Editors’ Picks from BookExpo America 2012: From Magick to BBQ & Backlist

LJ editors unearth fall titles on the BEA show floor that offer a glittering range of subjects

Serious magick

At BEA’s Guinness Book of World Records booth I encountered the World’s Tallest Living Basketball Player. At 7’7″, he surely views the world from a different perspective than the rest of us. Yet for me the tallest man at BEA was Damien Echols, there to sign galleys of his memoir, Life After Death (Blue Rider: Penguin, Sept.). He writes of his 19 years growing up in West Memphis, AR, and his following 18 years on death row.

Echols is one of the West Memphis Three (WM3), teenagers convicted in 1994 of murdering three local boys in what was described as a satanic ritual. As the purported leader, Echols was sentenced to death, while his cohorts got life-plus. The WM3 were released last year, but the courts have refused to exonerate them. Echols’s book manifests his astonishing strength of mind, and it will not let you go. As the author himself would put it: magick.

My other picks are to support two of my habits: studying evolution and extinction (my college major) and old movies‚ old movies, in case you didn’t know, are those made before I was born.

To begin with evolution and extinction: we’ve all heard of the dodo, less of the Rodrigues solitaire. Jolyon C. Parish’s The Dodo and the Solitaire: A Natural History (Indiana Univ. Pr., Nov.) meticulously traces human encounters with these ill-fated large flightless birds‚ perhaps had they retained the ability to fly they would have survived. Instead, they are the first animals known to have gone extinct after human incursion. The Dutch encountered the dodo on the island of Mauritius, its only habitation, in 1598. Within 100 years, it was no more. The solitaire, found on one nearby island, lasted a bit longer. Parish’s book is rich with contemporary images, evocative descriptions, and later anatomical studies. Not for general readers? Or will they be drawn in by the old world cadences: As soon as [dodo birds] are caught they shed Tears without Crying and refuse all manner of Sustenance till they die? Magick.

In December, University Press of Kentucky publishes two books devoted to women of the silent screen. Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies (Christel Schmidt, editor) assesses America’s Sweetheart, whose influence went beyond her massive stardom. It’s not just the dozen-plus new essays here, in addition to four reprints, that attract: there are over 200 gorgeously reproduced images, in the beautiful grays of the silent era, and the richly colored lithography of posters, and magazine covers‚ plus the revelation of the colors in Pickford’s costumes.

Mae Murray’s Hollywood glory years were fewer, but she was a creature who turned her distinct demeanor into a celebrated type. Her long life is a lesson about those heady days of early Hollywood and the transience of fame. Read Michael G. Ankerich’s Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips to learn more.‚ Margaret Heilbrun

First-time impressions of chaos

This was my first BEA, and I’m surprised‚ because my time at the Javits seemed like an endless series of cups of weak coffee and mad dashes to opposite ends of the floor to make appointments‚ that I ended up with so many books at its end. When did I have time to pick these up? How did this get into my tote? Thankfully, I found a lot of keepers.

One of the first titles to hook and reel me in is novelist Aatish Taseer’s memoir Stranger to History (Graywolf, Nov.), published in the UK in 2009 but appearing here for the first time. The book is part travel memoir, part meditation on transnational Islam, and part exploration of his relationship with his estranged father, Pakistani politician Salman Taseer, who was assassinated (after the book’s original publication) by his security guard in early 2011.

Another galley I was happy to get my hands on was critic Daniel Mendelsohn’s Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture (New York Review of Books, Oct.). I’ve followed Mendelsohn since I found his wide-ranging, deft essay on Mad Men that appeared in NYRB in early 2011. This latest is a collection of previously published pieces (including the aforementioned), but it’s good to have them finally all in one place.

I’m eager to sink my teeth into (sorry, sorry) True Blood: Eats, Drinks, and Bites from Bon Temps (Chronicle, Aug.), whose gooey, vivid cover is a perfect reflection of the lurid show it celebrates and of which, I confess, I am a fan. Show creator Alan Ball and producer Gianna Sobol team up with Cajun cooking maven Marcelle Bienvenu (Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans) to bring to life the recipes of a fictional world where food (and, especially, hunger) are central. And what fan of the show isn’t curious about Lafayette’s gumbo recipe?

