ALA Annual 2011: The Buzz on Fall Books

New York book editors may wear thick hides of sophisticated cynicism, but as Bill Thomas, Doubleday’s senior vice president, publisher, and editor-in-chief, noted at the second annual AAP-ALA Editors’ Buzz program on June 26, 2011, they are also incurable romantics when it comes to those special titles that arouse their literary passion. Thomas was one of five top editors presenting their favorite fall 2011 titles at From the Inside(rs) Out: Book Editors and the New Titles They Love”, moderated by Nancy Pearl.

Doubleday's Bill Thomas

Like many other readers, Thomas lost his heart to Erin Morgenstern’s already much-buzzed-about debut The Night Circus (Sept.). On the nonfiction side, Candice Millard’s The Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Medicine, Madness and Murder of an American President (Sept.) surprised and astonished Thomas with its revealing portrait of a now-forgotten president and America in the 1880s. Millard, the author of River of Doubt (about Teddy Roosevelt’s Amazon adventure) has found another great story‚ the assassination of James Garfield‚ and told it well.

When Ecco vice president Lee Boudreaux received the full manuscript for Caroline Preston’s The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: A Novel in Pictures (Oct.) after a hot bidding war, she was delighted to see that it was 125% of what she had expected: The story is terrific and gorgeously told in the form of a scrapbook. Boudreaux explained that Preston had gotten the idea when she was writing Gatsby’s Girl and discovered that F. Scott Fitzgerald kept extensive scrapbooks. A keen collector of antique scrapbooks, Preston plans a series of historical novels that draw on her collection. It will be almost an American Girl kind of series, said Boudreaux.

Ecco's Lee Boudreaux

Also high on her fall list is Lucette Lagnado’s The Arrogant Years: One Girl’s Seach for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn (Sept.). Lagnado, the daughter of Egyptian Jews who were forced to emigrate when Nasser took power in 1950s Egypt, first received wide acclaim for her memoir about her boulevardier father, The Man in the Sharkskin Suit. Now the author, explained Boudreaux, is telling her mother’s side of the story. (Lagnado’s mother eventually became a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library.) It’s a beautiful, beautiful book.

Penguin's Stephen Morrison

Stephen Morrison, Penguin Book’s editor in chief and associate publisher, touted two novels by British writers. Set in the 1950s on the island of Trinidad, The White Woman on the Green Bicycle (just published in April) by Monique Roffey was an Orange Prize finalist and sold very well in the United Kingdom. This novel about a 50-year marriage doesn’t shy away from tough themes, said Morrison, who likened the book to Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible.

Going back over a millennium to the Byzantine Empire and the dramatic lives of the Emperor Justinian and his consort is Stella Duffy’s Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore (Sept.). Inspired by a mosaic of the Empress Theodora that Duffy saw in Ravenna, Italy, the author has written a fantastic, steamy sexy read that HBO has optioned for a possible miniseries.

Basic Books publisher John Sherer (and spouse of Macmillan’s library marketing guru Talia Sherer) presented two provocative nonfiction titles. Biological theorist Robert Trivers’s The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life (Oct.) ponders the question of why we lie to ourselves‚ and each other.

Basic Books's John Sherer

In Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Death of Mao’s China (Jan. 2012), James Palmer recounts two shattering events in 1976 that marked a dramatic turning point in Chinese history‚ the death of Chairman Mao and the earthquake that killed over 700,000 people. Laced with anecdotes and marked by an eye for detail, Palmer’s book is a testament to those lost lives, notes Sherer.

Little Brown executive vice president and publisher Michael Pietsch was looking for a beautiful, traditional novel in a modern way, a book that comes once every 20 years, and found it in Chad Harbach’s baseball tale, The Art of Fielding (Sept.). This is a novel about youth, ambition, success when everything seems possible, and failure when you recognize that you will never be perfect. In November Pietsch will publish Michael Connelly’s 22nd novel, The Drop. Connelly is one of the great novelists in America, and with each book he find new ways to plumb the moral landscape.

Litte Brown's Michael Pietsch

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Wilda Williams About Wilda Williams

Wilda "Willy" Williams ( is LJ's Fiction Editor. She specializes in popular fiction and edits the Mystery, Science Fiction, Christian Fiction, and Word on Street Lit columns.