Friday, December 5, 2008

A visit with author Patrick Taylor

We love Patrick Taylor, and this video shows why. We've just published his second book, An Irish Country Village, in Select Editions volume 300.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Never-ending stories

I just read a book I didn’t like. Normally I wouldn’t bother mentioning this, since it happens more often than not, but this was an unusual case. The thing is, it was a good book. It was well-written, with an interesting plot and a great setting. Our first reader had even recommended it for inclusion in a future Select Editions volume. But as far as I was concerned it had one big insurmountable problem.

It didn’t end.

There were some really important plot elements in the book revolving around whether or not the heroine would get romantically involved with the guy who was obviously right for her, and also what exactly was the story behind the heroine’s mother’s mysterious disappearance. There were other plot elements too, and they were all resolved, but when you turned the last page of the manuscript, the heroine still hadn’t gotten together with Mr. Right, and we still knew nothing about what had happened to the mother. The resolution of these issues, apparently, might be in the next book in the series. Or maybe not. The publisher, in any case, is promising a long series revolving around this heroine.

Now, I’m not necessarily against long books or connected books. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings, for instance, which is a trilogy, where nothing is resolved until you get to the end of volume three. I understand this, and I am on-board with it. And I have enjoyed series books where the same characters come back to entertain us more than once, so I am on-board with series novels in general, provided each installment stands on its own. What I am not on-board with is mysteries that don’t solve their mystery, or romances that don’t get romantic. To fully appreciate the book that started this discussion, I would have to read not only that book but, at the very least, the next book in the series, and maybe even beyond that. This isn’t finding a book you like or an author you like and reading as it suits you. It’s finding a book or an author you like and being forced to read as it suits the author or the publisher. I think that’s asking an awful lot of a reader. It’s practically a lifetime commitment. And I think it’s also a little bit of a cheat.

I’ve talked about series novels in the past that are problematic, especially those that demand that you already know everything there is to know about the characters before you read the latest installment, which means that you have to start at the beginning of the series or you’re totally confused. Good authors who write about series characters—for instance, Michael Connelly or Lee Child, to name just two—don’t do this. They provide you with everything you need to know about the book you are reading within that book. Sure, if you’re a fan and know some of the previous books, you might get a little more out of it, but if you start reading any one of their books, you are never lost for a second. That’s because they’re the good ones. And the idea of letting the absolutely major plot elements hang until some other future book? I doubt if it would ever cross their minds.

I guess publishers nowadays are hoping to build repeat authors that readers will want to revisit when the next book comes out. I can understand that. But I wish they wouldn’t limit their audiences when they do it. I love repeat authors, but I love repeat authors whose each and every book is satisfying on its own. If I want a soap opera that never ends, I’ll watch a soap opera on television. When I read a book I want a beginning, a middle and an end. Call me a conservative. Call me old-fashioned. But when I turn that last page, I want to feel nourished. Sure, I might get hungry again later, but I don’t want to end a meal still hungry. That simply does not do the job for me.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Every couple of months we publish a new volume of Select Editions, and I go through the process of updating our blog to include the new selections. I just did it for our new October volume, and realized as I did so that this was Volume 300. 300! That’s a lot of books.

There is something magical about round numbers with lots of zeroes at the end of them. They speak to importance, to meaningful anniversaries, to moments worth remembering. In the case of 300 volumes going back to 1950, they speak to longevity. You could say that we’ve published a lot of books over the years, but I’d rather say that we’ve put out a lot of entertainment, and I’m happy to point out that a lot of people have enjoyed this entertainment, allowing us to stay in the business of providing it. And I do see it as entertainment. Books can do a lot of things. They can move us and inform us and in some cases even change our lives, but they are also one of the best forms of entertainment. Reading a story gets it into your mind in a way different from any other. It is a captivation that is total. It had better be good if you’re allowing it so much control over your brain! It had better be entertaining.

You’ll decide for yourself whether the latest stories in Volume 300 rise to the test. I’ll just say that from the perspective of longevity, they’re an interesting mix. We’ve published Mary Higgins Clark since the beginning of her spectacular career right up to the latest. We’ve just begun using books by Patrick Taylor and Peter Pezzelli, and while their books in Volume 300 are repeat performances, these two are still new to the literary scene. (An Irishman and an Italian. Sounds like my own family.) Finally, we have our first title from the popular writer Marie Bostwick, and we get a chance to introduce her to the Select Editions audience. So we have a mix of names familiar and not so familiar, but mostly I think we have entertainment: a baffling mystery, a warm country doctor tale, a crusty old professor, a woman making a new life. Great stories to settle down with, to let take over your brain.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tony Hillerman

Tony Hillerman died a couple of days ago at the age of 83. This is the obituary printed in the New York Times.

Select Editions first used a Hillerman book in 1990, Coyote Waits. We went on to publish his work in editions in Australia and the Netherlands and Poland and Russia and Finland—just about everywhere we have an edition. Every couple of years we would just feel that something was missing from our series, and then the new Hillerman would appear, and that would be exactly what we’d been looking for! There is something about Hillerman’s Navajo characters, Leaphorn and Chee, and the tribal culture he described that appealed both because of his honesty and uniqueness in dealing with these Indian themes, and because of their ultimate transcendent humanity. No wonder he was a Grandmaster of the Mystery Writers of America as well as a Special Friend of the Dineh (the Navajo people), a distinction about which he was most proud.

The man will be missed. But his books will go on for a long, long time. It was an honor to have been able to bring some of them to our readers.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In search of character

I’m struck by the sympathy for character that marks the best popular fiction. I can’t imagine a better case of apples and oranges than the writings of Michael Connelly and Nicholas Sparks, but they share one thing in common that I think may be the key to their unique and individual successes: a belief in the people that they are writing about. The reader cannot avoid being drawn in by the authors’ inherent sincerity. Plenty of people write procedurals and legal thrillers, and plenty of people write family stories, but these two succeed again and again so much better than almost anyone else. Sure, they’re good story-tellers, but they’re telling us good stories about people who feel real. That’s the key. And that reality begins with the authors themselves.

In Connelly’s case, he has not one but two series characters he’s working with. One is Harry Bosch, LAPD, and the other is lawyer Mickey Haller. They come together in Connelly’s latest, The Brass Verdict. What demonstrates Connelly’s skill so well is that even readers who have never read one of his books before will be able to understand the depths of these characters, and why their relationship is so meaningful. Bosch is the kind of cop who takes no nonsense from anyone, and who has no problem standing up to his own bosses. Haller is a lawyer who does whatever it takes to win for a client, and sometimes whatever it takes isn’t so perfect, and neither are his clients. It is a joy to see these two characters working toward what seems to be the same goal.

As for Sparks, his career began with his fictionalizing some of the events in the life of his own family. But recently he has discovered a special affinity for armed forces veterans. We saw this in Dear John, with John Tyree, a troubled kid who finds his direction when he joins the service, and now we see it again in Sparks’s latest, The Lucky One, with ex-Marine Logan Thiboult. There is a sense of competency in these men, a sense of mission and a sense of longing, that simply strikes the reader as going deep into the reality of actual people. They don’t feel like made-up characters. They feel like your brothers and sons and friends, the ones who are serving their country because they believe it’s the right thing to do, and you respect them for this just as you respect those people we know in real life in that same situation.

