Leah Hager Cohen at the Robbins Library

No Book But the World (2)Cross-posted at the Robbins Library blog.

Leah Hager Cohen graced the Robbins Library with her presence on Monday night, reading a section from her newest novel, No Book But the World, in a soft, clear, expressive voice. The passage described the main character, Ava, as a child, playing with her younger brother Fred and overhearing her parents discussing whether or not her mother should teach Ava to read sheet music. Ava wants her parents to keep talking about her, but Fred chokes on a rock, and though Ava gets him to spit it out, their parents come running to Fred’s wails.

Devoted readers will notice what Cohen herself has noticed about her books, both fiction and nonfiction: “All of my books, as I look back on them, seem to engage the idea of “other,” whether in the form of marginalized cultures or the private “otherness” we all sometimes feel in moments of loneliness or isolation. And I see all of them as part of a larger effort to reach out beyond that isolation, to fathom the unfathomable” (quote from a January 2012 interview with Steven Wingate in Fiction Writers Review). Storytelling, Cohen said, is a way of bridging the gaps, making connections between people.

Her new novel, No Book But the World, investigates the question, “What do we do about people in the world who are difficult to love?” The difficult-to-love character is Fred, who likely has an autism spectrum disorder, but his parents, Neel and June, are against “pathologizing the individual,” so Fred remains undiagnosed; Neel and June think Fred is “okay the way he is.” As the book begins, the adult Fred has been accused of a crime, and Ava is convinced that if she can only coax Fred into telling his side of the story, she can serve as the interpreter between him and the world. Ava insists that she knows Fred better than anyone – but how possible is it to know someone else? “Sympathy and empathy can go a long way toward reaching the Other, but it is arrogance to think we can know the Other.” Still, there is the hope that “if only we could tell the story well enough, complete enough, some of the pain of otherness/separateness could be alleviated.”

“Who could ever tell a story complete?” -Leah Hager Cohen, No Book But the World

During the Q&A following the reading, one reader who had already finished No Book But the World tiptoed around the ending, trying not to spoil it for those who hadn’t read it yet; she asked about Fred’s choice near the end of the book. Cohen said that her literary agent had a similar reaction: to most readers, Fred seems like a character the world happens to, but in this case he makes a surprising choice for himself. Though Cohen considered changing the ending, she ultimately kept the original.

TrainGoSorryThough lately Cohen has published more fiction (The Grief of Others, House Lights), she started out publishing nonfiction after graduating from Columbia University’s Journalism School. Journalism “seemed like a way to balance my pleasure in writing and being socially useful.” With journalism, Cohen believed, storytelling can help fill in what we don’t know. She quickly realized that “journalism is too often subservient to capitalism,” but turned one of her pieces for school into a book proposal, which became Train Go Sorry.

Another audience member noted Cohen’s exceptional vocabulary. Cohen laughed and put it more baldly: “How come you use all those words?” She answered, “I’m not trying to be inaccessible…I am aware that the tool that I have is English, is language, [and it is] pretty meager compared to all this stuff [life, the world, etc.]…The reason we’re here is to tell each other those things, [but] I can only get part of the way there through words.” She then related a story about first encountering the word “hyperbole”: “Back in adolescence, I remember having an epiphany that the whole idea of hyperbole is fallacious—since nothing we perceive, nor any words we are capable of using to express it, could ever begin to approach the fullness of the thing” (quote from the interview with Steven Wingate).

One of Cohen’s first jobs after graduating from Hampshire College college was as an American Sign Language interpreter. ASL has “a richness of expression in its visual and spatial aspects,” whereas English is linear (one word follows another word). She added, “All of this language stuff is great but it’s not the end.” However, she clearly enjoys language as a tool for play and work; she loved writing even as a child, when sometimes her “desire to enjoy making things out of language sometimes preceded having something to say.”

Though all her books share a few thematic commonalities – for example, people’s struggle to connect with and understand other people, especially those who are different – Cohen said she doesn’t rely on an outline and doesn’t plan what to write. She quoted E.L. Doctorow: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

“For why are we here if not to try to fathom one another? Not through facts alone, but with the full extent of our imaginations. And what are stories if not tools for imagining?” -Leah Hager Cohen, No Book But the World

Advertisements

BookCon 2014: When they were last seen

Read about BookExpo America (BEA)’s sessions Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday (here and here).

