WI8 Book Buzz Part II: Indie Presses, Sleepers & Nonfiction
One of the great things about Winter Institute is the opportunity for independent booksellers to exchange enthusiasm for forthcoming books. This is especially true of the gems that independent book publishers will be presenting this week in Kansas City.
Before anyone boarded a plane for Winter Institute 8, booksellers who got their hands on early galleys of David Rhodes's Jewelweed (Milkweed Editions, May) were telling their book buyer friends about it. "I've been hearing about that one, and I'll be hunting it down," said Geoffrey Jennings at Rainy Day Books in Kansas City. While it's always hard to pick favorites, Sheryl Cotleur from Copperfield's in Petaluma, Calif., said Rhodes's new book is one of her top two books she read before Winter Institute (Brewster by Mark Slouka, from Norton, is the other). Jewelweed, Cotleur said, is set in the same community as Rhodes's Driftless, with a new cast of characters. She described Jewelweed as "not just a feel-good story--because there's lots of grit to go through while you get there."
Many booksellers are excited about meeting Rhodes at the Winter Institute because they read his fiction published in the 1970s, before he was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident, and welcomed his return to fiction with the publication of Driftless in 2008. Milkweed created this video with booksellers praising Driftless and looking forward to Jewelweed.
It's always fun when someone in the book business becomes an author, and while Matt Bell, senior editor of Dzanc Books, has published stories and a critically acclaimed novella, in June Soho will publish his first novel, In the House upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods. In a starred review, Library Journal said, "Bell puts the fable in fabulism." Bell has been compared with Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges.
Many booksellers arrive at Winter Institute with specific indie presses to target in their galley gathering. "I love books by Other Press," said Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Conn. "I'll be looking for them." Other Press's Paul Kozlowski suggested two books that the company will highlight in Kansas City: Cécile David-Weill's novel The Suitors, a "rather wicked look at how the nouveaux riches are infecting the precincts of old money, specifically a big pile on the Cote d'Azur," by an author who knows everyone from Isaac Mizrahi to Ina Garten; and Edoardo Nesi's Story of My People, a memoir about how globalization and the "tentacles of the Chinese economic octopus," forced him to sell his family's textile manufacturing business, written by the Italian translator of American authors as varied as Stephen King and David Foster Wallace.
Europa Editions--a long-time favorite of indie booksellers, known for its urban noir titles--is presenting its World Noir Reader, a primer for a series of books set in various locales, including Jean-Claude Izzo's Total Chaos (set in Marseilles), Benjamin Tammuz's Minotaur (Europe) and Gene Kerrigan's The Rage (Dublin). "The Rage is already selling really well for us," said Bill Cusumano at Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor, Mich. "My 20- and 30-year-old employees are excited about [World Noir Reader]," said Gayle Shanks, from Changing Hands in Tempe, Ariz. "I've heard them talking about it in the break room."
Philbrick from Bank Square Books said Sourcebooks has recently been on her fiction radar; she had high praise for The One-Way Bridge by Cathie Pelletier. "She sort of wraps you around this small town in Maine and brings you in," Phlibrick explained. It's a place where some people stop to let others pass on the one-lane bridge and others do not. "It's not the whole story, but it sets it up."
A couple of indie presses are fairly new to the scene: Prospect Park Press (Consortium) and MP Publishing (PGW). Prospect Park--named for founder Colleen Dunn Bates's Pasadena, Calif., neighborhood, and not the park in Brooklyn, N.Y.--released Helen of Pasadena, the debut by Lian Dolan (one of syndicated radio's "Satellite Sisters"), as its first fiction title in 2010. Prospect Park is bringing Dolan to Winter Institute 8 for her second novel, Elizabeth, the First Wife, about a community college Shakespeare professor. Sherri Gallentine from Vroman's in Pasadena, Calif., had this to share: "Lian Dolan has been a great supporter of Vroman's over the years, and one of the joys of independent bookselling is being able to have wonderful relationships between authors and our store. We are looking forward to another bestseller."
Galleys for MP titles were not available beforehand, but there will be ample copies in Kansas City for Aesop's Secret by Claudia White, about siblings with the ability to metamorphose, and Horse Latitudes by Morris Collins, a modern gothic set in Central America. Mark Pearce, MP's founder, is making the trip of from the Isle of Man to attend and mingle with booksellers.
Two Dollar Radio is bringing Bennett Simms, an Iowa Writer's Workshop graduate whose fiction has appeared in Zoetrope and Tin House, to talk about his philosophical novel, A Questionable Shape, which is supposed to turn zombie literature on its head.
Winter Institute has also become a good place for publishers to showcase authors they hope will gain an even bigger readership than they already have; e.g., Philip Kerr, whose ninth Bernie Gunter novel, A Man Without Breath, will be highlighted by Putnam. Others present sleepers--titles they hope booksellers will latch onto and sell to book clubs--like Frances and Bernard, a debut epistolary novel by memoirist (Not That Kind of Girl) Carlene Bauer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Gayle Shanks admitted that she is not overly keen on novels told though letters, but she completely fell for Frances and Bernard. "It's based on Flannery O'Connor and Robert Lowell," said Shanks. "It reminded me of On Agate Hill [by Lee Smith]." Frances and Bernard opens in 1957, when the two meet at a writer's colony.
While Winter Institute might be best known for fiction breakouts, it is not without its nonfiction standouts. Kenny Brechner at Devaney Doak & Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Maine, is high on Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff (Harper, April). "It's a great nonfiction title about B-52s that were lost in Greenland and how they were found last year," he said. And Jennings recalled how last year's Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile, and a Love Reclaimed by Leslie Maitland (Other Press) went on to be a big indie bookseller bestseller after its introduction at Winter Institute.
Tomorrow: YA and children's book buzz. --Bridget Kinsella
Correction: We incorrectly quoted Cathy Langer about her enthusiasm for two young narrators in two buzz books yesterday: Devi in On Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman (Graywolf) and Darling in We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown). Langer's blurb for On Sal Mal Lane reads: "Devi reminds me of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird and Swede from Peace Like a River, small girls who make very large impressions, and I'm sure that On Sal Mal Lane will join their ranks as a new perennial favorite of booksellers, librarians and of course, readers." While she was also deeply affected by Darling in We Need New Names, Langer clarified, "they are very different little girls." We regret the error and hope it does not confuse anyone looking forward to meeting these girls on the page this season.
Also, We Need New Names is NoViolet Bulawayo's debut novel.