From its cover design and promo copy, W.W. Norton is clearly positioning Walter Kirn's Blood Will Out (March) as a modern-day In Cold Blood. Fiction writer Kirn (Up in the Air and Thumbsucker), like Capote, found himself unwittingly immersed in--according to his book's subtitle--"a Murder, a Mystery and a Masquerade." And booksellers who have read the galley in anticipation of meeting Kirn at WI9 agreed with the comparison. In Blood Will Out, Kirn turns his investigative lens as much on himself as his subject to examine how he was duped by the conman known as Clark Rockefeller. "It's a trip and half," observed Geoffrey Jennings of Rainy Day Books in Kansas City, Kan. "It's hard to tell which is stranger, the subject of the book or the author. And I mean that as a compliment to Kirn."
The best memoir writers bring readers into milieus they might never have been interested in, making a specific story resonate universally. In that regard, many WI9 attendees are looking forward to talking with Colson Whitehead about The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death (Doubleday, May).
"Every book he does is different," said Cathy Langer from the Tattered Cover in Denver. So even if people are not interested in poker, she explained, in the hands of the author of Zone One, Sag Harbor and other books, readers are in for a beautifully crafted story, steeped in rich detail. "And it's funny," she added.
In Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth About Everything (Grand Central, April), Barbara Ehrenreich, author of nonfiction bestsellers as varied as Nickel and Dimed and Salt, uses her own adolescent journals to re-examine her quest for enlightenment in middle age. The result: a book like nothing she has done before.
In a similar way--that is, authors doing things they are not necessarily known for--New Yorker cartoonist and children's book collaborator (with Steve Martin, no less) Roz Chast will be at WI9 to talk about her graphic memoir, Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury, May). In it, Chast examines the final years of her parents' lives with her signature poignancy and humor--and illustrations. "How interesting is that going to be?" asked Langer.
Strong Indie Press Lists
Winter Institute has always taken a particular interest in showcasing books from independent presses, which, according to Bill Cusumano from Nicola's in Ann Arbor, Mich., do very well in his university town. And for general booksellers like Community Bookstore in Brooklyn, N.Y., Michele Filgate said, scanning the best of the indie presses has become one of the highlights at Winter Institute.
Filgate shared her thoughts as she was in the process of writing a blurb for the essay collection The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison (Graywolf, April). Jamison (author of the novel The Gin Closet) starts with her own experience as an actor hired to help medical students diagnose diseases and extrapolates to ask how we judge each other in all sorts of ways. The essays reminded Filgate of Susan Sontag. "It's a deceptively slender collection that has a lot of depth to it," said the bookseller. "In a very few pages she says so much about humanity."
Michael Link at Joseph-Beth, Cincinnati, Ohio, said he especially appreciates WI's closing indie press event because he always finds some great discoveries published by indies like Soho, Steerforth, Milkweed and Dzanc.
Europa Editions' Michael Reynolds told us about Joanna Gruda's English-language debut, the novel Revolution Baby. The story is told by a 14-year-old boy in Warsaw during World War II who assumes different identities, works for the Resistance and ends up in Paris on the brink of liberation. During the editing process, when Gruda said she'd have to ask her father for details, Reynolds realized the book was much more personal than he'd originally thought. "The story is based on her own father's life, and that explains the warmth with which Joanna tells it." He added that the Polish-born author was an actress and comedian, which might come in handy at book events.
Similarly, Wesley Stace (aka singer/songwriter John Wesley Harding), might bring something extra to events for his novel Wonderkid (Overlook, Feb.). He runs Cabinet of Wonders, a variety show based at City Winery in New York City. The novel is a rock 'n' roll epic, described as "Almost Famous through the looking glass."
Another buzzed-about debut novel from an indie press that is part of ABA's Indies Introduce program this spring is Point of Direction by Rachel Weaver (Ig/Consortium, May). It's about a young couple who take over an Alaskan lighthouse where the last occupant disappeared mysteriously. Sarah Bagby from Watermark Books and Café, Wichita, Kan., observed, "You can't help but learn something about yourself if you are in such a remote area."
Other Press is bringing Lipika Pelham, a BBC reporter and documentary filmmaker who grew up on the border between India and Bangladesh, and now lives in Jerusalem with her Jewish husband and family. She offers a fresh perspective on Israeli life in her memoir, The Unlikely Settler (March). In addition, Other Press has a new book by Rupert Thomas, a literary stylist familiar to many indie booksellers: Secrecy (April), which is set in 17th-century Florence.
When it comes to literary fiction, both Tin House and Hawthorne Books are a sure stop for WI9 attendees. The Dismal Science (Tin House, Feb.), about the unraveling of an ex-World Bank executive, is Seattle author Peter Mountford's follow-up to his award-winning debut, A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism. In April, Hawthorne is publishing Tom Spanbauer's first novel in seven years, I Loved You More, which covers 25 years of an emotionally wounded writer's life; the book has been compared to Jeffery Eugenides's The Marriage Plot.
Quercus, the U.K. publisher that began a U.S. publishing program last year, is bringing Corban Addison, who wrote A Walk Across the Sun, to WI9 to promote his second novel, The Garden of Burning Sand (May). This time the attorney, activist and world traveler examines a rape in Zambia.
Two story collections are getting lots of buzz: The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol (Norton, Feb.) and Praying Drunk by Kyle Minor (Sarabande/Consortium, Feb.). Antopol's debut has blurbs from Adam Johnson, Ken Kalfus and Abraham Verghese; Minor's collection has a glowing blurb from Daniel Handler
Bagby at Watermark Books picked The UnAmericans as the top WI9 book she cannot wait to handsell. She observed, "To have this much buzz about short stories that are not written by Alice Munro, it's great."
Next, in WI9 Buzz Books Part III: YA and Children's picks. --Bridget Kinsella
WI9 Buzz Books Part 1: Top Picks and Debuts in Fiction is here.