BookCon, the Saturday following BEA, was a whole different animal, and not one I’m likely to visit at the conference petting zoo ever again. However, I did get to see David Mitchell in conversation with David Ebershoff, and Cary Elwes talking about his forthcoming book, As You Wish. (“The title meeting was about two minutes. I said, ‘What do you want to call it?’ and they said, ‘Really?'”)

“For a voyage to begin, another voyage must end…”

boneclocksDavid Mitchell displayed exactly the type of dry British humor and sharp intelligence one would expect from reading his books and articles. He described his forthcoming novel The Bone Clocks as a first-person tale focused on six stages in the life of Holly Sykes, from the 1960s through the 2040s; he followed this description with the admonishment, “No whispering ‘He’s rewritten Twilight’ in the back there.”

As for the inspiration for the book, “Novels have a number of seeds, they don’t really just grow from one.” The Bone Clocks may be a midlife crisis book about facing mortality; “You look in the mirror, and ‘Dad, how did you get there?!'”

Reviews have used the phrase “Mitchell-esque”; what would David Mitchell say they mean by that? “Naive, childlike, a compunction to pack in as much of the world as you can; like a loom, character strands weaving together.” His editor David Ebershoff (himself an author), added that Mitchell was “willing to move through time.”

Characters from one of Mitchell’s novels often show up in his other novels; characters from Black Swan Green and Cloud Atlas make appearances in The Bone Clocks, a treat for loyal Mitchell readers.

Some brave Book Riot-ers recounted their adventure/ordeal getting copies of they galley of The Bone Clocks and getting them signed by the author in the exhibit hall after his talk.

Q&A

How do you handle a big cast of characters? In a word, “messily.” In more words, “A little bit like the NSA, I keep files…I know when they were last seen…” Mitchell said he thinks of himself as a writer of novellas, “Novellas full of doors and passageways.” He builds his larger novels out of these novellas, “like a kid with Lego.”

You’re not optimistic about the future – why? Mitchell first answered this question with a question – “Have you seen the news lately?” – but added, “Essentially, it’s oil.” He’s also worried about climate change, dictators, etc. “Though we’re devoting some resources to finding a way around [our dependence on] oil, we’re devoting far more time to convincing ourselves it’s all okay.” His outlook isn’t entirely pessimistic, though: “There’s hope. We’re clever and bright as well as short-sighted and destructive.”

What did you think of the Cloud Atlas movie? Mitchell said he was very happy with the movie. “It’s an unfilmable book. Bearing in mind that caveat, they did a wonderful job…they took it apart and put it back together. Film is a compromise.” (As a side note, he mentioned that entertainment lawyers were “badass scary people.”)

Character inconsistency between books? [Facepalm.] Luisa Rey was mentioned here: is she fictional or real? Mitchell’s novels are a “multiverse” with a fault running down the middle. The novel, Mitchell said, “thrives on inexactitude.” He doesn’t read his novels once they’re published, other than reading from them on book tours; “The only way to stay sane is to plunge into the next book.”

Have you ever considered a serialized format (like Dickens)? “Not really.” The dominant serial format, he said, is the HBO box set, which does it very well. Serialization “changes what books are.” Mitchell believes “you can only serve one form…I hereby choose the novel.” As for the pace of his writing and publishing? “I write one [novel] every World Cup.”

 

asyouwish

Cary Elwes followed David Mitchell in the same room, and I suspect that some people attended Mitchell’s talk just to be sure of a seat in the room when Elwes appeared; while Mitchell merited applause, Elwes walked in to screaming fans. He told several stories that are included in his book; three are recounted in this Vulture piece.

Elwes described himself as a fan of William Goldman’s book, which he read when he was 13. “If you haven’t read the book, read the book, the book is amazing,” he urged. He called The Princess Bride “the most quotable movie/book ever,” which is tough to argue with. “It’s not even our movie anymore, it belongs to all of you,” he said to the audience. “You guys know the lines better than I do.”

Speaking of Andre the Giant (Fezzik in the movie), Elwes said he was “the sweetest guy ever,” truly a “gentle giant.” “He’d give you the shirt off his back – it’d be enough for four people.” When it was cold out during filming – during the first kiss scene, for example – Andre placed his hand on top of Robin Wright’s head and warmed her up enough to stop her teeth from chattering.

