Saturday, May 30, 2015

Editors' Buzz Books at BEA 2015

Book Expo America 2015 is in the books--and I have the aching back and sore feet to prove it! After three days of lugging books and logging miles in the Javits Center, I'll be returning home with dozens of galleys of books to be released in the upcoming months.   

One of the most fun things about BEA is having the chance to hear editors talk about the books about to be birthed with their loving care. And so Wendi and I continued the tradition of attending the Editors' Buzz panel to hear these special midwives' take on their babies.

Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor's Reflections on Race and Medicine by Damon Tweedy (Picador -- presenter Anna de Vries -- available in September) --  As you might expect, Black Man in a White Coat is a non-fiction book about the issues facing African-American patients and physicians in today's world. While the issues clearly warrant discussion, de Vries was unsuccessful in motivating me to delve into the subject. (She actually read her presentation, which didn't help.) It was an unusual choice to kick off the Buzz Panel and made me wonder--as I do each year--about the selection process.  My guess is that it was the committee's nod to current events.  The book will not be leaving on a jet plane with me come Monday. 

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (Knopf - presenter Diana Miller -- available in October) -- City on Fire was the big book of BEA in many ways.  It weighs in at 927 pages--longer than last year's hit The Goldfinch--but that didn't stop 12 editors from different publishing houses from vying for publication rights. The press has reported a $2 million advance to Hallberg for his story about a group of people who come together in 1970s New York City in the wake of a shooting. Miller's passion for this book made me want to grab a copy and start reading right then and there. I was intrigued by her comment that readers disagree as to which person is the story's main character and that your choice will tell you something about yourself. Miller ended her talk by saying she is jealous of people who haven't read City of Fire yet because they have such a fabulous reading experience ahead of them.  I can't wait to dig in. 

Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh (Penguin --presenter Scott Moyers -- available in August) -- Moyers started his presentation by saying that City on Fire is a wonderful novel and that he hadn't been looking forward to pitching his book after Miller. He made a valiant effort, though, as he shared his enthusiasm for Moshfegh's novel about a woman who has been "damaged by the world." Moyers gave us a sense of Eileen's character by revealing a scene in which she steals a book with pictures of death masks. Eileen then uses the masks as models for the way she would like to present herself to the world. (Yes, creepy.)  I didn't get a strong sense of the plot line but do know that Eileen makes her living working in a boys' prison.  I am on the fence about reading this dark novel. 

Home is Burning by Dan Marshall (Flatiron Books -- presenter Colin Dickerman -- available in October) -- Dickerman acknowledged upfront that his description of Home is Burning would not make readers want to run out and get a copy. (He apparently had some persuading to do at Flatiron as well, where he ended up imploring, "Just read it!")  At its heart, the book tells the story of a man who goes home to take care of his sick mom and dying dad. Sounds pretty uplifting, I know. Dickerman is a good salesman, though, and his comparable synopses of Angela's Ashes and Running with Scissors effectively made the point that sometimes you do just have to read a book to understand why it's so compelling. What makes Home is Burning marketable is that Marshall tells Team Terminal's story with a lot of humor. He shares, for instance, that his non-Mormon family liked to irritate their Utah neighbors by opening the windows and swearing loudly. (Note the book cover.)  Dickerman describes the book as "Brutal. Funny. Brutally funny." One reviewer says, "Dave Eggers meets David Sedaris in this uproariously funny, unflinchingly honest and tender memoir." A film deal is in the works. Although I don't read a lot of non-fiction, Home is Burning is on my "to read" list. 

in a dark, dark wood by Ruth Ware (Scout Press -- presenter Alison Callahan -- available in August) -- Scout Press is a new literary imprint "dedicated to being on the lookout for modern storytellers." in a dark, dark wood is the house's first publication, and Callahan was clearly thrilled at being part of the Buzz panel.  Because the book is a psychological thriller, Callahan didn't tell us much other than that the story has all female characters and the protagonist is an intensely private crime writer who goes by three different names. She compared the book to The Silent Wife, Before I Go to Sleep, Gone Girl and Girl on a Train. Her comment to the men in the audience was that if their wives are reading these books, make sure to bring them flowers.  I'm a bit off thrillers these days, but this is a book I'll pick up when the mood strikes. 

The Three-Year Swim Club by Julie Checkoway (Grand Central Publishing -- presenter Deb Futter -- available in October) -- The Three-Year Swim Club tells a little known story about a teacher in Maui who, in 1937, launched a program to teach a group of Japanese-American kids how to swim.  One hundred children learned, with one towel among them and a filthy irrigation ditch as their pool. Their goal:  to represent the United States in the Olympic Games.  While the Games were cancelled due to WWII, the story of these children is a part of our history long-overdue in the telling.  Futter compared the book to Unbroken and Boys in the Boat.  I'm giving The Three-Year Swim Club to a friend.     

As always, I came away from the Buzz panel both appreciative of the work that goes into getting an author's story out into the world and eager to get reading.   So many books, so little time. 

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