As a native Washingtonian, I was pumped to see District Comics: An Unconventional History of Washington, DC (Fulcrum, Sept.). Though it’s less unconventional than I had hoped‚ 15 of the 22 chapters have something to do with national policy and the city’s role as the seat of government (the standard take on DC)‚ the work of these 40 contributors is vibrant. I liked, in particular, Matt Dembicki’s (coauthor, Mr. Big) and Tom Williams’s Banned in DC, about homegrown hard-core punk band Bad Brains.

I didn’t make it to many panels, but I did sit in on Ryan Chapman and Ami Greko’s 7x20x21, where six presenters had seven minutes to cover 20 slides. I was pleased to see there Nate Silver (of the New York Times blog FiveThirtyEight fame) and hear about his new book, The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail‚ but Some Don’t (Penguin, Sept.), where he breaks down the difficult science of forecasting the future.

I’m also, like everyone and their mother, excited for Junot Díaz’s This Is How You Lose Her (Riverhead, Sept.), which I reviewed in this issue (p. 80), and Zadie Smith’s first novel since 2006, NW (Penguin, Sept.).‚ Molly McArdle

Nostalgia times ten

Kieran Kramer’s debut series, The Impossible Bachelors, featured delightfully witty and vibrant prose to match the books’ unforgettable titles (e.g., When Harry Met Molly; Cloudy, with a Chance of Marriage). As a fan of historical romance, I was a bit surprised at the title of Kramer’s next book, Loving Lady Marcia (St. Martin’s, Sept.). Marcia seemed an odd choice for the name of a Regency debutante, even an unconventional one such as Marcia Sherwood. Then I noticed the series name: The House of Brady. The Marquess of Brady, who has three sons (Gregory, Peter, Robert), marries a widow with three daughters (Marcia, Janice, Cynthia), and the rest is classic 1970s TV. Kramer’s clever and engaging style is now employed in the service of finding the perfect mate for each of the six Brady siblings. Libraries should buy a bunch.

Spreading her fairy tale wings with her latest title, The Ugly Duchess (Avon, Sept.), Eloisa James has upped the ante in her exceptional romance series (e.g., When Beauty Tamed the Beast; The Duke Is Mine). Here, Theodora Saxby (Theo) is a less-than-traditional heiress, especially in the looks department (people have unkindly commented on her equine similarity). Still, her longtime friend James Ryburn calls her Daisy and has always seen her as beautiful. Though having grown up in James’s home with her widowed mother and James’s father, the Duke of Ashbrook, Theo’s guardian, Theo accepts James’s marriage proposal, never guessing that the idea was hatched by the duke to cover his embezzlement of Theo’s inheritance. Left on her own, Theo fosters innovations in local industry, while James takes to high-seas privateering.

The pioneering spirit on this side of the pond is epitomized in the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867‚ 1957), whose award-winning Little House tales of the American frontier mesmerized television viewers for a decade and through nearly 30 more years of syndication. The South Dakota State Historical Society Press is giving the author her due with the June 2013 publication of Wilder’s autobiography, Pioneer Girl: An Annotated Edition, edited by Pamela Smith Hill, available for the first time in print and with exclusive rights granted through the Little House Heritage Trust.

Having written gritty romantic suspense for ten years, author Brenda Novak is turning in a new direction with a nine-book contemporary series for Mira: Harlequin set in the fictional town of Whiskey Creek, CA, beginning with When Lighting Strikes (Sept.), When Snow Falls (Nov.), and When Summer Comes (Feb. 2013). Following the ten theme, Grand Central’s Forever romance imprint will turn ten in 2013, so watch for more news and celebrations going forward.‚ Bette-Lee Fox

Lit fic delights

Not every big book is a best book, and not every buzzed title is something you’d want to read. When I trawl the halls at BEA, I often head for the literary presses, favorites whose fresh, eye-opening works twist away from the expected. These three titles made it into my bookbag.

Actually, Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow was big and buzzed for the thriller crowd back in the early 1990s, but since then the author has been rigorously imaginative enough to go his own way. His whimsical new novel, The Elephant Keepers’ Children (Other, Oct.), does feature a mystery: What happened to Peter’s parents, a vicar and an artisan living on the invented island of Finø who have managed to cross the religious establishment? When they disappear, Peter and older sister Tilte‚ an absolute match for Smilla in her steely smarts and determination‚ are spirited away by the officious Bodil Hippopotamus to be cared for by the state. The novel has a mystical bent (Peter keeps mentioning a door that leads to freedom), a keen eye for society’s hypocrisies, and a wry, riotous sense of energy. Honour killings! shrieks Tilte as she and Peter attempt to rescue a sweet-voiced girl with the help of older brother Hans, a carriage driver, thereby compelling a hoard of good citizens to rise up against the girl’s pursuing bodyguards. Did I say smart?

