Richard Russo: 'I Breed Independent Booksellers'
We all give testimony to how much we love independent booksellers. Well, I breed independent booksellers. I refer to my daughter, Emily. Other authors, you'll just have to up your game."
We all give testimony to how much we love independent booksellers. Well, I breed independent booksellers. I refer to my daughter, Emily. Other authors, you'll just have to up your game."
The cheerful mood of ABA members at the town and annual meetings yesterday reflected the positive feeling among independent booksellers in general. The majority of them have seen business improve in the last year and a half and feel that, while the path is not easy, the days when their basic viability was questioned are over. One measure of indies' well-being: for the fourth year in a row, ABA membership has increased, with a net gain of 65 new stores, to 1,971. Incoming president Steve Bercu of BookPeople, Austin, Texas, commented: "I'm hoping next year we'll be talking about 2,000 independent bookstores across the country."
At the meetings, outgoing president Becky Anderson of Anderson's Bookshops, Naperville, Ill., was repeatedly thanked for all her work; tributes included a standing ovation. Observing that "so much has changed for all of us," she urged booksellers to "hang together" and, in a broadest sense of the word, "invest in one another."
CEO Oren Teicher gave a detailed report on the association, the state of bookselling and the many gains independent booksellers are making as well as continuing challenges and opportunities.
The association's finances are stable and have "allowed us to continue to invest appropriately in new initiatives and programming," he said. The number one priority, as expressed by members, is for educational programming, but also includes providing resources in business tools, technological support and advocacy.
Teicher noted that two years ago at BEA he had challenged publishers to work with independent booksellers to "begin to create a sustainable business environment for locally owned, independent bookstores," considering that "the handselling and browsing that happen in indie bookstores fuel the continued viability of the entire literary landscape." Yesterday he happily reported that "the majority of our publishing colleagues have recognized the unique role of indie bookstores" and some of them have tested elements of new business models with some indie stores, leading improvements that include rapid replenishment, simplified coop and improved margins. He called on publishers to "redouble" such efforts, and for those who haven't made changes to do so.
The ABA's partnership with Kobo to sell e-books and e-readers is only six months old, but "we are significantly outperforming our earlier efforts in e-books" with Google, Teicher said. The big news about Kobo: beginning in June, the company is running a campaign on NPR ("the gold standard for reaching our best customers") for the rest of the year on such shows as All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, and the ABA is working with Kobo on the messages. It's hoped that the campaign will help alleviate the unusual problem Kobo has in the U.S.: it's "the most successful e-book company in the world that most American's haven't yet heard of," as Teicher put it.
Teicher noted that indie sales, as reported to the weekly Indie Bestseller List, up almost 8% last year, have continued to be strong in the first quarter, holding their own against a very strong first quarter in 2012.
The "Thanks for Shopping Indie" promotion last November led to higher sales of featured titles in stores showcasing them, helped demonstrate the importance of in-store browsing and discovery, and caused higher sales of the titles in other retail channels, Teicher noted. As a result, the ABA and members are working with publishers to select titles for a "Celebrate with Indies" promotion focusing on "outstanding titles for Moms, Dads, and Grads, and on the best upcoming titles from Debut Authors. And it will again include all sorts of DIY marketing materials, for both in-store and online, including exclusive authors' videos." The promotion will be, he continued, "another important opportunity to show the entire industry the unique role independent booksellers play--especially in helping readers and book buyers discover great new writers."
Teicher added that he remains "confident and convinced that despite all the challenges and difficulties, the best days of indie bookselling are yet to come." --John Mutter
The critical importance of storytelling in our culture became the theme of yesterday's adult book and author breakfast, featuring Ishmael Beah, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Wally Lamb. The event was emceed by Chelsea Handler, late-night TV talk show host ("I'm very excited to be up this early.") and author of Uganda Be Kidding Me (Grand Central, October).
Ishmael Beah, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Chelsea Handler and Wally Lamb
Handler said she was "always excited to be involved with anything with respectable authors and to be involved with the book community at all since I have a television show on the E! Network. So, I'm grateful to every individual here who goes out and sells our books and has our books in your stores and everything you do for the book community."
Beah, whose next book is The Radiance of Tomorrow (FSG, January, 2014), also expressed gratitude to the audience "for making our work possible; for making our work accessible to the readers. We're still around so that means you're doing a great job."
