That sounds so overdramatic. But it’s true. Back before the invention of penicillin, people could and sometimes did die from small scratch. If you’ve been watching the Mildred Pierce miniseries, you saw a small child die within 24 hours after developing a fever.
So: what does this have to do with Harper Perennial? Well: I didn’t know any of this until I read Lauren Belfer’s novel A Fierce Radiance, which went on sale yesterday. I’m not normally a big reader of historical fiction, but the one thing that can get me into such a story is if I feel like I’m really learning about an unusual facet of a time or a place that I didn’t know before. And I had NO IDEA that scraping your knee could kill you, as it does to the daughter of the main character, Claire Shipley. Claire is a photojournalist working for LIFE and slowly uncovering the dirty dealings and danger that can develop right along with any rapid innovation that stands to a) save lives and b) make somebody very, very rich.
For a more extensive review, check out Booking Mama or Alison’s Bookmarks. In addition to writing a really interesting book, Lauren is also a total sweetheart, so you may want to follow her on facebook, too.
With its longlist for the Orange Prize, I know that Tessa Hadley’s The London Train, which we’ll be publishing on May 24, has jumped to the top of many TBR lists. We just got our first two reviews, and I think they’ll secure that place:
In what seems at first a bifurcated novel, both protagonists take the London train. Paul, a writer with two small daughters in his second marriage, travels from his home in Wales to London to find his pregnant 20-year-old daughter from his first marriage. Poised on the brink of freedom, he temporarily leaves his new family behind. Cora, an English teacher who traveled from her London flat to Cardiff to remodel her late parents’ home, in which she now lives, is poised to divorce her senior civil servant husband, who’s embroiled in an increasingly volatile investigation. Years before, Paul’s and Cora’s lives intersected when they met on the London train. In spare, incisive prose, Hadley (The Master Bedroom, 2008) probes this pair of only children marked by the deaths of their mothers, playing with chronology to lay open the pasts that shaped them. This is a keenly perceptive and wise novel, illustrating that however important the past is in our lives, only the present, glimpsed in the final pages, truly matters.
And from Three Guys One Book:
How do you understand what Tessa Hadley has done in this complexly detailed novel, whose plot lines, like branch lines, lead to yet more stories? I’m a fan of the minor scene that tells you who the writer is. In The London Train, it’s Cora in a taxi, tracking down an ancient girlfriend of her husband’s. The taxi driver starts a conversation about his family, something about tensions between a daughter-in-law and other family members. It only takes a couple of lines but already you can sense Tessa Hadley warming up to tell you another absorbing tale about a family. The story is dropped. It’s just a taxi ride. But you sense that Tessa Hadley could have given you two hundred pages on the taxi driver’s family if she had wanted to. Because behind the stories that we’ve heard about, there are just other stories, and more stories still, just beyond our reach, like the stories of other passengers in a train car.
“‘The Raising’ is that rare thing: a literary novel distinguished by splendid prose that is also a down-and-dirty page-turner, a creep show featuring empty caskets and walking corpses. It’s as if ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ had been rewritten by H.P. Lovecraft: You get the gravity and the profound moral seriousness, but you also get the goose bumps and the gore.”
I know a lot of you out there have read it too—did you agree?
Also, please know that for a brief second I considered titling this post “raise the roof for The Raising.”
Does anyone else ever think about how weird the word “blurb” is? We say it a lot around here, and to me it just gets sillier every time. But we love it when other writers love our writers’ writing, and I’m excited to start sharing these quotes with you earlier. Here’s a great one we just got for Simon Van Booy’s Everything Beautiful Began After, on sale July 5th, from Emma Straub, author of Other People We Married:
“Everything Beautiful Began After both creates and satisfies a feeling of wanderlust. Van Booy’s confident prose carries the reader over oceans and back again, into archaeological digs and airport hotels, and the romance at the center of the book stays vivid long after the story is through. Van Booy’s debut novel is no doubt the first of many, and I look forward to the grand career ahead. “
What can we tell about a public place from its restroom? A lot, apparently. Check out Shivered Clay Killing, a new tumblr that features photos of bathrooms from Targets, restaurants, museums, and other establishments around the country (and probably at some point the world.)
I’m having a bit of a blogging crisis. No matter how many times I promise myself that I’m going to post every day, it just never happens. Part of that is due to the very nature of this blog—it’s a blog I maintain for work, and sometimes work gets in the way. I’m always jotting down notes of ideas for new features, but then I see them a few days later and decide they’re lame or that no one will participate in them.
So, in order to give you (our readers) what you want and also help me persevere in my goals of awesome blogging, I’ve come up with the little survey below. But also feel free to tell me in the comments if there’s anything you’d like to see!
Thank you to everyone who braved the torrential rain last night! Here’s a picture from after the reading, when we gathered at the irish pub across the street and had overpriced drinks and nachos with “awesome toppings” (that’s what it actually said on the menu.)
When I last saw Blake, he was heading into McDonald’s for a shamrock shake. Here’s hoping he made it out alive. So you can still see him! Tonight! At Powerhouse! It’s the last night, so god only knows what will happen.
Last night the Blake Butler grand tour hit Word. Though it went longer than the previous night (part 2 of the book is longer than part 1), in some ways it felt shorter thanks to some excellent readers like Sasha Fletcher and Claire Donato and many more. Special thanks must also be given to Lori of the next best book club (and her mom!) who drove in from the Poconos.
