Books we are talking about

Chris Schluep on May 28, 2020
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Books we are talking about

As Al Woodworth points out below, the Amazon editorial team would normally be in New York around this time for Book Expo, which is the big trade show for the book industry. It's one of the highlights of our year, a way to catch up with friends and former colleagues (often they are both), to see authors old and new, and to talk to the agents and publishers who make the book world such a fascinating, rewarding place to work.

But that's not happening this year. One thing that is happening is that summer is inching its way into our hemisphere. That means summer reading is also upon us, and while our relationship to summer and beaches may be different this time around, I am happy to report that the beach read remains strong.

It's not all beach reads that we are talking about, but you will find one or two below. Here are the books we are talking about. 


Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

If it were not for coronavirus, the publishing world would be descending on the Javits Center this week for the largest annual literary trade fair in the US, Book Expo. Filled with publishers, authors, and booksellers, it is a time for the industry to share the upcoming books they are most excited about. Banners hang from the ceiling touting the big books of the fall, attendees walk around with coveted tote bags hauling precious galleys, you run into old friends and, if you’re lucky, your favorite authors. Like so many events, a digital conference replaced the in-person one, so this week the editors and I are chatting about the much buzzed about "Buzz Books," as named by a panel of experts convened by Book Expo. Of the six adult books (they also name six books in the Young Adult and Middle Grade categories), I’m particularly excited about the novel Betty by Tiffany McDaniel, which begins with the line: "A girl comes of age against the knife.” Karen Joy Fowler raves that it is “a vivid and haunting portrait of the writer as a young girl…a novel of tragedy and trouble, poetry and power." While I’ll miss the in-person excitement, I’m thrilled to dive into this buzz-worthy book publishing August 25. —Al Woodworth


The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols

I’ve noticed The Death of Expertise being quoted regularly in the past few weeks, mostly in the context of the debate about how to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Tom Nichols argues that a few factors, including the advent of the Information Age, the internet, and the 24-hour news-as-entertainment cycle, have eroded people's respect for expertise and suppressed informed debate. All opinions get equal attention in this new order, he says, even the clearly ridiculous. And he says there’s a price to pay: "When ordinary citizens believe that no one knows more than anyone else, democratic institutions themselves are in danger of falling either to populism or to technocracy or, in the worst case, a combination of both." It’s a thought-provoking theory as we navigate this public health crisis. —Vannessa Cronin


The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir by André Leon Talley

I've been listening to André Leon Talley's The Chiffon Trenches on audio, and it’s narrated by the author. This is an example of how having the author read his own book can create a great experience. It really feels like he is telling his story directly to you. Talley doesn't hold back—he tells you who said what, who did what, and to whom. It's a delicious insider look at the fashion industry, at the heyday of the Studio 54 years and beyond, and at his very personal and unique experience as a young black man from the South who became a style icon. All the famous names are here—Karl Lagerfeld in particular—and since Vannessa and I have been exchanging favorite anecdotes through email, it's probably not a bad thing that we aren't at the office right now or we would be doing a lot of talking about The Chiffon Trenches and probably not much else. —Seira Wilson


The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

I’ve been talking about this feel-good fantasy novel for months now and even had the pleasure of interviewing TJ Klune about his book at the end of March. Well, I found two more excuses to wax ecstatic again about The House in the Cerulean Sea this week. The first occurred when our family watched the film version of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and it reminded me of the very peculiar children in Klune’s book, who include a gnome, an uncategorizable blob, and Lucifer’s son, affectionately referred to as Lucy. The second occasion was when I checked out the list of authors who will be online this weekend at BookCon and discovered that Klune is on a Saturday panel with fantastic authors such as V.E. Schwab and Tochi Onyebuchi, talking about how to subvert the usual good-versus-evil narrative. Can’t wait to watch it! —Adrian Liang

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Shut Up and Run by Robin Arzón

One of my shelter in place MVPs has been my Peloton bike and app. Please forgive me, children and husband, but spending time with this app is usually the highlight of my day. So I kicked myself when I saw an Instagram post from Reese Witherspoon calling Peloton VP of Fitness Programming and Instructor Robin Arzón a best-selling author. What?! How did I miss that this inspiring woman was also an author? I promptly ordered Arzón's book Shut Up and Run, and I've been making my way through it and talking about it to whomever will listen. (And to answer the question how did I miss it, it came out shortly after the birth of my first child, so I'm giving myself a pass this time.) This weekend, I saw Arzón posted on Instagram about listening to Robert Kolker's Hidden Valley Road while on a run, and promptly sent it to Vannessa, since she's probably the biggest fan of this book on the team (although we've all loved it). Could I adore Arzón anymore? I don't think so. —Sarah Gelman


The Order by Daniel Silva

Summer reading is upon us, and we've just released our summer reads picks. The blockbusters return during these early summer months as faithfully as the swallows return to California's Mission San Juan Capistrano, and the one I've picked up most recently is Daniel Silva's new Gabriel Allon adventure The Order. I've been on a tear with thrillers lately, and there have been some good ones. Silva's new novel promises to be the next. It has a plot that Dan Brown might envy: a deceased pope, a secret order, a hidden book, a conspiracy, and a race across Italy. I'm pretty sure the last time I read a plot like that I was sitting on a beach. I will be sitting on my couch this time—but with a book like this in my hands it will still feel like summer. —Chris Schluep


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