Noting that his imagination was sparked by the oral tradition of storytelling in his small village in Sierra Leone, Beah said, "At a very young age, I learned the importance of actually telling stories.... The most important part of my work is to share the story, to write the story." He recalled a saying that "when you write a story, when you tell a story, when you give out a story, it is no longer yours.... Whoever takes it in, it becomes theirs. So you only become the shepherd of that story."
"There could be no better transition for hearing about storytelling than my belief that history at its best is about telling stories," noted Goodwin, whose upcoming book is The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism (S&S, October). She said she "will always be grateful for this curious love of history, allowing me to spend a lifetime looking back into the past, allowing me to believe that the private people we have loved and lost in our families, and the public figures we have respected in history really can live on so long as we pledge to tell and to retell the stories of their lives."
Lamb's new novel is We Are Water (Harper, November). "We are governed by three basic instincts," he observed, "the need to find food so we won't starve, the need to satisfy our sex drive so we won't become extinct and the need to understand and interpret the world around us on some intellectual level." Ultimately, he said, "thinking leads to reading and writing, which is where you and I come in." --Robert Gray
The BEA exhibition hall opened Thursday morning, with booths filled with books and authors. Snaking throughout the hall, like bookish conga lines, lengthy queues of happy fans (cleverly disguised as booksellers) waited to have books signed by their favorite writers. Anyone caught standing still in an aisle for more than a couple of minutes was likely to be asked which author's line they were in. The general mood, however, was a blend of patience and pleasure.
|At the S&S booth, Lauren Weisberger signed copies of Revenge Wears Prada (June), the eagerly anticipated sequel to The Devil Wears Prada. In her new book, it's a decade later, and Andy and Emily have teamed up to start a magazine.|
|The cover art for the third book in Veronica Roth's series was revealed recently; she signed posters for Allegiant, coming from Katherine Tegan Books in October.|
In a fascinating conversation held at the Downtown Stage, Chuck Klosterman (I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real & Imagined), Scribner, July) asked some great questions and Jonathan Lethem (Dissident Gardens, Doubleday, September) answered them, in depth, offering an intriguing glimpse into his writing process. (We'll have more on this event next week.)
At the Algonquin booth, publisher Elisabeth Scharlatt posed with Gabrielle Giffords, who's a fan of Amy Stewart's The Earth Moved.
|Brad Meltzer's next book is History Decoded (Workman, October), adapted from his History Network TV show.|
The panel "The Journey of a Young Adult Book--From Writer to Reader" tracked the progression of Sara Farizan's debut If You Could Be Mine from an MFA thesis to an Algonquin Young Readers title. The book is about two young Iranian women falling in love. L.-r: moderator Jennifer M. Brown, Elise Howard, Sara Farizan and Eileen Lawrence.
During a poster signing at the Hachette booth, Kristin Lavitt, children's program manager for the Pomfret Public Library, Pomfret, Conn., posed with Jerry Pinkney (The Tortoise & the Hare, October) and Peter Brown (Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, September).
Robert Lasner and Elizabeth Clementson of Ig Publishing welcome Lizzie Skurnick (far right), the namesake of a new imprint "devoted to bringing back the very best in young adult literature."
Opening the annual Editor's Buzz panel, moderator Betsy Burton of the King's English in Salt Lake City, Utah, noted that one reason bookselling does not feel like selling is because, like any people of faith, book folk are moved by "a creed," which in this case "rests in the right to read wildly and freely." Likewise, "buzz" is built as a professional faith--faith booksellers have in editors who acquire the books, publishers' sales reps who present those books to bookstore buyers, and in each other, a la Indie Next picks. It's this line of trust that takes books from the hands of authors and ultimately places them in the hands of readers," Burton said.
Buzz authors: (l.-r.) Amy Grace Loyd, Wendy Lower, Katy Butler, Sheri Fink and Eric Lundgren, with Ron Hogan, who moderated their appearance on the Downtown Stage yesterday.
The first editor to present was Dianne Urmy, senior executive editor of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who acquired Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower (Oct. release). Lower became interested in the topic while doing graduate work in Ukraine, where she came across the testimonies of hundreds of women about Nazi war crimes. "Why did they sound so callous and so defiant?" Lower wondered; after years of research and interviews (the author is fluent in German) she discovered that more than 500,000 German women were in direct contact with Nazi atrocities in the East.
Along with exposing the role of women in Nazi history, Urmy explained that Lower also portrays a generation of women who left their villages in pursuit of careers and husbands (many in the SS). The book profiles 13 women in their roles as teachers, nurses and wives, and ultimately shows where each one ends up as either witness, accomplice or killer. In the words of the author, "genocide was women's business as much as men's."