For the fencing scene, Elwes and Mandy Patinkin had two months of training on set, though the trainers wouldn’t guarantee “proficiency” by the time they were due to begin shooting. Elwes had studied fencing briefly in acting school, but a teacher had told him not to bother; Patinkin had had two months of training prior to the movie. At the time of the scene, Elwes also had a broken toe (see Vulture article). Neither actor, incidentally, is left-handed.

During the Q&A following the official interview, someone asked about the fake introductions in Goldman’s book (he references a son called Billy and a wife called Helen; in real life he has two daughters). Elwes called Goldman “an inventive writer” and said that while some parts are invented, some – like Mandy Patinkin slapping Andre the Giant – are true. Florin and Guilder, however, are not real countries, and S. Morgenstern is simply a pen name of Goldman’s.

Another question had to do with the fire swamp set. The flame spurts really were “preceded by a popping sound”: “No big deal, just don’t step on it.” (Goldman, who missed Fire Swamp Set 101, got upset when Robin Wright’s dress caught fire, even though “she’s supposed to catch fire!”)

The Princess Bride, Elwes said, was “one of the most joyous experiences of my life,” and it has clearly provided a lot of joy to others as well ever since its release in 1987.

BEA 2014 Part Four: Buzzy and Boozy

BEA14FriBookExpo America, Day Three (continued)

Read about the first two sessions of Day Three here.

The Librarians Book Buzz Part II continued in much the same vein as Part I. I’ll use the same format, highlighting just a few titles I found interesting from each publisher:

  • From Random House: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel; Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix (think IKEA meets haunted house)
  • From Penguin: One Plus One by Jojo Moyes (author of Me Before You); The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters; The Secret Place by Tana French; Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer; and If I Knew You Were Going to Be This Beautiful I Never Would Have Let You Go by Judy Chicurel
  • From W.W. Norton: An Italian Wife by Ann Hood; The Glass Cage by Nicholas Carr (author of The Shallows); The Birth of the Pill by Jonathan Eig; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty; The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson; and the graphic novel Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
  • From S&S: Juliet’s Nurse by Lois Leveen; As You Wish by Cary Elwes (about whom more later); We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas; The Innovators by Walter Isaacson
  • From Workman: The High Divide by Lin Enger, and several big beautiful nonfiction books, from dinosaurs to whiskey to molecules and the ocean.
  • From New York Review Books (not to be confused with the New York Review of Books): The Burning of the World by Bela Zombory-Moldovan; Conversations with Beethoven by Sanford Friedman; and Blackballed: The Black Vote and U.S. Democracy by Daryl Pinckney

I can definitely recommend One Plus One and The Secret Place, having already read the galleys, and I’m looking forward to several of these others. The to-read list grows! (That’s the only thing it does. Never gets any shorter, only grows.)

Librarian Shout ‘n’ Share

Moderated by Barbara Genco of Library Journal, this panel was both buzzy and boozy (one suggested hashtag was #vodkaatBEA). The panelists:

  • Douglas Lord, LSTA Coordinator, Division of Library Development, CT State Library, longtime Library Journal book reviewer and Books for Dudes Columnist
  • Alene Moroni, Manager, Selection and Order, King County Library System (WA) and a 2013 Library Journal “Mover and Shaker”
  • Charlene Rue, Deputy Director of Collection Management, BookOps: The shared technical services organization of New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library
  • Etta Thornton-Verma, Library Journal Reviews Editor (NY)
  • Jamie Watson, Collection Development Coordinator, Baltimore County Public Library (MD) and a 2008 Library Journal “Mover and Shaker”

My notes from this session are a bit haphazard due to the pace of the panel and people jumping in with suggestions and comments, so I may not have ascribed all the suggestions correctly. I’m just going to list books that I first heard about at the Shout ‘n’ Share, omitting any that I’d already heard about during BEA (from the Editors’ Book Buzz, Librarians’ Book Buzz, giant posters hanging in the exhibit hall, etc.).

Shout ‘n’ Share finds: Fiction

Shout ‘n’ Share finds: Nonfiction

And that was the end of BEA for me. Stay tuned for a (very belated, by now) recap of BookCon.

BEA 2014 Part Three: Publishers, Public Libraries, and the Public

BEA14FriBookExpo America, Day Three

Rebecca Miller, Editorial Director of Library Journal and School Library Journal, moderated a panel discussing “The Untapped Retail Channel: Public Libraries.” Miller wrote an excellent editorial piece before BEA, “Market Powerhouse: A Library Sale is Just the Beginning,” in which she argued, “It’s hard to ignore just how fundamentally important libraries have become to the potential success of a book—that is, if you pay attention to a few simple facts and are willing to question persistent myths.”

