Friday, December 28, 2007

One of our deepest, darkest secrets

I probably shouldn't admit this here, but we do have a secret plan in mind when we mail out each new volume of Select Editions. Simply put, we want to grab you the minute you open the carton. As soon as you see the collection of books in that volume, we want you to drop everything and start reading. And there's a method to our plan.

First of all, we need some big names. Authors like Michael Connelly and James Patterson who practically own the bestseller lists. Then we need somebody new and good that you might otherwise have never heard of, like Patrick Taylor. We fill out the bill with one of our personal favorites, the deliciously romantic Elizabeth Adler.

Next, we need to mix up the stories. They've got to be different, and they've got to work together, like the courses of a meal. They've got to be complementary to each other. And it's nice if there's something in each volume to appeal to everyone in the family when they open the carton. So there's a police procedural (The Overlook), a love story with exotic settings with a undercurrent of suspense and a dash of humor (Meet Me in Venice), a mind-boggling crime-of-the-century caper (Step on a Crack), and a tender tale of a young doctor learning the ropes in rural Ireland (An Irish Country Doctor). Something for men, something for women, something for everybody.

So maybe that's our biggest secret. We're trying to find something for everybody, to create a volume you just can't wait to read and share. Our January 2008 volume is, we hope, a winner on all counts.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Let’s hope the apple falls far from the tree

When I read the climactic final action scene in James' Patterson's Step on a Crack,which takes place in the famous Sing Sing prison in Ossining, New York, a small, soft bell rang in my head. Hadn’t my mother-in-law once said that a relative of hers was imprisoned there a long time ago?

I asked my mother-in-law recently about this, and she confirmed that, yes, her grandfather had been imprisoned there for a few years. She doesn’t know the nature of his crime; she doesn’t know the exact dates or duration of his imprisonment; but she does have one letter that her grandfather wrote to her grandmother while he was incarcerated. Using this letter, which includes his prisoner number, she plans to investigate the matter further.

So now I’m connecting the dots: this means that my husband’s great-grandfather was a convicted criminal! My mother-in-law is a lovely woman who has been supremely law-abiding her entire life. And by all accounts, her own mother, the daughter of the convicted man, was of a similar disposition. But what if the outlaw gene strikes only the male members of the family? Should I worry that I’ll one day be visiting my husband in Sing Sing?

If so, he’ll follow a long line of famous prisoners, including mobster Lucky Luciano, bank robber Willie Sutton, and spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The prison has been featured in several well-known films, including Analyze This (1999) and Analyze That (2002). In fact, according to the prison superintendent, so many movies have been filmed there that several staff members have Screen Actors Guild cards. There’s even a Sing Sing museum down the street from the local high school.

Click here to visit a terrific history of the prison.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Weekly doses of Lisa Scottoline

If you can't get enough Lisa Scottoline, check out her "Chick Wit" column which runs each week in the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer's Image section (and can be accessed here online, along with all her past Chick Wit columns). Lisa's uniquely sassy, urban voice takes on subjects such as her diet, her FICO score, her visit to the White House ("I just got back from the White House. I stole nothing of value. More accurately, the thing I stole didn't cost anything"), and holiday shopping. It's all very funny and will keep you busy until Lisa publishes her next great Philly novel.


Friday, December 21, 2007

The art of condensation

Did anyone see the article entitled “The Corrections” by Adam Gopnik in the October 22, 2007, issue of The New Yorker? We here at Select Editions read it with interest, because it concerns “abridgement, enrichment, and the nature of art,” according to the subtitle. Unfortunately, The New Yorker hasn’t put the article on-line, so I can’t provide a link. But if this is a topic that interests you, it’s worth a trip to the public library to get your hands on a paper copy.

Most heartening to us was Gopnik’s endorsement of the excellent job done by the editors at Orion, a British publishing house, who put out a line of condensed versions of classic literature, such as Melville’s Moby-Dick and Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. We also agree with Gopnik’s assessment that a condensed book is a valid work of art in its own right. It will never be exactly the same as the original, but people read for a variety of reasons, and every reader should be offered a choice.