Hollywood high-up Greyson Todd has the expected: a grand house, a loving family, and the very real pleasures of power. He’s about to dump it all and not for reasons you’d expect. Todd has been hiding his bipolar disorder for two decades, and he’s about to crack. So he avoids a Hollywood ending (no sitting by his sleeping daughter’s bedside and stroking her hair) and creeps out like a thief in the night, intent on jettisoning his identity along with his meds and relaxing into an understanding of who he really is. Juliann Garey’s Too Bright To Hear Too Loud To See (Soho, Dec.) is a liquid, absorbing read that takes us ’round the world with Todd and into his past, as he and his heedless father come unstuck. Fiction newcomer Garey has worked as a screenwriter and edited Voices of Bipolar Disorder: The Healing Companions, so she knows her content.

We ran wild at night, effortless, boundless, under a blood red sky. Now there’s an energetic beginning for the sister protagonists of Ilie Ruby’s The Salt God’s Daughter (Soft Skull, Sept.). Ruthie and older sister Dolly lead a surprisingly charmed existence, considering that they are essentially homeless and dragged from job to job by wayward, dreamy mother Diana (yes, she’s ruled by the moon). But with Diana’s death they end up in the Bethesda Home for Girls, running wild at night to find life and love. When Ruthie discovers a deserted hotel housing the spirits of sea animals and later has sea-drawn daughter Naida with a mysterious fisherman, the novel turns mystical, with references to Celtic myth. The sun-hard everyday and the misty magic hold together like sea and salt, ocean and beach. A great second novel for award winner Ruby.‚ Barbara Hoffert

Science, sewing, & murder

Japanese craft books have a bit of a cult following here in the States owing to their beautiful photographs and the chic simplicity of the projects and because only the most intrepid crafters (or those who read Japanese) have been able to make the items. Luckily, for those who prefer to get instructions along with inspiration, Tuttle is releasing English translations of several of these gorgeous books, starting with Yoshiko Tsukiori’s Stylish Dress Book: Wear with Freedom (Sept.).

Odds are, if you like to sew and spend any time online, you’ve come across Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing ( blogforbettersewing.com). Gretchen Gertie Hirsch successfully combines style and substance, making couture techniques‚ and a vintage fashion aesthetic‚ seem doable at home. Now she’s offering both a reference work and a pattern collection, Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing (STC Craft: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Sept.).

At the other end of the crafting spectrum, the projects in Sarah Goldschadt’s Craft-a-Day: 365 Simple Handmade Projects (Quirk, Oct.) don’t require any special skills or tools. While the cards, cupcake toppers, T-shirt transfers, and so on are almost universally charming, the best thing about this book is that it encourages readers of all ages to make creative play a daily activity.

Another book that looks just plain fun, Michael Hearst’s Unusual Creatures: A Mostly Accurate Account of Earth’s Strangest Animals (Chronicle, Oct.) should appeal to armchair naturalists and anyone with an appreciation for the absurd. (Did you know that wombats poop cubes? Now you do.)

Also of note: Jenny Volvovsky, Julia Rothman, and Matt Lamothe’s beautiful and brainy The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science (Chronicle, Oct.). Scientists’ essays about the workings of the natural world are illustrated by celebrated contemporary artists like Lisa Congdon, Jen Corace, and Neil Farber.

As a fan of both zombie stories and popular science, I can’t wait for Frank Swain’s How To Make a Zombie: The Real Life (and Death) of Reanimation and Mind Control (Oneworld, Oct.). Swain (the excellent @SciencePunk on Twitter) looks into both laboratory experiments (dog heads brought back to life!) and examples from the natural world (parasites that force sex changes!), supporting the idea that organisms can be controlled by outside, possibly malicious, forces. Can a relentless army of the undead be far behind?