Of course, these two authors are storytellers: in addition to creating empathetic characters (going beyond the lead characters mentioned here), they are writing stories that engage us. We want to see what happens to these people. But it is not the sheer plotting that makes the difference. In the long run, story is simply a vehicle. It’s the people that count. And these people, in two different sorts of novels by two different sorts of writers, are unforgettable. We believe in these characters because their creators believe in these characters. They’re radically different writers working radically different sides of the street, but they share that one important thing in common. And that’s what good writing is all about.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Some very high royalty checks

Last week Forbes published a list of the world’s best paid authors.

No surprise: J. K. Rowling was at the top of the list. The creator of Harry Potter earned over $300 million in twelve months; this former struggling single mother is so rich and famous that her name wasn’t even questioned by my spell-checker when I typed it here! That’s impressive. Of course, Forbes includes income from both books and films, and Rowling is a rare case of a roaring success in one medium also being a roaring success in the other medium. Given the boost in the arm this author has given to kids’ reading, she deserves to be rewarded. If people are reading real books to their grandchildren fifty years from now, J. K. Rowling will be one of the big reasons for it. (And Rowling has also become a noted philanthropist supporting numerous causes beyond what she’s given simply by providing kids with books they love to read.)

In second place, Select Editions favorite James Patterson grossed a mere $50 million, which is quite a drop from number one, but to tell you the truth, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at it. Patterson and his stable of co-authors have to write a new book every couple of months to stay in the money, though: fortunately Patterson is something of a one-man publishing house, with mysteries, non-fiction, love stories, young adult stories—you name it. And he’s another strong proponent of young people picking up books, and once again my hat is off to an author who is making a difference in the world.

Rounding off the top three is Stephen King, earning $45 million for a combination of his books, graphic novels, TV and movies and even a column in Entertainment Weekly. The reigning master of horror for the last thirty years is nothing if not multifaceted. One of King’s major philanthropic projects has been the creation of the Haven Foundation, a support group for freelance artists and writers in the publishing industry.

The list in Forbes goes on, and as always with such a list, it’s interesting to see who’s there and who isn’t. And it’s also nice to know that these people are giving back. We might not be in some of the trouble we’re in economically these days if there were more people like these in charge of things.

Jim Menick

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Endearing values

When I wrote up the AfterWords for Donna VanLiere's The Christmas Promise I did a short take listing a bunch of other Christmas titles beyond the obvious. That is, everyone knows all about Ebenezer Scrooge, but I was wondering what else might be out there. Mostly in that piece I highlighted some classic or surprising writers, but what I discovered was that sometime in the last few years the publishing of Christmas titles has become something of a major industry. It used to be that publishers might throw together a Christmas themed selection of, say, mystery stories, where instead of the butler having done it, Santa Claus is always the murderer, but that was about it, aside from children's books. Nowadays, there is a whole new genre of Christmas redemption tales for grown-ups, where the meaning of the season manages to get through not necessarily to modern day Scrooges but to average people who just need a little help of one sort or another to get their acts together. And this new genre is obviously popular, or publishers wouldn't be pushing it. And I find that curious.

Let me explain. I spend a lot (as in a lot) of time reading the latest books, and from my perspective, the latest books are the literal opposite of this sort of story. Novels today are more violent, more sexy, more weird, more everything that a Christmas story isn't. And then once a year, everything is supposed to change, and we're supposed to put down our guns and get all warm and fuzzy all of a sudden? I don't think so. Don't get me wrong. I love the charm and the values of these traditional stories. What I want to see is a little more charm and a little more of these values the rest of the year. I'm the first one around here to get misty-eyed over a sentimental tale—I like to see good things happening to nice people—and it hardly ever happens. Most of the time I have to be satisfied with, at best, the bad guys getting theirs in the end.

So, what I'm pushing for is a little Christmas spirit the rest of the year. Call me a Pollyanna, but sometimes I just want something a little light on my plate. Maybe the success of these Christmas books will point the way. Maybe publishers will see that there is room for family values year round, as well as serial killers. I hope so. Because I want to read them, and I'm going to want to pass them along to readers of Select Editions. Sounds like a winning combination to me.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

An interesting combination

I read today in Publishers Weekly that our friend Nicholas Sparks is simultaneously writing a book and screenplay specifically for Disney star Miley Cyrus. The subject of the film is a secret.

This is not the first time Sparks has written for Hollywood, according to IMDB. He's worked on 5 adaptations of his own books, including one scheduled for next year (Dear John) and this week's Nights in Rodanthe. Doing a book and screenplay together, however, is a first for him.

Sparks's next book is called The Lucky One, and it's coming out this month. (Sparks will never be accused by anybody of being lazy!) Select Editions readers can look forward to it a few months from now.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Nights in Rodanthe

I've mentioned before that the movie is coming out this month. I just got an update from the Nicholas Sparks website, pointing me to a whole set of extras, including a Reading Group Guide to the book. There's also a link to a preview of the film. It looks pretty good: check it out.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Bond. James Bond. Again.

You know how kids like to hear the same stories over and over? When my daughter was little she had her favorite books, and she would want me to read the same ones to her again and again. What is it about the familiar that makes it so appealing?

I’m wondering about this because I just read Devil May Care, the new James Bond novel by Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming. Here is a series that has far outlasted its creator. Fleming wrote 12 Bond novels and 2 collections of Bond short stories. His main successor, John Gardner, wrote 14 Bond novels plus two film novelizations, and other writers have also contributed to the canon, including Raymond Benson and Kinglsey Amis. And this doesn’t even begin to cover all the motion pictures (officially 22, counting the upcoming Quantum of Solace).

So what is the appeal, not necessarily of James Bond, who is not the only fictional character to have outlived his creator (think of Robert Ludlum and Jason Bourne, for instance), but of any series that goes on and on and on? Why do we, as adults, more or less still enjoy hearing the same stories over and over? On the one hand, I think, we like to see how an author will tweak the formula, keeping everything in place while nevertheless tugging on it in odd places and keeping the reader guessing. But I also think that, when we read for pure entertainment, we simply like to revisit characters and places that have entertained us in the past. It’s like dropping in on old friends and sharing new adventures with them. When we find people we like, we want to spend time with them, whether they’re real or fictional. It’s not that we like the same stories again and again, but we like the same people.

The explanation might be as simple as that.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Kissing a lot of frogs

As the old joke says, you've got to kiss a lot of frogs if you want to find a prince. At Select Editions, an editor has to read a lot of, well, not so good books before a good one shows up. And sometimes you despair of being able to enjoy reading ever again.

Think about it. One of us will have a pile of manuscripts on the desk, hiding our existence from the outside world. We start reading one. Our eyes glaze over. Maybe it gets better as you go along? It doesn't. We throw it out the window (figuratively) and start the next book. Our eyes glaze over. Maybe it gets better as you go along? It doesn't. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, except at some point the mail room dumps another pile of manuscripts on your desk just when you thought you might be able to see the light of day again.

