Some say that it has never been more important for independent booksellers to make their mark on books before the books go on to dominate chain and online retailers. With this in mind, on the top of Geoffrey Jennings's (Rainy Day Books in Kansas City) list is Léon and Louise by Alex Capus (Haus/Consortium, November), a paperback release of a novel that was shortlisted for a literary prize in the author's native Germany. Two young lovers meet as World War I comes to a close, but circumstances intervene to keep them apart for decades--he serves in the SS in occupied France and she is sent to Africa. It's a great love story told with great humor, Jennings observed: "It's got all the right elements for indies to smoke it as a book group selection," along the lines of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Atonement and The Postmistress.
At City Lights, San Francisco, Calif., Paul Yamazaki has a little sleeper from a big publisher at the top of his buzz list: Gone to the Forest by Katie Kitamura (Free Press, August). A second novel by the author of The Longshot, Gone to the Forest is set in a colonial country on the brink of civil war. Yamazaki described it as a "short, intense novel" that presents events from the colonizer's point of view. "Not everyone will love this book," he cautioned, and he advises booksellers to place it in the right readers' hands. In doing so, he thinks booksellers can help spur the career of a "major talent."
Kevin Powers, an Iraq war veteran who just completed a Michener poetry fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin, is garnering lots of early buzz for his debut novel, The Yellow Birds (Little, Brown, September). While the subject--two young soldiers bound together since basic training thrown into a war they are not prepared for, as well as an examination of how the war invades their families' lives back home--sounds heavy, Cathy Langer at the Tattered Cover, Denver, Colo., described the book as "kind of a fun one." (She had 25 pages left to read when we spoke with her.)
Booksellers love a debut, and The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (Random House, August) is being described by some as "The Road meets The River Runs Through It," a phrase Yamazaki, who has read the book, said he is happy to co-opt in handselling it at City Lights. Sheryl Cotleur, head book buyer at Book Passage in Corte Madera and San Francisco, Calif., said it took her a little while to get into The Dog Stars, but she was struck by it in the end. "There are some long, lyrical passages that are amazing," she added.
As often happens pre-BEA, Cotleur had received too many galleys to read them all before the trade show. One she anticipates is City of Women, a debut by David Gillham set in World War II Berlin, to be published by Amy Einhorn's imprint at Putnam in August.
Valerie Koehler of the Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Tex., is excited about a first novel, The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin (HarperCollins, August). She noted that the author has been compared with Cormac McCarthy and she hopes to fall in love with this read about an orchardist who gives refuge to teenage girls and the ramifications of his actions.
Other debuts on booksellers' radar include: The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Englemann (Ecco, August); Shine, Shine, Shine by Lydia Netzer (St. Martin's, August) and Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (FSG, October).
Of course, when a debut novel comes from a beloved memoirist, it gets special attention: and J.R. Moehringer's Sutton is lighting up bookseller radar. It's based on the life of the "Babe Ruth of bank robbers," and the Tattered Cover's Langer said she loved it. "He did with real fake characters what he did with real real characters in The Tender Bar," she noted.
Many booksellers come to BEA looking forward to new books from some of their "old" favorites.
For Robert Sindelar at Third Place Books in Seattle, one such title is A Million Heavens (McSweeney's, July), the third novel by John Brandon, author of Citrus Country. "I was excited to get whatever he did next," Sindelar told us. A Million Heavens is about a piano prodigy who lies in a coma while his father sits by his side. It is told from the points of view from various community members who keep vigil in the hospital parking lot in Albuquerque--including a wolf that watches the commotion. "I'm glad to see it got chosen for the Editor's Buzz panel because he deserves a wider audience," Sindelar added.
"Lawrence Norfolk is back," noted Yamazaki, about the award-winning author of Lemprière's Dictionary,The Pope's Rhinoceros and In the Shape of a Boa. Grove will publish Norfolk's John Saturnall's Feast in September. It has been described as a work of historical fiction along the lines of Wolf Hall and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell. Set in the 17th century, the story centers on a kitchen boy who becomes a chef but never forgets the tale of the magical feast his mother (who dies of starvation) taught him. Note: the novel features lots of food and is best not read on an empty stomach.
Seldon Edwards returns with The Last Prince (Dutton, August), a sequel that picks up where his much beloved debut novel, The Little Book, left off in fin de siècle Vienna. And Algonquin plans to publish Jonathan Evison's third novel, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, in August. Evison's debut, West of Here, was a popular indie title.
Booksellers made Mark Dunn's debut novel, Ella Minnow Pea, a surprise bestseller in 2001. Now the author is back with American Decameron (MP Publishing, October), an homage to the 14th-century medieval allegory by Giovanni Boccaccio. Dunn tells 100 stories, each taking place in a different year of the 20th century.
At a Great Good Place for Books in Oakland, Calif., owner Kathleen Caldwell noted that sometimes her staff takes "make" to a whole different level. Since The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper came out in paperback, the store has sold more than 1,300 copies--this in a space of just 1,800 square feet--and so it is no surprise that Tropper's One Last Thing Before I Go (Dutton, August) is high on Caldwell's list to grab at BEA. She expects to sell about 100 hardcovers but sees even great potential in its paperback as a long-term handsell. "One this about our store is that we create an audience for writers like Jonathan Tropper," she said. "People come in asking for his new one all the time."
And then there are some big names with new books due this fall, including Zadie Smith's NW (Penguin, September), Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue (Harper, September), Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior (Harper, November) and Louise Erdrich's The Round House (Harper, October). Cotleur said she has not read these yet, but has been hearing they represent some of the strongest work by those old favorites to date.
Tom Campell, co-owner of the Regulator Bookshop in Raleigh, N.C., is especially looking forward to Chabon's and Smith's books. Smith is returning to urban youth, which is her strength. Telegraph Avenue examines the lives of two families that revolve around the pop culture and jazz worlds in Oakland, reminding some readers of how Chabon brought comic books culture in New York to life in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.
Of course, Campell observed, "There are always two or three [buzz books] that everyone will have missed until they come out--and that's part of the fun, too." And that's why even veteran booksellers come to BEA and walk the aisles year after year--eager to hear the buzz, add to it and spread it long after all the boxes are packed up next week.
Tomorrow, we'll check out the nonfiction buzz. --Bridget Kinsella