Book world hopes for lit­er­ary break­through

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - ENTERTAINMENT - BY HIL­LEL ITALIE

As the book world’s most lit­er­ary sea­son ap­proaches, the in­dus­try still awaits the year’s big lit­er­ary pub­li­ca­tion.

While crit­ics have cel­e­brated Mohsin Hamid’s “Exit West,’’ Ge­orge Saun­ders’ “Lin­coln in the Bardo’’ and other works, no 2017 re­leases have ap­proached the sales or the im­pact of such older ti­tles as Mar­garet Atwood’s “The Hand­maid’s Tale’’ and Ge­orge Or­well’s “1984.’’

Pub­lish­ers won­der if it’s a fa­mil­iar syn­drome, the Trump ef­fect, with the public too caught up in the head­lines to fo­cus on new and chal­leng­ing fic­tion.

“Peo­ple are in­deed dis­tracted, and there’s no sign of it let­ting up,’’ says Paul Bo­gaards, an ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent and ex­ec­u­tive director of pub­lic­ity at the Knopf Dou­ble­day Pub­lish­ing Group.

“Many are weary from their so­cial feeds — men­tally ex­hausted — and some, per­haps, are sim­ply choos­ing to binge watch their favourite tele­vi­sion se­ries and eat co­pi­ous amounts of ice cream rather than read a con­tem­po­rary, lit­er­ary novel.’’

“We’ve been dis­ap­pointed in sales, and other pub­lish­ers have been dis­ap­pointed,’’ said Scrib­ner pub­lisher and se­nior vi­cepres­i­dent Nan Graham, who hopes to break the spell this fall with new fic­tion from prize-win­ners Jen­nifer Egan and Jes­myn Ward.

“I think it’s harder for new books to break through be­cause peo­ple are read­ing the books that other peo­ple are read­ing. They’re look­ing to talk to other peo­ple about some­thing they have in com­mon. And that drive seems more in­tense right now. Is that the Trump ef­fect? Sure.’’

Bo­gaards says good books can “still sur­face and stick’’ and read­ers able and will­ing can look for­ward to some of the most ac­claimed writ­ers of re­cent years.

Egan’s “Man­hat­tan Beach’’ is her first novel since the Pulitzer Prize-win­ning “A Visit from the Goon Squad,’’ Ward’s “Sing, Un­buried, Sing,’’ her first novel since the Na­tional Book Award win­ning “Sal­vage the Bones’’ and James McBride’s book of short sto­ries, “Five-Carat Soul,’’ his first fic­tion since win­ning the Na­tional Book Award for “The Good Lord Bird.’’

Louise Er­drich, Ce­leste Ng, Sal­man Rushdie, Car­men Maria Machado and de­but nov­el­ist Gabriel Tal­lent also have books com­ing. Pulitzer Prize win­ner Jef­frey Eu­genides, whose nov­els in­clude “Mid­dle­sex’’ and “The Mar­riage Plot,’’ will re­lease his first story col­lec­tion, “Fresh Com­plaint.’’

“In some ways, it’s harder to write a short story than a novel,’’ Eu­genides told The As­so­ci­ated Press in a re­cent email. “There’s no room for elab­o­ra­tion or ex­pan­sion, both of which come nat­u­rally to the nov­el­ist. In cre­ative writ­ing cour­ses, of course, we start stu­dents off writ­ing short sto­ries be­cause they’re more man­age­able. But it’s like ask­ing some­one to pilot a jet on his first fly­ing les­son.’’

If lit­er­ary fic­tion doesn’t pro­duce any ma­jor hits, other books seem likely bets. John Green’s “Tur­tles All the Way Down’’ is his first novel since the block­buster “The Fault of Our Stars.’’ Dan Brown has sent pro­tag­o­nist Robert Lang­don to Spain in his thriller “Ori­gin’’ and Stephen King and son Owen King have teamed up on “Sleep­ing Beau­ties.’’

An el­derly Ge­orge Smi­ley ap­pears in John le Carre’s “A Legacy of Spies,’’ Lee Child’s lat­est Jack Reacher novel is “The Mid­night Line’’ and the late Stieg Lars­son’s “Mil­len­nium Se­ries’’ con­tin­ues with “The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye’’ by David Lager­crantz.

AP PHOTO

This com­bi­na­tion photo shows up­com­ing re­leases, from left, “What Hap­pened” by Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, “En­durance: A Year in Space, A Life­time of Dis­cov­ery” by Scott Kelly, “Ori­gin” by Dan Brown, “Sleep­ing Beau­ties” by Stephen King and Owen King and “Tur­tles All the Way Down” by John Green.

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