I take issue, however, with Gopnik's conclusion:

“The real lesson of the compact editions is not that vandals shouldn’t be let loose on masterpieces but that masterpieces are inherently a little loony. They run on the engine of their own accumulated habits and weirdnesses and self-indulgent excesses . . . What makes writing matter is not a story, cleanly told, but a voice, however odd or ordinary, and a point of view, however strange or sentimental.”

Maybe the reason that eighteenth- and nineteenth-century masterpieces seem a little unwieldy or "loony" to us today is because they were written so long ago. Cultural perceptions and expectations of language have changed over the centuries, and maybe the editors of those books weren’t obliged or accustomed to asking an author to cut his work. Today’s editor might ask Melville to take huge hunks out of Moby-Dick—cuts that wouldn’t necessarily jeopardize its status as a masterpiece. Maybe what Gopnik perceives as looniness or weirdness or self-indulgent excess is just a product of the times, a style that was tolerated by earlier readers just as a certain type of loony, weird prose is tolerated by today’s readers of literary fiction. Maybe it has nothing to do with quality.

Gopnik would probably argue that the works of Jane Austen, although economically written, have nevertheless attained masterpiece status because of their unique voice and point of view. But that seems to contradict his assertion that masterpieces are “inherently” loony.

What do you think? What books will be designated the masterpieces of tomorrow, whether "loony" or not?


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Enter Lisa Scottoline's book club contest to win an invitation to her home

While many authors are very good to their fans, Lisa Scottoline may take the prize for fan appreciation—via her book group parties. She recently hosted her 2nd annual Book Club Party for 200 happy fans at her Pennsylvania home. She loaded up her guests with tasty treats, regaled them with entertaining stories, and then signed books, of course. Next fall, Lisa plans to host her 3rd annual Book Club party, featuring her upcoming novel Lady Killer (to be featured in an upcoming Select Editions). If your book group would like to attend, be sure to visit Scottoline's website to learn how to enter her random drawing next spring.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The fix is in

There seems to be a trade journal for every occupation. For editors, it's Publishers Weekly. Without fail, on Monday mornings this week's edition arrives in our mailboxes, and we eagerly grab it and read it practically cover to cover. Personally, I'm most interested in the reviews. I've usually read the books they're evaluating, and it's interesting, and often surprising, to compare their evaluations to my own. It's especially gratifying to see a book that I've loved similarly lauded by PW. It's nice to know that you're not alone in the world.

You'll notice, though, that I said the magazine arrives on Mondays almost without fail. Sometimes it arrives a day late, or, heaven forbid, a couple of days late. The Monday morning fix has failed to arrive. That's when you see editors biting their nails, pacing their offices, grabbing extra cups of coffee (better make that decaf). If PW doesn't arrive on time, my advice to you is to steer clear of the editorial department until the problem is solved. I refuse to be responsible for anything untoward that may occur in that hostile environment.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

It's a pleasure

I was having lunch with a colleague from another publishing house recently, and as we talked I began faintly to detect traces of envy. She, herself, has a job a lot people in the industry would kill for, at great offices in central Manhattan, and at a firm that puts out some of the most respected fiction and nonfiction in the business. But as I described what I do all day—hunt for book treasure among the best of the best of current publishing for our discerning readers, and then read and condense these gems—she was clearly musing about what it was like on my side of the fence.

Then I really laid it on. “I’m also the project editor for the World’s Best Reading collector’s series, and I have to read the great classics like Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth or Robinson Crusoe and then write introductory essays for each one we select. Actually, I usually just listen to audio versions of each novel in the car driving to work.” That’s when she said: “You have a great job!”

I do. And one of the things I really like about it is not just a chance to work on the cream of the crop, but also the serendipity that goes with the job as I learn about the authors we publish. Just this morning, I stumbled on a web site for the Edith Wharton Society. And I was reminded that there are a lot of information-packed fan clubs out there devoted to favorite writers. Which brings me to another thing I like about my job—I get to share what I enjoy directly with you. For fun, try these links:

Edith Wharton
Edgar Allan Poe
Jane Austen
Daniel Defoe


Monday, December 17, 2007

One thing Americans and Germans have in common

No Time for Goodbye was published as Ohne ein Wort (Without a Word) in Germany. The book was a runaway hit, selling over 200,000 copies in its first eight weeks. That's success in any language.


