In the past when people described Book Expo America to me, I imagined a cross between fashion week, an industry trade show and ComicCon. Experiencing the event in New York City last month made me realize a more apt analogy would be book Mardi Gras.
The annual early-summer trade fair is where publishing houses, authors, booksellers and educators come together to harvest and sell the year’s book crop, but that doesn’t accurately describe the sometime figurative, sometimes literal drunken free-for-all that occurs when the book industry throws mounds of books and authors at each other.
After sorting through my Book Gras loot, I’ve put together a summer reading list of some of the most buzzed-about titles. There seems to be a definite trend in dark tales this year, but that might be just the cool treat we need to get through the sizzling Texas days.
Mythical and Supernatural
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (out now)
It was standing room only for the novelist, television writer and Twitter king at Book Expo. Calling his first adult novel since 2005 a “particular, dark little book” about magic and memory, Gaiman confessed it’s also an accidental book that started as a short story based on a forgotten piece of childhood history and the tragic suicide of his family’s lodger.
The Returned by Jason Mott (out August 28)
Though The Returned revolves around the fantastic conceit that the dead are being returned to the living exactly as they were before they died, Mott says he tried to treat the subject matter as realistically as possible. The inspiration came from a haunting dream Mott had of coming home from work one day to find his deceased mother waiting for him at the kitchen table ready to hear about the years of his life she had missed. ABC has already adapted the book for television.
The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon (out August 30)
If you grew up on Harry Potter or A Song of Ice and Fire and think a seven-novel series is just the right length, this might be the summer sensation for you. Both fantastic and futuristic, this debut novel is set in an alternate future dystopian Britain, where psychics and clairvoyants are a persecuted minority.
The 21-year-old Shannon created her “voyant” hero Paige Mahoney while working on an English degree at Oxford. She’s managed to stay in school while completing the novel and mapping out the next six. She already signed a movie deal. (Yeah, I kind of hate her too, but this series looks like it could become addictive.)
Sometimes the Best Stories Are True
The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese by Michael Paterniti (out July 30)
Traveling through Spain the author visits a “telling room” — a room built inside a cave where wine and cheese were counted before being stored for winter. Within this counting room that over centuries also served as a storytelling room, Paterniti meets a cheese maker who recounts a tale of mystery, murder and magical cheese.
He had me at magical cheese.
Topsy: The Startling Story of the Crooked Tailed Elephant, P.T. Barnum, and the American Wizard, Thomas Edison by Michael Daly (out now)
I’m always fascinated when disparate historical figures bump into each other in books, and this chronicle of P.T. Barnum, Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla, the War of Currents and an electrocuted elephant seems to be a lost, true story of early 20th century American history we all should know.
Literary and Historical
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (out now)
The National Book Award winner’s new novel spans three countries and many time periods, focusing on U.S. to Ireland and back Atlantic crossings.
The Son by Philipp Meyer (out now)
I heard a lot of local buzz for this century-spanning, Texas-set novel. Although regional excitement might be biased because Meyer just completed four Texas stops on his book tour, even the New York Times is saying The Son should be raised to the ranks of the greatest historical novels.
A Different Kind of Memoir
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward (out September 1)
I’m playing favorites because I recently interviewed this National Book Award winner. Her passion to tell the true stories of the lives and deaths of five young African-American men from her small Mississippi town sold me on this book before I ever saw it.
Alex by Pierre Lemaitre (out September 3)
The book, already a best-seller in France, is being compared to Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. After seeing so many editors and publicists in a perpetual state of forced excitement about their books at Book Expo, hearing the Random House rep happily tell a room of librarians that Alex was “very, very sick” was so refreshing and hilarious, I wanted to check out this thriller immediately.
Celebrity books are as as prevalent as celebrity fragrances, but the latest trend is the celebrity penned children’s book. Jessica Lange, Julianne Moore and Jim Carrey all made Book Expo appearances. Octavia Spencer's Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective especially looks like a fun romp for kids. But if the Book Expo signing-line length is an indication, the hottest celebrity book this summer will be ...
Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book (out July 23)
Internet domination wasn’t enough, so Grumpy Cat has pawed a photo-heavy book filled with grumpy games and activities. Sure it’s a crass cash-in on an Internet meme, but after all that magical, historical and literary darkness, a grouchy cat just might bring some sun to your summer.