(Simon & Schuster; Simon & Schuster; St. Martin's; Center Street)
President Trump lost his final effort to suppress John Bolton’s tell-late memoir, “The Room Where It Happened.” On Saturday, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth concluded that, regardless of national security concerns, it would be impossible to recall hundreds of thousands of copies already shipped around the world (story). And so, on Tuesday, the damning book by Trump’s former national security adviser — who refused to speak up during the impeachment trial when it might have made a difference — went on sale (review). With his usual decorum, the president tweeted, “He will have bombs dropped on him!”
“The Room Where It Happened” (Simon & Schuster) is the country’s No. 1 bestseller, but the news is decidedly mixed for the war-monger-turned-muckraker. Pirated copies of Bolton’s memoir have begun appearing online for free — a widespread problem that cuts into publishers’ margins. Speaking of money, Judge Lamberth suggested in his decision that the government has a good case to go after Bolton’s profits on breach of contract grounds. And he could be prosecuted criminally for imperiling national security. Trump has branded Bolton a “traitor,” which is confusing given the president’s deep appreciation for Confederate monuments. Maybe someday we’ll see a statue of Bolton on a horse at Mar-a-Lago.
Meanwhile, former White House fabulist Sarah Huckabee Sanders took advantage of this controversy to promote her forthcoming memoir, “Speaking for Myself: Faith, Freedom, and the Fight of Our Lives Inside the Trump White House.” (Is it just me, or does that subtitle sound like a hostage narrative?) On Monday, Sanders tweeted what she called a “full excerpt” about Bolton, “a man drunk on power,” which gives some idea of the fresh vibrancy of her prose.
Undaunted by Bolton’s success, Trumpettes are now hoping to convince a judge to stop the president’s niece, Mary L. Trump, from releasing a memoir with the even-handed title, “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.” The petition, led by Trump’s brother, Robert, and passionately supported by Donald, argues that Mary should be permanently gagged by a nondisclosure agreement she signed almost 20 years ago involving the settlement of the estate of the president’s father (story). Thursday, a New York judge denied Robert’s request to squelch the book, but the Trump family is reportedly set to try again (story). Simon & Schuster, whose advertising department might as well take the summer off, issued a statement saying, “We are delighted with Judge Kelly’s decision to dismiss this case from the Surrogate Court. We look forward to publishing Mary L. Trump’s ‘Too Much and Never Enough,’ and are confident we will prevail should there be further efforts to stifle this publication.” More than a month before the July 28 release date, pre-sales have already made the book No. 4 on Amazon.
Scientists at Battelle tested the virus that causes covid-19 on a variety of library materials. (Courtesy of WebJunction)
Could checking out a book kill you? As libraries reopen, that question is becoming more urgent. The latest research indicates that the virus that causes covid-19 is not detectable on books and DVD cases after three days of ordinary quarantine. That’s according to a new study called Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) distributed by WebJunction. Apparently, no extraordinary cleaning regimen is necessary aside from waiting. “Standard office temperature and relative humidity conditions typically achievable by any air-conditioned office space” are sufficient to attenuate the virus within 72 hours. The study is meant to provide library directors with science-based advice on how long circulated library materials should be quarantined before being lent out again. Results from an additional study are expected at the end of July.
Horror can’t compete with true crime. For years, a blogger and magazine writer named Michelle McNamara pored over clues to identify the Golden State Killer, who raped scores of women and murdered at least 12 people in the 1970s and 1980s (story). The search was obsessive and deeply affecting for McNamara. She once said, “There’s a scream permanently lodged in my throat.” In 2016, before McNamara could complete her book about the ongoing investigation, she died in her sleep. Fortunately, two writers and her husband, the actor Patton Oswalt, completed the manuscript and published it in 2018 under the title, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.” I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Gabra Zackman in an insistent voice that hovers somewhere between a revelation and a whisper. Honestly, it was the most terrifying and upsetting story I’ve ever heard.
Sunday, HBO will start broadcasting a six-part documentary based on “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” (trailer). The series includes archival footage, police records and interviews with survivors of the killer. I’m told the show also addresses suspect Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., who was arrested soon after the publication of McNamara’s book (story). The paperback edition has been updated with new material about the cases, too.
The rise of audiobooks is the publishing story of the decade. A new sales survey commissioned by the Audio Publishers Association shows U.S. audiobook sales in 2019 totaled $1.2 billion, up 16 percent from 2018. That marks the eighth straight year of double-digit growth, exceeding any other segment of the market. Adults who enjoy audiobooks now listen to more than eight per year — most often mysteries and thrillers. And the most frequent adult audiobook listeners are younger than 45 (much younger than the average newspaper subscriber, alas). The survey also revealed that audiobook consumers would prefer to listen to a professional narrator over the author of the book, which is great news for the hundreds of actors now finding regular work in this enormous industry.
