Friday, January 22, 2010: Dedicated Issue: Reagan Arthur Books

Reagan Arthur Books/ Little, Brown and Company

Reagan Arthur: The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

Reagan Arthur: Black Hills by Dan Simmons

Reagan Arthur: Doors Open by Ian Rankin

Reagan Arthur: Still Midnight by Denise Mina

Reagan Arthur: Marriage and Other Acts of Charity by Kate Braestrup

Editors' Note

Introducing Reagan Arthur Books

In this issue, with the support of the publisher, Shelf Awareness takes an in-depth look at Reagan Arthur Books, the new imprint from Little, Brown that is publishing an intriguing range of titles, many of which are already garnering major attention.


Reagan Arthur: The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris


Reagan Arthur Books Makes a Striking Debut

When asked to describe discovering a new book, Reagan Arthur unhesitatingly answers: "It's like falling in love. You have that spark of recognition, of hope, of excitement. And then there's the moment of looking forward to your future together; imagining the cover, spreading the word, wondering who else will love it." With her new eponymous imprint at Little, Brown, she aims to have all of us falling in love with a terrific mix of literary fiction, crime and commercial fiction as well as narrative nonfiction.

Reagan Arthur Books launches with the publication of The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris this week. The high-powered titles coming out in the next several months include Marriage and Other Acts of Charity by Kate Braestrup, Doors Open by Ian Rankin, Black Hills by Dan Simmons, Still Midnight by Denise Mina and Next by James Hynes. (For more on these books, see below.)

Reflecting the eclectic tastes of Reagan Arthur herself, the imprint's books share some important common qualities. While they are in very different subjects and categories, "they are linked by strong voices and storytelling," Arthur said.

Similarly, Reagan Arthur Books' authors are a mix--some are well-known, award-winning and established, while others are new names. Writers whose books will be published on upcoming lists include Kate Atkinson, author of the Whitbread winner Behind the Scenes at the Museum and the bestselling Case Histories; George Pelecanos, novelist and writer for the HBO series The Wire; and Elin Hilderbrand, author of a series of bestselling novels set on Nantucket--all of whom Arthur has worked with at Little, Brown. "I was very lucky to have a roster of really great authors," she said, "who were gracious enough to agree to join the imprint."

Among the writers on Reagan Arthur Books' future lists: Sherman Alexie, who is working on the novel Fire with Fire; Josh Bazell, who is writing a sequel to his novel Beat the Reaper; Kathleen Kent, whose debut, The Heretic's Daughter, was a national bestseller; and Eleanor Catton, whose first novel, The Rehearsal, was recently shortlisted in the U.K. for the Guardian's First Book Prize.

Arthur plans to publish 15 to 20 titles annually and will release 14 titles this inaugural year. "We want to be attentive to every book and publish it fully," Arthur said.

Bringing Books and Readers Together

Reagan Arthur Books' website was launched earlier this month, and  Arthur herself maintains a lively presence on Twitter (@reaganart) and Facebook. Her wit finds a natural home in her Twitter feed. Her biography on her page reads, "Book editor, music fan, east coast transplant, banana-hater, defender of the em-dash" On Twitter, Arthur has been impressed by connections booksellers and authors have made, "relationships that made a difference." On Facebook, she has had some submissions from author friends.

To help launch The Unnamed, the imprint commissioned an unusual website to reach the important online audience, but also made sure the galleys were given to any interested bookseller at BEA.

A Team That's Small but Spry

Arthur has been at Little, Brown for eight and a half years. Before that, she worked for 11 years at St. Martin's Press, the last half at Picador, a time she called a great experience. She began when Tom McCormack was still running St. Martin's. McCormack believed, she said, "that every editor was a publisher. He fostered an entrepreneurial spirit," an approach that has helped her in particular when, in the summer of 2008, Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch approached Arthur with the idea of setting up her own imprint.

She thought of many names, she said, with her own last on the list. Pietsch suggested using Reagan Arthur because it has "a president and king" in it. (Actually, two presidents, if one counts Chester A. Arthur.)

