"Stacks of books were piled high all over" reads a passage from the opening chapter of a new work by German author Cornelia Funke -- a passage that might almost describe the literature-laden aisles of the Los Angeles Convention Center last week, during the 2003 BookExpo America. "Small piles of books, tall piles of books, books thick and thin, books old and new. They welcomed ... with invitingly opened pages; they kept boredom at bay ... and sometimes you fell over them."
Mostly, though, you and the thousands of other book buyers in attendance marveled at the exhilarating number of intriguing new volumes forthcoming from a host of publishers offering titles they feel certain will appeal to independent booksellers and readers alike.
One such title, for instance, is the above-quoted book, Inkheart (Chicken House/Scholastic), by Funke, author of The Thief Lord, winner of the 2003 Book Sense Book of the Year for children's literature. "Inkheart is coming out in September, and I think Book Sense is going to be really excited by it," said Jennifer Pasanen, vice president, director of marketing for Scholastic. "Cornelia Funke will be doing appearances [in the U.S.] later in the season."
Other books of special interest to independent stores, mentioned by Pasanen, are Scholastic's Old Turtle and the Broken Truth by Douglas Wood and illustrated by Jon J. Muth (a sequel to the award-winning Old Turtle); and San Francisco artist J. Otto Seibold's vividly rendered Alice in Pop-Up Wonderland (Orchard): "Beautiful illustrations and phenomenal paper-engineering, retelling a very special version of Lewis Carroll's Alice story."
Only a few steps from Alice in Wonderland, AOL Time Warner Book Group Chairman Laurence J. Kirshbaum was promising the publication soon, by Warner Books, of a new book by filmmaker-author Michael Moore on America.
"We do not have a title for this book," said Kirshbaum, "but in it, he's essentially looking at the Bush administration ... and the whole opportunity for beating him in 2004; what [Moore] thinks are the issues that Americans really care about, that haven't come to the surface yet. So it's a sort of a primer."
Reminded that Moore publicly criticized the publisher of his last book (Stupid White Men, HarperCollins) for alleged lack of support, Kirshbaum said, "This time, he's not going to have any criticism; he's going to be happy, I hope. We're going to do everything we can, to make him happy.... He's going to do a huge tour, about, I think, a 30-city tour.... We'll have a print run of probably 500,000.... It's a big book, for us."
The presidency was being scrutinized from a different perspective at the Sourcebooks booth, where Publisher Dominique Raccah spoke with enthusiasm of her firm's September offering My Fellow Americans: The Most Important Speeches of American Presidents, From George Washington to George W. Bush (Sourcebooks Media Fusion), which wraps ex-Clinton speechwriter Michael Waldman's text with archival graphics and two audio CDs.
"It's going to be kind of a huge celebration of history, as told through the presidents' own words," Raccah said.
Another Sourcebooks mixed-media title is President Kennedy Has Been Shot: A Moment-to-Moment Account of the Four Days That Changed America by the Newseum, with Cathy Trost and Susan Bennett, timed to November's 40-year anniversary of Kennedy's death. "The audio that you're hearing here, you will never have heard before," said Raccah. "You hear the original call made to the police station. You hear the conversations with Air Force One, to Lyndon Johnson.... It is history at its most absolute."
On the fiction front, Sourcebooks Landmark's lead title in October is Daughter's Keeper, by Ayelet Waldman, a former California public defender and the wife of author Michael Chabon. "I am beyond excited about that. I'm looking for it to be one of the most successful novels that I've ever introduced," Raccah said. "It's a novel about a mother and a daughter -- the story of how one tragic decision can change a life and all the lives around it. It's a fascinating look at both the law and its repercussions on individual lives. We have unbelievable blurbs: Dave Eggers, Amy Tan, Dorothy Allison.... There are some very excited booksellers, about this book."
Also excited about fall fiction was Doubleday Broadway Publisher Steve Rubin, who named some of his house's upcoming books: "We have Jonathan Lethem's new novel, Portraits of Solitude, which we feel will take Jonathan to another level of popularity; his book Motherless Brooklyn was a huge success. We feel this will be sort of The Corrections of this season. We also have, after a long time of not writing, the next novel by Pete Dexter, called Train -- quite a memorable piece of noir.... Then we have the next book by Chuck Palahniuk, called Diary: Chuck taking things to -- another dimension."
Random House and Ballantine Publisher Gina Centrello was happy to name that group's hot fall fiction titles: "Richard North Patterson's new book, Balance of Power, about gun violence, which is absolutely wonderful; the independents will love it.... Steven Bochco has written a Hollywood novel, Death by Hollywood, which is really quite good; very special, and very 'inside-Hollywood.' We have another Jonathan Kellerman, The Conspiracy Club.' Anne Perry's writing a new novel, set in World War I this time.... One that's on-sale right now, which I love: Getting Mother's Body, by Suzan-Lori Parks, a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful literary first novel."