And so you keep reading. And you begin to worry that maybe you're forgetting how to read. You've kissed so many frogs, you won't recognize a prince when he actually does appear. And the good news is, just about every time you get that feeling of despair, a book comes along out of nowhere and you're grabbed from page one and you love it and your faith is restored.

I'm speaking now from the experience of a few months ago. What was the book that brought me out of my bleakness? A thriller with a physics theme? A first novel? Written by some guy over at Scientific American? Yes, indeed. The book is Final Theory by Mark Alpert, and it's just been published in our latest volume. I'll only offer one warning about it: When you read it, make sure you've got a few free hours on hand, because there's no way you're going to be able to put it down until the last page.

Thank heavens there's still princes out there.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I will admit what I am doing at this very moment. I am reading the new Lee Child book. The one coming out next year. I thought to myself, when I first saw it, that it seemed to be here awfully early. I could probably wait a little while before getting to it. But I had some free time, so I picked it up and started reading. And then it happened. Whooosh!

He had me at page one. Wow, this guy is good!


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Herman Wouk

This brings me back. Last night Herman Wouk was honored with the first Library of Congress Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Writing of Fiction. According to the LOC, “The award recognizes Wouk’s extraordinary contributions to American letters and his dedication to, as he has said, ‘the enduring power of the novel.’” Details about Wouk and the award are at the LOC website.

Select Editions has a long history with Herman Wouk, going back to 1951 and The Caine Mutiny. In the Seventies, we broke away from our standard four books in one to do special three-title volumes featuring The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. I remember reading, and loving, both those books when they came out (which is before my time here at Reader's Digest). If there was ever a writer who brought history alive, and who created characters that jump off the page, it’s Wouk.

Herman Wouk has already been honored in 2000 by the Library of Congress as a living legend. His body of work has stood the test of time, and he well deserves this recognition.


Monday, September 8, 2008

The book game

There is a balance we try to strike at Select Editions between big best-selling books by famous names and discovery books by new up-and-coming authors. Which means that we keep an eye on the best-seller list to see what’s happening in the world, and if there’s anything we’ve missed that we should know about. The list, unfortunately, is not always that helpful. Often the biggest titles at any given moment are the latest addition to an ongoing series, or else their subject matter is simply too special for us. We’re not big on horror, for instance, or sword-and-sorcery. We’ve got nothing against either of these genres; we’re just looking for a more general type of story.

So what can I make of this? Entering the Times list at number one yesterday was a book that is not only part of the ongoing “Star Wars” universe of novels, but that has a most unusual provenance even for a Star Wars story. This one is based not on a movie, but on a video game! The title is The Force Unleashed, the same title as a game being released by LucasArts this month. The Times also felt that this was a remarkable event, pointing out that this was the first time a book derived from a video game has been number one on the list. Have there been others that simply didn’t make it so far?

In our complex and often confused era, there are so many competitors for our valuable spare time, and video games have been steadily gaining on more traditional forms like books and movies for a while now. And the relationship of games to movies is well-known, with movies often inspiring games, and games less often but occasionally inspiring movies. Books, I guess, are not exempt from the crossover possibilities. Read the book—See the movie—Play the game! I can sort of accept that, in that order. Play the game—read the book? I have a harder time with that one. The world at large, however, seems to have no such compunctions.

Welcome to the 21st Century.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Faves from the author of Sundays at Tiffany’s

If you’ve had a chance to read the AfterWords profile of James Patterson in the latest volume of Select Editions, then you know that Patterson’s favorite novel of all time is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s richly creative and somewhat fantastical novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. But unless you’ve been to the author’s website recently you may not know the other nine on his list of top ten. Here they are, and don’t be surprised if a few are a little highbrow. After all Patterson almost became a college professor and has an M.A. in English literature from Vanderbilt University:

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Ulysses by James Joyce
Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
Night Dogs by Kent Anderson
The Intruder by Peter Blauner
Different Seasons by Stephen King

If you want to check out James Patterson’s film picks click here.


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Throw another e-book on the barbie!

I might have to change my tune. A while ago I wrote how I wasn't particularly impressed by the electronic book machines that were out on the market, and how I didn't think they'd be much of a factor in the near future. I might have been wrong.

At a barbecue this last weekend, not one but two of the guests were carrying electronic book machines. (Players? Readers? I don't really know what to call these devices yet.) One had an Amazon Kindle; the other, the Sony Reader. Why they had brought them along to a barbecue is beyond me; were they expecting there to be a lot of down time to catch up on their reading? Nevertheless, everybody around the grill had to give the two new toys a try, and there were certainly more positive than negative reviews of the whole idea.

So maybe e-books are coming faster than I expected. It's hard to say. They're certainly coming faster to the barbecues I happen to attend. I still remain a meat-and-potatoes guy when it comes to books though. I still like the kind that that fill up the shelves in my home library. But the world may be changing. Maybe eventually I'll end up changing along with it.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sparks at the movies

I just saw a notice that the film of Nicholas Sparks's Nights in Rodanthe will be opening on September 26. The cast includes Richard Gere, Diane Lane, and James Franco—it looks good. Check our preview.


Turf scoop

Dead Heat, by racing expert—and former champion steeplechase jockey—Dick Francis and his son Felix, features one of the great annual flat racecourse horse events (i.e., no jumps) of England. It’s called the Two Thousand Guineas, and, like the Kentucky Derby on this side of the pond, is a popular entertainment for anyone interested in thoroughbred sports.

Out of curiosity, I did a little Internet digging and found out more about the race. The Two Thousand Guineas is a race for three-year-old thoroughbreds and usually takes place in April or, as in Dead Heat, early May at the Newmarket Racecourse in Suffolk, England. It is the first of the five British Classic Races. It takes its title from the first prize awarded, in 1809, of 2,000 Guineas—worth today about £110,000, or $220,000. The purse, which has grown over the years, was £350,000 ($700,000) in 2007.

Above is a beautiful painting by artist Samuel Henry Alken (1810-1894) of a 19th century finish of the one-mile contest.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Autumn in the Air

It was the middle of August this year when I saw the first sign of the end of summer. No, the leaves hadn’t started turning yet. The local supermarket had all its Halloween candy on display. And outside it was ninety degrees in the shade!


Volume 299 of Select Editions, which we’ve just begun shipping to our subscribers, is our first Autumn volume, even though we do date it as August (for those who look at the fine print). In fact, the way we work, we’ll be shipping this volume to readers across the country literally for the next two months. So some readers might receive it the first week of September, while others won’t see it until toward the end of October. At which point that Halloween candy that’s been sitting in the supermarket since August will start looking a little more appropriate, even if it is a little long in the tooth. (And I for one will not care. I will eat a Snickers bar at the drop of a hat no matter how old it is. They keep well enough for me.)

I mention all this timing because, if you get an early shipment, you might be taken aback by the inclusion of a holiday story, Donna VanLiere’s The Christmas Promise. Yes, it is a little early even if you receive it in October, but if do you receive it before the kids have even gone back to school it’s not because we’re nuts, but because we have that long shipment spread. Save it till you start feeling the need for a little seasonal lift. Or read it right away if you want a lift regardless of the season.