Overlook Press editor Liese Mayer said she came upon the debut novel she was presenting through a friend at a dinner party. Author Eric Lundgren had submitted The Facades, got some nibbles from publishers, but eventually gave up. He was working as a librarian in St. Louis when Mayer's dinner party friend connected them. His novel is set in Trude, a "once-great" midwestern city, and opens on the night the celebrated opera singer disappears during a performance; her husband, Sven, starts to investigate. "I was instantly blown away by it," said Mayer.
"There are two kinds of mysteries at work," said Mayer: the husband's search for his wife in a place reminiscent of the Invisible Cities in Italo Calvino's writing, and the reader's search for the truth about Sven, who realizes he has been a passive husband and will need to become an active participant in his life if he does not want to lose everything.
Picador senior editor Anna deVries--once a bookseller at Dutton's in Hollywood and Seminary Co-op in Chicago--said she was happy to present a novel set in her hometown of New York, "which has a way of turning neighbors into family."
The Affairs of Others by Amy Grace Loyd is about Celia, a grieving widow seeking to hide from life in the apartment building she owns. Then a subletter moves in--a woman of a certain age who is seeking something from the sexual exploits with a boyfriend after her husband has left her. Celia's sanctuary is turned "into a stage for the chaos of modern life." Oh, yeah, and there is lots of sex and sensuality. Without giving away too much, deVries said, The Affairs of Others opens with a party and ends with a party. The reader leaves Celia as "a woman fully engaged in her world looking outward."
"There's a kind of nonfiction that reconstructs for the reader a whole world," began Crown executive editor Vanessa Mobley, talking about Five Days At Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink (Aug.). Fink won a Pulitzer in 2010 for her New York Times Magazine article about the horrific conditions at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina.
Fink delves into what happened there after Katrina, "when the thick rope of duty that binds doctors and nurses to the people they are bound to care for started to decay." Forty-five patients died at Memorial in those fateful five days and Fink presents an investigative and narrative story that makes the reader think hard about unbearable circumstances endured, and unthinkable choices made.
The health-care system is also front and center in Knocking at Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death by Katy Butler (Scribner, Sept.)--the only book chosen for both the buzz panel and the ABA Debut Authors fall promo.
"Many of you probably hear the word death and say, 'Ugh,' " admitted Whitney Frick, the acquiring editor. In the book, Butler writes at once as a journalist, adept storyteller and loving daughter, as she shares her her father's unnatural medically managed death and her mother's graceful natural passing. "It's one family's story," Frick said, "but it's one that is going to look familiar to all of us."
The final buzz book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting by Jennifer Senior (Ecco, Jan.), is also on a familiar topic. "It's not a parenting book per se," said Burton. "It's the parenting book everyone considering parenting should buy. Of course, then there might be fewer children in the world...."
"You didn't think All Joy and No Fun was going to be the comic relief of this panel," said Lee Boudreaux, the editor who bought the book--at the time when she herself had a two-year-old. "You will recognize yourself on every single page of this book." Senior sifts through all the social science ("so you don't have to"), to examine why one of the most fulfilling parts of life is so challenging; she also lets you know you are not alone.
"She ends up sending you away in a raft of realizing that not only is there an end to each of these phases, " said Boudreaux, "but she does a poetic beautiful job of showing why it is so meaningful." --Bridget Kinsella
For 7x20x21, Ami Greko, senior vendor relations manager at Kobo, and Ryan Chapman, marketing director of the Penguin Press, introduced seven people working at the intersection of books and technology. The concept: each presenter gets 20 Powerpoint slides, changing every 21 seconds.
|Henrik Berggren and Ryan Chapman|
"The world isn't flat, " began Alexis Ohanian, cofounder of Reddit.com, "but the Internet is." If all links are created equal, he continued, then the best ideas can win--much to the chagrin of the disappearing gatekeepers. His book is Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed (Business Plus, Oct).
Henrik Berggren is the founder of Readmill, a reading app gallery that "lets readers connect with other readers and publishers in the margins while they are using them." Berggren, a Swedish native, explained that it "makes it possible to store all your e-books in one place," with the use of a "send it to Readmill" button already on 65 e-tailing sites.
