Thursday, February 28, 2008

See the movie, read the book

Plenty of authors have websites for their fans, but Will North, author of The Long Walk Home, goes a step further. He actually has a video on his website that will make you immediately want to read the book if you haven't had a chance yet, and if you have read it, the video will show you the sights that were hitherto only in your imagination. Enjoy: "The Walking Tour"


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Birds do it, bees do it — and so do the French

We all know that Americans love a nice juicy bit of celebrity gossip. Whether it's movie stars or rock-and-rollers or politicians, if there's anything going on, we love to hear about it. Well, it turns out we're not alone in that. Apparently the French can't get enough of the adventures of their president Nicolas Sarkozy, recently married to model and singer Carla Bruni. And their fascination with Sarkozy's story is reflected in the hard numbers of their bestseller list. The Number One nonfiction book in France is a biography of Sarkozy's ex-wife Cecelia. And the Number Two nonfiction book in France is also a biography of Sarkozy's ex-wife Cecilia. For reasons that are unclear, the Number Three nonfiction book in France has nothing whatsoever to do with le monde Sarkozy, but never fear. The Number Four nonfiction book in France is—wait for it—a biography of Nicolas Sarkozy.

At the moment the only politician-related book on the American nonfiction bestseller list is a prescription for change by former conservative congressman Newt Gingrich. Somehow, it's just not the same thing.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Thank heavens for the likes of Rosie Thomas

As readers of the AfterWords for Iris and Ruby (page 554 of the current Select Editions volume) know, the author of this exotic historical romance set mostly in Cairo, Egypt, loves to travel. Rosie Thomas, it seems, has been everywhere. From the Antarctic to the Alps. But, of course she hasn’t. And that spurs this every curious wordsmith to seek ever-new places to explore and then craft new dramas that turn on faraway locales. Thank heavens for the like of Rosie Thomas, I say! One of the chief pleasures of reading good books is the chance to experience a good armchair get-away. It doesn’t really matter if you’re inside on a rainy-day weekend afternoon or if you really are traveling in a train or bus on the way to work or slumped in the cabin of a noisy airplane for a vacation trip—a gripping read lets you escape in the imagination. It’s one of life’s simple miracles.

Oh, and you always get to learn stuff. In Iris and Ruby, I really did learn about Cairo. This cramped metropolis on the banks of the Nile is, thanks to Thomas, a much less forbidding and much less alien-seeming place to me now. In fact, I feel as if I really have walked along the ancient passageways of the famous Khan al-Khalili market (above right) and glimpsed the pyramids of Giza at dawn. And I didn’t have to use up any frequent flyer miles to get there!


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Something extra

We don't do it very often, but every now and then we like to throw a surprise into a volume. The February/March 2008 volume has one of those little surprises, a bonus story by Lee Child.

When we brainstormed here who our readers would really like to see in a short story the decision was unanimous: Jack Reacher. We weren't sure that novelist Lee Child even wrote short stories, but when I checked his website, I found that indeed he had contributed a few stories to anthologies. And one of the stories apparently featured an early mention of Jack Reacher! A quick email to Lee elicted the following response:
The story exists in two versions--the original 11,000 word form and the edited 6,000 form as used in the anthology. Which length would work better for you? If neither, I have a few other (non-Reacher) stories, but probably couldn't write anything new, due to commitments. Let me know what you think.
Best to all, Lee

We quickly grabbed up the 6,000-word story from Lee Child, and now you're holding it in your hands. If you're a Jack Reacher fan (and even if you're not), you are in for a treat.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Magic numbers

Why is it that some numbers are full of meaning and other numbers are just blah? Case in point: Here at Select Editions we are just about to ship to readers our volume #297. This is a pretty impressive number, and it hearkens all the way back to our very first volume, Number 1, in 1950. 297 is a lot of volumes. But, for some reason, no one here gets unusually excited about it. (By the way, if you're wondering which volume is which according to this system, the number is printed on the copyright page inside the book.)

On the other hand, we are just about to start planning for volume 300. 300! A nice big round number with two zeros! People get excited about that! Exclamation points start flying! Volume 300! It sounds incredible! In fact, it's a magic number! We'll probably have a cake and light some candles and generally celebrate for a few minutes before going back to our desks to toil away on volume 301.

Don't get me wrong. I'm sure volume 300 is going to be great. But, well, I have a fondness for all the little orphan numbers nobody else ever gets excited about. 291. 267. 243. These numbers deserve recognition too.

Let's hear it for the little guy!


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Explore the scene of the crime

Publishers and authors are doing all sorts of neat things to publicize their books online these days. Every once in a while, we'll try to bring these cool promotional gimmicks to your attention.

I thought recent readers of Michael Connelly's book The Overlook might be interested in this intriguing interactive crime scene map and quiz that enhances and tests your knowledge of the story. The tagline for this feature is "The Case That Never Leaves the Page Jumps Off It" and that's a pretty fair summary of how the book has been brought to life online.