The other books in the volume do not have such seeming ties to a particular date. It’s always the right time for a James Patterson blockbuster, and who doesn’t like to drop in on Lisa Scottoline’s entertaining Philadelphia lawyers? And last but far from least, a debut novel, Final Theory by Mark Alpert, a thriller about the ultimate—No. I won’t tell you much about this one. Let it take you for its ride on its own terms.

Happy Autumn!


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Food for thought

As I mentioned in a previous entry, every Dick Francis novel features a different profession. In Dead Heat, Francis with his son and co-author Felix delve into the highly competitive world of the restaurant business. And it’s a business that delights the Word Nerd. Here’s an example: In the novel, when chef Max Moreton goes to his upscale restaurant in Newmarket to supervise the evening meal, he goes straight into the kitchen. But the kind of food he prepares at the Hay Net is likely to be termed “fine cuisine.” Now I know enough French to know that just across the Channel from England cuisine means first and foremost “kitchen.” Fine kitchen? So what’s the difference? The French word cuisine, of course, sound a lot fancier to our English ears than the more home-grown Anglo Saxon word, kitchen (cycene). Is this because French culture is so highly esteemed? It’s more than that. It’s all about conquest.

In 1066, when the French baron William of Normandy conquered Anglo Saxon England, he and his band of warlike brothers brought over a French court to run things in the country they called Britain (or,Bretaigne). Naturally the now-lowly Anglo Saxons would have to learn a soupçon of French if they wanted to do business with the new rulers. And as the two worlds collided, a new, love-child language would be born—Middle English (of Chaucer’s day) that would later grow up to be our very own Modern English. In the mean time, back in the 11th century, when the French lords and ladies were hungry, they ordered beef (le boeuf), pork (le porc) and mutton (le mouton) from la cuisine, while, back in the kitchen, the Anglo Saxon servants cooked cow (cu), swine (swin) and sheep (sceap).

One wonders: Would they have said “Bon Appetit” back then? Probably not. They didn’t even have forks in those days.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Aggressive book recommendations

As a book reader, I couldn't help but be charmed by the willful books that keep turning up in Sarah Addison Allen's The Sugar Queen. What fun it would be to have helpful reading just thrust at me when I really needed it.

Well, now that's becoming a reality in the virtual world of the Internet. For example, as a member of Facebook, I have the ability to add book-related tools to my homepage. What this means is that I can list recent books I've read, review and rate them, and recommend them to friends--all the things I love to do in "real" life, but now it's displayed for all to see. Recently, I added the application Books iRead. And now books are being "chucked" at me by friends.

Here's what Books iRead tells users: "Want to recommend a book to someone? At wit's end with someone? Want to give them a reality check? Maybe you want to say 'I'm sorry'? Or just sent them a sweet note. Now you can say it with a book--chuck a book." Just as in The Sugar Queen, suddenly book titles from friends are being chucked at me, and I'm chucking books right back at them (including The Sugar Queen). I've never had more fun exchanging book info with people.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Choosing a book to read? Size matters

Let's be honest, sometimes even the most prolific readers find those huge rambling tomes too daunting to tackle. True confessions: books I want to read but have not because they are too long; War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy (1296 pages); The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas (1312 pages); The Power Broker (a biography of Robert Moses) by Robert A. Caro (1344 pages). You get the idea. And I am not alone. Publishers are wary of very long books as they are harder to sell. Book groups avoid choosing marathon books—at least mine does. But there is hope, as abridged books catch on and grow in popularity.

In a recent item in Booklist, librarian David Wright confesses to enjoying a new series of abridged books from Penguin. "I've been seduced," writes Wright. "I'm a sucker for a great publishing gimmick, and those sporty new abridged series from Penguin had my number." At Select Editions, we've been abridging books for more than 50 years. We editors love becoming completely immersed in a good juicy book for hours on end, but truth be told, who has the time? Half a century later, condensation's day has come!


Thursday, August 7, 2008

The family business

A manuscript by Peter Leonard just landed on my desk. Does the name sound familiar? No? Kind of? Well, he's the son of Elmore Leonard, and this is his first novel. In recent memory we've seen a number of offspring take up the family business. Felix Francis is co-author with his father Dick of Dead Heat. The doyenne of suspense, Mary Higgins Clark,, collaborates on Christmas themed mysteries with her daughter Carol Higgins Clark, who also writes her own mystery series. Joe Hill hit the bestseller lists with his 2007 debut Heart-Shaped Box long before the public learned that he was the son of Stephen King. My colleagues also mention the parent/child teams of Iris Johansen/Roy Johansen; James Lee Burke/Alafair Burke; and Hilma Wolitzer/Meg Wolitzer. Then there's Jesse Kellerman carrying on a double tradition: he's the son of writing spouses Faye and Jonathan. Literary author Ann Patchett is the daughter of Select Editions favorite Jeanne Ray, but in this case it was the mother who followed in her daughter's writing footsteps.

It's not easy writing a novel. And it can't be easy following in the footsteps of writers as popular as these parents. But on the positive side, at least there's someone in the family who, when you tell them you're writing a book, knows exactly what you're going through.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The sweet underbelly of the Internet

No, I'm not going off the deep end here. I have a good explanation for this. Sarah Addison Allen's The Sugar Queen has a whole subplot about a heroine who hides candy and other treats in a secret closet, not to mention that the chapters are all named after various sweets. So we were talking about candy in an editorial meeting, and someone challenged me to see what I could find on-line. So I took up the challenge. And, well, maybe I am going off the deep end after all, but at I found out about an All Candy Expo, discovered a truck that runs on chocolate biofuel, and read a review of a Japanese candy that's supposed to make you smarter. This is a fun blog, with links to other sites guaranteed to bring a smile to your lips (and perhaps a cavity to your teeth), including a store where you can buy quarter-pound marshmallow hamburgers.

I feel that I have met my colleagues' challenge. And I now have a ridiculous craving for a piece of chocolate.


Monday, August 4, 2008

Another reason to love Sandpoint, Idaho

If you’re like me, you fell in love with the fictional town of Kootenai Bay when you read Blue Heaven by C. J. Box in Select Editions volume 298. What a paradise! The deep blue lakes, the emerald forests, the crisp, clean air . . . I just had to write about it in the AfterWords to the selection. It seems the author based Kootenai Bay on the real-life town of Sandpoint, Idaho, an idyllic spot in the northern part of the state.

In the course of my research on Sandpoint, I discovered that it’s home to the headquarters of one of my favorite clothing companies, Coldwater Creek—a name that conjures up irresistible images of peaceful afternoons spent enjoying mountain vistas from the deck of a log cabin nestled in the woods. The company even sells moderately priced framed prints inspired by the gorgeous landscape all around them.

Raise your hand if you enjoy Coldwater Creek’s comfortable clothes and relaxed shopping atmosphere. Apparently, their flagship store in Sandpoint has an espresso shop and a wine bar on the premises! I’m so there . . .


Thursday, July 31, 2008

The right book (whether you want it or not)

In Sarah Addison Allen's books there always seems to be kind of magical occurrence that you just wish was real. In The Sugar Queen there's a character who has a very special relationship with books. Or maybe it's the other way around: books have a very special relationship with her. No matter what's going on in her life, books magically appear out of nowhere to give her advice, whether she wants that advice or not. When she's breaking up with her boyfriend, for instance, the book Finding Forgiveness appears in her apartment. In fact, she's been chased by books her entire life. And if she ignores a book or even goes so far as to throw it away, another copy will appear in its place. Again and again and again. The nerve of books to tell her how to live her life!

