For Julianna Baggott, who has panic attacks in book stores, libraries are like animal shelters. All the books are tended to; they have a home. For Val McDermid, deadpanning, the librarian’s habit of fostering reading is positively dangerous: children walk in innocent and leave as crackheads. Alex George wants to say thanks as a writer but especially as a reader. And Robert Leleux, told by his partner that the women in his family are ladies but also badasses, says that librarians fit the pattern: I had the wrong idea that you were just tweedy, but you’re badasses, too.
Badasses or not, the 150 or so librarians attending the Association of American Publishers’ Third Annual Midwinter Breakfast at ALA Midwinter in Dallas knew they were loved. And they reciprocated in kind; hardly a seat was empty, hardly a soul left even as the breakfast ran over (well past the opening of the exhibit doors), and everyone hung around for the book signings. I had the pleasure of introducing the six authors featured. Here’s a rundown.
Coolest mom‚Ä¶with a movie coming soon. In Julianna Baggott’s Pure (Grand Central. Feb. 2012), the Detonations have left a ruined landscape and survivors fused with whatever was at hand. The Pures, though, were mysteriously safe from the Detonations inside the Dome. Doll-fisted teenager Pressia and her bird-backed friend Bradwell join forces with one Pure, Partridge, who has escaped the Dome in search of his mother. For Baggott, the book became a bridge to her 16-year-old daughter, who hadn’t liked her award-winning mom’s work until reading an early version of Pure and declaring it the best thing she had written. The teen world is dystopian, mused Baggott. The book is the first in a trilogy, with rights to all three books purchased by Fox 2000 Pictures. How cool is that?
He’s a good American. Alex George’s The Good American (Amy Einhorn Books: Putnam. Feb. 2012) tells the story of this country through the story of an immigrant German couple and their descendents, with reflections on American music forming a nice background beat. An immigrant himself (he came here from England in 2003), George is a natural for this job. You hear ‚ÄòWrite what you know,’ which is a fine theory if you know something worth writing about, he observed. Packing up my life and moving halfway around the world is something worth writing about. Fear of the unknown, hope for a better life, wanting to adapt‚ they’re all part of the larger immigrant story that George makes his own in this debut work.
Learning from grandma. Okay, Robert Leleux’s grandmother JoAnn did advise him to get a little meaner every day, one lesson the outgoing author seems not to have absorbed. But in The Living End: A Family Memoir of Forgetting and Forgiving (St. Martin’s, Jan. 2012), an account of Leleux’s coping with scaldingly witty, tough-cookie JoAnn’s descent into Alzheimer’s, it’s clear that he inherited his own nonstop wit from her. Perceptive as well as funny and poignant, Leleux’s book explains that Alzheimer’s can be a kind of gift; certainly, it allowed JoAnn to forget enough to reconcile with the daughter she hadn’t seen for decades. Sometimes our memoires deceive us and keep us from being who we are, said Leleux. But JoAnn herself remains memorable.
Crime pays. I hold you all responsible for my being here today, barked Val McDermid in her fabulous Scots accent. I would be asleep now, but, no, you had to go make me successful. McDermid is successful‚ she’s a Cartier Diamond Dagger Award winner whose books have sold ten million copies worldwide. But crime started paying for her long before she wrote a single word. Growing up in a household where books were a luxury, McDermid stole her mother’s library card to get into the adult library. Years later, one of the librarians was surprised to find that McDermid’s mum, supposedly an invalid for whom the borrowed books were destined, was still alive. Reading helped McDermid hone her skills and produce a pile of chilly thrillers, like just-out The Retribution (Atlantic Monthly, Jan. 2012), which could be the end of everything for series regulars Tony Hill and Det. Carol Jordan.
The book enters you. Ron Rash said that he remembers the exact moment when he did not enter a book but found the book entering him‚ it was Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment‚ and readers will find themselves positively invaded by his heartbreakingly beautiful new novel, The Cove (Ecco: HarperCollins, Apr. 2012). Having grown up on a snatch of land considered cursed, siblings Hank and Laurel are generally shunned by townsfolk, but Hank is getting married and Laurel sees the possibility of happiness with a mysterious stranger who can’t speak but plays the flute beautifully. The story was inspired by research Rash did on America’s internment camps for Germans during World War I; among the interned were the crew and passengers, including an orchestra, on a German ship stranded in New York’s harbor. I told myself if I couldn’t write a novel about that, I’d have to give up, volunteered Rash. No need for him to stop.
Astrophysicist-approved fiction. Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles (Random. Jun. 2012), which blends worldwide calamity with the small but looming hurts of preadolescence, started with a science factoid. Thompson learned that after the earthquake-inspired tsunami that swept the Pacific a few years back, the earth’s axis adjusted ever so slightly. Of course, an axis adjustment can change the length of the day, and Walker contemplates what would happen if the earth’s rotation suddenly started slowing for no discernible reason. Obviously, the days would get longer, but much of what Thompson reported is drawn from her imagination, and after the book was signed she did run it by an astrophysicist to make sure she wasn’t too far off. With a few suggestions, she got a stamp of approval. In the end, though, this debut novel is her exploration of the impact of apocalypse on the everyday: When you have a looming threat, in a way it presents an opportunity to explore the magic and meaning in ordinary life.