Friday, December 14, 2007

P.S. I LOVE YOU goes Hollywood

Select Editions readers may remember an unusual romance we published in Volume 4, 2004. It was P.S. I Love You by 21-year-old first-time Irish author Cecelia Ahern. The poignant/funny story concerned Holly, a young Dublin woman dealing with the untimely death of her husband. How to get through the next year? Luckily husband Gerry has left a set of 12 life instructions for Holly, one to be opened each month.

We all loved the manuscript here but debated whether the setting and lingo were just too Irish--sometimes you needed a glossary to understand the cheeky dialogue. But the wonderful characters won out and we decided to choose Cecelia Ahern's debut novel as one of the select 24 we published in 2004.

Now we all have a chance to see what the story would be like if it were taken out of Ireland. Is it still as charming, still as heartfelt? On December 21, the Hollywood version of P.S. I Love You opens nationwide, starring Hilary Swank, Lisa Kudrow, Gina Gershon and Phantom and 300 hunk Gerard Butler. I just looked at the movie trailer and note that Gerard Butler gets to keep his Irish accent and there are scenes that take place in Ireland, but most of the movie happens in a very Swanky New York City. So the Irishness of the story becomes a non-issue (sadly). (The 2006 photo above shows actors Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler on the set flanking Cecelia and her famous father, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern.)

For those of you who are Cecelia Ahern and/or chick lit fans, you may want to know that she is also a creator of the hit comedy series "Samantha Who?" on ABC on Monday nights. I've watched a few episodes of the show and am happy to report that Cecelia's trademark humor and heart shine through brightly. So check it out some time when you need a "bumbling-romantic-in-the-city" fix.


Tree spotting

"He climbed the ridge to high ground and scanned the tamarack trees that grew in profusion along the edges of the wetland."

Sometimes words need a little help. You read a description, no matter how effective, of a city, or a river, or some remote place, and you want to get hold of a picture to help enrich and extend the reading experience. I recently felt compelled to do this while reading William Kent Krueger’s Thunder Bay. In this case, I was after a tree. It’s the tamarack larch. The novel’s hero, Cork O’Connor was once the sheriff of Tamarack County where he lives in northern Minnesota, and Krueger evokes the tamarack several times in the story, which is set mostly in the lush wilderness of Canada and northern Minnesota.

I had an idea of what the tamarack looks like, but wasn’t sure, so I searched the net for a good image of these stately, cold-tolerant trees that grace the countryside of northern North America, Canada and Alaska. In the process I learned that the wood of the tamarack is tough and versatile. It is prized as firewood, but since it is durable and flexible, it has also been employed for years by the Algonquin tribes to make snowshoes and other artifacts useful for life in the wild. The bark and roots of the tamarack are also said to have medicinal uses. The stately deciduous, coniferous tree, which loses its needle-like leaves each autumn in a blaze of yellow and can reach a height of nearly sixty feet, is an indelible part of the experience of the northern wilderness.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

The fine art of endorsement

Almost every book in the bookstore seems to have an endorsement on its jacket or cover—either a favorable quote from a review or a blurb from a fellow writer telling readers how much he or she enjoyed the book. Additional quotes and endorsements sometimes appear in advertisements for the book. In the case of No Time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay, these quotes are truly impressive in quality and number—see Linwood's website for the complete collection.

Publishers consider endorsements from other writers vital to a book’s success. If a reader sees a blurb from a writer she’s read and liked in the past, then it stands to reason that she might like what that writer likes. That’s why publishers spend so much time and energy choosing just the right people to solicit endorsements from. Is Writer A’s work really comparable to Writer B’s? Do they appeal to the same audience? Answering these questions can be very tricky. Also, writers decline requests for endorsements all the time, so publishers have to spread a wide net—which makes Linwood Barclay’s array of positive blurbs even more remarkable.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Hello again from the Word Nerd. As those of you who have been following my obsession with word origins know by now (see postings 10/16, 10/24, 11/28), I find eponyms—words derived from someone's name—tempting. They are, in fact, tantalizing, which is, itself, an eponymous term that harkens way back to the eternally tempted Tantalus of Greek mythology.