What a great idea. Wouldn't it be fantastic if the perfect book you needed at any moment would just magically appear in your hand?


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Behind the heroes

As Dick Francis freely admits, there’s a little bit of himself in all his main characters, from veteran jockey Sid Halley to rising star English chef Max Moreton. That each Dick Francis hero tends to get roughed up a lot has not only to do with the fact that he is a tenacious crime buster who runs afoul of bad guys. But also because Francis himself has had more than his share bruises and broken ribs from his days as a premier steeplechase jockey. He knows of what he writes.

Another signature feature of a Dick Francis mystery is getting behind the scenes of different professional worlds. “People seem to enjoy my books,” he once told Select Editions, “because they learn something about a trade they know little or nothing about.” This was famously true of Banker (1983), one of his most popular novels. It was true of Twice Shy (1982), which featured a British schoolmaster and expert marksman and was directly patterned on Dead Heat co-author/son Felix Francis.

It is also at work in Dead Heat, which takes readers into the heat of the kitchen of chef Max Moreton. This understated, self-made stoic hero can claim three inspirations. It has a soupcon of its two co-authors, surely, but also more than a dash of Gordon Ramsay, England’s most famous chef. A popular favorite in the UK (with a growing following in America), Ramsay is sui-generis, like Max Moreton. Unlike the understaded Moreton, though, Ramsay embraces celebrity with gusto. A vibrant, self-made cuisine celebrity who has a handful of his own establishments (including the renowned three-Michelin-star London restaurant, Gordon Ramsay), a reality TV show, Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, (one of my favorites), he is famous for his spicy, direct way of talking that is mercifully unpretentious in a profession that is all too often forbiddingly the opposite.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Exclusive interview with author C. J. Box

See below for an interesting interview with the author of Blue Heaven, featured in the current volume of Select Editions.

RD: After seven novels starring your popular character, Joe Pickett, you’ve created a stand-alone novel, Blue Heaven, and it’s gathering extraordinary amounts of praise. Does that encourage you on to the next book, or make it more daunting?
CJB: The success of Blue Heaven is validation in every regard, and it is a fresh wind in my sails both for future Joe Pickett books and additional stand-alones. I especially appreciate new readers giving it—and me—a shot.

RD: Can you sum up the character of Joe Pickett in a few words?
CJB: Joe Pickett is a Wyoming game warden who loves his family, his low-paying job, and his frontier code of right and wrong. He finds himself constantly in the middle of contentious environmental issues and vicious criminality and tries to put things right.

RD: Is it true that before your first book, Open Season, was published you wrote secretly for some twenty years, afraid of failure as a writer?
CJB: Yes. I didn’t want my daughters to think, "My dad—the failed novelist." I didn’t reveal what I’d been working on all those years until I had a book contract in 2001.

RD: Your first job was as a reporter on a newspaper in Saratoga, Wyoming. But you’ve also worked as a ranch hand and fishing guide, which suggest that you love the great outdoors and the American West. Is that so? And could you imagine living anywhere else?
CJB: I grew up in a state—Wyoming—with a population density of two people per square mile. The environment dominates everyday life and the history of the American West is still very fresh. There are more pronghorn antelope than people. Although I’ve travelled throughout the world, I would never want to return to anywhere else.

RD: What is it you love about Wyoming and Idaho, where Blue Heaven is set?
CJB: Although both states are rural, scenic and isolated, they also play host to extreme things: weather, issues, events. It is as if the lack of crowds makes those who live there step up and become more powerful characters. People are close to the earth and have very strong opinions about it. Plus, there’s great trout fishing.

RD: Is the ranching way of life disappearing to some extent, as you suggest in Blue Heaven?
CJB: Yes. It has been a trend in the last twenty years for the wealthy to buy their little piece of heaven and pretend that they’re lords or ranchers. It has changed the economics and culture of the Mountain West.

RD: It’s interesting that because so many LAPD officers have retired to Idaho there’s now an area of the state called "Blue Heaven." Did you meet any of them during the writing of the book?
CJB: Yes, a few. And a few more during the book tour for the novel. All of them were friendly and interested in the novel. They know it’s only fiction.

RD: Hunting, shooting and fishing all seem to be part of your way of life. Do you love one of them above the others and, if so, why?
CJB: In order: fishing, hiking, skiing, riding, hunting—but only for game meat, not trophies.

RD: You serve on the board of directors of the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo. Is that fun, and do you take part yourself?
CJB: I love it. The rodeo culture has roots in the earliest days of Western expansion and the people involved are earthy, tough and passionate about what they do. I’ve been a volunteer in the rodeo itself for over twenty-five years now.

RD: Do you have any particular ambitions you’d still like to fulfill?
CJB: I want each book to be better than the last, and I hope some of them resonate with readers in ways far beyond the crime-fiction plots. I also want to spend more time catching fish on flies.

RD: What are your greatest loves, apart from fly-fishing and novel-writing?
CJB: My family: wife Laurie and three daughters, Molly, Becky and Roxanne.

RD: And what riles you most?
CJB: Blind extremism; arrogant and stupid bureaucrats and public officials; and political correctness.

RD: How would friends and family describe you?
CJB: I hope they would describe me as very busy but always available.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

No health secrets for POTUS

After reading The First Patient, one realizes how much of a production the medical care of the president can be. In addition, medical privacy doesn't really exist for POTUS, so if you're squeamish about the public knowing intimate details of your health history, don't run for president. Granted, the public has an interest in the president's health, but really, must we know about every hemorrhoid, mole removal, gastric upset? Apparently so. Details of each president's annual physical are released to the public—and these aren't your 10-minute quickie exams either. President Clinton's physical on January 12, 2001, for example, took 3 hours to complete. We learn that Clinton had elevated cholesterol (233), and was started on medicine to lower his cholesterol. In addition, doctors decided to simplify his medication regimen for his gastro-intestinal reflux disease (who knew?) because he was about to leave office, and would be in charge of taking his own medications. President George H.W. Bush had a sebaceous cyst (whatever that is) on the third finger of his right hand drained at his May 10, 1989 physical. Otherwise, he was in excellent health. And there's plenty more! If you like these medical tidbits about POTUS, you can visit and read about "the coughs, cancers and cures of the presidents."


Friday, July 11, 2008

Dick Francis writes on

Dick Francis retired from writing after the publication of Shattered in 2000. His wife Mary—who acted as his researcher and editor—had died, and he decided that the time had come to take it easy. So it was quite a surprise when, in 2006, the manuscript of Under Orders appeared in our office. We loved it; it was the Dick Francis at his best, featuring jockey-turned-investigator Sid Halley, his long-time series hero. The word on the street was that Francis's son Felix had taken on the role Mary used to play, and sure enough, the latest, Dead Heat, is officially listed as written by "Dick Francis and Felix Francis." And it's still got that old magic. This time our hero is a chef named Max Moreton, and we go inside restaurant kitchens and concert halls (Max's girlfriend is a violist) and, in keeping with the Francis tradition of horses, to a polo match. Our British office read this one before we did, and they pointed out the one thing that makes a Francis book a Francis book: the charm of the narrator. Dick and Felix working together are keeping that charm as dazzling as ever. It's nice to know there's still a few reliable things in the world.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Isn't that a song?