Speaking of things that go bump in the night, there’s plenty of good crime fiction on deck for fall, too. Last year’s The Boy in the Suitcase from Danish authors Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis was the cream of the post-Larsson Scandinavian mystery crop. With the publication of Invisible Murder (Soho, Oct.), English-speaking audiences will finally get more of Red Cross nurse and illegal immigrant advocate Nina Borg. The second installment in the series involves a camp of refugee Roma children who are sick with a mysterious illness. The authors’ unflinching examination of the xenophobic, anti-immigrant underbelly of ostensibly liberal and tolerant modern Scandinavia adds depth to novels that would have been enjoyable for the well-crafted mysteries alone.

Last but not least, any new stand-alone crime novel from Scottish author Val McDermid is a cause for celebration. The Vanishing Point (Atlantic Monthly, Sept.) follows the investigation into a child abduction case.‚ Stephanie Klose

In with the old-new

BEA 2012 re inforced my belief that the distinctions among frontlist, midlist, and backlist are disappearing. Many librarians stressed that their new best content friends are ebook versions of old fiction and nonfiction because they’re great stories and they have access to them. Co incidentally, I’ve been obsessed with dead under sung authors, from Kate Simon (look up her exquisite o.p. memoirs Bronx Primitive, 1982, and A Wider World, 1986) to Jane Jacobs (The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961). Open Road Media’s publishing program caters to my predilection for ebook reissues of Timothy Zahn’s dystopian novel Coming of Age (Sept., first published in 1984) and (in partnership with MysteriousPress.com) Jerome Charyn’s Elsinore (Nov., first published in 1991), about a hit man coming out of retirement.

A second edition (print only, alas) with new projects to bolster your, ahem, fringe DIY collections: William Gurstelle’s Backyard Ballistics: Build Potato Cannons, Paper Match Rockets, Cincinnati Fire Kites, Tennis Ball Mortars, and More Dynamite Devices (Chicago Review Pr., Sept.). Let’s just say it harkens back to my North Dakota youth spent with science nerds.

No one graphic novel rocked the show as in years past, a Stiches (2009), if you will. But graphic nonfiction‚ as profiled in our recent collection development article Drawing on Reality‚ keeps exploding, especially in the memoir subcategory. Cristy C. Road’s Spit and Passion (Feminist Pr., Nov.) probes a subject dear to my heart: the transformative moment when music crashes into a stifling adolescent bedroom and saves you. Whereas I clung to The Clash, Cuban American Roads, a respected zine publisher, looked up to Green Day as she navigated life and queerness. Pair it with the bible of music obsession and devotion, Lester Bangs’s Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung (1988).

If you put David Foster Wallace’s name in a headline, you will get hits‚ or so I’ve learned from analytics and bearded hipster gossip sessions. His Infinite Jest (1996) ranks as a new superclassic, and in the full-color Graphic Cannon,Vol. 3: From Heart of Darkness to Infinite Jest (Seven Stories Pr., 2013), it will be interpreted alongside F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925), a top-ten personal favorite soon to get the Baz Luhrmann treatment. Series editor Russ Kick (You Are Being Lied To) requested that the rainbow of contributing artists (e.g., Seymour Chwast, Joy Kolitsky) remain true to the source material, so Lady Chatterley will not tryst on Mars. See also Wallace’s posthumous essay collection Both Flesh and Not (Little, Brown, Nov.), including early work not easily accessed, along with classics like ‚ÄòFederer Both Flesh and Not,’‚Äâ according to LJ Prepub Alert Editor Barbara Hoffert.

Celebrity reigns over the BEA circus like an atomic mushroom cloud, and while I often run from it, directly into an Elvis impersonator, I can’t resist including Courtney Love’s yet-to-be-titled memoir (Morrow, Nov.), which I hope will eschew mudslinging and defensiveness in favor of the jaw-breaking cultural analysis she was capable of in the 1990s. Begging to be displayed alongside the quasi autobiography of another blonde lightning rod, the excellent o.p. Making Tracks: The Rise of Blondie (1982; 1998 reprint) by Deborah Harry and Chris Stein. Heather McCormack

Hard-boiled wimp

If you write detective fiction and you’re any good or have tremendous luck, you might invent one PI of note. If you’re really good, you might create two memorable detectives. Nobody creates three snoops with eternal appeal. Well, almost nobody. Years after presenting the nameless investigator known only as the Continental Op and forever setting the standard for all other PIs to come with Sam Spade, hard-boiled Olympian Dashiell Hammett debuted his third‚ and completely different‚ detective. Or former detective, to be precise. Welcome Nick Charles, an ex-snoop living the good life swilling scotch seemingly around the clock and enjoying the benefits of his moneybags wife’s fortune.