The novel causing the biggest buzz at the Hyperion booth was Martin Amis' Yellow Dog, due in November. "It's a really wonderful, dark, comic novel, that involves royalty, and the invasion of privacy, and mortality," said Hyperion editor Donna Bray. "He'll be doing a huge tour; that's the thing that propels his books. When he's on the road doing the independents, the stores get standing-room-only crowds."
Another Hyperion book of note, said Bray, was Jonathan Stroud's young-adult novel The Amulet of Samarkand: "This is the start of a trilogy from a young writer in the U.K., a fantasy-adventure story for children.... It's great -- a little bit more challenging than Harry Potter, a little bit more literary."
Hyperion Marketing Director Jane Comins had special praise for The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty: "It's a coming-of-age novel. We've gotten a lot of great advance reads of this. Vivian Jennings is a big supporter, with Kansas City's Rainy Day Books; it does take place in Kansas.... This is one that I would love for independents to embrace. I think that they will."
A Wiley nonfiction book with special potential for independents, said Wiley Business-Book Marketing Director Peter Knapp, is Alfred Lutrano's Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams, "about the kind of challenge that people encounter when they grew up in a family that was blue-collar, and try to translate their experiences into a corporate world; the values, and the means to success, can be very different."
Diversity was the name of the game at Diamond Book Distributors' kiosk, where Vice President of Sales and Marketing Kuo-Yu Liang displayed some of the "tons of good stuff" coming soon from the varied and burgeoning world of graphic novels:
"For kids, Gemstone Publishing is launching a line of Disney comics and graphic novels. There had not been any Disney comic published in five years. I think independent bookstores should do very well with that.
"Dark Horse is doing a line of Star Wars books called Clone Wars: stories that the movies talked about, but it's not in the movies; you can only get it from the comics.
"In sort of the literary comics, or even mainstream ... a publisher called Top Shelf is coming out with a title called Blankets; we're getting great response from retailers and wholesalers and libraries.
"IDW, out of San Diego, is coming out with a line of graphic novels based on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the number-one-rated TV show; the writer is Max Allan Collins. That's coming in June -- any day now."
A different sort of graphic art figures prominently in Skin Deep: Tattoos, the Disappearing West, Very Bad Men, and My Deep Love for Them All, an October memoir by tattoo artist and first-time author Karol Griffin, which Harcourt Sales Director Paul Von Drasek said he intends to put in a Book Sense white box mailing. "It's a little bit Mary Carr, a little bit Lucinda Williams, I think," Von Drasek said of Griffin's work. "Great voice. And she's going to do a driving tour. She's got herself a big ol' finned car, and she's going to drive all over the West when we go to sell the book; so I think we'll be able to bring her to a lot of independent bookstores in these markets, Wyoming being her home."
The book that Henry Holt Sales and Marketing Director Maggie Richards thought sure to please independent stores was Knee-Deep in Wonder (Metropolitan), a novel by April Reynolds. "We're sending her out on a major tour in the fall. We expect lots of press on the book, because she has a very interesting story to tell; she also has a very, very interesting voice," Richards said. "Hers is a multi-generational family story, about finding out where you belong and who you belong to -- and the importance of belonging."
Houghton Mifflin's Senior Marketing Manager Carla Gray said she thought the book her house would make the biggest Book Sense push for was the new James Carroll novel, Secret Father. "We've done a lot to get James out there to independent bookstores," Gray said, "especially in New England; and I think everybody that's met him has always been really touched by him as a person. And he's finally written a novel that I think is going to just take off: set right after the Second World War, in Berlin, at the dawn of the Cold War."
Many writers evoked special praise from Jeanette Zwart, field sales vice president for HarperCollins Publishers -- starting with Nell Freudenberger, author of Lucky Girls (Ecco), "a collection of stories by a young author featured in the New Yorker's new-fiction issue. She's extraordinarily talented; these stories are really evocative. An assured voice. It's the kind of book that the independents can make, and we're very much hoping that that will happen."
Edward P. Jones, author of The Known World (Amistad), "was a National Book Award finalist for a collection of stories (Lost in the City), Zwart said. "The Known World is a really wonderful book set in 1850s Virginia, about a black slave whose parents buy him his freedom ... and eventually he becomes a landowner and black slave-owner himself.... The writing is exquisite; it's gorgeous. Incredibly beautiful sentences; the book is amazing. To read it, is to love it."
