10 Spring Paperback Picks

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.

WWW Wednesday — Mother/Daughter Version

It’s WWW Wednesday, where I answer three questions:

What are you currently reading? What did you recently finish reading? What do you plan to read next?

IMG_0742I’m on vacation in New Hampshire, at my mother’s summer house on Lake Sunapee. We had family members coming and going for the past few days, but now it’s quiet . . . so quiet that a pair of loons swam right past our dock late yesterday afternoon.

Here’s what we are currently reading:

I’m reading The Black Hour, by Lori Rader-Day. It’s a debut mystery novel by a Chicago writer, set at a university very much like Northwestern. Sociology professor Amelia Emmet thought violence was a research topic, not a personal issue — until she was shot by a student.

My mother is reading Heather Gudenkauf’s page-turner, Little Mercies, the story of a veteran social worker and devoted mother who makes a horrible mistake. Gudenkauf says she’s not sure how to categorize her books: “Are they literary mysteries, thrillers, or emotional family dramas? My hope is that they are all of these!”

coverThe last book I finished was The Arsonist, by Sue Miller — one of my favorite authors. It turned out to be quite appropriate, since it’s 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 soon 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.

My mother has outread me on this vacation (I don’t think “outread” is a real word, but I’m going to pretend that it is.) She’s just read — and recommends —  I Can’t Complain, a book of essays by Elinor Lipman, Restless, a terrific espionage novel by William Boyd, and We Are Water, Wally Lamb’s latest. Maybe I’ll have to try We Are Water again — when I first tried reading it, I couldn’t get into it.

0814-9781460330197-bigwWhat’s next? I thought I had brought Chris Bohjalian’s new book, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, in my bag, because my mother wanted to read it — but it’s gone AWOL, so we may have to make a trip to the local bookstore to pick up a copy. I think the next book in her pile is an ARC of Mary Kubica’s debut suspense novel The Good Girl. (I was lucky enough to meet Mary at a publisher dinner earlier this year. The book has been getting a lot of buzz, including being chosen as an Indie Next Pick for August. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with Mary at an author event in Lake Forest on August 20.)

I’m planning on reading Bittersweet, by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore ( a family story set in a summer retreat in Vermont, recommended by my most trusted source, Sue Boucher) and No Longer and Not Yet, by Joanna Clapps Hermann (a collection of stories that take place on the Upper West Side of Manhattan).

We’d love to hear what you’ve just read, what you’re reading now, and what you’re planning to read next!

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10 Books to Read This Summer (At the Beach or Not)

www.randomhouseI’ve always disliked the term “beach book”. What on earth is a beach book? If a book engages me, it’s going to engage me whether I’m at the beach, on a plane, on my couch, or in bed. (Well, maybe not in bed — too much likelihood of falling asleep, no matter how riveting the book.) CNN recently interviewed some well-known authors about their summer reading habits, defining beach reads this way: “While there are no hard and fast rules about what constitutes a ‘beach read,’ the idea is that they can be read quickly, or that they’re light in tone. Always, they’re captivating and preferably escapist.”

Joshua Ferris is a man after my own heart. He says, “What I bring to the beach is whatever I’m reading at the moment, and what I’m reading at any given moment usually concerns death, misery and marital discord, which don’t seem too beachy . . . I find it impossible to alter my reading for the sake of a season.”

Emma Donoghue, who “wants a meaty plot; brilliant language; extra points for hilarity”, is a very sensible person. She says she actually prefers to read magazines on the beach, due to the mess factor. So if I make it to the beach this summer, I’ll bring a pile of magazines — although here on Lake Michigan, we have these pesky little biting flies that make it almost impossible to read anything, or even to remain on the beach.

Here are 10 recommendations for summer reading. They’re all either available now or will be later this month.

Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest by Jen Doll
The New York Times (which called Jen Doll “Emily Post’s worst nightmare”) gave journalist Doll’s nonfiction account of weddings she’s attended a so-so review, but I thoroughly enjoyed her take on modern-day weddings. And yes, she needs some help in the manners department.

9780062286451Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson
From the Oregonian: “Set deep in the backwoods of Reagan-era Montana and containing all the necessary ingredients of a slow-burn literary thriller — prickly characters, graphic writing, creeping suspense, Fourth of July Creek spins quite an unsettling yarn.” I’ve been waiting to read this ever since I picked it up at Winter Institute in January.

Goodnight June by Sarah Jio
From the publisher: “Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown  is an adored childhood classic, but its real origins are lost to history. Sarah Jio offers a suspenseful and heartfelt take on how the “great green room” might have come to be.” I’ve just finished reading this and it is truly delightful.www.randomhouse-1

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
If you liked The Dinner, you’ll love Herman Koch’s latest. If you found The Dinner too dark . . . skip this one. From Publishers Weekly: “In Koch’s equally devious follow-up to The Dinner, civilization is once again only a thin cover-up for man’s baser instincts . . . very few real-world events will distract readers from finishing this addictive book in one or two sittings.”

The Other Language by Francesca Marciano
From the New York Times: “What makes these tales stand out as captivating exemplars of storytelling craft is Ms. Marciano’s sympathetic, but wryly unsentimental knowledge of these people’s inner lives; her ability — not unlike Alice Munro’s — to capture the entire arc of a character’s life in handful of pages; and her precise yet fluent prose (the result, perhaps, of writing in a second language), that immerses us, ineluctably, in the predicaments of her men and women.” Every list of recommendations needs a short story collection, and The Other Language is the best I’ve read in a long time.

9780062271105Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern
I’m slowly becoming a fan of (good) YA literature — and this one is excellent. From the publisher: “The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor & Park in this beautifully written, incredibly honest, and emotionally poignant novel. Cammie McGovern’s insightful young adult debut is a heartfelt and heartbreaking story about how we can all feel lost until we find someone who loves us because of our faults, not in spite of them.”

The Arsonist by Sue Miller
From Publishers Weekly: “A small New Hampshire town provides the backdrop for Miller’s provocative novel about the boundaries of relationships and the tenuous alliance between locals and summer residents when a crisis is at hand.” Several colleagues are highly recommending The Arsonist, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything Sue Miller has written.

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
I loved this memoir of Rakoff’s stint 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.”

China Dolls by Lisa See
From Publishers Weekly: “In the beginning of See’s stellar ninth book, three young women, Grace, Helen, and Ruby, meet and form an unlikely but strong bond in San Francisco in 1938, as the Golden Gate International Exhibition is about to open . . .The depth of See’s characters and her winning prose makes this book a wonderful journey through love and loss.” I’m thrilled that Lisa See is coming to our community for an event in late June.9781594631573M

The Vacationers by Emma Straub
From the New York Times: “For those unable to jet off to a Spanish island this summer, reading The Vacationers may be the next-best thing. Straub’s gorgeously written novel follows the Post family — a food writer named Franny; her patrician husband, Jim; and their children, 28-year old Bobby and 18-year-old Sylvia — to Majorca . . . When I turned the last page, I felt as I often do when a vacation is over: grateful for the trip and mourning its end.” I felt the same way!

 

 

 

 

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