Sunday, June 2, 2013

Editors' Buzz Books at 2013 Book Expo

After 362 days of anticipation, Book Expo 2013 had finally arrived.  Wendi and I headed over to the Javits Center last Wednesday afternoon to hear editors from six publishing houses promote books that they hope to be the big hits of the season.  In prior years, books such as Emma Donoghue's Room and Chad Harbach's Art of Fielding have made the panel, so each year I look forward to hearing the "buzz" about the books that have been chosen.   I don't know what the selection process involves, but it was clear from the outset that this year's judges were in the mood for some intense reading.

The lead-off book was Hitler's Furies:  German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower (publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).  In telling the stories of 13 women who were witnesses, accomplices, or killers in the "wild east" of Hitler's empire (jurisdictions such as Poland, Belarus, Latvia and the Ukraine), Lower exposes the fact that women were active participants during the perpetration of Hitler's atrocities in roles other than that of concentration camp guards.  Lower did extensive research for her book over a period of 20 years, reviewing thousands of pages of transcripts containing the testimony of female witnesses in war crime trials held following WWII.  (The transcripts only became available following the fall of the Soviet Union.)  While I appreciate that this is an important subject, Hitler's Furies is NOT going to make it to my bedside table.

Facades:  A Novel, a debut novel by Eric Lundgren (publisher Overlook Press), was next up.  Facades tells the tale of a man's search for his wife, a celebrated opera singer, who mysteriously disappears.  It is a layered detective story about a man looking both for his wife and for himself in an imaginary city with characteristics of Kafka's Prague and Batman's Gotham City.   (They pretty much lost me there!)  Lundgren wrote this book several years ago and shopped it around without success.  He put it in a drawer and went to work as a librarian.  The editor read the book four years ago but was not able to persuade her then employer to pull the trigger on it.  Facades was the first book that she has brought to print in her new role at Overlook.  She didn't share whether Lundgren has given up his day job.

Amy Grace Loyd's Affairs of Others (publisher Picador USA) sounds like a reminder of why I'm glad I no longer live in a high rise in the city.  It's the story of Celia, the landlord of an apartment  building in New York who is still grieving the loss of her husband five years after his death.  She says, "American life asks us to engage in an act of triumphant recovery at all times or get out of the way.  I have been happy to get out of the way."  After years of maintaining a distance from her tenants, Celia becomes involved in their lives when a new tenant moves in with a complicated set of problems that Celia can't ignore.  Loyd is an editor herself and at first blush looks to be a strong writer.   This is one buzz book that I will read.

The panel turned back to non-fiction with Five Days at Memorial:  Life and Death in a Storm Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink (publisher Crown Publishing Group).  Fink is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who trained as a physician and has spent time as a relief worker in disaster and conflict zones. Who better to report on the events resulting in 45 patient deaths (some by lethal injection) at New Orleans' Memorial Hospital following Hurricane Katrina?  The book is divided into two sections addressing the storm and its aftermath and the investigation and trial, respectively.  Fink's writing style looks eminently readable for people who are interested in learning more about this story.

Knocking on Heaven's Door:  The Path to a Better Way of Death by Katy Butler (publisher Scribner) was perhaps the most depressing sounding book of the day (which is saying quite a bit).   Butler is a science reporter for the New York Times, and the book is an extension of an article published in the Time in 2010 about the deaths of her parents.  (The article was one of the most emailed NYT articles of the year and can be read at  Butler's father died several years after suffering a stroke and, later, having a pacemaker implanted.  It was an expensive process, both in dollars and in emotional wear and tear.  In the article, Butler says, "His stroke devastated two lives.  The day before, my mother was an upper-middle-class housewife who practiced calligraphy in her spare time.  Afterward, she was one of tens of millions of Americans...who help care for an older family member."  The "medical conservatism" that was exercised on her father (who had dementia in addition to other medical issues) is contrasted with the relatively swift death of her mother, who made a choice to deny life-extending treatment when she was diagnosed at the age of 84 with heart disease.  The book raises questions of care versus cure that most of us will likely be forced to face with respect to ourselves and/or our loved ones.   Not a light or easy read, but certainly a thought-provoking one.

The final book was yet another non-fiction work entitled All Joy and No Fun:  The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior (publisher Harper Collins).   This book grew from an article written by Senior on the same topic that was published three years ago in New York Magazine (   (I love the quote in the article about someone who, while visiting a children's museum with their kid, said it was "a nice place, but what it really needs is a bar".)  The book is being characterized as a follow-on to the classic What to Expect When You're Expecting (although the editor opined that if every couple considering parenthood read this book first, there would probably be fewer children in the world).  An odd selection.

With that, we were released from the conference room to grab galleys of the books that had been buzzed and head home to develop our plan of attack for our first full day at the Book Expo.  Next up:  Thriller Authors Abound.

1 comment:

  1. I am so jealous! I want to go to the book expo and take little Cosette with me. Have a blast. I'll be picking your brain when you get back.


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