Everybody knows that when they say something is Darwinian or they speak of Darwinism they are linking back to the theories of the famous 19th-century biologist, Charles Darwin. That's a good example of an eponym. And most Americans know that the Bowie knife is named after James Bowie, brave defender of the Alamo. But not many people know that the peppy little freshwater fish we call guppies are named after an English-born amateur naturalist and resident of Trinidad, Robert J. L. Guppy (1836-1916), who was one of the first discoverers of the species and who, in 1861, sent specimens to the British Museum for classification. Guppies, popular home aquarium fish, have been used to control the spread of mosquito-born diseases because they feed on mosquito larvae. They are also "live bearing" in that baby guppies hatch out of their eggs before birth and are born ready to swim.

Here are a few more eponyms:

Volt: The measure of electrical force, is named for Italian Count Alessandro Volta (1745-1827), inventor of the first modern electrical battery.

Stetson: The wide-brimmed hat that is today an icon of the Old West, is named for New Jersey hat maker, John B. Stetson (1830-1906).

Derrick: The scaffolding most people associate with Texas oil wells, is so-called in honor of one Thomas Derrick, an Elizabethan-era hangman who devised a “better” gallows for his 3,000 executions. From meaning any frame for a hangman’s noose, the term evolved to its more benign definition today.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007


I was raised on Hollywood. When I was a kid back in the Fifties, the local TV stations were awash in old movies. They were cheap programming: the Early Show, the Late Show, the Late Late Show. In New York, where I grew up, the “Million Dollar Movie” showed the same film all week, twice each night and then repeatedly over the weekend. If I saw King Kong once, I must have seen it a thousand times. In one week.

The thing about old movies, aside from the fact that, as a rule, they were pretty good, was that they had a clear value structure. The good guys always won, bad guys always lost, home and family were of the utmost importance, and love conquered all. It didn’t matter if it was serious films, comedies, westerns, romances, adventures—the values were the same. In fact, they had to be: the Hays office made sure of it. A studio couldn’t release a film unless it met these standards.

We could probably argue at length about whether these enforced moral standards were good or bad for the art of cinema, but I think they were good for the audiences at the time. After all, these movies were made during the Depression and World War II. What was wrong with movies that made you feel good at a time when the world itself wasn’t all that great?

I think this feeling about entertainment has stuck with me, and it comes out now in the books I like, and the ones I recommend for Select Editions. Sure, I can read so-called serious literature and send myself into a state of permanent depression as well as the next person, but I don’t enjoy it much. What I like is a book that’s fun. It can be serious or funny, it can be quiet or it can be adventurous, it can be a mystery or a thriller or a romance or a historical, but it has to be fun. It has to be entertaining. And underlying that sense of entertainment is, I think, a clear value structure. I like it when the good guys always win, the bad guys always lose, home and family are of the utmost importance, and love conquers all. It’s cornball, sure, but it’s my kind of cornball. I come by it naturally, having been raised on all the old cornball of Hollywood. Is there anything wrong with that? I don’t think so.


Monday, December 10, 2007


Confession: I have never been to Canada, though I've wanted to since I was a kid. And now I want to go even more than ever.

Thunder Bay by William Kent Krueger has re-ignited my interest in our neighbor to the north. This book tells the story of a lust for riches—as well as other sorts of lust (you have to read the book)—found deep in the lake-studied wilds of Ontario. Canada, of course, offers more than hidden precious metals and a breathtaking countryside. It is very rich in history, including that of the early British and French settlers, the many aboriginal peoples, such as the Ojibwa, and Inuit in the far north, and the latter-day Canadians from China, India, Pakistan, and other parts of Asia.

For fun, I've gathered up some Did You Know? vital facts about Canada. Here they are:

Canada, the name itself, is derived from an Iroquois word for “village” or “settlement.”
Population: 33 million
Size: In terms of its borders, Canada is the second largest country in the world, after Russia. A lot of this is ice, of course. In terms of land mass it ranks fourth after Russia, China and the United States.
Trade: Canada is America’s largest trading partner.
Famous Canadians: John Kenneth Galbraith, Shania Twain, Alexander Graham Bell, Jim Carrey, and Dan Akroyd.


