LJ Best Books 2017

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Editors’ Picks | Day of Dialog 2015

DOD2015slugFrom a double biography of two of the 20th century’s most famous women (Karin Wieland’s Dietrich & Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin, and a Century in Two Lives, Liveright: Norton, Oct.) to an ambitious 900-page debut novel set in 1970s New York City (Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire, Knopf, Oct.), many of the key forthcoming fall and spring titles presented by top editors appearing on Wednesday, May 27, at Day of Dialog’s always popular Editors Picks panel packed an intellectual and literary heft. Particularly noteworthy were two offerings from Liveright publishing director Robert Weil: S.P.Q.R.: A History of Ancient Rome (Nov.), by leading classicist Mary Beard, and The Complete Works of Primo Levi (Sept., edited by Ann Goldstein), a 17-year publishing project that Weil says will introduce the Italian author and Holocaust survivor to a new audience.

LEADIN HERE caption text here describing this block on the Editors’ Picks panel. At top, the whole group onstage with Barbara in front of a packed house; second row left photo shows Denise Roy (l.) and Name Here; right photo shows Jennifer Barth; bottom row shows Name Here (l.) and Diana Miller. Photos ©2015 William Neumann

THE EDITORS’ PICKS PANEL, always popular, opened Day of Dialog. On top, the entire panel onstage in front of a packed house at NYU’s Kimmel Center. In the second row, Liveright’s Robert Weil (l.) and HarperCollins’s Jennifer Barth (r.) introduce their books. In the bottom row, Farrar’s Sean McDonald and Knopf’s Diana Miller are enthusiastic about  their titles, too. Photos ©2015 William Neumann

Best-selling  Mary Karr will return in September with The Art of the Memoir (Harper), touted by HarperCollins vice president and executive editor Jennifer Barth as a literary but accessible appreciation of what makes a great memoir. Diana Nyad’s Find a Way: One Wild and Precious Life (Knopf, Oct.), about her triumphant swim from Cuba to Florida, is “much more than an athlete’s memoir,” raved Knopf editor Diana Miller.

On the fiction front, Farrar vice president and executive editor Sean McDonald and Dutton senior editor Denise Roy promoted several promising debuts, including essayist Sloane Crosley’s Guy de Maupassant–inspired The Clasp (Farrar, Oct.), Alexandra Curry’s The Courtesan (Dutton, Sept.), a historical novel about a Chinese concubine who bridged the East-West divide at the end of the 19th century, and Jules Moulin’s feminist romantic comedy Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes (Dutton, Aug.). “I haven’t been so excited about publishing a first novel in a very long time,” said McDonald.

Harper’s Barth was especially enthusiastic about two January 2016 releases that she believed had the potential to attract a wider readership for their midlist authors. Frequently compared to Alice Munro, English author Tessa Hadley may finally find commercial success with her family drama The Past, and Alafair Burke’s new stand-alone The Ex offers “character-driven suspense that will appeal to fans of nongenre fiction.” Knopf’s biggest pop fiction release of the fall is sure to be The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Sept.), the fourth entry in Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” series. Miller explained how the Larsson estate handpicked Swedish journalist David Lagercrantz to continue the story of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. “He is not trying to channel Larsson,” explained Miller, “but he has delivered a very exciting book.”

Below is a rundown of the 20 highlighted titles with editorial comments.

diedrichRobert Weil, Publishing Director, Liveright: W.W.Norton

  • Eli Gottlieb, Best Boy (Liveright: Norton, Aug.) “I don’t do much fiction, but this is one I love.” Narrated in the first person in the voice of an autistic man in his 50s, this second novel by the author of the award-winning The Boy Who Went Away is the complete portrait of innocence and goodness. “Think Lenny in Of Mice and Men.”
  • Karin Wieland, Dietrich & Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin, and a Century in Two Lives (Liveright: Norton, Oct.)
    A best seller in Germany, this biography of actress Marlene Dietrich and Leni Riefenstahl, the German filmmaker and propagandist, is more than a story of Hollywood and Nazis. “It’s a moral story of what artists should do under pressure.”
  • Mary Beard, S.P.Q.R.: A History of Ancient Rome (Liveright: Norton, Nov.)
    Arguably the most famous female historian in the world today, Beard offers a brilliant revisionist history from the viewpoint of the slaves, women, and other lower classes. “It challenges everything we know about Rome.”
  • The Complete Works of Primo Levi, edited by Ann Goldstein (Liveright: Norton, Sept.).
    It took five years for Weil to gather all the rights to Levi’s work.With an introduction by Toni Morrison, this volume includes all of his 14 books (novels, memoirs, essays, poetry, commentary), 13 of which have been fully retranslated. “This takes Levi from Holocaust writer to great novelist.”