The Reagan Arthur Books staff, which Arthur described with a characteristic laugh as "small but spry," includes assistant director of publicity Marlena Bittner, associate editor Andrea Walker and editorial assistant Sarah Murphy. And Little, Brown offers "a great umbrella," she emphasized, "as the primary identity, the eminent and esteemed publisher of these great books."

Andrea Walker joined Little, Brown from the New Yorker after four years at the magazine's book department, where her duties included writing and editing the magazine's book blog. Walker wanted to edit books, particularly fiction, and was attracted to Reagan Arthur's books. "A lot of people she published were people whose books I'd liked before I knew Reagan edited them," she commented.

Her taste, she said, skews a bit to the literary side but she is interested in commercial fiction, too, as well as some narrative nonfiction. She also has "a particular passion" for debut novels. ("At the New Yorker I loved finding new voices to review," she noted.)

Walker helped create the Reagan Arthur Books website and is writing its blog. "We're hoping the blog will be somewhat informal and a place to share our thoughts on industry news, books we love, what we're watching on TV and listening to," she indicated. "We want it to be a place to connect with other readers, booksellers, agents, writers."

Marlena Bittner is the imprint's publicity director. She has been at Little, Brown since 2001, working with authors such as David Sedaris, David Foster Wallace, Gail Collins and Arthur-edited Joshua Ferris and George Pelecanos. Bittner was thrilled when the White House announced that President Obama's summer reading list included The Way Home by George Pelecanos. As Bittner said, "It was so incredibly exciting to see George get that deserved recognition--it was unlike anything else. People were writing international news stories about that list!"

Incidentally, people who work with Arthur and know her in the business and socially all spoke highly about her, saying Shelf Awareness would enjoy meeting Arthur because of her wonderful sense of humor, her niceness, her lack of pretence, her knowledge and her sense of fun.

They were right.

Reagan Arthur: The Island by Elin Hilderbrand

Books & Authors

Reagan Arthur Books: The First List

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
The imprint's first book, The Unnamed, is about a couple, Tim and Jane Farnsworth, who have been married 20 years and have a charmed life, much of it thanks to Tim's work as a high-powered lawyer. But Tim has battled a strange illness that suddenly comes back with a vengeance, "driving him out of his life and into a world and a self that he can't recognize and Jane is helpless to control."

"All signs are pointing to a serious literary event," Reagan Arthur said of The Unnamed, which is Ferris's second book, following Then We Came to the End, a National Book Award finalist. Marlena Bittner highlighted the book's three starred pre-pub reviews and the fact that much of the post-BEA media coverage highlighted the book.

We were a voice in the early chorus of praise. Shelf Awareness (December 20, 2009) wrote, "A meditation on love, selfishness and the human condition, The Unnamed is a beautifully told, profoundly sad tale that resonates long after the last page is turned."

The imprint is sending Ferris on tour to nearly a dozen cities. First serial rights have been sold to Granta and Scott Rudin has bought film rights. The book's website includes a book trailer filmed by the author and his brother. The website features 35 voiceovers, all reading original passages written by Ferris especially for the site. Some of the voices belong to industry professionals, performed as special cameos. The images were filmed in Grand Central Terminal and evoke an appropriately mysterious atmosphere. The novel is gaining major review attention already: in Time magazine, Lev Grossman called it "rich and profound," while the Los Angeles Times critic hailed it as "an accomplished and daring work by a writer just now realizing what he is capable of creating."

Marriage and Other Acts of Charity by Kate Braestrup (January)
The author of the award-winning memoir Here if You Need Me, Braestrup is a minister who performs weddings and has been married twice and widowed once. With quite some authority, she writes here about love and commitment, modern marriage and how God figures in our relationships. Self magazine declared the memoir to be "the most honest you may ever read about the roller coaster of marriage. Coupled or single, you'll enjoy the ride."
Doors Open by Ian Rankin
"Beloved in the crime community," as Bittner put it, Edgar winner Rankin here offers a tale of three upstanding friends who decide to steal several paintings from the National Gallery in Edinburgh. This unlikely adventure tosses them together with master forgers, crime bosses and a Hell's Angel named Hate, and their bravado brings them more wealth, seduction and danger than they ever anticipated.
Black Hills by Dan Simmons
The author of The Terror is back, seamlessly weaving together the story of a young Sioux warrior named Paha Sapa with that of Custer and the American West. Haunted by Custer's ghost, Paha Sapa is driven by a dramatic vision he experienced as a boy. In August of 1936, now a dynamite worker on Mount Rushmore, Paha Sapa plans to silence his ghost forever and reclaim his people's legacy--on the very day FDR comes to dedicate the Jefferson face.

