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.

—Jim

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.

—Tom

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!

Sigh.

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!

—Jim

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 soup├žon 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.

—Tom

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.

—Laura

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!

—Amy

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.

—Jim

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 candyaddict.com 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.

—Jim

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 . . .

—Barbara