As I read C. J. Box’s terrific suspense novel Blue Heaven (Select Editions volume 298) for the first time, I wondered about the title. Something was nagging at my brain . . . Hadn’t I heard the phrase somewhere before? It sounded so familiar . . . is it a song? Could I hum it? Or is it a movie?

Well, the title I was thinking of is “My Blue Heaven” (one word longer), and not only is it a song and a movie, it’s also the title of at least one book, according to the “disambiguation” page. One of my favorite features of Wikipedia is this useful filter, which helps random searchers like me find out what I really mean (for example, do I mean Mercury the element, Mercury the planet, or Mercury the automobile). I had stumbled upon an expanding universe of possibilities with just one search.

I must digress a moment to talk about the word “disambiguation” — one of my favorites! At first, I thought it was a neologism dreamed up by computer nerds, something specific to Wikipedia. But no—the word appears in Webster’s New Collegiate dictionary, eleventh edition. Although there’s nothing wrong with ambiguity—it’s every artist’s stock in trade—for me, disambiguation has a certain emotional appeal as well. There’s satisfaction to be gained when things are classified—the satisfaction of knowing that other classifications, orders, and configurations are always possible.

Anyway, “My Blue Heaven” is the title of three songs: one written in 1927 and recorded by no fewer than 85 artists, including Gene Ausin and Fats Domino; one released in 1989 by the band The Pogues; and one released in 2007 by the band Taking Back Sunday. It’s also the title of two movies, one released in 1950 starring Betty Grable and one released in 1990 starring Steve Martin—and no, the latter is not a remake of the former. A search on Amazon reveals that My Blue Heaven is also the title of three books and a play, each of them on different subjects.

What is it about the words “blue” and “heaven” that, when combined, form something magical? Clearly, the words have inspired more than a few writers and artists. Perhaps it’s that heaven can’t properly be ascribed a color, just as rage can’t properly be called purple, except poetically. There’s probably a word for that verbal technique—maybe a Greek term from the formal study of rhetoric. Does anyone know?

All I know is that Blue Heaven by C. J. Box takes readers on a wonderful journey, and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Old and new

I love the mix of old and new in the latest volume of Select Editions, which we've just begun shipping to readers.

Kicking things off there's Blue Heaven, a thriller by C. J. Box, most famous for his Joe Pickett mystery series. What's new here is that Box has taken a break from his game warden hero and ventured into completely new ground. It begins when—No! I won't tell you how it begins. You'll see for yourself, and I assure you you won't put it down till you've reached the end of it.

Next up is Michael Palmer, a familiar author to SE readers. Palmer, perhaps the foremost medical thriller writer in the world, takes his physicians-behind-the-scenes approach to the extreme in The First Patient, who just happens to be the president of the United States. The book comes with a glowing quote from Bill Clinton, who probably knows a thing or two about being president of the United States.

Back to the new, we have discovery author Sarah Allen Addison's second novel, the enchanting The Sugar Queen. If you enjoying venturing into this very special writer's magical world back in Garden Spells, you'll be happy to once again enjoy Addison's unique melt-in-your-mouth blend of life and romance.

And finally, in the perfect mix of old and new, there's Dead Heat. The father-son team of Dick and Felix Francis is back, reinvigorating the patented Francis combination of horses, heroes, and intrigue in the British racing scene.

As I said, a mix of old and new. And a pretty good mix, if I do say so myself.


Monday, June 30, 2008

Nicholas Sparks: More than a writer

Wanted to share with you this recent wonderful profile of Nicholas Sparks, which ran in the New York Times sports section. That's right: sports section. That's because Nick is a long-time track and field enthusiast who has decided to put his money where his hometown heart is, becoming a huge benefactor of New Bern, North Carolina's local sports teams. What the kids and their coach have to say about Nick is really moving. (In the photo above right, that's Nick in the khaki pants with some of the local track stars.) Select Editions readers always knew that Nick Sparks has a big heart, and this story proves it.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Casting choices for the film of THE GHOST

This just in from Hollywood: Roman Polanski's film adaptation of Robert Harris's The Ghost starts filming this fall, with Nicolas Cage playing the ghostwriter, Pierce Brosnan playing the former prime minister, and Tilda Swinton as the ex-PM's wife.

I think that's pretty interesting casting, and now look forward to the movie. By the way, what did SE readers think of the twist ending in The Ghost? I've been wanting to discuss it, but didn't want to give anything away. Post your comments here.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Crais clues: Fun with Joe Pike's red jeep Cherokee

In The Watchman, which is part of Robert Crais's Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series, Pike is forced to abandon his trademark red Jeep Cherokee and drive a friend's old battered green Lexus. Where does the Cherokee go? Why, it appears in The Two Minute Rule, Crais's 2006 standalone novel, when bank-robber-gone-straight character Max Holman steals it from a parking lot (with good reason, of course). We are confident Pike gets it back somewhere along the line.


Monday, June 9, 2008

Picture this

Laments the narrator of Robert Harris’s The Ghost (Select Editions volume 297) when he arrives on the island of Martha’s Vineyard for the first time: “Until that moment I was unfamiliar with scrub oak. Maybe it looks good in full leaf. But in winter I doubt if nature has a more depressing vista to offer than mile after mile of those twisted, dwarfish, ash-colored trees.”

Coincidentally, I had been scheduled for a vacation on Martha’s Vineyard just before I started work on the book—so I decided to provide a snapshot from the island itself to help our readers further crystallize the image of these gnarly but sturdy trees. The photo was taken in early November, and the book takes place in January, so the colors aren’t the same. Still, the shape, the rugged athleticism of the trees—when I close my eyes I can still see them in my mind.

Wouldn’t you know that during the time I was there the island was hit by a violent nor’easter, a remnant of Hurricane Noel. The scrub oaks in the yard of our rented house swayed dramatically in the wind, but very few branches broke. The low-to-the-ground silhouette and the octopus-like branches withstood some of the worst nature has to offer. Look at us, Robert Harris! they seemed to say. We may be ugly, but we’re strong!


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Is there a doctor in the house?

If you’ve read the AfterWords profile of Nicholas Sparks at the end of The Choice in the latest volume of Select Editions, you know that Sparks was a pharmaceutical salesman before he became a bestselling novelist. It is not uncommon for writers to start out life as something else. Most, in fact, start their careers as evening-and-weekend scribblers, only dreaming of seeing their names on the spines of a real books. Theirs is a solitary discipline, and it typically involves a long apprenticeship before anyone can spin such polished tales as Message in a Bottle or A Walk to Remember.

