Books we are talking about

Chris Schluep on October 20, 2020
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Books we are talking about

There is so much to talk about in books these days. Today is the day that Don DeLillo's latest book goes on sale, so I'm talking about that one. Seira and Vannessa are discussing John Grisham's latest novel, which features Jake Brigance from A Time to Kill. I had a chance to speak to Grisham last week, so I would like to get in on their conversation. Al is talking about a novel that many of us on the team have read and loved. It goes on sale very soon, and it's safe to say that a lot of people will be talking about it when it does.

Adrian is taking a few vacation days this week, and she's bringing Ina Garten along with her (or at least her book, which seems like a brilliant idea). Erin is reading a book we all should read. It really is mind expanding. Sarah is talking about several books this week, including one that recently made big news at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where the manuscript was recently acquired to great fanfare. It's called Lessons in Chemistry, and it was written by a debut author—you won't see it on sale for quite a while, but you can learn more about the big news in Sarah's comments below. I took a look at the manuscript this weekend, and so far it reads like the blockbuster that so many in publishing expect it to become.

Happy reading, everybody.


The Silence by Don DeLillo

Today is the publication day for Don DeLillo's novel The Silence. About six weeks ago, I received Celebrity Picks from DeLillo, which was an experience that kind of blew me away. As long as I have been working on the Amazon Books editorial team (ten years), I've been thinking We'll really know we've made it when we can do something with DeLillo. Be sure to check out his Celebrity Picks to see what Don DeLillo has been reading and loving lately. As far The Silence goes, here's what I wrote about it:

"The novel is slim but powerful, set in 2022 when a world crisis has hit (all the computers are down)—and it was reportedly finished just before the pandemic started. The Silence is focused on science and technology, on our relationships to each other in a marred world, and on what is and isn't important when society starts to break down. The dialogue is stunning. The final page was a knockout. Again, it's short—more like a novella—but it will likely stick with you. And it is prescient to the world we are living in today. If you have been longing to read more DeLillo, it will be a reading highlight of your year. I'm still thinking about it, and I will go back and read it again soon." 

By the way, I did go back and read it, and the second read was even more powerful than the first. —Chris Schluep


A Time for Mercy by John Grisham

I’ve just started A Time for Mercy on audio and am loving it so far. Vannessa and I have been talking about this book lately, reflecting back on the first time we read A Time to Kill and how unforgettable that book is. A Time for Mercy is set five years after the trial of Carl Lee, and lawyer Jake Brigance is appointed as the attorney for a teenage boy who killed a local deputy in Clanton, MS. The deputy was his mother’s boyfriend and a violent drunk, but the town is calling for blood. Jake again puts it all on the line in a search for truth and ultimately, justice. I think my dog may get some extra walks this week just to give me more time to spend with Jake Brigance in this suspenseful legal thriller. —Seira Wilson


Memorial by Bryan Washington

Memorial is one of the most buzzed about novels of the fall. We've written about it before, but it's now a week before publication and the noise is only getting louder and more triumphant. Bryan Washington's novel is about two young men—a Japanese American chef and a Black day care worker—navigating their romantic relationship that is teetering on the edge of ending. The twist is that just as Mike's mother comes to visit from Japan, Mike heads to Osaka to visit his estranged father who is dying, leaving Benson alone with his mother. It's funny, big-hearted, and immensely entertaining, and this past week it was announced that A24 along with Scott Rudin and Eli Bush will produce the TV show of Memorial. —Al Woodworth


Modern Comfort Food: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten

A new Ina Garten cookbook is always something to talk about. But Amazon editor Seira Wilson has been teasing us for weeks about a crazy-good garlic bread recipe in the book. Seira finally delivered the mouth-watering goodness with Recipe road test: Ina Garten's Outrageous Garlic Bread. I’m taking a few days of vacation this week, and making Ina Garten’s garlic bread is high on my list of things I plan to do with all my lovely free time. My family will definitely thank me. (And thank you, Seira Wilson and Ina Garten!) —Adrian Liang


Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

We’ve been talking about it, Oprah is talking about it…I went over to a friend’s the other eve and he was perched on a chair outside, in the inclement Seattle weather, but so engrossed in Caste that he didn’t notice. In it Isabel Wilkerson argues that we aren’t just a racially-divided country, we’re separated by castes—those unofficial but real divisions that have existed for hundreds of years and need to be acknowledged in order for things to change. Senior editor Chris Schluep said in his review that he highlighted most of the book. And that dude is discerning! This is definitely a book of our times that everyone should be reading and talking about right now. —Erin Kodicek


Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby

The team has been absolutely raving about S.A. Crosby’s Blacktop Wasteland, so I gave it a try last week. In all honesty, it took me a bit of reading to get into it (more on that later), but once I hit a certain point in the book, I literally did not put it down and read straight through to the end. Blacktop Wasteland tells the story of Beauregard Montage (known as “Bug”)—a family man and mechanic who left behind the criminal world to live an honest life. When circumstances beyond his control lead to financial worries, Bug decides he will take part in one last heist before officially going into criminal retirement. After finishing the book, I called my father, a crime/mystery fan with very particular reading tastes. He told me that he started Blacktop Wasteland, but couldn’t get into it. I finally convinced him to keep reading, and sure enough he was a convert and loved it. When I told the team my thoughts, Vannessa said she was hooked from page one, and Seira agreed. So while we can all agree we love this book, it may take some readers a little longer to hit their stride. And even though the team pokes fun at me for not being able to give up on reading books I don’t love, this is one that is absolutely worth the time investment.

I picked the genre-bending book The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue as a Best Book of October, and as with most books these days, I read the review copy in digital format. And I loved the book—obviously—but I think I fell slightly deeper in love when I received the hardcover in the mail. The design team just got this package right: the subtle art and tactile feel of the jacket, the very satisfying typeface inside, and the hidden treasures like the embossed cover and beautiful endpapers. Yes, I’m a book lover. So I tend to geek out over these details. But this hardcover made me want to curl up in front of the fire with a mug of tea and swallow this book whole.

Conferences look a little different these days, and the book industry is no exception. The Frankfurt Book Fair just wrapped its virtual conference this year, and there’s one book that everyone is buzzing about. Bonnie Gamus’ debut novel Lessons in Chemistry was sold for a rumored $2 million to Doubleday (part of Penguin Random House), and also in 22 other international deals. Publishers Weekly reports that Gamus is a former copywriter and creative director who is based in Amazon’s HQ1 Seattle, but is currently living abroad in London. The book is set in the 1960s and about a woman who wants to become a scientist but instead becomes a host of a TV cooking show. We love a well-reported and lucrative book deal, so the team will be following this one closely. I can’t wait to hear more about Lessons in Chemistry. —Sarah Gelman


Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

I'm not sure if it's an age thing or a mystery thing, but I've reached that stage in my life where PBS accounts for about 80% of my TV viewing because they air the British crime shows I live for. And I've also reached that age where I idly wonder if I will be one of the millions affected by dementia (we Celts are a melancholy bunch: roll with it). So you can imagine my excitement at seeing my two interests converge when I saw ads on PBS this weekend announcing a new show: Elizabeth Is Missing, based on the book of the same name. The publisher describes the book as "a sophisticated psychological mystery that is also a heartbreakingly honest meditation on memory, identity, and aging." It tells the story of a grandmother whose search for the friend she believes missing is complicated by her own descent into dementia. Dementia is one of those taboos that, culturally, we keep at arms lengthso if a great mystery story can get us talking about it, I'm all ears. —Vannessa Cronin


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