Friday, December 7, 2007

Good readers better able to retain brain skills

Be glad you never worked in a lead smelter plant. As reported in a recent issue of Neurology, when doctors examined employees who had worked for years at the smelter, they found no lack of neurological problems for those poor workers. But not every worker was affected equally, especially those who were good readers. The years of reading, the scientists speculate, may have helped the smelter employees' brains to develop more "cognitive reserve." So while their motor skills might have been affected like the other workers, the readers retained much of their thinking skills, such as attention, memory, mental calculations and decision making.

This cognitive reserve, built up from years of reading, has been found to shield people from the effects of other types of brain injury, as well. Yet more reason for readers to feel smarter than ever!


Thursday, December 6, 2007

Memory lane

On 11/26, in reference to William Kent Krueger’s Thunder Bay, I posted that one of my very favorite reads from my high-school years was Hal Borland’s When Legends Die. Like Thunder Bay, which sketches the eventful life of Ojibwe medicine man Henry Meloux, When Legends Die tells the absorbing story of a Native American, Thomas Black Bull, a Ute Indian, who gradually learns to prize his special identity and tribal heritage.

It wasn’t long after writing that note that a memory tugged at me: Didn’t Reader's Digest publish this as a condensation in the 1960s? When I searched my shelf of Select Editions volumes going all the way back to Number One (published in 1950), I saw, to my delight, the words: When Legends Die staring at me from the spine of Volume Four 1963! (A little before my editorial time: I was eleven.) I thought: This is going home with me one weekend soon, for some quality private time.

Then I couldn't help scanning the tables of contents of some of the other volumes lining my office, and so many of my past vorites are all there: The Caine Mutiny (1951), The Spy who Came in from the Cold (1964), and The Flight of the Phoenix (1964)—all great reads, and all, incidentally great movies, too. When DeWitt Wallace started Reader’s Digest in 1922, he sought to publish reading material of lasting value. As far as I’m concerned, these titles prove his success. And to the editors here today in Pleasantville, N.Y., they are potent reminders of a weighty legacy that we aim to sustain. The bar is high, and we vigilantly search for the best of the best to meet the challenge.

One of my top picks from 2007 as a candidate for future favorites lists of this kind is The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig (featured in Volume 1, 2007). If you have any personal favorites like these from the annals for Select Editions/Condensed Books, we’d love to hear about them. Sometimes talking books is almost as much fun as reading them.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Going to the dogs

Marley & Me, John Grogan’s touching, hilarious take on dog ownership was a fabulously successful book published back in 2006. And like all such books its success has spawned an avalanche of imitators penned by others who've been touched by the antics of their canines.

I'm not complaining, mind you. This is what publishers do and a lot of the descendants are pretty decent as it turns out.

Some of the better follow-ups include My Life with George, Judith Summers' story of life with her Cavalier King Charles spaniel and how he helped heal her and her son after some sad events in their lives. This literary dog celebration cuts across political lines. Recently conservative talk show host Mark Levin chimed in with Rescuing Sprite, which chronicles his family's adoption of an adorably persnickety shelter dog. Not to be outdone by the vast right wing conspiracy, liberal Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen has weighed in with Good Dog. Stay., which features Beau, her beloved black Lab.

I've had a few dogs in my life, too, none of them inspiring enough for a whole book, but still they were not without interest. Take Prince (they did!), my gorgeous honey-colored collie who got in serious trouble when he bit a boy who dared to point his cap pistol in my direction when I was five. Very Rin-Tin-Tinny, I thought at the time. Then there was Dylan, space cadet dog of the sixties, who, without benefit of illegal substances, still spent a lot of time out back nosing a large rock over and over across the yard for reasons known only to him. Groovy, man. Kill the pigs.

