Hollywood has the Oscars. Football has the Super Bowl. Political parties even have their national conventions in election years. Many industries have an event where the most influential people in that world gather together, usually around a celebration or competition of some sort. The book publishing world doesn’t have anything quite like that, but BookExpo is something very close to it. BookExpo is a yearly convention where book publishers, editors, authors, marketing people, booksellers, bloggers, book reviewers - and yes, even librarians - get together, talk about the industry, and look forward to the awesome books that are coming out in the year ahead. I was lucky enough to go last month, and I’ll give a brief overview of what new releases caught my eye and what we might be seeing on the library shelves and the bestseller lists in the near future.
The event is organized like many other industry conventions - there’s a series of large rooms where panels and interviews are held, but the majority of the space is taken up by the vendor floor, where organizations (mostly publishers) have booths of various sizes. The larger the publisher, the bigger the booth. At these booths you can chat with editors, marketing people, and the occasional author who might drop by and sign some ARCs. “ARCs” is an acronym for Advanced Reading Copies, which are copies of books that are made available to folks within the industry months before they are released to the buying public. These are often used in book reviews, for example, but publishers will also use ARCs to test the market: if booksellers and librarians go nuts over a title, or keep using certain words and phrases to describe the book, publishers will look at that information and adjust their rollout plans accordingly.
Here’s a small taste of titles that I came across.
Known primarily for contemporary women’s fiction seasoned by a large dose of Southern charm, Joshilyn Jackson’s newest book comes with a bit of a darker edge in NEVER HAVE I EVER. Amy Whey is a part of a large book club in her suburban enclave dominated by mothers having a bit of wine on their night out, but a new arrival stirs the pot - the beautiful and mysterious Roux shows up and takes over the party, playing a nasty game of that sleepover standby Never Have I Ever, which quickly turns deadly serious as it’s clear that Roux knows a secret that Amy had thought long-buried. The two match wits, and in a year where many twists and turns of psychological thrillers are more eye-rolling that genuinely shocking, Jackson takes the plot in places you genuinely never would expect. Place your holds now, as this one's perfect for late summer reading, coming out on July 30th.
Few contemporary authors know the business of death like Caitlin Doughty, who has a follow-up to her non-fiction hits SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES, a memoir about working in a crematorium, and FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, a look at how other cultures around the world handle death and dying. Her newest is WILL MY CAT EAT MY EYEBALLS? And here, Doughty takes a slightly different strategy from her previous work. Instead of narrative non-fiction or memoir, she fields questions from children, who she discovered are endlessly fascinated by the subject of death and dying. (If you've ever had to talk to an inquisitive five-year-old at the reference desk, you'll quickly discover that children are endlessly curious about just about EVERYTHING.) Besides the topic of cats and eyeballs - and apparently the answer to that particular one is “yes,” - she fields over thirty other questions that will satisfy adults as well. (Can you keep someone's skull? What happens if you die in space?) Broken up into short chapters, perfect for those who love bits of information while on the go, Doughty backs up her research with a bright, accessible wit, pleasing information-loving fans who like Mary Roach or Bill Bryson. Due out September 10th.
One of the fun parts of a place like Book Expo is to encounter an author you’ve never heard of, but after hearing about the book, you can’t wait to devour it. Anne Gardner Perkins’ YALE NEEDS WOMEN looks at the venerable Ivy League university’s decision to accept women in 1969. For those female students who were excited to step through the door that had been finally opened for them, resistance was everywhere - they were isolated from each other, the faculty were sometimes downright hostile, and the male students treated them like inferiors and sexual objects. Despite it all, the Yale women persisted, and Perkins’ reveals the courage, fierceness, and creativity that the new students had to use to survive in a place that was very conflicted about them being there. Not only does this story intersect at several crucial cultural points in our modern era to make this an essential read, this is also LIVING history, and Perkins truly brings this to life with energy and enthusiasm that makes for fascinating reading. Due out September 10th.
Many people (myself included) were completely enchanted by Erin Morgenstern’s debut 2011 novel THE NIGHT CIRCUS, about two star-crossed magicians in a mystical circus that appears on a British countryside. She finally returns with THE STARLESS SEA, a love letter to stories, and the people who love them. The son of a fortune-teller, Zachary Ezra Rawlins is an isolated college student studying computer games who suddenly finds a portal to an underground world full of forgotten stories, love letters, legends, and myth. He runs across a secret society that wishes to keep this world preserved and hidden, and another who wishes it to open it and remake it into something else. Graced by Morgenstern’s magical prose, every sentence rich in meaning and atmosphere, this one is destined to be in high demand, especially for those who love stories about stories. Also for fans of Neil Gaiman, Alice Hoffman, and Ray Bradbury. Sadly, we'll have to wait until November 5th for this one, but trust me - it'll be worth the wait.
Debut novelist Kiley Reid is destined to make a splash with her social drama SUCH A FUN AGE, centered on the relationship between a young mother and her babysitter. Alix Chamberlain is happily married with two young children, also pursuing a career as an influencer and social media spokesperson, angling for a spot of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. To help watch the kids, she’s hired Emira Tucker, a African-American woman in her mid-twenties, who takes the youngest Chamberlain child out shopping at a high-end market one night and is accused by the police of kidnapping. Social media grabs hold of the incident, and a few surprises from both Emira’s and Alix’s past complicate matters. Reid excels at believable characters who feel and talk like real people, and this fast-paced, witty story about how people of different cultures and social levels connect with each other is perfect for fans of Celeste Ng’s LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE and is sure to be a book club favorite. (But it'll be a book club favorite in 2020, as it's due out January 7th.)
Speaking of book clubs, Cara Wall’s debut novel THE DEARLY BELOVED is going to be on a LOT of book group lists in the very near future. Set in the turbulent 1960s around two couples who meet, fall in love, marry, and have children while serving the Third Presbyterian Church in New York City. Quiet, contemplative, and insightful, the novel explores issues of faith and relationships across a long period of time, allowing the bonds of friendship and marriage to expand and contract, and to deepen and evolve. (As marriages do.) Wall writes with a certainty of story and characters that will please fans of literary fiction that’s not fussy or too involved with itself - Wall’s novel is more like a good friend you sit down to tea and chat with. This'll be out on August 13th.
Similar to Erin Morgenstern, Stephen Chbosky is back with a much-anticipated release - however, in this case, Chbosky’s last novel, the YA smash hit THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, was published twenty years ago. (Don’t worry, he’s kept himself busy in Hollywood as a screenwriter since then.) Don’t expect a coming-of-age tale this time around - his new novel IMAGINARY FRIEND is more of a literary horror novel a la Stephen King. A young mother fleeing an abusive relationship with her bright, dyslexic son arrive in a small town. The boy makes friends with an invisible friend who seems to shower good luck on the family - words that were scrambled are now readable, and the family wins the lottery and buys a dream house on the edge of a forest. But the friend wants the boy to build a treehouse in a secluded spot in the middle of that forest - a forest with a dark past and will soon prove to be the battleground of a massive fight between good and evil. Fans of the kids-on-bikes-fighting-evil genre - like the recent “It” movie adaptation and Netflix’s “Stranger Things” - will find much to love here, and the epic story will keep readers glued all autumn long. This is out October 1st.
Thanks for reading, everyone! I'll talk about more novels as the summer moves along. Keep reading, and thanks for using the library!