From Kickstarter, Stephanie Pereira walked attendees through some of the site's most successful book-related projects including Robin Sloan, who used the site to get readers involved in the writing and publishing of Mr. Penumbra's Twenty-Four Hour Bookstore (FSG, 2012), and the relaunch and expansion of the Reading Frenzy bookstore in Portland, Ore., in April.
Ilan Zechory, cofounder of Rapgenius.com, demonstrated how his site grew from people posting and annotating rap lyrics--with a community of "verified artists " (i.e., rappers) contributing--to becoming a place where one college professor posted The Great Gatsby chapter by chapter for students to interact with the text. Recently, Sheryl Sandberg joined the community discussion site offering her own verified annotations when a Rapgenius user posted a chapter from Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead (Knopf, March).
David Jacobs, founder of 29th Street Publishing--which publishes blogs as well as books and magazines on the iPad--pondered a question he's often heard in publishing circles: What is a book? "A great book doesn't just adapt to the environment, it consumes the environment," he said. His example: I'm Trying to Reach You by Barbara Browning (Two Dollar Radio, 2012), in which the mystery unfolds via You Tube comments, which makes it essential to watch the videos.
Wrapping up the rapid-fire session was Jesse Bering, a former psychology professor and expert on cognition and culture, who piqued people's interests with tidbits from his upcoming book, Perv: the Sexual Deviant in All of Us (Scientific American/FSG, Oct.), like a woman who fell in love with the Eiffel Tower. --Bridget Kinsella
Mark Suchomel, former president of Independent Publishers Group, has joined Perseus Books Group as head of a new client services division named Legato Publishers Group, which will be an affiliate of Publishers Group West.
Perseus COO Joe Mangan commented: "We have known and admired Mark's business acumen and fervent defense of independent publishers over the years, and we could not be more pleased to add a professional of Mark's caliber to our ranks."
PGW president Susan Reich added, "We're very much looking forward to working with Mark. We are longtime admirers of his work with independent publishers."
Suchomel had been president of IPG for 15 years and earlier was v-p, sales and marketing. In 1986, a year before Chicago Review Press bought IPG, he joined Chicago Review Press as sales manager. In his new position, he will be based in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
The BookBar, a bookstore and bar in Denver, Colo., has opened, Eater.com reported. Owned by Nicole Sullivan, the store is at 4280 Tennyson Street in Denver's arts district. The store's motto is "a book shop for wine lovers. A wine bar for book shoppers."
Eater.com said that the BookBar "features an inventory of brand new books, focused on those that are most current and mostly highly regarded by bookworms everywhere. And there's a small menu of food and drinks available to go along with the good reads."
Amazon has signed a lease for 210,000-square-foot offices in central London for 1,600 employees "as it expands further into sectors such as book publishing and television production," the Telegraph reported. Several hundred current employees will move into the space by the end of the year.
The paper observed that this is "Amazon's second major property investment in the capital in less than a year and comes as the company faces criticism over its avoidance of British taxes. Its most recent accounts showed it received more in government grants than it paid in corporation tax in 2012."
Andrew M. Greeley, the Roman Catholic priest and "prolific writer whose outpouring of sociological research, contemporary theology, sexually frank novels and blunt-spoken newspaper columns challenged reigning assumptions about American Catholicism, " died yesterday, the New York Times reported. He was 85.
Jack Vance (legal name: John Holbrook), an award-winning mystery, fantasy and science fiction author who wrote more than 60 books, died Sunday, the Associated Press reported. He was 96.
Buzzfeed showcased "19 wonderful vintage school library posters" from the 1960s that "encouraged kids to (gasp!) explore the library."
Downpour by Emily Martin, illustrated by Mara Shaughnessy (Sky Pony Press).
Tomorrow on CNN's Your Money: Glen Hubbard and Tim Kane, authors of Balance: The Economics of Great Powers from Ancient Rome to Modern America (Simon & Schuster, $28, 9781476700250).
Tomorrow on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered: Sheri Booker, author of Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner-City Funeral Home (Gotham, $26, 9781592407125).
Sunday on Meet the Press: Jonathan Alter, author of The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies (Simon & Schuster, $30, 9781451646078).
The White Queen, adapted from Philippa Gregory's Cousins' War series set during England's War of the Roses, will premiere August 10 at 9 p.m. on the STARZ network in the U.S. The project was adapted by Emma Frost and directed by James Kent, Jamie Payne and Colin Teague.