In my own nuclear family we've had two dogs, a Brittany we called Angus (named for my maternal Grandpa) and Rosie, the sweetest and dumbest beagle to ever misconstrue a command. We bought Gus from a toney breeder in a snooty New York suburb who scrutinized my wife and I long and hard before we were deemed worthy to fork over a king's ransom for him. Still he was well worth it, a great companion dog who turned out to be a world class Frisbee catcher to boot. We had no kids then and looked at dog ownership as parent training. And it worked. Later the kids ate way more than expected and declined to follow orders, just like Gus.

Rosie the beagle was a downmarket dog from the other side of the tracks we got when the kids were around. We purchased her from a guy who owned a pizza place and kept the litter of puppies in the back, near the kitchen. My family took a few days to decide which puppy to take, but we immediately found another pizza place (yuk). The first night we had Rosie, the whole family arose at 3 AM to the most godawful sound any of us had ever heard. Thus we were introduced to the practice of "baying," a beagle vocalization that sounds roughly like the soundtrack to a disemboweling. Turns out she was just lonesome for her siblings and the baying subsided eventually.

Rosie was loaded with what's known as emotional intelligence, but was a trifle short of, well, the regular kind. On top of that she was naturally mischievous. Like Marley, Rosie knew rules were meant to be broken and so-called commands were meant to be stared quizzically at. She was nevertheless tempermentally sweet and physically adorable, which is the means by which beagles have so far avoided extinction.

So is that the kernel of an introduction first chapter of my dog book or not?

Let us know which dog books you're buying for friends this holiday season, and if you have a dog anecdote of your own, please share on this blog!


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Next Big Thing

They are going to get me for this.

They (and I won’t mention any names) have been telling me that e-books are the Next Big Thing for a while now. Meanwhile, I’ve weathered iPods and iPhones, YouTube and Google, MySpace and Facebook, but despite all those other Next Big Things, they insist that e-books are going to be the Next Big Thing. I don’t believe it.

Now, maybe if they gave the electronic book readers away, I might be interested, but the ones I’ve seen cost a lot of hundreds of dollars. Additionally, you have to pay to load books into them. That’s quite an investment, considering that books-on-paper (as I guess we’d better call them from now on) are pretty inexpensive. I can buy books at a variety of prices, most of them quite reasonable, about the same as a new-release DVD. I even know places where I can buy books secondhand. I can take a book anywhere, and start reading it right where I left off, and when I’m done with it, I can give it to my wife to read; with the Next Big Thing, we would need an extra electronic book reader, and I could barely afford the first one. Better yet, I can drop a book from the second-floor window, go outside, pick it up and start reading it again. Just try that with the Next Big Thing.

To my mind, some activities simply aren’t asking to be automated. They’re quite nice the way they are. Relaxing and reading a novel—that is, a basic old book-on-paper—is one of those activities. Not having to worry about the battery running out, or dropping it, or locking it up at night, are all part of the bargain. Putting it on the shelf when I’m done and remembering it fondly is part of the bargain. Passing it on to a family member or friend is part of the bargain. If e-books really are the Next Big Thing, I’m afraid this is one big thing on which I am going to take a pass. What's your take on this?


Monday, December 3, 2007

Lisa Scottoline on TV tonight

Murder by the Book, a hit TV show on Court TV, pairs mystery and suspense fiction writers with real-life cases that have inspired them in some way. Using documentary footage, first-person accounts and the author's own insights, each one-hour episode sheds new light on a particularly intriguing crime. So far the series has featured top writers such as Sandra Brown, David Baldacci, and Joseph Wambaugh.

Tonight at 10 pm, the show stars Lisa Scottoline (currently featured in Select Editions with Daddy's Girl). Lisa delves into the death of Karyn Hearn Slover, whose dismembered body was found in a lake near Decatur, Illinois.

Make a note: Select Editions authors on future episodes include Linda Fairstein (December 10), Jonathan Kellerman (January 21) and Lee Child (January 28).


Nice work if you can get it!

I was just checking in with Linwood Barclay's website, only to find out that he's taken a leave from his newspaper writing job. I love the way he puts it: "I’m officially off until Labour Day, 2008. I’m going to use the next year to work exclusively on book projects, and maybe watch all those DVD sets of classic TV shows I’ve been collecting. (Twin Peaks, The Outer Limits, Hawaii Five-O, many of which seemed a lot better when I saw them the first time…)"