QW Publishers; Publishers Weekly; author Tim Westover (Courtesy of Tim Westover)
Fortunately, books are good food for thought because the time has come for me to eat my words. Back in January, Publishers Weekly and its indie authors website BookLife launched a contest to honor the best self-published novel in America. Having seen the industry prey on the naivete of many terrible self-published authors for years, I was deeply skeptical. But BookLife president Carl Pritzkat promised me that indie writers had grown savvier and more talented. “There have always been great self-published books,” he said, “and the percentage of great self-published books is going up every year.” Well, I said somewhat ungraciously, we’ll see.
Wednesday night, at a virtual ceremony during the American Library Association’s annual conference, the inaugural U.S. Selfies Book Prize was awarded to “The Winter Sisters,” by Tim Westover. I regret to inform you that it’s pretty damn good. The story takes place in 1822 in Lawrenceville, Ga. A young medical doctor named Aubrey Waycross has been lured to this backwater town on false pretenses to care for victims of rabies. He finds instead a village deeply split between a pompous minister and three sisters — possibly witches — who work as herbal healers. Dr. Waycross, who’s very handy with ether, plans to demonstrate the superiority of science; the villagers assume that amputation is his go-to treatment. Westover draws this historical setting with rich period detail. His characters are engaging and dynamic. The tensions between early 19th-century medicine, feminine wisdom and spiritual healing are fascinating. “The Winter Sisters” may not sport the stylistic elegance and thematic daring that I’d want from the very best novel of the year, but it’s certainly convincing proof that indie books can be as fine and enjoyable as most of what’s commercially published.
The Selfie prize comes with $1,000 cash and $7,500 worth of marketing and advertising. But Westover is already doing well on that front. He's donating his revenue from “The Winter Sisters” to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, which so far has come to about $50,000! He’s just as generous as he is talented.
Little, Brown; Little, Brown; Knopf; W.W. Norton
The pandemic has driven us all apart, but the Big Read hopes to bring us back together — in person or virtually. The National Endowment for the Arts has announced more than $1 million in grants to support 84 Big Reads programs around the country. The programs, which will take place in more than 30 states, encourage communities to read and discuss a book chosen from the NEA Big Read library (list). This year’s most popular choices:
- “Circe,” by Madeline Miller, is a novel about the witch in Homer’s “Odyssey” (review). My daughter and I loved this book.
- “Into the Beautiful North,” by Luis Alberto Urrea, is a novel about Mexicans trying to cross the border into the United States (interview). Read this book instead of Jeanine Cummins’s best-selling “American Dirt.”
- “Lab Girl,” by Hope Jahren, is a memoir about the life of a geobiologist and her research partner (review). It won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography in 2016.
- “An American Sunrise,” by Joy Harjo, is a collection of poems by the first Native American to be appointed U.S. poet laureate (profile). She delivered a fantastic musical presentation at the Library of Congress last year (watch).
Black literature mask from Litographs ($12.99)
Over the years, I’ve bought a “Great Gatsby” poster, a “Macbeth” scarf and even a “Dracula” blanket from the clever folks at Litographs. Now they’re offering something else I want: a mask printed with a shelf of Black literature. (The masks are $12.99; all proceeds are being donated to improve diversity in publishing and bookselling.) A statement from the company explains, “In the early days of Litographs, we relied on books in the public domain (texts written before 1924 that are no longer under copyright) to grow our collection quickly. Unfortunately, the works published in this era are overwhelmingly written by white men.” Litographs acknowledges that it needs to produce more products that highlight black authors. The company is asking customers to suggest titles they’d like to see. Send suggestions to email@example.com.
Liveright; Danielle Allen (Photo by Laura Rose); Liveright
Danielle Allen, a Harvard professor and contributing columnist at The Washington Post, has won the $500,000 Kluge Prize administered by the Library of Congress. (Incidentally, this isn’t Allen’s first half-million-dollar prize. In 2001, when she was 29, she was named a MacArthur fellow.) She’s now a leading political scientist who has studied the vast stretch of democracy from ancient Athens to modern-day America. In 2014, she published “Our Declaration,” which offers a close analysis of the Declaration of Independence (review). And in 2017, she published a memoir called “Cuz,” which our reviewer said “pleads with us to find the moral imagination to break the American pattern of racial abuse” (review). Her most recent essays in The Post — like this one — have addressed the political and social challenges of the covid-19 pandemic. “Danielle Allen Takes on the Hard Questions on Democracy and Public Life” is a free virtual event that will be streamed by the Library on July 2 at 7 p.m. ET. Register here to watch.