Tonight we’ll be at the Center for Fiction. Please come out, even if it’s raining! The Center for Fiction is very cozy.
Also, by request: here’s a list of all the readers for the first two nights. One great thing about these readings is that I’m finding new people whose work I want to check out—you will too!
TUESDAY 3/8 FRANKLINPARK
John Dermot Woods
WEDNESDAY 3/9 WORDBOOKSTORE
Last night was the first night of our Blake Butler Marathon Preview Reading. Here are some thoughts on that:
1. This was my first time attending a reading at Franklin Park, but it won’t be my last. It’s a lovely space and all of the burgers smelled amazing (I spent a large portion of the reading standing directly behind Blake’s editor, Cal Morgan, and his burger and fries.)
2. The standout reader for me was Justin Taylor (also one of our authors), who was so commanding he didn’t even bother going up to the podium. I’ve seen Justin read before and enjoyed it so it wasn’t a shock, but if I were sitting in the audience and had never heard of him, I would have gone home and looked him up. But everyone else did a good job too. Especially me.
3. Putting together an entire week of readings is a lot of work, and I’m glad the person we’re doing it for makes it worth it. If you’ve only read Blake’s stuff on the internet, you might not know what an extremely gracious and warm person he is. But he is. I’m proud of the part we’re playing in his sure to be long and industrious career.
So: for another roundup of last night, check out The Outlet. We continue tonight at Word at 7:30, thursday at the Center for Fiction, and Friday at Powerhouse. Please join us, or follow along on twitter @harperperennial for live-tweeting.
Our friends at William Morrow will soon publish a book called The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them by Humane Society president Wayne Pacelle. In honor of that publication, they’re running a contest where readers can post photos of the animals in their own lives. One grand prize winner will have his or her photo featured on The Humane Society of the United States website, have $1000 donated in his or her name to the HSUS Shelter Partner of their choice, and receive a personalized copy of the book! Even if you don’t have a pet of your own but still like to look at pictures of animals and read about them (like, for example, if you’re me), you can still click on the link and vote for your favorites. The contest just started today, so there’s only one entry so far, but it’s a pretty awesome one. And I know for a fact that some of you out there have awesome pets, so put them in there so I can vote for them!
Recently, I read one of our fall 2011 books, Stasiland. It’s been published to wide acclaim all over the world, but never in the US. In it, journalist Anna Funder looks at what East German life is like—both before and after the wall came down. She talks to people who were victimized by the Stasi, the East German police, and people who were members of it or spied for it. While the book was interesting on many levels, one of the things that most stayed with me was the pervasiveness of the Stasi, the way they recruited average people to spy on their friends, families, and co-workers and report back on even the most mundane of things. At one point, Funder even visits a building where “smells” were collected—so that if someday you betrayed East Germany, they could open up a jar with an old handkerchief of yours and a dog could track you down.
On his website, artist Simon Menner has collected photos from Stasi archives, ranging from the mundane to the absurd. He wonders “what it really is that the Big Brother sees. Can the terror such a repressive system spreads be found in these images? Or is the ‘gaze of evil’ pretty banal and we have to attach the terror ourselves?” Now you can see for yourself.
My best friend is a die-hard college basketball fan, so I know a little bit about March Madness. But Harper Canada’s March Madness tournament is a bit more up my alley. Instead of basketball teams, 64 books compete for the ultimate title . . . and one person will win all 64! This week is round one, and I just voted. Listing all my picks would take quite a while, so for now I’ll just share my favorites of the 64, my own personal “ones to watch”:
Conference: Agatha Christie
The Condition by Jennifer Haigh – one of only two books I’ve read in this conference (the other being To Kill a Mockingbird), but I love it enough that I would have voted for it no matter what.
Conference: James Rollins
I have not read a single book in this conference.
Conference: Susan Juby
Again, I have not read any of these. So instead I voted for the ones where my boyfriend worked on the American versions of the covers, like Vampire Diaries.
Conference: Dennis Lehane
Finally, a conference where I’ve read a good chunk of the books featured! But I have to pick We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, one of my favorite books of all time. Can’t wait for the movie, starring Tilda Swinton, to come out.
Thanks, Harper Canada, for exposing the gaps in my reading! I hope Lionel Shriver goes all the way!
We are very, very excited to be publishing Blake Butler’s novel, There Is No Year, on April 5. It’s pretty much my job to boil our books down to pithy one-sentence descriptions most of the time, but There Is No Year is a book that defies such things. It’s a horror story. It’s a story about a family. Trippy is a stupid word, but it’s pretty trippy.
You’ll have to wait till April 5 to hold the book in your hands—but, if you’re in New York City, you won’t have to wait that long to hear the entire thing read out loud. Next week, over four nights from March 8-11, Blake, other acclaimed writers, and Harper Perennial employees (including me and Blake’s editor, Cal Morgan), will read from the book at events all over the city such as the Franklin Park Reading Series, Word, Center for Fiction, and Powerhouse. Check out the flyer below for more details, and come by for readings and surprises.
One of my favorite books on our summer list is The Book of Lies. It’s about a girl who kills her best friend (who kind of deserves it.) Author Mary Horlock’s British publishers made this video of her explaining her inspiration for the book: