At this year’s BookExpo America, eager fans pulled Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies (Riverhead) from boxes even as publicists carried them across the floor, and once the remaining galleys were unloaded they lasted for the duration of a commercial break. Oscar Hijuelos’s final, posthumous Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise (Grand Central) and Jesse Eisenberg’s first collection, Bream Gives Me Hiccups & Other Stories (Grove), were among the biggest hits at their respective booths. Karin Slaughter’s Pretty Girls (Morrow), Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Mothers, Tell Your Daughters (Norton), and Jonathan Franzen’s Purity (Farrar) were big hits, too, and Gregory Maguire’s After Alice (Morrow) disappeared into attendee book bags like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole.
No surprises there, but anyone looking at the lineup of books that buzzed biggest at BookExpo America will spot some unexpected pleasures as well. For instance, at the HarperCollins booth, big titles like Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir, Erika Johansen’s The Invasion of the Tearling, Ron Rash’s Above the Waterfall, Joyce Carol Oates’s The Lost Landscape: A Writer’s Coming of Age, and S.J. Watson’s Second Life moved quickly from floor to hand, but so did three debut novels: Melissa DeCarlo’s The Art of Crash Landing, about a young woman finding purpose by sorting out a mystery in her mother’s hometown (lots of library marketing love); Ellen Herrick’s The Sparrow Sisters, a New England–set tale whose author has longtime connections with the publishing industry; and Parnaz Foroutan’s The Girl from the Garden, an award winner about Persian Jews in the early 1900s. Then there was Patrick deWitt’s Undermajordomo Minor, a chance for this blackly funny writer (e.g., The Sisters Brothers) to break out into the open.
At the Macmillan booth, all the signings were packed, with attendees lining up not just for Rainbow Rowell, Brandon Stanton, and hugely best-selling essayist Sloane Crosley, crossing into fiction with The Clasp, but io9.com editor in chief Charlie Jane Anders (All the Birds in the Sky); Helen Phillips, (The Beautiful Bureaucrat, debut fiction following a well-regarded story collection); and Damon Tweedy, M.D., whose Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine was a BEA Editors’ Buzz Book. (There’s nothing like readings and buzz pitches to draw readers into the fold.) Also moving: Stephanie Clifford’s Everybody Rise, a debut novel about a young social climber in New York, and Shane White’s Prince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street’s First Black Millionaire.
Along with Hijuelos’s farewell, Hachette had not unexpectedly good luck with Elin Hilberbrand’s Winter Stroll, a visit to Christmastime Nantucket, and Chris Holm’s The Killing Kind, a follow-up to the edgy “Collector” trilogy. But readers’ interest was also piqued by French crime writer Michel Bussi’s After the Crash, a major European best seller about two families fighting over a baby who is the only survivor of a plane crash. (Hachette wags have dubbed this book “The Baby on the Plane.”) And two debut novels got big attention at this booth as well: Emily Holleman’s Cleopatra’s Shadows, literary historical fiction from a former Salon.com editor, and Sunil Yapa’s Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, unexpectedly engaged fiction with Seattle’s 1999 World Trade Organization’s protests as backdrop.
At the Perseus Books Group booth, hugely popular award-winning food writer Bee Wilson’s First Bite: How We Learn To Eat shared the spotlight with Margee Kerr’s Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear and Gavin Francis’s Adventures in Human Being: A Grand Tour From the Cranium to the Calcaneum. Nearby, even with star stalkers crowding up to Jesse Eisenberg, the Grove Atlantic folks saw a flood of interest for Lauren Acampora’s just released The Wonder Garden, a debut story collection that parses suburbia, and David Payne’s Barefoot to Avalon, a memoir about coping with a brother’s death from the author of commendable novels like Ruin Creek.
At Norton’s booth, along with Bonnie Jo Campbell’s collection, folks were grabbing Eli Gottlieb’s Best Boy, fiction from a writer’s writer about an autistic man, given a big push at Day of Dialog by Liveright publishing director Robert Weil. Also grabbed: Matthew Guinn’s The Scribe, a crime-edged historical following The Resurrectionist, and debut novelist Adrienne Celt’s opera/folklore blend, The Daughters. The sleeper hits at this booth included Piu Marie Eatwell’s The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue and John Seabrook’s The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory (do you know why you love the songs you love?). Thames & Hudson, distributed by Norton and showing nearby, gave away multiple copies of Miranda Aldhouse-Green’s smartly written yet accessible Bog Bodies Uncovered: Solving Europe’s Ancient Mystery, and there was also big interest in Charles Pignone’s documents-packed Sinatra 100 and Susan Herbert’s fun-for all Cats Galore: A Compendium of Cultured Cats.
