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Spring preview 2012: international books

In the January/February issue, Q&Q looks ahead at the spring season’s new books.


Two prolific American literary novelists are set to publish new titles this spring. Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winner Toni Morrison is back with her 10th novel, Home (Knopf Canada, $25.95 cl., May). Exploring themes of masculinity and belonging, the short novel follows a self-loathing Korean War veteran as he surmounts defeat and finds a place to call home. • Also in May, part-time Toronto resident John Irving returns with his 13th novel, In One Person (Knopf Canada, $34.95 cl.), a tragicomedy narrated by a bisexual protagonist who reflects on life as a boy, a young man, and an adult.

Jack Kerouac’s first novel, The Sea Is My Brother (Da Capo Press/Raincoast, $26.50 cl., March), was written in the 1940s but never published. One of several Kerouac manuscripts that has recently resurfaced, the story follows the divergent fortunes of two sailors and explores an important theme in Kerouac’s later work: rebellion. • A book of little-known stories written by Anton Chekhov at the end of his career is forthcoming from Biblioasis. About Love ($12.95 pa., May), the Russian writer’s only linked collection, is translated by David Helwig and contains illustrations by Seth.

One of the most buzzed about debut novels of the season is Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles (Bond Street Books/Random House, $29.95 cl., June), a unique coming-of-age story about a young girl who wakes up one morning to discover that the rotation of the earth has begun to slow, upending life as she knows it.

Jodi Picoult’s new novel, Lone Wolf (Atria/Simon & Schuster, $32 cl., Feb.), tells the story of two siblings who disagree over the treatment of their comatose father. • Best known for his 2003 novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, British author Mark Haddon returns with The Red House (Doubleday Canada, $29.95 cl., June). The book is narrated by eight characters, all related, who spend a week together in a countryside vacation home.

From the best-selling (co-)author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies comes another new take on an old story. Seth Grahame-Smith’s Unholy Night (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette, $27.99 cl., April) reimagines the personalities of the three kings of the nativity, injecting the well-known Bible tale with thievery, escape, and intrigue. • The author of 12 previous novels, Christopher Moore continues in the surreal, satirical style of Lamb and Fool in his latest book, Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d’Art (William Morrow/HarperCollins, $34.99 cl., March), which follows friends of Vincent van Gogh as they vow to uncover the truth behind the painter’s death. • Neurosurgeon and medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, whose non-fiction books Chasing Life and Cheating Death were New York Times bestsellers, makes his first foray into fiction with Monday Mornings (Grand Central/Hachette, $27.99 cl., March). In the vein of TV medical dramas, the novel follows the daily lives of five surgeons.

From Argentinean writer Liliana Heker comes The End of the Story (Biblioasis, $19.95 pa., April), a novel about Argentina’s Dirty War translated by Andrea Labinger. Set in 1976, the book follows a group of women living against a backdrop of state-sponsored violence. • Waiting for the Monsoon (House of Anansi Press, $24.95 pa., Feb.), by Threes Anna and translated from the Dutch by Barbara Fasting, is about a British woman’s relationship with the Indian tailor to whom she rents a room in her crumbling mansion.

Australian author Elliot Perlman’s third novel, The Street Sweeper (Bond Street Books/Random House, $32.95 cl., Jan.), explores the unlikely intersection of two characters’ lives: a history professor whose career and relationship are unravelling, and a black man from the Bronx who struggles to reintegrate after serving a prison term for a crime he didn’t commit.


Stephen King’s latest novel, The Wind Through the Keyhole (Scribner/S&S, $29.99 cl.), is set to publish in April. The eighth book in the Dark Tower series – chronologically set between volumes four and five – tells the story of gunslinger Roland Deschain’s first quest.Camilla Läckberg is a household name in her native Sweden. In The Drowning (HarperCollins, $19.99 pa., April), translated by Tiina Nunnally, a man is found murdered and frozen beneath the ice. After discovering a similar incident, police realize the killings are connected and look into each victim’s past for clues. • Best-selling psychological suspense writer Brian Freeman returns with Spilled Blood (Sterling/Canadian Manda Group, $29.95 cl., May), the story of two Minnesota towns locked in a violent feud over the carcinogenic waste one town’s research corporation is releasing into the other community.

U.K. writer Benjamin Wood, who completed a master’s degree in creative writing at the University of British Columbia, is set to publish his debut mystery novel. In The Bellwether Revivals (McClelland & Stewart, $29.99 cl., March), bodies turn up near an elegant Cambridge house, and the young narrator and his lover become entangled in the search for the villain. • The 500 (Little, Brown/Hachette, $28.99 cl., June), a first novel from Matthew Quirk that is in development as a feature film, follows a young lawyer at a powerful Washington, D.C., consulting firm as he is pursued by two of the world’s most dangerous men. • A New York family is involved in a financial scandal in lawyer Cristina Alger’s debut thriller, The Darlings (Penguin, $28.50 cl., Feb.).

