BEA: The Publishers, Part Two

I had initially hoped that I could give you BEA coverage in one fell swoop, but I collected so much information that I’m going to have to distribute it on a piecemeal basis. So without further ado:

I talked with Suzanne Balaban of Scribner’s. Balaban told me, “We pride ourselves on the readability of our books.” At first, I feared that she was referring to reads that went by so fast that the books in question took less time to complete than a pizza delivery. But she clarified her statement by telling me that she was talking about “books you can’t put down.”

With this credo in mind, Scribner’s has a guy by the name of Tim Winton as their autumn heavy-hitter. Apparently, Winton is an “Australian rockstar” novelist and he has a book coming out in September called The Turning. There are emotional turnings, dramatic turnings and slow awakenings. But apparently there aren’t any apple turnovers involved. Perhaps because they hope that Winton will be a household name here in the States. My professional guess here is that apple turnovers might alienate the Hot Pockets crowd.

Scribner’s also has a new Frank McCourt memoir. This one describes his time as a teacher at Stuyvesant. There’s an emerging writer named Eric Puchner who has a short story collection called Music Through the Floor. a collection of postmodern tales.

But from where I’m sitting, Scribner’s most interesting title might just be Mark Gattiss’ The Vesuvius Club. Aside from being part of the excellent comedy troupe The League of Gentleman, Gattiss also wrote a witty episode of Doctor Who featuring Charles Dickens. The Vesuvius Club is billed as a Sherlock Holmes spoof.

Henry Holt doesn’t have much in the way of fiction coming up this year. But they do have a new Paul Auster novel called The Brooklyn Follies. The novel chronicles a man who comes to Brooklyn to die and who meets his long lost relatives. There’s family dysfunction and Abigail Cleaves promises that the new Auster is one of his lightest and “more accessible” novels.

The folks over at Farrar, Strauss and Giroux seem to be working overtime on the translated novels front. That’s all fine and dandy. But when I encountered them, they were sitting around a table with an open package of Doritos. However, I should point out that, despite being cruel enough to tempt me with a chip (I declined), they were amicable folks.

The big title they’re leading with is Rafi Zabor’s I, Wabenzi. It’s a memoir, but it’s the first volume in an ongoing spiritual autobiography. In the first volume, Zabor becomes a Sufi mystic and takes a pilgrimage across Europe in a Mercedes Benz. And I should point out that “Wabenzi” translates into “Eye of Mercedes Benz” in Swahili.


Edith Grossman is in hot demand. Farrar has her on tap translating Mayra Montero’s Captain of the Sleepers. While Montero has been published very successfully in Spanish-speaking countries, she’s faced a bit of a bum rap here in the States. Grossman was requested specifically to translate Captain. One would hope that she was blessed with an agent with considerable business acumen.

Karen Olsson’s Waterloo is Farrar’s major debut novel. It’s a political love novel chronicling a slacker journalist in Waterloo, Texas. The book follows his attempts to do better at life. I was assured by the FSG folks that this novel had to be read to be understood. But then I was getting that kind of hype from everyone.

FSG is also publishing a novel by (wait for it) Scott Turow. The book is called Ordinary Heroes. It’s set in World War II. Turow was inspired by his father, who fought in the front lines. As expected, there’s a legal case in the form of a courtmarial. The idea here is that this novel is “more literary” than Turow’s other work.

But if Turow signals a potential capitulation to a favored author, FSG makes up for it with Christopher Sorrentino’s Trance. This is an underground novel in which every sentence is “laced with edge,” as the FSG people put it. Whatever the novel’s plaudits, I was still quite concerned when they confessed that the book was “positioned how we hoped it would be.” That’s the kind of phrase I often reserve for my own private speculations on BDSM. But no matter: this was the publishing industry. That’s the way things work in New York.

Nicholas Latimer over at Knopf was a nice guy — if only because he put up with my heckling about the Anne Rice novel (MP3 link). But Knopf also has the first Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel in ten years. Latimer didn’t offer many details, but he did say that “it’s going to break everyone’s heart.” Edith Grossman did the translation of this puppy and I sure hope she’s collecting some hefty residiuals.

Knopf also has a “very interesting” Marlon Brando bio that was taken over by David Thomson at the last minute. There’s also an odd husband-wife mystery novel coming out involving a forensic pathologist meeting an assistant DA. The book was written by a husband and wife team. And funnily enough, it’s written by a husband and wife who share the same vocations.

As for the Anne Rice novel, you’ll have to hear the MP3. Needless to say, Rice’s latest book is about Christ between the years of 7-9. And there’s apparently some controversy over Jesus’s “sinless” nature.

By the time, I spoke with Darlene Faster at Crown, Sarah was kind enough to tag along and put up with my caffeinated questioning. I was compelled to talk with Crown because they published Lee Martin’s excellent The Bright Forever, of which I’ll have more to say about in a future post or review.

The Bloomsbury folks were quite mysterious. For one thing, they were terrified by the fact that I had a mike. I won’t name names. They did, however, give me the skinny on several of their titles.

One of Bloomsbury’s flagship fiction titles is Jim Lynch’s A Highest Tide. Lynch is a Washington-based journalist who writes for the Oregonian. The novel takes place in Puget Sound. It tells the tale of a teenage boy who is the first person to see a giant squid alive. The locals descend on him. He becomes a local prophet. He’s a regular kid in love with the girl next door. It’s billed as a coming-of-age story.

They’ve also got a new one from Rats author Robert Sullivan called How Not to Get Rich. It’s a short book that’s a spoof on how-to-get-rich titles. Every year, Sullivan visits his wife’s family on the West Coast, but he doesn’t have enough cash for plane tickets. So the Sullivan clan drives cross-country in a rickety car. The journey here is what comprises this nonfiction offering.

And then there’s Rodney Bolt’s History Play, which dares to portray Christopher Marlowe as a guy who didn’t die off in a barroom brawl. In Bolt’s book, Marlowe goes on to write all of Shakespeare’s plays. The book was apparently quite a sensation in the UK.

But the big news from Bloomsbury is that Dale Peck has a children’s book. Yes, you read that right. Drift House should be out sometime in September. Peck’s inspiration for the book came when he left New York just after September 11 to spend some time on Cape Cod with a friend. Peck’s friend lived in a house just on the coast built by a shipbuilder. The friend woke up the next day and told Peck that he had the strangest dream. It involved a house that took off and went to sea.

Apparently, this so captured Peck’s imagination that he started outlining notes for the story. In Drift House, several kids are sent to live with a professor during the Blitz. The book is inspired by The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and serves as an homage to C.S. Lewis. It’s a magical fantasy of these kids trying to get back to land. There are several adventures, including one on an island where all of the extinct creatures can be found (such as a dodo and a Trojan horse).

I asked the Bloomsbury people if there was any rage or anger in this book. They insisted that there wasn’t and replied, “He’s kind of shed all of that reputation and totally immersed himself into this book.” In fact, Peck himself says that writing this book was one of the most fulfilling and energizing things he’s done in a long time.

Has the kinder, gentler Dale Peck made his presence known? I suppose we’ll have to wait until September.

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One Comment

  1. Well, I don’t know why Tim Winton was characterized as a rock-star novelist — Aussie hype? — but it unfairly confers some kind of lightweight pop quality to his books. And that is misleading in every way. His work is genuinely excellent. Dirt Music, which was out a couple of years ago, is one of my favorite novels. Have a look at it. You won’t be sorry.

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