PW's starred review declared: "Simmons stands almost unmatched among his contemporaries."

Still Midnight
by Denise Mina
Scottish crime writer Mina, author of the Garnethill trilogy, introduces a new character in Still Midnight: up-and-coming police detective Alex Morrow. As she navigates an urban underworld seeped in every gradation of crime--drugs, robbery, murder and religious bigotry--she crosses paths with her half-brother, who may be at its center. All the while, she's trying to keep from getting swept into the complications of police-force politics and a marriage every bit as tangled as the burglary she's trying to solve.

Bittner relates an early review of sorts she just received in an e-mail from Vick Mickunas of the Dayton Daily News, "I finished Still Midnight last night. Could not put it down--well past midnight. Wow! This could be her breakout in the U.S. I have loved her other books but this one opens up a whole new level of potency for her."
Next by James Hynes
Next takes place all in one day, a day in which Kevin Quinn, "an average, middle-aged, liberal-leaning, self-centered, emotionally damaged American," secretly flies to Austin, Tex., for a job interview and simultaneously is entranced by a young woman he meets on the plane, terrified about terrorism and hopes to reinvent himself.

Next has already been praised by Jim Crace, Laura Lippman, Kate Christensen and Madison Smartt Bell.

Among titles appearing soon:

The Island by Elin Hilderbrand

When Arthur was a young editor at St. Martin's, Elin Hilderbrand was an assistant to Tom McCormack for seven or eight months. Hilderbrand left to go to the Iowa Writers Workshop, then started writing novels set on Nantucket, the first half dozen of which were published by St. Martin's. "I thought, 'That's someone I shared an office phone with!' " Arthur said.

Several years ago, Little, Brown signed her up and, in 2007, it published Barefoot, which went on to spend six months on the New York Times bestseller list in paperback. Her subsequent titles, A Summer Affair and The Castaways, have followed suit. As Arthur describes the very popular Hilderbrand: "She is a mother of three, a natural-born storyteller, an endless traveler, and you want to read her books as much as you want to be her friend." Her next book, The Island, is due in July.


Day for Night
by Frederick Reiken

Each chapter of this book has a different character and different location, but all connect "like a magic trick," as Bittner put it. As Margot Livesey said, "Here is a world, our world, in which no-one gets to escape the net of history and no-one, finally, gets to deny their human connections. I held my breath while I watched Reiken assemble his own extraordinary minyan." Reiken is the author of The Odd Sea and Lost Legends of New Jersey, and his short stories have appeared in the New Yorker.


The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton

Catton is a New Zealand native whose debut novel, The Rehearsal, has won several major New Zealand prizes and will be published here by Reagan Arthur Books this summer. She is now at the Iowa Writers Workshop. Arthur called her "an adventurous person, and her book is adventurous stylistically and in terms of ideas." Not only that, "She's sweet as pie." Reviews from the U.K. have been excellent: the Sunday Times exclaimed, "It represents a starburst of talent, the arrival of an author wholly different from anyone else writing today."


Reagan Arthur: Next by James Hynes

Book Brahmin: James Hynes

James Hynes is the author of the novels The Lecturer's Tale, The Wild Colonial Boy and Kings of Infinite Jest as well as Publish & Perish, a novella collection. His new novel, Next, is coming out from Reagan Arthur Books in March. He lives in Austin, Tex. Find out more at and follow him on Twitter @jameshynes.

On your nightstand now:

A couple of popular science books, Earth: An Intimate History by Richard Fortey and Power, Sex, Suicide by Nick Lane, which, believe it or not, is about mitochondria. I have a couple of novels going, too: Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country, which is epic and immersive, and Julian Rathbone's enormously entertaining historical novel, The Last English King, about the Norman conquest. Plus The Lord of the Rings (again) on audiobook while I exercise every afternoon.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Like the road to Loch Lomond, my boyhood reading ran on two tracks. The low road was the Hardy Boys. I think I read all of them up to a point. The high road started when I was 10 and saw the film of Lord Jim, starring Peter O'Toole. I liked the movie so much I bought a Signet paperback of the novel at a Waldenbooks at Woodland Mall in Grand Rapids, Mich., and even though I didn't really understand it (and it wasn't anything like the movie), something in the book hit a deep spot in me, and I became a lifelong Conrad fan. Lord Jim and Nostromo are still my favorite novels.

