it’s forgotten — or later, if a hardcover is still turning a strong profit,” according to an article in The Millions.

This spring, bookstore tables will be stacked high with terrific new paperbacks. Some of these (The Goldfinch, The Invention of Wings) are books that were hugely successful in hardcover. Many of them are books that are still trying to find their audience. Almost always, the covers are redesigned for paperback versions, with new artwork and review quotes. Authors “know it’s their greatest chance of coming out of the gate a second time — same race, fresh horse,” says author Nichole Bernier.

What makes some books sell like crazy in hardcover while others — just as appealing — languish on the shelves? For example, The Girl on the Train is supposedly the fastest-selling adult novel in publishing history. I liked the book a lot; I read it in a day, and recommended it to anyone who wanted a fast-paced, twisty and turny psychological thriller. Over the years, though, I’ve read plenty of other books that I thought were just as good, or better, that didn’t have a fraction of Girl on the Train‘s success.

Jynne Martin, publicity director for Riverhead Books, says in an interview with the Daily Beast that the phenomenon of The Girl on the Train can be attributed to “a constellation of a lot of different things”, ranging from “rave reviews from critics, spillover excitement from the Gone Girl movie, and a concerted push by the whole Penguin Random House operation.” The Daily Beast asked Paula Hawkins why she thought her book “has resonated” so much with readers:

It’s a difficult thing to say. There are certain things about the story that I think are universally recognizable. The sort of enjoyment that we all get from that voyeuristic impulse of looking into other people’s house as we pass them and the idea that there might be something sinister or strange going on in the houses we pass every day or in our neighborhood, is a very compelling idea. So I think that’s one thing people have latched on to. There are also some strong voices in there that readers have responded to. I also have to say that the publishers, both in the U.S. and U.K., did a fantastic job of getting people talking about it on social media and getting lots of reviewers interested.

I don’t think we’ll see The Girl on the Train in paperback until well after a year of its publication date (which was January 2015).

Here are some of my favorite new paperbacks — most of them didn’t get the love they deserved when they came out in hardcover, and now they get a second chance.

9780307456113And the Dark Sacred Night (Julia Glass) — Julia Glass has been a heroine of mine ever since she arrived on the literary scene in 2002, with the publication of her debut novel, Three Junes. I hate to use the term “late in life”, but recognition of her talent has come later in life than it does for most published writers. Glass was 46 years old when she won the National Book Award for Three Junes — seven years older than Flannery O’Connor (one of my favorite literary heroines) was when she died. And the Dark Sacred Night isn’t a sequel to Three Junes, but some of the same characters reappear. It’s a beautifully written, emotionally powerful novel with fully textured characters trying to make sense of the mysterious past and how it connects to the sometimes confusing present. For my review from April 2014, click here.

The Arsonist (Sue Miller) — Set in a small New Hampshire town, the novel centers on Frankie, a burned-out relief worker who’s returned home from Africa to spend time with her aging parents while she figures out what to do with the rest of her life. Almost as 9780062286468soon as Frankie arrives, an arsonist begins destroying the homes of summer residents. The most compelling part of the book for me was the portrayal of Frankie’s mother trying to cope with her husband, a retired professor slipping into dementia.

Fourth of July Creek (Smith Henderson) — A favorite of my book club, debut novel Fourth of July Creek is the story of two fathers in 1980s Montana: a flawed social worker and a backwoods survivalist. According to the Washington Post, “this richly plotted novel is another sign, if any were needed, that new fiction writers are still telling vibrant, essential stories about the American experience.”

we-are-called-to-rise-9781476738970_lgWe Are Called to Rise (Laura McBride) –I couldn’t love this book more, and was disappointed that it didn’t really take off in hardcover. Another debut novel, We Are Called to Rise chronicles the lives of four very different Las Vegas residents (a young immigrant boy, a social worker, a war veteran turned police officer, and the officer’s mother) in a heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful story. For a very insightful review, visit one of my favorite book blogs, Read Her Like an Open Book.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing (Nina Sankovitch) –You’ll be inspired to get some lovely stationery and a beautiful pen after you read this love letter to the art of written correspondence. Sankovitch (author of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, which I also adored), found a cache of letters in a house she and her family were renovating. The letters were written from a college freshman to his mother in the early 20th century. The book, which Sankovitch calls her “quest to understand what it is about letters that makes them so special”, is a joy to read.

9781101872871The Children Act (Ian McEwan) — I don’t think you can ever go wrong with Ian McEwan, and although this book isn’t my favorite of his, it’s still very, very good. It’s the morally complex and emotionally resonant story of a judge who becomes personally involved in a court case concerning a teenage Jehovah’s Witness who is refusing a lifesaving blood transfusion. It’s a great choice for book clubs — my own book club had a fascinating discussion.