Below is a short roster of some of the most illustrious members of the literary House of Fame and their alternate trades. A few combinations, I’m sure, will surprise you.
Kristin Hannah—Lawyer
Jeffery Deaver—Lawyer
T. S. Eliot—Banker
Nora Roberts—Legal Secretary
Charles Dickens—Journalist
Joseph Conrad—Ship’s captain
Robin Cook—Doctor
Anton Chekov—Doctor
W. Somerset Maugham—Doctor
Arthur Conan Doyle—Doctor


Monday, June 2, 2008

Things I want to know about Joe Pike

The Watchman delves more deeply into Joe Pike's character than any other ELvis Cole/Joe Pike novel Robert Crais has written. Yet, I want more! I have so many questions. Honestly, doesn't Pike smile more than a twitch EVER? He must. Do his teeth ever show? And how does he see in the dark with the sunglasses? Does he have special lenses that let in more light or something? I like that he wears them all the time, but the reality factor is distracting me a little.

I would like to see Joe Pike in a book with a kid. How would he behave? Would the kid soften him up (relatively speaking)? Or would the kid stir up past memories that Pike could not handle. We know Joe's dad was a monster, but what abou his mom? And does Pike read books? If so, what kind. Maybe he could have a long lost relative, a sister separated at birth (Princess Leia style) many questions.

Where did he grow up? What part of the country is he from? Has he ever worn a tie? Why did he pick red for his Jeep Cherokee when red is a bright color, and Pike says he is trying to be invisible. I guess I'll have to wait for the sequel...


Thursday, May 29, 2008

If you don't like turning down page corners...

Thought I'd share with you this interesting posting from a Publishers Weekly blogger. She found lots of unique bookmarks at the online home-made crafts marketplace Etsy and shares their links with you. Seeing all these cute, funny, whimsical, and useful bookmarks makes me almost want to start collecting them! ("Almost" because I collect enough other things, thank you very much.)


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Robert Harris on writing

In the course of my work on The Ghost, which I had the privilege of working on for Select Editions volume 297, I came across two exemplary quotes by author Robert Harris that I can’t resist sharing with our readers. Note to all aspiring writers: tack these quotes up on your bulletin boards for daily inspiration:
“Of all human activities, writing is the one for which it is easiest to find excuses not to begin—the desk’s too big, the desk’s too small, there’s too much noise, there’s too much quiet, it’s too hot, too cold, too early, too late. I learned over the years to ignore them all and simply to start.”

“A book unwritten is a delightful universe of infinite possibilities. Set down one word, however, and immediately it becomes earthbound. Set down one sentence and it’s halfway to being just like every other book that’s ever been written. But the best must never be allowed to drive out the good. In the absence of genius there is always craftsmanship.”


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Someone needs a new hobby

In Her Royal Spyness our heroine is 34th in line to the British throne. When I read this I thought it was pretty funny; just out of curiosity, I went to Wikipedia to look up the succession to the British throne today. I'm not quite sure what I expected to find (since I'm part Irish, and Roman Catholic, I knew I wasn't going to be on that list), but I have to admit that I was astounded by what I saw. They don't list 10 or 20 in the line of succession. They don't list 100 in the line of succession. No, they list 1287 people in the line of succession. 1287!!! And the only thing I could think of was, who, exactly, put this list together? Could figuring this issue out that far possibly have not been the best use of that person's time? With all the energy that went into all that figuring (including all the skips: check it out for yourself ), that person could have invented time travel, been the first human on Mars, and learned to bake a perfect souffle.

1287. Amazing. If you're interested, #1287 is the young daughter of Countess Friederike-Christiane of Castell-Castell in Bavaria. I never would have guessed her in a million years.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Does anyone else like book violence and loathe screen violence?

I love Joe Pike in The Watchman. He's cool. He's tough. He's really scary, and yes he's a killer. Sometimes he's even a cold-hearted killer, although usually he's got a good reason for offing someone. Whenever he dons his sunglasses (which kind of reminds me of his author Robert Crais, left), puts together his Very Big Gun (I don't remember what kind of gun, but I know it's big and I know Joe cleans it a lot), and goes to take care of some shady business, I'm all for it. Clear out the riff-raff Joe! Cover Elvis Cole! Save the girl! Get rid of the dirtbags!

But if I love Joe Pike, guns and all, why do I loathe tough-guy action movies? I hate them. I hate them even if they are good, dramatically speaking. The heroes are not cool and tough, they are ruthless and mean. I can't watch their dastardly deeds. I cover my eyes and peek through my fingers. Or mostly I just don't go to those movies. I am well aware that they are as fictional as, yes, fiction (ketchup and all) yet I still can't watch violence. But reading about it doesn't bother me. Do other people feel this way?


Thursday, May 15, 2008

You know a book is good when...

Here's a little behind-the-scenes office anecdote. When we were trying to find the perfect book to fill our fourth slot in the May Select Editions volume, deputy editor Jim Menick waxed enthusiastic about Her Royal Spyness, noting that "it's a fun, light romp" and "a nice change of pace from the usual." I usually take a look at books that are a change of pace from the usual, just to make sure they're not too unusual. The character of innocent but fun Georgiana captured me immediately and I loved the peek into the rarefied world of a down-on-her-luck 1930s royal.

I had just gotten to the good part--the part where Georgie finds a body in the bathtub and the mystery really takes off--when suddenly I found my assistant, Ann, standing in front of my desk with her hand out.

"I need to make a copy of the book so we can send it to the freelance editor," Ann stated.

"No, you can't have it," I said, clasping the book to my chest. "I'm just at the good part."

"Please?" she said, hand still out. Then she told me it would be at least one day, maybe two, before the book would come back from the copier. And it would be completely detached from its spine, the pages held together by a rubber band.

Because I'm a professional, I gave up the book. But you know a book is good when you are forced to put it down for a while and you feel completely bereft to leave its small, perfectly described world. When the book returned, butchered for copying as promised, I took it home that night to happily speed through the second half, finally finding out what happened to Georgie, Darcy, and Georgie's dotty brother Binky. All in a day's work.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Only connect

Reading is about connecting. Writing is, too, when you think about it—readers to writers, writers to readers, through the medium of words, characters, atmosphere, and the imagination.

Then there’s the connection we make when we pass a favorite book along to a friend. When we say to someone, “You have got to read this book!” We're really saying, “Let’s share this incredible experience.” In a wider sense, it’s all about community, a basic human need. The English novelist, E.M. Forster, author of A Room with A View, took this idea one step further, when he famously advised about life in general: “Only connect.”

Inevitably, after you finish a good book like The Choice, by Nicholas Sparks, you want to know more about the person behind the world you’ve been inhabiting for a while. That’s why every Select Editions volume includes AfterWords features after each story. But then, it’s inevitable: you probably still want to know even more—to continue the fun. In this vein, what I did after I finished editing the latest Sparks family drama was turn to his memoir published a few years ago, Two Weeks with My Brother (above), which Nicholas co-authored with brother Micah. It’s a wonderfully full read. Also one filled with pathos and humor. In fact, for Sparks fans it’s a must, because there are multiple connections to his bestselling novels directly from his own family experiences. I highly recommend it.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

On British names

Rhys Bowen's book Her Royal Spyness is chock-filled with wonderfully goofy, frightfully British names like Binky and Fig and Whiffy and Daffy Potts and Marisa Pauncefoot-Young and Roland Aston-Poley (AKA Roley Poley). But I'm more taken by one in particular, a Lady Featherstonehaugh. This is, as the author tells us, pronounced Fanshaw. How you get Fanshaw out of Featherstonehaugh is beyond me, and if you don't know it, you'd never guess it. There are other British names like that. My favorites are Beauchamps, Cockburn and Taliaferro, pronounced Beechum, Coburn and Tolliver respectively. We Americans always think a British accent sounds so high-class and educated. Maybe in fact it's just that our cousins across the water are really bad at pronunciation.