A BBC co-production, the 10-part series stars Rebecca Ferguson as Elizabeth Woodville, Max Irons (The Host) as Edward IV, Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs) as Elizabeth's mother, Jacquetta Woodville, James Frain (The Tudors) as Lord Warwick and Amanda Hale (The Crimson Petal and the White) as mother to Henry Tudor, Margaret Beaufort. The cast also includes Faye Marsay, David Oakes, Eleanor, Aneurin Barnard, Ben Lamb and Tom McKay.
"All are heroines in the real sense of the word," said Gregory. "They were courageous and determined and went through extraordinary danger, but they never abandoned their unwavering desire to return their family to power. They conquered the circumstances they were born into and made a life for themselves, which is a very modern and quite feminist theme. I think people are going to be surprised to see these remarkably powerful women when traditional history tells you female were simply relegated to be victims or wives or mothers." The next book in the series, The White Princess (Touchstone), will be released July 23.
Winners of the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards, sponsored by the Independent Book Publishers Association, were celebrated at BEA. For a full list of winners and finalists, click here.
The Audio Publishers Association announced this year's Audie Award winners last night. Classic novels took top honors, with Graham Greene's The End of the Affair (read by Colin Firth, Audible) named Audiobook of the Year and Bram Stoker's Dracula (multi-voiced production, Audible) being honored for Distinguished Achievement in Production. Other winners included:
Biography/memoir: The Seamstress by Sara Tuvel Bernstein, Louise Loots Thornton and Marlene Bernstein Samuels, read by Wanda McCaddon (Tantor Media)
Business/educational: Spy the Lie by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, Susan Carnicero and Don Tennant, read by Fred Berman (Macmillan Audio)
Children, ages 8-12: Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani, read by the authors (Brilliance Audio)
Children, ages up to 8: The Great Cake Mystery: Precious Ramotswe's Very First Case by Alexander McCall Smith, read by Adjoa Andoh (Listening Library)
Classic: Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens, read by Charlton Griffin (Audio Connoisseur)
Fantasy: Anita by Keith Roberts, read by Nicola Barber (Audible)
Fiction: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, read by Claire Danes (Audible)
History: The Wrecking Crew by Kent Hartman, read by Dan John Miller (Tantor Media)
Humor: I Suck at Girls by Justin Halpern, read by Sean Schemmel (HarperAudio)
Literary Fiction: Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, read by Simon Vance (Macmillan Audio)
Mystery: The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny, read by Ralph Cosham (Macmillan Audio)
Nonfiction: Breasts by Florence Williams, read by Kate Reading (Tantor Media)
Romance: The Witness by Nora Roberts, read by Julia Whelan (Brilliance Audio)
Science fiction: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, read by Emily Rankin (Random House Audio)
Short stories: Astray by Emma Donoghue, read by Khristine Hvam, James Langton, Robert Petkoff, Suzanne Toren and Dion Graham (Hachette Audio)
Teens: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, read by Kate Rudd (Brilliance Audio)
Thrillers/Suspense: Red, White and Blood by Christopher Farnsworth, read by Bronson Pinchot (Blackstone Audio)
Mozambican author Mia Couto has won the 2013 Camões Prize for Literature, awarded annually by the Portuguese Fundação Biblioteca Nacional (National Library Foundation) and the Brazilian Departamento Nacional do Livro (National Book Department), honoring Lusophone writers whose work has "contributed to the enrichment of the literary and cultural heritage of the Portuguese language." The prize has an award of €100,000 (about $129,470).
Mia Couto's most recent work to appear in English is The Tuner of Silences, translated by David Brookshaw, published by Biblioasis in February. Six of Couto's 25 books of fiction, essays and poems have been translated into English.
|photo: Eugene Ghymn|
Susan Palwick is an associate professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she teaches creative writing and literature. Her previous novels are Flying in Place, The Necessary Beggar and Shelter, all published by Tor Books. She has also published a story collection, The Fate of Mice, and a poetry chapbook, Brief Visits: Sonnets from a Volunteer Chaplain. Her fiction has been honored with a Crawford Award from the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts, an Alex Award from the American Library Association and a Silver Pen Award from the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame. Her new novel is Mending the Moon (Tor, May 14, 2013).
On your nightstand now:
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee. I love medical nonfiction, and this "biography of cancer" is a fascinating read.
Favorite book when you were a child:
The Once and Future King by T.H. White; both of my parents loved this book, even though neither of them ordinarily liked fantasy, so it was a family choice. I also loved The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little by E.B. White, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and Nightbirds on Nantucket by Joan Aiken, I, Robot by Isaac Asimov and the People series by Zenna Henderson.
