Book Expo America (BEA) is the American book industry's biggest annual convention, and 2015's has just ended in NYC. As is often the case, I can be found roaming the aisles, hugging old book-friends and attending classes and sessions. This year I was on a panel about Independent Publishing organized by Michael Reynolds, of Europa Publishing, a wonderful press celebrating its tenth year. He created a panel with a bookseller (me), a literary agent, a publisher (himself), an author, and a distributor. All of this to help provide a prismatic lens to look at all the elements evolving together in the world of independent publishing, from author to reader.
There were great parties (including getting the chance to listen to and meet Elvis Costello in a small bar); wonderful meetings with publishers at the show, their offices, and over dinner and drinks; and treasured conversations with peers and friends on the floor and throughout the weeklong event. Every year there are special moments like these, but there is something about that panel that stays with me. Something to do with collaboration, which rests as the often unspoken center of all creativity and communication. Hearing the intelligent voices of my co-panelists and those of the audience reassured me not only of the vitality and importance of independent publishing but of independent bookselling and reading as well.
John & all DIESELfolk
Jon Ronson's latest book journeys into the lives of people who have been nearly destroyed by public shaming. There's a pop-science author who was caught plagiarizing and fabricating, two women who made the mistake of telling bad jokes on social media, and a host of other remorseful (a few, not so much) characters who feel that they've been persecuted by the forces of the internet, which can quickly become the modern-day angry mob.
What makes the book special is Ronson's writing style, which is never dull. He is objective and factual, to be sure, but also funny in a dry, British way, making the material that much more accessible. There's a quote on the back from when Ronson was on The Daily Show promoting The Psychopath Test, and Jon Stewart said, "You have developed something ... it's almost like a new category of investigative satire. You go and you explore with great intellectual curiosity, but you find a way to make it very funny." That's a perfect summary of Ronson's work, and the reason he's one of my favorite writers. -- Maria J. [BRENTWOOD]
World-class journalist Chris Hedges' new book, Wages of Rebellion, is simultaneously a meditation on the histories of rebellion and revolution; a call to action; and an analysis of effective strategies for possibly achieving lasting social change. It is well-written, clear-eyed, and timely. Those familiar with his work and his politics will find a brilliant flowering of the same in this book, combining ecological concern with the accelerating destructiveness of man-made climate change and the global crises looming around the pending collapse of late-phase financial capitalism. This is a book for the politically honest and humanely engaged citizen who believes in things like participatory democracy, direct action, and nonviolent social movements. Empowering, fortifying, and challenging, this is a book for our historical moment. -- John E.
Some stories are like coming home. When you read them, you don't necessarily know what's going to happen, but you can feel the beats of them in your bones. Such is the case with Uprooted, an Eastern European-style adult fairy tale in the tradition of the Baba Yaga stories. That its ancestry is clear only makes the unique and thrilling twists author Naomi Novik adds to the narrative more of a delight. With a deft hand, and bright and lucid prose, Novik brings together so many of my favorite things: a celebration of female friendship, a sexy romance, and an epic battle against a truly frightening supernatural evil. I was as bewitched as a child encountering these stories for the first time, but Uprooted is smart enough to satisfy my adult cravings too. -- Anna K. [BRENTWOOD]
With black and brown bodies being felled daily -- from Cleveland to Ferguson, Baltimore to Oakland -- by an assortment of institutional and systemic forces shrugging off protest when they are not stamping it out, the stories of these lives, or ones like them, are the stuff of histories untold by History. John Keene's magnificent collection of stories/novellas reads like an epic novel chronicling the colonized's defiant desire for justice and the slave's multiform attempts at retribution. These lives that matter . . . matter, and in Keene's hand spin the controlling narrative of History differently. The result is one of the best books of 2015. -- Brad J. [OAKLAND]
Brian Catling is a seasoned artist. Although this is his first major work of fiction, Catling has decades of experience producing poetry, sculpture and performance art. Every article I have read and person I have talked to has the same difficulty trying to define the genre of this book (or even to convey its basic plot or story line). Understanding the author's complexity and maturity as an artist helps to find your bearings when reading this epic debut novel. Catling uses different genres of fiction the same way a painter blends colors on a palette. Elements of science fiction, historical fiction, mythology and traditional storytelling are deftly used to create an intricate and very dark novel.
"Yes, but what is it about?" Indeed, to answer this question you, like many of the characters in this novel, will have to enter the Vorrh. -- Terry S. [LARKSPUR]
Los Angeles-based design firm, Commune, represents the essence of Californian design, even while understanding that it is an aesthetic they are shaping as it is still evolving. They believe that in California freedom from the past and disregard for the rules is the basis for creativity. Working with local artists and craftspeople they strive to create a community where beautiful things are made. Their style is bohemian but clean, and unafraid of color or pattern. It is handcrafted and organic. They love wood and natural fibers. It's the opposite of formal hands-off design, as it's all meant to be touched, sat in, used and worn. And it's far from finished. -- Alan D. [LARKSPUR]
Challenger Deep approaches mental illness through the medium of a non-linear pirate adventure. Yes, you read that right. What's even more astonishing is that it works. The small moments of pure reality or pure fantasy are engaging enough in themselves, but when taken together as an uncomfortable maelstrom of thoughts and emotions, the book feels like an accurate portrayal of a mind in disarray. And that's not all. Mental illness does not have a tidy end-point, a solution or even an easy cause. Challenger Deep recognizes this and does not offer any easy solutions. In so doing it breaks all the tropes. All of them. This book is a sensitive work of genius for clever readers aged 14+. -- Clare D. [LARKSPUR]