The panel included – it must be said – six white guys: George Coe, CEO of Baker & Taylor; Brian Downing, CEO of Library Ideas; Jeff Jankowski, VP and co-owner of Midwest Tape; Steve Potash, CEO of Overdrive; Rich Freese, CEO of Recorded Books; and Matt Tempelis, business manager of 3M. These companies have all already recognized libraries’ ability to reach readers, although libraries remain a “silent market” to publishers. The way Jankowski sees it, “there’s a library in every town in North America,” and the purpose of his company is to get rid of artificial market constraints and give libraries tools to make their jobs easier.

Potash said, “Retail is about creating more readers.” With Overdrive, he aims to provide the best content and most availability for the best value. Freese, whose company provides audiobooks to libraries, said “all books are not the same”; he suggested different models for different books (for example, simultaneous use for debut and backlist titles, 1 copy/1 user for bestsellers). “Librarians want to promote books & authors,” so enable them to do that.

Tempelis agreed that the library market grows the publishing business. There is no “erosion,” i.e. a copy of a book borrowed from a library does not equal a lost sale; rather, people discover books and authors in libraries and go on to purchase them. “We have been listening to libraries and librarians and patrons,” Tempelis said, and their goal is to create a system that is  “intuitive, integrated, synchronized.”

A few more salient points came up during the Q&A. By offering training on e-reading devices, librarians are helping with the physical to digital transition. Libraries loan devices, teach classes, market e-books, and even work with schools. The message to publishers? “Give libraries and readers a better experience. How can publishers let libraries help them reach readers? Stop treating them as adversaries….Libraries are reasonable people willing to pay reasonable money for a better experience.” If publishers make books available in as many formats and models as possible, they will reach more readers. Offer better terms, lower prices, and less friction-creating DRM.

All of this sounded good to the audience, which consisted of many more librarians than publishers, but hopefully the message is getting across.

Unshelved Presents Too Much Information

I missed the very beginning of this talk because I was finishing lunch (say what you will about the Javits, what other conference center has matzah ball soup and knishes on offer?), and when I came in there was a sort of role-play going on, with audience participants earning bottles of beer for imitating patrons in various situations. The presenters then launched into their talk, accompanied by a clear, funny, occasionally depressingly true slideshow. “Too Much Information” had a double meaning: it referred to the amount of information available in the world and the difficulty of sifting the good from the bad that this glut presents, and it also referred to a few brutally honest opinions/truths that have occurred to many librarians, but that we don’t often voice.

“The problem is that we are still informed by our culture.”

Library patrons today have unrealistic expectations of immediate results, but the quickest answer isn’t always best; speed devalues reference service. There’s a false belief that “every question has a fast, easy answer.” This belief stems in part from traditional reference books, such as dictionaries, thesauri, encyclopedias, atlases, and factbooks, but the Internet has exacerbated the problem exponentially. Still, librarians are trying to compete with search engines, which return millions of results in seconds (though, as Neil Gaiman has said, “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one”). It’s a vicious cycle.

unshelved_bestquickanswer

Historically, librarians have been gatekeepers and curators. “Books looked valuable because they were valuable.” Books represent an author’s labor and a publisher’s belief; they have been “vetted” by publishers, reviewers, and librarians. Much online content, unlike books and other physical library materials (magazines, newspapers, movies, music), has not been vetted, yet “people trust it anyway,” considering all information equal. Librarians and other info-savvy folks know that isn’t the case.  (It may be true that “librarians are better at searching than you,” but it sounds bad.) Today, too, “book” no longer equals “quality” either, because “anyone can publish anything.”

The Internet also presents the problem of the filter bubble; people are naturally inclined to read sources that confirm their views rather than challenge them (e.g., not many liberals watch Fox News). When a search engine tailors its results specifically to you, you are rarely confronted with anything you disagree with. Libraries, on the other hand, support different cultural views, offering different viewpoints on the same subjects. (If you’re browsing the poli-sci section, you’ll come across books by liberals and conservatives; even if you only choose to read the ones that are likely to reinforce your own views, at least you’ll know the others exist.)