In Sara Paretsky’s latest crime thriller, Breakdown (G.P. Putnam and Sons/Penguin, $28.50 cl., Jan.), girls from some of Chicago’s most powerful families stumble upon a corpse in an abandoned cemetery. Detective V.I. Warshawski investigates childhood secrets to get to the bottom of the killing. • In Cloudland (St. Martin’s/Raincoast, $28.99 cl., March), the latest crime novel from Joseph Olshan, a newspaper reporter gets involved with the search for a serial killer after discovering a murder victim’s body. Meanwhile, a failed love affair surfaces and acquaintances emerge as suspects.


Sally Bedell Smith’s biography, Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch (Random House, $34 cl., Jan.), chronicles the public persona and private life of the reigning English monarch, offering a close-up view of her routines and relationships. • In Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World (HarperCollins, $24.99 cl., Jan.), biographer Simon Callow explores the Victorian novelist’s status as an early celebrity and his little-known love of the stage.

Iconic American singer-songwriter Carole King is set to publish a memoir, A Natural Woman (Grand Central/Hachette, $29.99 cl., April). Chronicling King’s early years, her musical career, and her present-day activism, the book features behind-the-scenes concert photographs.

Revolution 2.0 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Thomas Allen & Son, $29.95 cl., Jan.) is former Google executive Wael Ghonim’s first-hand account of his capture and interrogation in Cairo during the Arab Spring protests. The memoir also looks at how social media helped foment revolution. • Norwegian writer Halfdan W. Freihow reflects on his attempts to help his son, who has autism, make sense of the world in Somewhere Over the Sea (Anansi, $14.95 pa., June), translated by Robert Ferguson with a foreword by The Boy in the Moon author Ian Brown.

What Do You Want to Do Before You Die? (Artisan/Thomas Allen, $23.95 cl., April) follows four twentysomethings during their journey to complete a 100-item bucket list. Five years into their quest, Ben Nemtin, Dave Lingwood, Duncan Penn, and Jonnie Penn share what they’ve accomplished.


Political activist, writer, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo has become a symbol of the struggle for human rights in China. His collection June Fourth Elegies (Graywolf/D&M Publishers, $27.50 cl., April), translated by Jeffrey Yang, honours the memory of fellow protesters in the Tiananmen Square massacre.


Following his internationally acclaimed debut, The Wrong Place, Belgian graphic novelist Brecht Evens is back with The Making Of (Drawn & Quarterly, $27.95 pa., May). Using watercolour images and deadpan humour, the book details the misadventures of an honoured guest at a country art festival. • Tom Gauld reimagines a familiar Bible story in Goliath (D&Q, $19.95 cl., Feb.). Focusing on the reluctant fighter, the graphic novel pairs minimalist drawings and witty prose. • In My Friend Dahmer (Abrams/Manda, $27.95 cl., March), cartoonist John “Derf” Backderf creates a haunting, intimate portrait of Jeffrey Dahmer, a high school friend who later became the notorious American serial killer.


New York Times Washington correspondent Jodi Kantor invites readers on a tour of the White House in The Obamas (Little, Brown/Hachette, $32.99 cl., Jan.), a detailed look at the family’s attempts to lead a normal life while juggling public roles and responsibilities. • The decade-long search for Osama bin Laden is the subject of CNN national security analyst and Holy War, Inc. author Peter L. Bergen’s new book, Manhunt (Doubleday Canada, $29.95 cl., May). • In Newstainment: Why the News Is Bad for You (Picador/Raincoast, $18.50 pa., June), Chase Whiteside and Erick Stoll argue that brief, up-to-the-moment bulletins are revolutionizing news media but failing political discourse.

Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid confronts crucial questions about U.S. foreign policy in Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan (Viking, $28.50 cl., March). A follow-up to the acclaimed Descent into Chaos, Rashid’s latest explores solutions for achieving stability in the war-torn region. • In Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari’a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia to the Streets of the Modern Muslim World (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/D&M Publishers, $31 cl., April), U.K. human rights lawyer Sadakat Kadri takes an historical approach to explaining the evolution and implications of Islamic law.

An economics historian, British MP, and son of African immigrants, Kwasi Kwarteng explores the global reverberations of colonial history in Ghosts of Empire: Britain’s Legacies in the Modern World (Public Affairs/Raincoast, $34.50 cl., Feb.).