We'd love to hear whether you like these kinds of online extensions of the book, and also how you did on the quiz. Have fun!


Love poem, of a different kind

Now and again, I like to share a poem with my friends. Recently, while researching the life and works of D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930) for our World’s Best Reading series, I came upon this lyrical short poem by Lawrence that evokes childhood memories of his beloved mother, Lydia. Lawrence, author of the powerful classic of autobiographical fiction, Sons and Lovers (1913), was very attached to his hardworking mother who doted on her fourth child, whom she called “Bert,” and who encouraged his gift for learning. “She is my first, great love,” Lawrence once wrote in a letter. “She was a wonderful, rare woman . . . as strong, and steadfast, and generous as the sun.” "The Piano" (1918) is a tribute not only to that love, but also to the bittersweet power of nostalgic memory.

The Piano
Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Two kinds of books

There's a great Duke Ellington quote: “There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.” It's not a matter of genre, or style, or who's doing it. Music, according to Ellingon, was either good or bad. That was the only distinction that needed to be made.

As someone who reads as a career, I would have to say that the same rule of "two kinds" applies to books. There are good books, and there are the other kind. A good book can be any genre, any style, any author. You don't know until you start reading it, but the minute you do, you are absolutely certain. The book is either good, or it's the other kind. That's probably why we pursue variety in Select Editions. We never know what kind of book is going to be good, and we are looking for the good books anywhere and everywhere we can find them. Mysteries, thrillers, love stories, family sagas, historicals—it doesn't matter. Good books, and the other kind. It's as simple as that.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Five a year isn't bad

The New York Times recently reported that Select Editions favorite James Patterson, either alone or with one of his stable of co-authors, hit the bestseller lists with five different books in 2007. Five different books! They don't tell us whether or not this is a record, but it has to be close. The man is a veritable plot machine, and more importantly, he's a successful veritable plot machine. I'd like to say he should figure out what he's doing right and bottle it and sell it, but that seems to be exactly what he's doing.

In fact, Patterson's writing books faster than a lot of people can read them, but he does have a stable of collaborators (see the AfterWords essay on page 429 of the current volume about this), which does explain it a little bit. Best of all, he's unpredictable. Oh, sure, he has his genre series that fans love, but every now and then he writes something completely unusual. We just read the manuscript of one of those completely unusual titles called Sundays at Tiffany's. That's all we'll say about it for now, since it won't come out for a while. But I will add that I doubt if we'll lose any money if we bet on it being another bestseller.


Friday, February 8, 2008

Dog chronicles

On December 5, Joe McGrath posted a blog item about the pack mentality (sorry) of publishers when it comes to capitalizing on a good thing, in this case, the popularity of dog books. But, really, how can you go wrong with a good dog book? There have been so many that have been so successful: Lassie, Rin-Tin-Tin, and lately, Marley and Me.

Many of the best dog books, however, are less about dogs than about dogs' relationships to humans. The weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal recently included a guest column of reviews of books that explore the behavior of dogs as, simply, dogs. It was composed by Stanley Coren, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and the author of Why Does My Dog Act That Way? (2007). His own book intrigues me, and I plan to get a copy.

My standard poodle, Ginseng—so named for the color of her coat which, as an apricot standard, has fur the color of Ginseng tea—is a beautiful creature, but as mysterious as they come. Why, for instance will she eat almost anything (she once tried to eat a light bulb) but avoid bologna and anything with garlic? What does she know about sleep that I don't? (See photo.) When I come home at night, she's so excited that I'm worried that she'll wag her rear-end off as I come in the door. Why does she do that? Dr. Coren’s book may well shed some light on Ginseng’s behaviors. Here are two of the top titles Dr. Coren recommends about the life of dogs: For the Love of Dog by Patricia B. McConnell (2006) and If Only they Could Speak by Nicholas H. Dodman (2002).


Thursday, February 7, 2008


On October 15 and February 1, my colleagues Barbara and Joe posted items about favorite books. Lately a book of book lists has caught my eye. It’s a bibliophile’s delight: The Top Ten—Writers Pick their Favorite Books, edited by J. Peder Zane (2007). In it you learn, for instance, that popular American satirist Tom Wolfe’s favorite novels are French: L’Assommoir and Nana by Emile Zola, that romance novelist Adriana Trigiani favors Casa Guidi Windows by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and that Scottish law professor and bestselling mystery writer Alexander McCall Smith inclines toward Russian greats, notably: Anna Karenina and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Apparently, McCall Smith is not alone. On the top, top ten list (of all the author picks in the book) Anna Karenina reigns supreme as #1.

I’ve always thought that lists are a great way to share favorites and recommendations. So if you have favorites—classics, current picks, or faves from childhood—let us know. Send us your list!