As people’s limited attention shifts away from books toward other media, some libraries’ message becomes “Come for the Internet, stay for the books.” We put computers in libraries to attract patrons at a time when home computers weren’t necessarily commonplace. After all, books used to be much more expensive, leading to the library as a place for “shared community resources.” Maybe, the Unshelved guys suggest, that mission is defined too broadly, so that in the end we are spread too thin, and not doing anything well.

“In the old days people needed libraries more than libraries needed patrons,” but now it’s the opposite, leading to a “whatever it takes to keep the building open” mentality. But we must remember that we can’t please all of the people all of the time, and we need to “have some dignity” and “reassert our classic identity” (keywords: authority, community, quality, books). We need to “set a high bar for acceptable behavior.” When librarians went from being stern to being approachable, it was a slippery slope from “approachable” to disrespected. We need to reestablish the value of librarians. Stop trying to compete with search engines: provide context for information, be human, have an opinion (politely), and slow down – remember that the best answers are not the quickest answers. Read nonfiction, and “stop buying crappy books” – the noise-to-signal ratio is getting worse. Make people wait longer; ride out the trends (like 50 Shades of Grey). Set a high bar for readalikes. Buy good books. “In the age of too much information, we really need libraries to be libraries.” Trust/know that people need you; consider the library as the center of the community.

This was a great talk, punctuated by much laughter. I don’t agree with every point made here; I don’t believe librarians should go back to being stern and unapproachable, or that the library should be a place of silence and whispers (though it’s nice to set aside at least some quiet space). However, I do believe in the value of a thorough answer over a quick one. It isn’t always easy to convince patrons at the reference desk to wait a minute for more complete information; as illustrated by the Unshelved strip below, sometimes people walk away mid-answer, which is rude as well as self-defeating. Nevertheless, we should try to take the time at every reference interaction to understand the question and answer as completely as possible.

unshelved_twelve

This is quite long enough, so I’ll get to the Librarians Book Buzz Part II and the Librarian Shout ‘n’ Share in the next post.

BEA 2014 Part Two: LibraryReads and Librarians Book Buzz

BEA14ThursBookExpo America, Day Two

I’ve been a fan of LibraryReads since it first appeared on the scene last September, so while the panel didn’t offer a lot of new information, it was a great reminder that all library staff can (and should!) participate in the nomination process.

Steering committee members Stephanie Anderson from Darien Library, Melissa DeWild from Kent District Library, Robin Nesbitt from Columbus Metropolitan Library, and Kaite Stover from Kansas City Public Library gave an overview of LibraryReads, which was inspired by the question “Where is the IndieNext for libraries?” The monthly LibraryReads lists feature some familiar authors and some new ones. LibraryReads is a volunteer-run, publisher-supported marketing and readers’ advisory tool for libraries and publishers, and should help increase libraries’ relevance with publishers by demonstrating librarians’ power to “hand-sell” titles to readers: “We can help launch great authors and their books.”

The LibraryReads list is also a helpful tool for librarians. “These are ten books you can pretend you’ve read,” or at least tell potential readers, truthfully, “My colleague loved it” – even if your “colleague” is a librarian across the country.  LibraryReads lists can be used for collection development purposes, and lists and books can be used in displays, for book groups, and mentioned on social media.

Anyone who works in a public library is eligible to nominate books for the LibraryReads list; just register through Edelweiss. You can find advance copies of books through Edelweiss, NetGalley, publishers’ newsletters, blogs, social media, or other newsletters like Shelf Awareness or EarlyWord. You can vote for a book without writing a review if you’re pressed for time or not sure what to say, or you can write a quick blurb (final reviews on the list are only 450 words).

LibraryReadsSome tips on writing reviews:

  • Start strong and get to the point
  • Sum up the action in 1-2 sentences
  • Mention who might like the book
  • What are the appeal elements?
  • End strong
  • Remember, “your audience is someone who is dying to read a book.”

There are more tips on the “For Library Staff” section of the LibraryReads site. This is a great initiative that all library staff can participate in. Right now the list is limited to adult fiction and nonfiction, but there is the potential to expand to include children’s books as well, and teen books that appeal to adults are welcome (E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars was the #1 book on the May list).

BEA14LibraryReads

The Librarians Book Buzz (Part I) was a rapid-fire stream of titles and authors from eight different publishers. Here are a few of the titles that caught my interest, with links to Edelweiss:

These are, of course, just a few of the several titles mentioned; publishers’ websites and their catalogs in Edelweiss offer many many more. And this was only Part I of the Buzz…more to come!