KarrJennifer Barth, vice president and executive editor, HarperCollins

  • Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir (Harper, Sept.)
    “When we signed this book up, the idea was to write a straight, practical how-to guide. But it turns out not to be in Karr’s DNA to write that kind of book. Instead, this is a writer pulling back the curtain on her craft.”
  • Tessa Hadley, The Past (Harper, Jan. 2016)
    Frequently compared to Alice Munroe, Hadley is a great writer whose sales haven’t caught up with her reputation, Among her fans are Hilary Mantel and Lily King. Hadley’s new novel is a “satisfying family drama that should cement her reputation among reviewers and earn her the commercial success that has eluded her so far in her career.”
  • Alafair Burke, The Ex (Harper, Jan. 2016)
    This stand-alone thriller with a strong female protagonist “will be a game changer for the author.”
  • Lissa Evans, Crooked Hearts (Harper, Jul.)
    Barth describes this novel about a London widow who runs cons with a young refugee boy she takes in as “Paper Moon set during the Blitz.” It offers a wonderfully funny take on dark times, but is not the least sentimental.

HemonSEAN MCDONALD, Vice President and Executive Editor, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

  • Sloane Crosley, The Clasp (Farrar, Oct.)
    “The first novel has the energy and charm of Crosley’s essays.”
  • Alexander Hemon, The Making of the Zombie Wars (Farrar, 2015)
  • Aleksandar Hemon, Behind The Glass Wall: Inside the United Nations (FSG Originals, Oct.)
    Bosnian author Hemon draws on his experience as the UN’s first writer in residence for this insider’s portrait of an often-criticized organization. What he found was that “it was made up of people who come to work every day to make the world better.”
  • Eli Horowitz, The Pickle Index (FSG Originals, Nov.)
    A short fable about a country whose economy is based on pickles, which will come with an interactive app. As the son of a librarian, Horowitz was raised with a sense of the power of storytelling and the many ways of doing it.


  • David Lagercrantz, The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A Lisbeth Salander Novel (Knopf, Sept.)
    Once again, Blomkvist is in disgrace and Millenium magazine is on its last legs, when he gets a call about a break-in at the NSA. And once again the journalist turns to hacker Lisbeth Salander for help.
  • Diana Nyad, Find a Way: One Wild and Precious Life (Knopf, Oct.)
    Nyad’s story is more than an athlete’s memoir as she overcame great odds, failing, over again until she succeeded.in her attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida. “It’s a story we usually don’t hear from athletes.”
  • Patti Smith, M Train (Knopf, Oct.)
    Smith’s new memoir after her National Book Award-winning Just Kids is a trip through the musician/poet’s mind as she shares the places that inspired her. “This is also a book about creativity.”
  • Garth Risk Hallberg, City on Fire (Knopf, Sept.)
    Set in 1970s New York City, this ambitious book is the most anticipated first novel in years. “There’s a generosity and voraciousness that readers will experience.”

Ally HughesDenise Roy, Senior Editor, Dutton

  • Jules Moulin, Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes (Dutton, Aug.)
    Rights to this first novel about a buttoned-up professor and her unbuttoned daughter who fall for the same man sold to ten countries. “It is a romantic comedy that serves up the feminist issues of the day.”
  • Alexandra Curry, The Courtesan (Dutton, Sept.)
    After a five-publisher auction, Roy acquired this “extraordinary” historical novel about a legendary Chinese concubine who was sent to Vienna and fell in love with a European nobleman. Having lived all over the world and with a gift for languages, “Curry is perfectly attuned to the cultural and feminist issues of this story and how they resonate today.”
  • Lori Roy, Let Me Die in His Footsteps (Dutton, 2015)
    Inspired by the last legal public hanging in the United States, Roy’s Southern gothic about two pairs of sisters separated by a generation displays the author’s mastery of suspense and shocking twists and turns.
Wilda Williams About Wilda Williams

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