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Beyond prescriptions

Is there a doctor in the house? Publishing house, that is. Most successful writers have had other professions either simultaneously or at least at the start of their careers. Many have been journalists, like Ernest Hemingway, and quite a few have been lawyers. Kristin Hannah and Scott Turow fall into this category.

A select few, like Patrick Taylor, the author of An Irish Country Doctor, have been medical doctors. Of course it’s no surprise that the author of that whimsical tale about healing the denizens of imaginary Ballybucklebo was penned by an M.D. There’s just too much profession-specific detail to have been composed by a layman. Equally the medical thriller genre, which was pretty much invented in the 1970’s by Robin Cook, himself an ophthalmic surgeon, is crowded with doctor-authors, such as Michael Palmer and Tess Gerritsen.

But others might surprise you. Before he was a “Sir” Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes as a young GP in Portsmouth, England, waiting for his sluggish practice to grow. (It is said that he based the hyper-analytic Holmes on one of his teachers at the Edinburgh University Medical School.) W. Somerset Maugham received his medical training at St. Thomas’s hospital in London, and his first novel Liza of Lambeth was a direct result of his first year as a physician treating the poor in the Lambeth section of London. And then there’s Russian great Anton Chekhov, Scotland’s A.J. Cronin, and Jurassic Park’s Michael Crichton. It’s hard to say what the connection is between medicine and storytelling. One thing, however, is certain: a story well told certainly has the power to heal.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

James Patterson, film critic

I just noticed that on James Patterson’s (incredibly deep) Web site, there’s a page where he posts his movie picks —his opinions on current films. One day, for example, he briefly reviewed August Rush and Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, neither of which I've had the pleasure of seeing. His assessments, like his books, are no-nonsense and get right to the point.

Then I looked at his movie-picks archive—wow! This man watches a lot of movies!! I scrolled through the titles, looking for movies I had seen as well . . . and I’m embarrassed to admit that there were only a couple.

Patterson didn’t like Dreamgirls . . . “I just don’t care for the music,” he said. Sorry, Mr. Patterson: I loved Dreamgirls—the lush visuals, the excellent acting, and of course the gorgeous music. But we agree on Capote: “Philip Seymour Hoffman is stunningly good in the title role,” he says. Amen.

It makes me admire Patterson all the more for taking the time to keep up with the wealth of excellent films—some of them unheralded—that come out every month. Good for you, Mr. Patterson!


Monday, February 4, 2008

Mrs. Kincaid's barmbrack bread

The irrepressible Mrs. Kincaid—aka Kinky—is the invaluable housekeeper-cook-guardian angel for Ballybucklebo’s Dr. Fingal O’Reilly in An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor. She is famous for keeping her gruff, big-hearted employer in line, for her advice to young lovers, and for the hearty tea cake called barmbrack. The cake, a specialty of Dr. Taylor’s native Ulster, derives its name from Irish Gaelic, aran breac, which means “speckled bread.” Traditionally served throughout Ireland on Halloween, it is enjoyed anytime for breakfast or with afternoon tea, and it's especially good toasted and buttered. Here is Mrs. Kincaid’s own recipe–until now a jealously guarded secret.


The traditional Ulster version of this recipe uses yeast, but the version below is easier. Barmbrack also freezes well.

2 1/2 cups golden raisins
2 1/2 cups raisins
2 1/4 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
3 cups brewed black tea
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, beaten
3 teaspoons baking powder
3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (optional)
2 tablespoons honey, melted (optional)

In a large bowl, combine the golden raisins, raisins, brown sugar, and tea. Stir until the sugar is dissolved; allow to soak overnight. The next day, preheat the oven to 300ºF. Fold the flour and beaten eggs into the fruit. Finally, stir in the baking powder and pumpkin pie spice, if desired. Divide mixture between two greased 8 x 4 x 2 1/2-inch loaf pans. Level the surface and bake for 1 1/2 –1 3/4 hours, or until firm. The bread is done when a cake tester inserted into the center of each loaf comes out clean. Cool the loaves in their pans for 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely. When cool, brush with melted honey for a fine glaze, if desired.

Yield: 2 loaves

Friday, February 1, 2008

College book faves

A recent article in the online magazine Slate caught our eye. It was about the books that writers were influenced by in their college years and yielded a combination of the more or less expected choices, with some interesting surprises.

Hardball’s Chris Matthews chimed in with a not unexpected One Thousand Days, the famous account of the Kennedy presidency from Harvard historian and White House insider Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

But the brash owner of the NBA Dallas Maverick’s (and erstwhile Dancing With the Stars entrant) Mark Cuban mentioning Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead was a little surprising. And Bill Simmons a writer for the sports site ESPN citing hardscrabble tough-guy scribe Raymond Carver’s collection of short stories, Where I’m Calling From was interesting as well.

Finally, it wouldn’t have been my first guess that the well known iconoclast Christopher Hitchens would cite Mill on the Floss as his most influential title. But he did.

Take a look at the article here. And let us know if you have book to join in with.