The Mockingbird Next Door due 5/5 (Marja Mills) — This book has spurred quite a bit of controversy. Mills, a Chicago Tribune reporter, became friendly with Harper Lee and her sister and eventually moved in next door. Her memoir of their friendship is “authorized, sympathetic, and respectful” (Washington Post), and fun to read. However, Lee has since denied that she cooperated with Mills. It’s particularly interesting in light of the upcoming publication of Go Set a Watchman.

9780143127550Everything I Never Told You due May 12 (Celeste Ng) — First-time novelist Ng impressed me with her assured, precise writing style and her careful, well-paced narrative structure. The novel begins with the disappearance of a mixed-race family’s “perfect” daughter and goes on to explore the family’s pathology. It’s heartbreaking . . . but you’ll want to read it in one sitting.

My Salinger Year due May 12 (Joanna Rakoff) — I loved this memoir of Rakoff’s stint in the 1990s as an assistant to J.D. Salinger’s literary agent! From the Chicago Tribune: “Her memoir is a beautifully written tribute to the way things were at the edge of the digital revolution, and also to the evergreen power of literature to guide us through all of life’s transitions.” If I were making a list of my top 10 memoirs (and maybe I should), this would be on it. Perfect for fans of Marjorie Hart’s Summer at Tiffany.

9780812982022Delicious! due May 12 (Ruth Reichl) — Reichl, former editor of Gourmet magazine and author of several wonderful memoirs (Tender at the Bone, Garlic and Sapphires, Comfort Me With Apples — all must-reads for foodies), tries her hand at fiction with Delicious! — with great success. It’s a roman á clef about a cooking magazine that folds, including a clever mystery and a coming-of-age story.

What will you be picking up in paperback this spring? I’ve just started Justin Go’s The Steady Running of the Hour, which is wonderful so far — yet another book that didn’t get its due in hardcover.


15 thoughts on “10 Spring Paperback Picks

  1. I love your insight into the inner workings of the publishing industry….an area I’m not very familiar with! There are some fantastic books coming out in paperback soon! Loved Goldfinch, My Salinger Year, and Everything I Never Told You. Another one of my favorite beach reads that did not get nearly enough blogger love when it first came out is Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore…and it’s paperback release is today!

  2. currently listening to The Girl on the Train, and loving it. I was hesitant, because so many readers said it was not as good as Gone Girl, but I disagree

  3. Nice PB list. I plan to jump on the Ng novel as well as the Salinger memoir. Great as PBs.

  4. Looking forward to Delicious, and I’m going to pick up We Are Born to Rise. Somehow I missed both of those in hardcover when they came out. Agree with everyone about Everything I Never Told You, one of my favorites last year.

  5. I can’t wait to read My Salinger Year. It’s been on my TBR list since it came out in 2014. Very excited about this title.

    And I recently finished Nina Sankovitch’s Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. Loved it so much I recommended it to both of my book groups – which means 30 more readers will probably ball their eyes out like I did when they find out what happened behind the words, “Three in one night. Three in one night.” Can’t wait to read Sankovitch’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing. Have to say, I wasn’t aware that she’d written that one. Thanks for the head’s up!

    Certainly can’t go wrong with anything Ian McEwan writes. Atonement? OMG. Great book. I’m so happy my daughter’s Honors English class tackled that last year in 10th grade. I loved reading over her shoulder during all the good parts. Still weighing whether or not I’ll read The Children Act. Will probably read it to study the writing choices McEwan made rather than read it for the premise of the story.

    Love the cover of Everything I Never Told You. The Montana book, Fourth of July Creek, looks great, too. Oh gosh, and then there’s Julia Glass . . .

  6. I wish I could say I will get to all the books I want to read this spring, but what I want to read comes after review requests. But, here goes.
    SAY NEVER by Janis Thomas, THE PARTICULAR APPEAL OF GILLIAN PUGSLEY by Susan Ornbratt, THE YEAR MY MOTHER CAME BACK by Alice Eve Cohen, DOG CRAZU by Meg Donohue, FOREIGNER by Zoe Saadia, THE BEEKEEPER’S BALL by Susan Wiggs, and the list goes on.

  7. I always love reading your reviews and recommendations. There’s a couple on this list I might just have to check out. Thanks for sharing.

  8. I missed The Children Act when it came out last year, I”ll probably get it this year. I love his writing. It’s interesting how some books become so popular and some equally good ones don’t. I read The Girl on the Train and loved it, but I would never have shelled out for it in hard cover. It’s a total paperback book for me.

  9. So glad I saw this- I’ve been on the fence about reading We Are Called to Rise but am now moving it to the top of my TBR pile. If you say it’s good I have to read it!

    1. Oh, I hope you like it as much as I did. I loved the voice of the little boy, and the way all the stories converged. I’m surprised it didn’t get more attention.

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