Released by Knopf in January 1934, The Thin Man was an immediate smash. Hollywood quickly came calling, and Nick and Nora Charles‚ embodied to perfection by William Powell and Myrna Loy‚ leaped from print to the big screen in an equally successful film. The public‚ and MGM’s accountants‚ begged for more. Hammett put paper in typewriter and banged out two novellas of the Charleses’ further adventures, which served as the basis for sequel films After the Thin Man and Another Thin Man. The characters proved so popular that the series eventually stretched to six features.

This November, HighBridge Audio, which last year scored with the debut of its outstanding Black Mask Stories series, is releasing Hammett’s Return of the Thin Man, combining his After/Another treatments, which have been edited by top Hammett scholar/biographer Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett, Hammett’s granddaughter. With the right reader, the old hard-boiled stuff is perfect for audio, and Hammett’s prose is especially well suited to this format, so this should be fantastic. Mysterious Press is releasing the duo in print.

A new novel by Tom Wolfe (Back to Blood, Little, Brown, Oct.) always sends the publishing world into a tizzy, but I say Wolfe can go scratch! Speaking on behalf of my son and legions of other young readers, I predict that this fall’s mondo title will be Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel (Amulet Bks: Abrams, Nov.). For my guy and millions more, reading equals schoolwork. The Wimpy Kid titles are the only books he’ll gladly ingest for fun; he gobbles them up and licks the spoon clean. These books are so popular that the first printing for Third Wheel is a mind-boggling 6.5 million copies. Also, Dog Days, the third title in the film incarnations, hits theaters August 3‚ Wimpy Kid rules, baby!‚ Michael Rogers

From Southern debuts to steampunk

Devoid of the showy glitz and celebrity glamour that was the standard fare of the publishing boom years, BEA 2012 was mostly all business with little room for serendipitous discovery of fresh voices. Galley giveaways of the buzz books were tightly controlled, lines ran long (an hour for Justin Cronin’s The Twelve (Ballantine, Oct.), for R.L. Stine’s adult horror title, Red Rain (Touchstone, Oct.), and even for Kelby Carr’s Pinterest for Dummies (Wiley, May), and with the exception of Workman’s nifty Jacques Pépin apron and Little, Brown’s Lemony Snicket briefcase, freebies were on the skimpy side.

Still, I managed to uncover promising treasures. As a Southerner, I couldn’t resist a debut novel titled The Politics of Barbecue (John F. Blair, Sept.). Author Blake Fontenay satirizes political greed and corruption in this rollicking tale of a Memphis mayor‚ and owner of a popular barbecue joint‚ with grand plans to build the World Barbecue Hall of Fame. Talk about pork barrel politics! Blair, a North Carolina press that specializes in regional titles, has high hopes for its lead title appealing to a broad readership outside of the South.

Also exploring Southern culture is Pamela King Cable’s Televenge (Satya House Pubns., Oct.), a debut suspense novel about faith and corruption in the evangelical Christian world. Satya House, a self- described boutique publisher based in Hardwick, MA, is pushing this title hard, with a signing at the American Library Association conference and an author tour around the South and Ohio.

Another book that caught my fancy is Clockwork Angel (ECW Pr., Sept.), Kevin J. Anderson’s steampunk novelization of the new eponymous album by the Canadian rock band Rush. The best- selling sf writer is a longtime friend of Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, and this book is the culmination of their dream to marry music, lyrics, and prose fiction. Peart, by the way, is narrating the audiobook (Brilliance Audio, Sept.), and the novel’s publication coincides with the start of the band’s North American tour.

When I first arrived in New York in 1980 with grand literary aspirations, I signed up for a writing class advertised on a grocery store flyer. The teacher was a recent Columbia MFA graduate named Bill Roorbach. Over the years, I have followed his career‚ from award- winning short stories and essays published in Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and dozens of other magazines and journals to his lovely memoir about his girlfriend-turned-wife, Summers with Juliet.In November, Algonquin is releasing Roorbach’s third novel, Life Among Giants, with a major marketing campaign, including a 12-city tour, and enthusiastic in-house support. This tale of a 17-year-old star quarterback whose promising future is thrown offtrack by the murder of his parents is bound to be the breakout hit that Roorbach so richly deserves.‚ Wilda Williams

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