June is LGBTQ Pride Month
(Carina Adores; Liveright; Riverhead; Graywolf; Simon & Schuster; Alice James)
Around 2005 – long before the GOP got around to saying it – the Romance Writers of America considered defining romance as between one man and one woman. That didn’t sit well with a writer named Nora Roberts, who already had a couple hundred million copies of her novels in print. She sent a letter to the RWA journal condemning such bigotry. Recalling the incident, she wrote last year, “I received an email from the then president urging me to be quiet, basically, explaining to me — and I am not kidding — I didn’t understand that the lesbians would take over RWA. Jeez, those terrifying lesbians!” If that’s not a band name, it should be.
Some progress has been made. This month, Harlequin, the industry’s leading romance publisher, is launching a new line called Carina Adores, dedicated to stories featuring characters from LGBTQ+ communities. What’s significant, a spokesperson tells me, is that the plots involve “conflicts that aren’t focused on the main characters’ identities.” Instead, these LGBTQ+ novels, which are being released once a month, address classic romance tropes like small-town life, road trips and protagonists thrown together in awkward situations. True equality means enjoying a happily-ever-after ending like everybody else.
For more than three decades, the Lambda Literary Awards have honored the best LGBTQ books. This year’s Lammy winners include (full list):
- Lesbian Fiction: “Patsy,” by Nicole Dennis-Benn (review).
- Gay Fiction: “Lot: Stories,” by Bryan Washington.
- LGBTQ Nonfiction: “In the Dream House,” by Carmen Maria Machado (review).
- Gay Memoir: “How We Fight for Our Lives,” by Saeed Jones (review).
At the annual Publishing Triangle Awards for LGBTQ literature, Shira Erlichman won the Audre Lorde Prize for Lesbian Poetry for her debut collection, “Odes to Lithium.” In addition to being a writer, Erlichman is a visual artist and musician who has released several albums, most recently “Subtle Creature.” The poems in “Odes to Lithium” are informed by Erlichman's experience with bipolar disorder. Among the many friends to whom she dedicates this collection are the mentally ill: “May we keep speaking ourselves into the room until the whole world is our room."
I fell all over myself that year. Reading Neruda
between Linguistics and Statistics,
leaning on a cool hallway wall near the ROTC
while just ahead soldiers practiced their marching.
I drank a steady chalice of ode after ode after ode.
Second year of college, second semester,
somebody stop me. Lust was my terrain. I licked
my plate clean. Underlined what was already
underlined. My religion, those muscular, inky odes.
The beloved class, Neruda in Translation.
For our Final: a loose assignment
the Art Majors loved. My classmate,
a Bio Major (satisfying some remote credit)
constructed out of clay a lily
whose stem sharpened into a green knife.
Collision of images from a Neruda poem.
She painted it so intricately, from a distance
it looked real. At the end of class I weighed it
in my palms, tiny death-life, precious contradiction,
my baby. “Take it,” she said, without ceremony.
And just like that,
it was mine.
Days later my father picked me up
for Spring Break. We lay the gentle knife-flower in the back seat.
If he had been more tender, he would have buckled it in.
But when we arrived and he lifted it from its cradle,
it split in half. Immediately my mouth formed “It’s okay,”
even though the break looked dooming.
Embarrassed at the lengths he’d taken,
and how the gift had broken anyway,
he voiced a soft apology, fumbling the two pieces in his hands.
Took the pieces into his back office
with the small pirate ship and the drawing of fifty cats
I’d made for his fiftieth birthday
and quietly glued knife to flower.
When he gave it back to me, the gift was heavier.
But look, that room:
him hunched over the ruins, owl-glasses on,
the once-engineer threading a secret silk
through the fractures because he’d promised me
something akin to wholeness.
"The Knife-Flower" (poem), from “Odes to Lithium,” by Shira Erlichman, Alice James Books, 2019. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.
Diamond anniversary: Ron Charles, Sr. and Sandra Charles, Hilton Head, S.C. (Photo by Madeline Charles)
I’m writing to you from South Carolina. Wednesday, on Day No. 100, my wife, Dawn, and I broke our quarantine and drove down here to see my parents, who are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. (We were very careful. I only got out of the car once during the nine-hour drive. And yes, Dawn did all the driving.) Now we're relaxing in my folks' condo and walking in a nearby forest preserve. My mom is flying through a half dozen mysteries by Alan Bradley. My dad is loving “The Book of Eels," which I sent him for Father's Day. And I'm reading J. Courtney's Sullivan's “Friends and Strangers,” which I'll tell you about next week. Meanwhile, wherever you are, I hope you’re safe. If you have any questions or comments about our book coverage, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you know someone who would enjoy this newsletter, help me out and forward it to them. To subscribe, click here.