Long before the earthquake that ravaged Haiti in 2010, the country had a history of poverty and corruption. In Haiti: The Aftershocks of History (Henry Holt and Company/Raincoast, $29 cl., Jan.), Laurent Dubois traces the Caribbean nation’s troubles back to the 1804 slave revolt and sheds light on the country’s overlooked successes. • Jenny Balfour-Paul probes the roots of the world’s oldest dye in Indigo: Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans (Firefly Books, $39.95 pa., Jan.). Covering the history, science, and cultural significance of indigo dye, the full-colour book also explores its use in sustainable development initiatives.


Following his quests to read the Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover (The Know-It-All) and live according to a literal interpretation of the Bible (The Year of Living Biblically), A.J. Jacobs is back with another experiment. Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection (S&S, $29.99 cl., April) follows his efforts to become the healthiest man in the world. • Tae kwon do master Jim Langlas discusses seven principles of the martial art that also build character in Heart of a Warrior: 7 Ancient Secrets to a Great Life (Free Spirit/Georgetown, $17.50 pa., April). • For fans of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret comes another guide to living a fulfilling life. The Tools (Random House Canada, $29.95 cl., June), by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels, identifies and offers solutions to four common barriers that hold people back.


First Lady Michelle Obama argues for the need to improve access to healthy, affordable food in her first book, American Grown: How the White House Kitchen Garden Inspires Families, Schools, and Communities (Crown/Random House, $34 cl., April.). • Food writer (and son of Baskin-Robbins founder) John Robbins goes undercover in No Happy Cows: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Food Revolution (Conari Press/Georgetown, $18.95 pa., March) to investigate the feedlots and slaughterhouses that satisfy modern appetites. • In The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier (Morrow/HarperCollins, $38.99 cl., March), best-selling author, blogger, and ranch wife Ree Drummond shares easy country cooking recipes.

The fine print: Q&Q’s spring preview covers books published between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2012. All information (titles, prices, publication dates, etc.) was supplied by publishers and may have been tentative at Q&Q’s press time. • Titles that have been listed in previous previews do not appear here.

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S&S asks political commentators to “refrain from commenting” on Obama novel

O: A Presidential Novel, forthcoming from Simon & Schuster, has generated a lot of buzz around the identity of its anonymous author – perhaps too much buzz as far as the publisher is concerned.

According to The Cutline, both Joe Klein – the once anonymous author of Primary Colours – and NBC correspondent Chuck Todd were contacted by S&S publisher Jonathan Karp and asked to “refrain from commenting” on the identity of the author (though Klein has already denied writing the book). In an email, Karp wrote:

On January 25, we’ll be publishing a secret novel simply titled O, about President Obama’s campaign for re-election in 2012. The author of the novel wishes to remain anonymous. You may be asked to comment on whether or not you are the author. If so, it would be great if you refrained from commenting, in solidarity with the principle that a book should be judged on its content and not on the perceived ideology of its author.

The author, an individual with integrity and talent, is someone who has been in the room with Barack Obama and knows the political world intimately. In fact, you may know this person, or know of this person — if you are not in fact the author yourself.

Tellingly, his request coincides with the release of an excerpt on the book’s dedicated Web site, where visitors are encouraged to post comments under the heading “Who Do You Think Wrote O?”

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Obama, Rumsfeld books set for winter release

Simon & Schuster unveiled the cover for O: A Presidential Novel, an anonymously authored novel about U.S. president Barack Obama. The cover features a gold “O” bookended by a pair of protruding ears against a blue background.

Set during the 2012 presidential election, the book is described by The Washington Post as:

a novel about aspiration and delusion [...] written by an anonymous author who has spent years observing politics and the fraught relationship between public image and self-regard. The novel includes revealing and insightful portraits of many prominent figures in the political world – some invented and some real.

There’s been a flurry of speculation about the identity of the author, someone Simon & Schuster says “has been in the room with Barack Obama and wishes to remain anonymous.”

A blogger at the Wall Street Journal points out the futility of such conjecture:

In addition to the 469 employees of the White House, the president had 616 visitors there in December 2010 alone, according to records released by the administration.

And since we don’t know that this “room” is the Oval Office, we should probably also include everyone who’s attended a party or town hall or fund-raiser or campaign trail event also attended by Mr. Obama, plus his classmates, students and colleagues over the years.

O isn’t the only work of fiction inspired by American political figures published this winter. Donald by Eric Martin and Stephen Elliott is a novel that publisher McSweeney’s says imagines what would happen if former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld “was abducted at night from his Maryland home, held without charges in his own prison system, denied a trial, and kept in a place where no one could find him, beyond the reach of the law.”