"An extraordinary storyteller" is how Zwart described Richard Bausch, whose work is collected in The Stories of Richard Bausch (HarperCollins). "He's never sold a huge number of copies, but he's one of the masters of the story craft. We're hoping that by putting his stories together in a collection, it'll give it the heft that will make people recognize him for being one of America's best practitioners of the form."
Sena Jefer Naslund's new novel Four Spirits (Morrow) "is set in 1960s Birmingham, Alabama, during the civil rights struggle. "It's a very personal book, about a young woman just starting to figure out what the world is about," said Zwart.
And from Canadian novelist Ann-Marie MacDonald, author of Fall on Your Knees, comes The Way the Crow Flies (HarperCollins), "a wonderful epic story of how ethical decisions affect a widening ripple of people. She's a gorgeous writer also, very poetic."
Farrar, Straus, Giroux fall-list authors singled out for notice included Katharine Weber, with The Little Women ("a delightfully clever contemporary novel inspired by the Louisa May Alcott classic"); Judith Ortiz Cofer, and her novel The Meaning of Consuelo; and Edgardo Vega Yunque, with his impressively-titled "symphonic novel" of a one-time jazz musician whose long-lost daughter tries to get him to return to music: No Matter How Much You Promise to Cook or Pay the Rent You Blew it Cauze Bill Bailey Ain't Never Coming Home Again.
At the Perseus Books Group booths, the focus was on nonfiction -- especially Signor Marconi's Magic Box (Da Capo) by Gavin Weightman. "The author's previous book, The Frozen-Water Trade (Hyperion), was a Book Sense 76 selection," said Perseus Publicity Director Lissa Warren. "This [new one] is an historical narrative, with a little science and technology woven in. It's the story of Marconi's life, but also the story of his scientific achievement. It's one of those books that you can't put down. Short chapters, great photographs. It's just a fabulous read."
Public Affairs Publicity Director Gene A. Taft had no hesitation in calling the just-printed The War on Our Freedoms: Civil Liberties in an Age of Terrorism (Public Affairs Reports), a Century Foundation book edited by Richard C. Leone and Greg Auriq, Jr., "the most important book that will be published in the next few months, for booksellers. It's 14 essays about how our civil liberties are being -- reduced, I guess, is a good way to say it; how the war on terrorism is adversely affecting Americans' freedoms. Not only is it important for the people buying books in stores, but I actually think this is important for people running and working in the stores."
There was no shortage of titles to interest independents at the Bloomsbury booth, where sales and marketing director Sabrina Farber said, "Our whole list is for independents."
One title of special note, said Farber, was Ethan Watters' Urban Tribes: "It's about what happens to people who are post-college, in their 20s and 30s, who put off marriage until they're much older, and they hang out in groups.... It's a different way of living: they're getting married later, but they're getting married smarter." The author made contact with such groups all over the country, said Farber: "So when we send him on tour, we're going to hook up with the local urban tribes.... I think we'll get a lot of media to support this book."
Other Bloomsbury books to watch for, said Farber, are You Look Nice Today, a novel by Stanley Bing ("a very, very funny writer, who's best at satirizing the corporate world"); Karen Karbo's memoir, The Stuff of Life ("addresses an issue that a lot of baby-boomers are facing, where parents are aging and dying, and you have to come to terms with that"); Waking Samuel, a first novel by Daniel Coyle (author of Hardball: A Season in the Projects); and the nonfiction The Billy Ruffian by David Cordingly ("all about a ship of the line that was important in the downfall of Napoleon; so for all those Patrick O'Brian fans out there, he's definitely got the goods)."
Patrick O'Brian was invoked too at the Norton stall, where the first two of that late historical-novelist's series of maritime adventures is being repackaged in trade-paper to tie in with the release of the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, starring Russell Crowe as O'Brian's hero Jack Aubrey.
As for brand-new titles, Norton's Dosier Hammond thought many booksellers would get behind The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century, by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. "A lot of people feel that he's the best, most articulate, down-to-earth, factual critic of a lot of the policies of the Bush administration," said Hammond. "He's a wonderful writer, and a real kind of growing hero to a lot of people."
Hammond also recommended Mailman by J. Robert Lennon, a "very interesting writer. A new novel, about a brilliant guy who's a mailman, who ends up getting too involved in the lives of the people whose mail he delivers."
And then there's the memoir An Open Book by Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Michael Dirda. "One of the great book reviewers in the country," said Hammond. "When he writes a review and he likes a book, he gets you excited about it. And here is his story, of growing up working-class in Ohio
. [Reading] was this passport into a whole different life, and his own mind. A wonderful book, very inspirational, about how reading can change your life."