Folks swarming Algonquin’s corner of the Workman booth picked up the award-winning Jonathan Evison’s This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! and also Ron Childress’s 2014 PEN/Bellwether Prize winner, And West Is West, socially aware debut fiction about the challenges of technology—a nice surprise, that. In Artisan’s corner, hot chef Tal Ronnen’s Crossroads: Extraordinary Recipes from the Restaurant That Is Reinventing Vegan Cuisine and Kathryn Aalto’s The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest That Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood drew fans, as did Elias Weiss Friedman’s The Dogist: Photographic Encounters with 1,000 Dogs, even if it was just mocked up with a few photos.
Harlequin had back-to-back signings throughout the show, often giving authors second sittings. The favorites included big names Susan Mallery (Hold Me), Robyn Carr (One Wish, Never Too Late), Kristan Higgins (If You Only Knew), and (in the teen arena but with lots of crossover appeal) Adi Alsaid’s Never Always Sometimes. Alex Brunkhorst may be new to the game with The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine but still stood out. At the Soho booth, folks went for Heda Margolius Kovály’s Innocence; Or, Murder on Steep Street—more than just another mystery, as it is set in rigidly Communist Czechoslovakia and written by the author of the noted Holocaust memoir Under a Cruel Star.
As always, small presses offered some of the best surprises of the show. At the Counterpoint/Soft Skull booth, multithreat Jill Bialosky, an award-winning poet, Discover novelist, and Top Ten memoirist as well as a Norton editor, drew in a big crowd when she signed her new novel, The Prize, about art and the corrosive power of money and ambition. Also really buzzing: Noy Holland’s Bird, whose protagonist is a young mother recalling intensely erotic moments in her life as she goes about her mundane tasks, and Andrea Kleine’s Calf, a debut novel recalling two 1980s events: John Hinckley Jr.’s attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan and socialite Leslie Deveau’s murder of her ten-year-old daughter, a childhood friend of the author.
At Coffee House, the big hit was Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of My Teeth, an edgy new novel from a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree who recently won the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. Coming right behind it was Selah Saterstrom’s Slab, about stripper–turned–performance artist Tiger and her fight upward post-Katrina, which the Coffee House folks—not known for their conservative aesthetics—still describe as boundary breaking. Another sought-after young heroine showed up in Vanessa Blakeslee’s Juventud, a Curbside Splendor publication about a woman who flees Colombia when she learns that her father is involved in the drug trade—but is he? Akashic did especially well with ever-popular risk taker Joe Meno’s Marvel and a Wonder but also with Matthew McGevna’s debut, Little Beasts, about young people taking their own risks.
City Lights triumphed with two titles echoing back in time and reflecting its commitment to poetry: Incidents of Travel in Poetry: New and Selected Poems by Frank Lima, a protégé of Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, and Allen Ginsberg who was the only Latino member of the New York School and who eventually rejected the identity politics and hard living of the poetry world to become a successful chef, and John Wieners’s Stars Seen in Person: Selected Journals of John Wieners, from a poet who was openly gay back in the stringently homophobic 1950s and who powerfully influenced many different schools of poetry at the time. Librarians attending the American Library Association in San Francisco should look for an announcement about the publisher’s 60th-anniversary party that weekend.
Short story master Robert Lopez did a reading from Good People that sent fans scurrying for galleys at the booth of his publisher, Bellevue Literary Press, which also did well with titles by Norman Lock. Lock’s four-book reimagining of significant American voices has started off nicely with The Boy in His Winter (Mark Twain) and American Meteor (Walt Whitman). Next up: a Edgar Allan Poe. Feminist Press had two particularly popular titles, punk chef Rossi’s The Raging Skillet: The True Life Story of Chef Rossi (a Shout’n’Share title) and Sarah Schulman’s The Cosmopolitans, a novel about 1950s bohemian New York.
At the Sourcebooks booth, all the giveaway titles did well: Charles Belfoure’s atmospheric House of Thieves, featured at Day of Dialog; debut novelist Kelli Estes’s The Girl Who Wrote in Silk; award-winning historical novelist Susan Higginbotham’s Hanging Mary (reenvisioning Lincoln’s assassination); Swedish author Katarina Bivald’s internationally best-selling The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend (a book club natural); Peter Zheutlin’s heartening Rescue Road: One Man, Thirty Thousand Dogs, and a Million Miles on the Last Hope Highway; and Melissa Cistaro’s wrenching Pieces of My Mother. No mindless grabbing here, though; says Lathea Williams, the publisher’s assistant publicity manager, “attendees want to be more informed; they’re asking for recommendations.” That’s good news, since that kind of considered give-and-take, that felicitous act of discovery, should be what BookExpo America is all about.