The novel is set for release Feb. 8, the same day Rumsfeld’s official autobiography, Known and Unknown, is launched by Sentinel. By no coincidence, the covers of both books are similar — though only one features Rumsfeld in an orange jumpsuit.

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Daily book biz round-up: Obama’s kids book hits shelves; Chelsea Handler gets own imprint; and more

Today’s book news:

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Free speech advocates defend anthology about teen homosexuality

Egypt is not the only place where authors run afoul of censorship. It also happens with distressing regularity in the so-called Land of the Free to Canada’s south. In the latest instance, the New Jersey chapter of conservative pundit Glenn Beck’s 9.12 Project has succeeded in getting an anthology of writing and art focusing on teen homosexuality removed from Rancocas Valley Regional High School. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, 9.12 member and local grandmother Beverley Marinelli challenged the book Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology for being “pervasively vulgar, obscene, and inappropriate.”

Marinelli might have a fight on her hands. An article in the Guardian claims the issue has galvanized free speech and pro-GLBT organizations, which are rallying in support of Revolutionary Voices and two other books Marinelli’s group is attempting to get banned:

“There are undoubtedly GLBTQ [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning] students at Rancocas Valley High School, regardless of whether they are openly recognised. Removing any of these titles would send a clear message to those students that they are the objects of social disapproval – different, vulnerable, and marginal – whose needs for information of particular relevance to their lives are not respected,” wrote the directors of a collection of organisations to the school’s board. The letter, the signatories to which include the National Coalition Against Censorship, the National Council of Teachers of English, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers, and PEN America, added that there was “no question that these books are not obscene.”

Marnielli, who insists that she “is not a homophobe,” is also trying to get Revolutionary Voices removed from the Lenape Regional High School District, New Jersey’s largest high school district.

When not trying to ban books, Marinelli spends her time protesting “indoctrination” of vulnerable American youth. The Philadelphia Inquirer points out that she recently participated in a demonstration at New Jersey’s B. Bernice Young Elementary School after seeing a video of schoolchildren singing a song praising U.S. president Barack Obama.

She told the Philadelphia Daily News: “We did it for the children.”

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Bookmarks: porn, piracy, and the Google book settlement

Some book-related links:


What Barack Obama’s reading

As if the PEN/Faulkner award weren’t enough, Joseph O’Neill can now boast that his novel, Netherland, is on Barack Obama’s bedside table. In an interview with The New York Times, the American president told David Leonhardt that he is reading O’Neill’s novel in the evenings:

At the end of our conversation, when I asked him if he was reading anything good, he said he had become sick enough of briefing books to begin reading a novel in the evenings — “Netherland,” by Joseph O’Neill.

This is probably the next best thing to an endorsement from Oprah, and certainly a somewhat more palatable assertion than former president George W. Bush’s claim to reading Camus’s L’Etranger while serving in the Oval Office.

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Bookmarks: R. Crumb’s Genesis and a double helping of George Orwell

Sundry links from around the web:

  • Underground comics artist Robert Crumb (Fritz the Cat) has completed his take on the Book of Genesis.
  • To the surprise of no one, publishing execs are not immune to pay freezes. To the surprise of this Quillblogger, their base pay is still $800,000 U.S.
  • In the reasons-authors-should-never-give-up department: George Orwell’s Animal Farm was rejected by none other than T.S. Eliot.
  • Orwell on losing his love of books.
  • Turns out Bush and Obama have something in common after all: their agent.


Signs the world is coming to an end, #10,135

One of the most tragic aspects of the publishing industry is recognizing the years of labour, research, networking, and luck that go into getting something onto shelves – and then watching an idiot like this get handed a publishing contract.

That’s right – ousted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, recently impeached for allegedly selling Barack Obama’s vacant senate seat, has signed a six-figure book deal.

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Inaugural poet bolsters small publisher

A small St.Paul, Minnesota-based publisher is hoping to reap big rewards in the wake of Barack Obama’s swearing-in ceremony yesterday. Graywolf Press is the publisher of poet Elizabeth Alexander, who wrote and recited the inauguration poem, “Praise Song for the Day,” and the company has reportedly been receiving urgent calls from Barnes & Noble to ship copies of the work as quickly as possible.

According to the Canadian Press:

The St. Paul-based publisher is printing 100,000 copies of Alexander’s inaugural poem, by far the biggest print run in its 35-year history but not for an inaugural work. Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of the Morning,” recited in 1993 at President Bill Clinton’s inaugural, was a million seller.

Alexander’s poem, titled “Praise Song for the Day: A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration,” consists of 14, unrhymed three-line stanzas, and a one-line coda: “praise song for walking forward in that light.” It will be released as an US$8 paperback, 32 pages, on Feb. 6.

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