Your top five authors:
Chris Adrian, Peter S. Beagle, John Crowley, Ursula K. Le Guin and Geoff Ryman.
Book you've faked reading:
Mimesis by Erich Auerbach; a friend recommended it after college, and I did read parts of it, but found it very slow going.
Book you're an evangelist for:
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman, a justly celebrated nonfiction account of the culture gap between a Hmong family in Merced, Calif., and the American doctors who are treating their severely epileptic daughter. I think everyone should read it.
Book you've bought for the cover:
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle (when I was eight): I'd seen it on a display at my local bookstore and loved the cover, but was nervous about spending that much of my allowance money; my library didn't have a copy yet. My mother got it for me for Christmas that year. So I didn't buy it for the cover, but the cover made me ask someone else to buy it for me.
Book that changed your life:
The Last Unicorn. I was immediately captivated by the language, especially the songs, and as I got older, I found the book increasingly resonant for what it said about love and loss, wealth and poverty, time and mortality. I still think it's a far more profound book than most people realize.
Favorite line from a book:
"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." --From Neuromancer by William Gibson. This is the first line of Gibson's novel, the book that, if it didn't invent cyperpunk, certainly put it on the map. I read the book on a long bus trip not long after it came out, and as soon as I read that first line, I thought, this is going to win all the science fiction awards this year. Turned out I was right.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Possession by A.S. Byatt. My husband gave me this book for Christmas when I was in graduate school. I remember sitting on our couch, opening the book to the first page and falling headlong into it.
Book that kept you going during a hard time:
The Last Coin by James P. Blaylock. During my first year of graduate school, I was exhausted and discouraged and considering dropping out. I was enrolled in a Ph.D. program in English Literature, but whenever I talked about why I loved books or the emotional effect they had on me, my professors scolded me for being immature. I don't remember what made me pick up the Blaylock book--which most definitely wasn't course reading--but in it, a character rereads Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows (specifically the "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" chapter), and meditates on how much it moves him, and on how certain people in the world are simply impervious to being moved by story that way. The scene's beautiful in its own right, but it also reassured me that my own response to books was indeed valuable.
Fin & Lady by Cathleen Schine (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26 hardcover, 9780374154905, July 2, 2013)
Cathleen Schine (The Three Weissmanns of Westport) is at her writerly best in Fin & Lady, an irresistible story of half-siblings who share a father. When Fin is five, Lady leaves her groom at the altar and runs away to Italy. She is 18 at the time and mercurial, to say the least. (In another time, Lady would be referred to as "a madcap girl.") Her father huffs and puffs until finally, at the request of Lady's mother, he and his second wife, Lydia, and Fin leave for Italy to search for the runaway bride. Lady and her father are constantly at odds, but he does manage to bring her home to rural Connecticut--for a while.
Fin and Lady meet again six years later when Fin's mother dies and Lady is his only kin. She takes him straight from the funeral to Manhattan, where she lavishes him with attention and affection--and he falls instantly in love with this vivid, lovely young woman.
Lady has inherited her mother's gorgeous, well-appointed apartment, where she and Fin stay until her new place in Greenwich Village is habitable. Fin has brought along Gus, his dog, Fin's only touchstone to the past. His dairy farm has been left in the care of a teacher, his cows are being cared for, so Fin decides to make the best of Manhattan.
Lady tells Fin that she has to find a husband in a year--and then proceeds to take on three suitors, none of whom she views seriously as potential partners for life. One is Tyler, the man she left at the altar. He is her financial adviser, constantly threatening to sell Fin's home (which doesn't happen). Another is Jack, a dumb jock slightly younger than Lady, without much to recommend him; the third is Biffi, a Hungarian who befriends Fin. Fin is pulling for Biffi as the permanent partner, but it is not to be.
After entertaining these gentlemen serially, Lady disappears one day without notice. It develops that she has gone to Capri--again. Shortly, she sends for Fin, and he finds her madly in love with an Italian photographer, Michelangelo, and expecting his child.
What happens next is joyous, sad, poignant and a sheer, unalloyed delight to read. Fin and Lady are fully realized characters--people we would like to meet, talk to and be friends with. --Valerie Ryan
Shelf Talker: A nearly adolescent boy and his adult half-sister make their way through Manhattan and Capri, but who is taking care of whom is frequently in flux in Schine's captivating novel.