—Jim (pronounced "Jim")

Monday, May 5, 2008

The real-life Adam Lang?

Since the publication of Robert Harris’s The Ghost (Select Editions volume 297), much ink has been spilled about the similarities between former British prime minister Tony Blair (left) and Harris’s character Adam Lang, also an ex–prime minister. Writers in Slate, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and the London Times have all contributed their opinions on the subject.

It should be noted that Harris has known Tony Blair personally since 1992. But despite the personal connection, Harris insists that The Ghost is not a roman à clef. He even points to some strong dissimilarities between Blair and Lang. Quoted in the Times, he says, “People are, of course, at liberty to draw parallels, but the prime minister in the book is a fictional character.” Indeed, the book’s epigraph comes from a prefatory note to the novel Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh: “I am not I: thou art not he or she: they are not they.”

Those who are most interested in drawing parallels will be waiting with bated breath for the publication of Tony Blair’s as-yet-untitled real-life memoir, plans for which were announced in October 2007. According to Blair’s literary representative, publication is “at least a couple of years away.”

Regardless of the Blair/Lang comparisons, reviewers have been careful to praise The Ghost on its own merits as a page-turning and suspenseful work of fiction. Finally—an opinion I can vote for!


Friday, May 2, 2008

Crais promises to keep Cole and Pike for readers only. Hurrah!

I admire Robert Crais, author of The Watchman featured in the current volume of Select Editions, for many reasons: his books, his humor, his website (very in-depth), his book tours that look like so much fun. . . . And here is another reason I just became aware of: Crais promises to keep his extraordinary detective duo, Elvis Cole and Joe Pike, off the big screen forever. Crais says he's happy to sell film and television rights for his standalone novels (Hostage was made into a movie starring Bruce Willis), but Cole and Pike are for readers only.

"Elvis and Joe exist for me and my readers," says Crais. "I have no wish for Hollywood to improve on my creations." Oh, thank you! Somehow seeing these two (especially Joe Pike) on the screen after reading the books could be nothing but disappointing, no matter how great the movie. I don't really want to see a flesh-and-blood version of either of them. Who could possibly play Joe Pike? You know that his tattoos would be fake! And you know Hollywood would take off the sunglasses at all the wrong moments.

I like Cole and Pike in my imagination, and I'm guessing other readers do too. We diehard fans are forever grateful to Robert Crais for recognizing this, and for not selling out. Go integrity!


Monday, April 28, 2008

A taste of Her Royal Spyness

The author introduces her own novel, reading a short introductory clip.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

The latest volume: Sometimes it's just blockbusters

I'm pretty proud of the way Select Editions finds new books by new authors, bringing to readers fresh voices that they might not otherwise hear. But our main goal is always presenting the best books we can find, wherever we find them, and if sometimes that means using nothing but knockout bestsellers by some of the biggest and best names in the business, I guess I shouldn't be too apologetic.

Robert Harris has written alternate history (what if the Germans won World War II) and novels of ancient Rome; The Ghost on the other hand is, as they say, ripped from the headlines, concerning as it does a former UK prime minister who looks oh so like Tony Blair. Surprisingly enough, this is Harris's first appearance in our series. We're glad to have him aboard.

Nicholas Sparks, on the other hand, has been a Select Editions favorite for years now, and The Choice is, frankly, one of his best. Robert Crais, who is about as far from Nicholas Sparks as a writer can get—his tough private eye stories are seldom accused of bringing a tear to the eye—brings us his latest featuring the iconic tough guy Elvis Cole. (We do love variety!)

And finally, another new voice to us, but a far from new voice to mystery fans around the world, is the award-winning Rhys Bowen, who in Her Royal Spyness introduces a brand new heroine of somewhat royal blood in a fun romp set in 1930s London. Big names one and all, and big books. Sometimes it just happens that way.

This volume is in the mail if you haven't already received it. Enjoy!


Monday, April 21, 2008

The small stuff

Ever think of the word, Stuff? I titled an earlier Word Nerd entry “Silly Stuff,” which got me to thinking about this humble workhorse of a word you’re likely to hear or use yourself a dozen times on any given day.

We use “stuff” all the time to refer to anything and everything. Stuff is a catchall term for things that happen to us, as in, “I can’t believe the stuff that’s happening to me!” It can refer to the things that crowd our closets or the things that crowd our mind. It’s a marvelous little word that has protean power to morph (change shape) into multiple practical usages.

This one is not Greek or Latin. It was brought across the waters from France to England in the 11th century by William of Normandy (that's him above) and his followers in the guise of estoffer. The Anglo-Norman French verb estoffer meant to “cram” or, well, “stuff.” It’s noun variant, estoffe, meant “equipment.” Today we use the descendant of these terms in the same way. But we also use it to signify not just equipment, but any of the things we might stuff into, say, our minds as students, or a duffle bag for a trip to the laundry. By the way, a duffel bag is so called for the cloth such bags used to be traded in Duffel, Belgium. This leads me to another word nerd trail I’ll take up next time: everyday words we use that derive from place names.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Praying for rain

I used to have a Japanese friend whose grandfather was a farmer on the northern island of Hokkaido. I once asked her if he liked being a farmer, and she said, memorably, “He always used to pray for rain so he could stay inside most of the day and read.” I identify with this venerable farmer grandfather. There is really nothing like being forced to curl up with a favorite book on a rainy day. It’s one of life’s great pleasures. Of course, there can be a little stress involved. Because, as with any good investment, you have to choose wisely. And for book lovers, there is always a tempting list of contenders vying for that precious reading time. My current short, short list includes: Something old (Great Expectations by Charles Dickens), something borrowed (whatever tell-all memoir my wife happens to be reading—most recently: Parched by Heather King), and something new (Lady Killer by Lisa Scottoline) for the perfect marriage of fun and escape when it’s all wet outside. What are your rainy-day faves?


Monday, April 14, 2008

An editor's boggled mind

There are people I know who do not save books. When they're done with them, they throw them away.

The thought boggles my mind.

I think that somewhere around my house I still have my original copy of The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, the first book I clearly remember reading. (Where would we be if it wasn't for Dr. Seuss?) Books on the shelf are not merely items of attractiveness, although they are that. They are little reminders of places where your brain has been, and being surrounded by the books you've read is like living within a map of every imaginary journey you've ever taken. Throw that away? Not on your life.

By now I've managed quite successfully to run out of room for all the books I've read, but I still haven't thrown any away. My daughter at a very early age began furnishing her room with my books (and we had many a discussion of the difference between mine and hers), and now her apartment is where any book I'm happening to look for in my house probably has transferred itself. But that is as it should be. Books are for reading, for looking at and treasuring, but also for passing along. Could there be any greater shared pleasure than a book both of us have read and enjoyed? Not many, at least, not in my book.