Your top five authors:

Joseph Conrad, George Eliot, Robert Stone, Vladimir Nabokov, Virginia Woolf.

Book you've faked reading:

I've given up on books that everybody said I'd love, but I've never lied about having read them. Catcher in the Rye, for example, which I quit after the first couple of pages because I hated Holden Caulfield so much, and more recently, The Savage Detectives, which I gave up on after 50 pages. It's more fun to be an obnoxious contrarian than a liar, because you can watch people's faces when you say stuff like, "You know, I never finished Catcher in the Rye" or "The Savage Detectives is wildly overrated."

Book you're an evangelist for:

John Crowley's Little, Big. I've given away a dozen copies over the years. Other books I've forced on people, with varying degrees of success: John Banville's Doctor Copernicus, Georges Simenon's Dirty Snow, Jim Crace's The Gift of Stones, Eva Figes's Light, Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood, Kate Christensen's The Epicure's Lament, Adam Thorpe's Ulverton, Roger Boylan's Killoyle, Pat Barker's World War I novels, Louise Welsh's The Cutting Room, John Marks's Fangland, Max Crawford's Lords of the Plain, Marguerite Yourcenar's The Abyss, James Hamilton-Paterson's Gerontius, Lindsay Clarke's The Chymical Wedding, Geoff Ryman's Was and Judith Hawkes's Julian's House.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I don't recall ever having bought a book solely for the cover, but I did buy a science fiction novel once on the basis of the title alone: What Entropy Means to Me by George Alec Effinger. Turned out to be a really good book, too, very funny and wry.

Book that changed your life:

More than one: see above about Lord Jim and Little, Big. Mark Twain's Letters from the Earth and Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian started me down the road to perdition (i.e., atheism), and reading J.G. Ballard's short stories as a teenager led me to Kafka, Borges and Philip K. Dick. J.G. Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur started my lifelong love of ambitious historical fiction. Gravity's Rainbow showed me that anything is possible in fiction (though that may only work if you're actually Thomas Pynchon) (and for all you know, I am).

Favorite line from a book:

"There is no intellectual exercise which is not ultimately useless," from "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote," by Jorge Luis Borges. And from Moby-Dick, "God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught--nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!"

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

The Lord of the Rings. Now that I'm at an age where I don't really care what other people think, I can be completely honest: I love Tolkien, wholeheartedly and without reservation. I'm a geek, I'm a fanboy, I can say "farewell" in Elvish. I'm listening to it, in fact, on my iPod, for the umpty-gazillionth time, and much as I still love it, the one thing I wish I could do is read it again without knowing how it turns out. That first time, when I was 12 or so, was one of the great reading experiences of my life. Also, just so you don't think I'm a complete unsophisticate, James Joyce's "The Dead." The ending always hits me hard, but never so much as on a first reading. And I remember the time my high school English teacher had our whole class read Swift's "A Modest Proposal" silently to ourselves. You could tell when each reader got what Swift was actually proposing (and how fast each reader was) by the little, individual gasps that burst out around the room.

Had you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes, at least from the age of 10 or so. I won a writing award from Scholastic magazine when I was in junior high, and by time I was in high school, I was sending stories to the New Yorker (needless to say, they were sending them right back). I went to college to become an astronomer, ended up majoring in philosophy, but spent most of my time writing trippy little surrealist stories under the influence of Ballard and Borges. I won a Hopwood Award from the University of Michigan for three of them in 1976, and that little taste of literary glory sealed the deal. In fact, a year or so before I won, I met Borges in the university's Hopwood Room, where I sat literally at his feet with a bunch of other awestruck undergrads and listened to him answer questions and tell stories. I have no idea what he was really like, but he seemed like the only truly saintly man I have ever met.

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