Calling it the "survivors' breakfast," ABA CEO Oren Teicher welcomed the many booksellers who remained at the Winter Institute on its final morning, despite the winter storm arriving later in the day, to join in what has become a favorite part of the annual event: presentations by independent publishers. This year nine presses served up their choice titles.
Soho Press publisher Bronwen Hruska presented two literary books being published by the press, renowned for its crime mysteries. "These two books are both wildly different treatments of the same subject--wanting to have a family and not being able to," she said. In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell is about a newly married couple in which the husband becomes haunted by the ghost of one of their miscarried babies. For her part, the wife can sing things into existence--including a second moon and a giant squid--and brings home a foundling child. "He tells the story as a big mythic fable," said Hruska.
The couple in A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam adopt a chimpanzee. "No, it's not a cute animal book," Hruska said. The stories about the couple and about what takes place in a scientific research facility converge in a way that made the book's editor "think about what it means to be human in a whole new way."
Michael Reynolds from Europa Editions said the press, already known for its international crime novels, is constantly trying to remain fresh and to present new authors, which it hopes to do with its new Europa World Noir series. "International fiction is in our DNA," he said, "and now we are committed to a crime list that will evolve over time to create a dialogue with our readers." The series aims to feature strong voices, compelling characters and a rich, genuine sense of place. He called Jean-Claude Izzo's upcoming Marseilles Trilogy a good example of what booksellers can expect from Europa World Noir.
Along with two debut novels, Milkweed's Sue Ostfield discussed Jewelweed, the return of David Rhodes, a book that touches on some characters from Driftless. A debut, Being Esther by Miriam Karmel, is about an 85-year-old Jewish woman who is "afraid to lose her marbles," said Ostfield. "You live a few days with Esther and you really fall in live with her." Apology by Jon Pineda tracks the consequences for all the characters when a boy, who is responsible for a construction site accident involving his friend's sister, remains silent and lets his uncle do time in his stead. "It's about guilt, shame and redemption," said Ostfield.
Meg Taylor from Small Press Distribution joked that she didn't have a PowerPoint presentation because "our presses couldn't get more independent." Among the "gems" she shared were: Promising Young Women by Suzanne Scanlon, from the Dorothy Project, which publishes "fiction and near fiction by women," and The Rose Metal Press Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction by Dinty W. Moore, the third in a writing series. "With MFA programs all over the country adding creative nonfiction, there is a real market for this," Taylor said.
And for the many dog lovers who buy books, Donna Spurlock from Charlesbridge shared a charming children's title, War Dogs: Churchill & Rufus by Kathryn Selbert, which she said features Churchill as both "pet owner and resolute politician"--with Rufus by his side through it all. Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves & Other Female Villains by mother-and-daughter team Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple asks in a fun way if its historical subjects were actually bad or simply got a bad rap.
There's no mistaking the bad boys in The Iron Bridge: Stories of 20th Century Dictators as Teenagers by Anton Piatigorsky (Steerforth Press). "You get Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Idi Amin as boys," said publisher Chip Fleischer. Another Steerforth title is The Book of Matt: The Truth About the Murder of Matthew Shepard by Stephen Jimenez, who went to Laramie, Wyo., originally to write a screenplay about one of the most notorious hate crimes in recent history and wound up spending 13 years interviewing a range of people involved. It's rich with drama and characters--one of which is its author. "It's controversial because we all think we know what happened," Fleischer said. "But it's the story of what did happen in all of its complexities."
Complex subjects are nothing new at the New Press, as marketing director Julie McCarroll demonstrated: she presented Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present and Future of Rationing by journalist Stan Cox, who was named a "Brave Thinker" by the Atlantic last year. McCarroll also presented two new books by Alice Walker that are "about the intersection of politics and spirituality": through poems in The World Will Follow Joy: Turning Madness into Flowers and via meditations in The Cushion in the Road: Meditations and Wandering As the World Awakens to Being in Harm's Way.
At Seven Stories, said publicity director Ruth Weiner, "we really look up to kids, and we want to help them navigate our changing world." Several titles in its new Triangle Square children's imprint are: Trevor by James Lecesne, a novel that launched an anti-bullying project of the same name; Do You Dream in Color? Insights from a Girl Without Sight by Laurie Rubin; and The Story of the Blue Planet by Andri Magnason and Aslaug Jonsdottir. Weiner described What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg as "the only book out there for every kid in every family," because it takes into account all kinds of births and adoptions.
J.P. Leventhal of Black Dog & Leventhal, a newcomer to the Winter Institute, might have made one of the worst puns in Institute history when he suggested there was "some buzz" about The Honey Connoisseur by C. Marina Marchese and Kim Flottum. Like a wine book, but about honey, the title fits in with the publisher's tradition of doing books with passion and purpose.
Leventhal said that My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read and Shop by Ronald Rice--in which 83 indie booksellers helped connect the press with authors who discussed their favorite bookstores in the book--showed the kind of "co-operation that the last few days have been about." At Black Dog & Leventhal, he said, business with independent bookstores has gone up 20% every year for the past few years. To booksellers' ears, that's no snow job. --Bridget Kinsella