 

BEA 2014, Part One: When we love a book, we can’t stop talking about it

Thanks to Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes (perhaps better known as “the Unshelved guys“), I got to go to BookExpo America (BEA) for free this year. I built a schedule in advance with the BEA show planner, and ended up following the schedule pretty closely.

BEA14WedThe keynote on Wednesday afternoon, “The Future of Bricks and Mortar Retailers,” was focused on booksellers, but much of it could apply to libraries as well. Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, noted that there was a “real resurgence in indie bookselling,” and that “localism” was becoming a powerful movement (“Small Business Saturday” being one example). However, it’s still a challenge to convince customers to think of bookstores as places to buy e-books.

Michael Tamblyn, president of Kobo, acknowledged that the virtual browsing experience doesn’t (yet) match the physical, but that booksellers could be strategic about what books they stock in print. Romance novels, for example, sell better in e-book format, so it’s less important to have them on the shelves – just point customers toward the e-bookstore. Cookbooks, gift books, and picture books, however, are much more popular in print.

John Ingram, CEO of Ingram, said of digital and print, “it’s not either/or, it’s either/and.” Many readers buy both print books and e-books; this is supported by research from Library Journal. On the limited (thus far) success of bundling a digital book with the purchase of a print book, Ingram said, “Somewhere in there, there are economics that work for everybody.” Ingram also proposed that “each [bookstore] could be a publisher.”

Joyce Meskis, owner of the Tattered Cover bookstore, had great advice about connecting to the community and attracting customers. Tattered Cover has 500-600 events annually, including storytime, author events, and “Book Happy Hour.” She recommended using media, including public radio and podcasts, to “be part of the story.”

BEA14_tatteredcoverOf course, the keynote wouldn’t have been complete without a dig at the ongoing Amazon/Hachette issue; indie booksellers “make ALL publishers’ books available all the time.”

BEA14buzz

Next was the BEA Editors’ Buzz. Robert Sindelar from Third Place Books in Seattle moderated a panel of seven editors, each of whom raved about one book from their list. Sindelar said he initially had a negative reaction to the word “buzz,” but said it connotes activity; “When we really love a book we can’t stop talking about it.” The best editors and salespeople, he said, are “cool, have good taste, and know how to talk about books.” All editors on the panel fit this description, and after the event there was a mob around the tables of galleys that resembled hyenas feasting on a carcass. (Note to the organizers: Spread the galleys out. Use more than two tables for a room of a few hundred people. Have an exit plan. Have signs. Encourage people to form lines. Etc.) Though the print galleys disappeared in a flash, e-galleys should be available through Edelweiss. Here are the titles and authors:

  • Jenny Jackson from Knopf called Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel “a requiem for the world as we know it.” This “plausible and terrifying” book, which she compared to Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars, is about art and fame, and has already garnered positive word-of-mouth buzz.
  • Marysue Rucci from S&S described Matthew Thomas‘ ten-years-in-the-making We Are Not Ourselves as an “epic” of three generations of an Irish family in New York, a novel that describes “the great unwinding of the middle class” and “resilience in the face of disappointment.”
  • Lee Boudreaux from Ecco mentioned a slew of comp titles for The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, including Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, The Song of Achilles, Slammerkin, and The Signature of All Things. Suspense builds in this “dollhouse mystery” set in 1700s Amsterdam.
  • Jeff Shotts from Graywolf Press was aware of the irony of his last name when introducing On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss. This slim work of nonfiction addresses parents’ impulse to protect themselves and their children, as well as issues of race, class, and government, and the “far-reaching ramifications” of the “implications of vaccination.”
  • Amy Einhorn touted My Sunshine Away by M.O. Wilson from her eponymous imprint. Like The Help, My Sunshine Away is set in the South, and the story is inseparable from the setting. A debut novel and a literary mystery, My Sunshine Away is about adolescence, family, memory, and forgiveness.
  • Josh Kendall from Little, Brown admitted that author Laird Hunt was “not the new guy,” but that Neverhome was going to be his breakout novel. Hunt discovered a trove of letters in a family barn in Indiana, and those letters inspired this tale of a woman who goes to war in place of her husband.
  • Colin Harrison from Scribner closed the session with The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League But Did Not Survive by Jeff Hobbs, Peace’s roommate for two years at Yale. This is a true tale of poverty, race, education, drugs, murder, discrimination, and fate.

And that was just the first day. Stay tuned for more.