Weekly Words About New Books in

Independent Bookstores

December 3, 2023

Where's the Paperback? Three Hardcover Fiction Titles Published Last Year That Are Making Readers Wait

In the normal course of the book world, titles published in hardcover are generally released in paperback between nine months and one year later. The publishers naturally want to give their new titles an opportunity to sell before paperback editions are printed, and that 9-12 month time frame is judged to be the accepted "shelf life" of most hardcover editions, particularly new fiction. The big exception to that "rule" occurs when a title remains popular in hardcover and continues to sell well past its perceived shelf life. When that happens, the softcover publishing date is pushed back by weeks, months, even indefinitely - the paperback edition of Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See was released three years after its initial hardcover debut.

Which brings us to three novels that were among last year's holiday favorites and have remained fixtures on independent bookstore bestseller lists throughout 2023. The bad news for paperback fans is that they will remain in hardcover well into 2024 (maybe longer); the good news is they are readily available and remain among this year's best holiday gifts.

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (published in October, 2022). Bookseller favorite Kingsolver reimagines David Copperfield in rural modern-day America in her story of the teenage son of an Appalachian single mother who dies when he is 11. He uses his good looks, wit, and instincts to survive foster care, child labor, addiction, disastrous loves, and crushing losses. Demon Copperhead definitely received a sales boost back in May when it was awarded this year's Pulitizer Prize for Fiction (sharing with with Hernan Diaz's Trust, which is in paperback), but the book has been a consistent seller and currently sits at #6 on the Indie Bestseller Hardcover Fiction list.

In his review, Washington Post book editor Ron Charles wrote, "May be the best novel of 2022...Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, this is the story of an irrepressible boy nobody wants, but readers will love....You may be reminded of another orphaned boy slipping through the country's underbrush, just trying to stay out of trouble: Huck Finn. With Demon, Kingsolver has created an outcast equally reminiscent of Twain's masterpiece, speaking in the natural poetry of the American vernacular....Kingsolver's best demonstration yet of a novel's ability to simultaneously entertain and move and plead for reform."

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (published in April, 2022). This was one of my favorite books of last year, featuring a brilliant but socially awkward chemist, Elizabeth Zott, trying to make her mark in the male-dominated and highly misogynist academic science world of the 1950s. After several twists and turns, Elizabeth ends up - implausibly but luckily - hosting an afternoon cooking show on local TV that becomes an unlikely hit when she eschews on-air female stereotypes and injects science into her daily food presentations. Author Garmus does a nice job of creating a feminist story that is observant but not preachy and is filled with many moments of humor and wit. Elizabeth is a strong, likeable protagonist, and although a woman at the helm of a cooking show may not sound groundbreaking, her approach certainly is. She’s not just slicing, dicing, and mixing - she's daring her viewers to shake up the status quo. 

Lessons in Chemistry has been made into a streaming series (starring Brie Larson) on Apple TV, which has given the book new visibility, - it currently resides at #5 on the Indie Bestseller Hardcover Fiction list. In its starred review, Kirkus praised this "energetic debut," writing that "a more adorable plea for rationalism and gender equality would be hard to find."

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (published in July, 2022). Zevin's novel is a modern love story about two childhood friends, Sam, raised by an actress mother in LA's Koreatown, and Sadie, from the wealthy Jewish enclave of Beverly Hills, who reunite as adults to create video games, finding an intimacy in digital worlds that eludes them in their real lives. And although it received good reviews and made several Best Book of Year lists in 2022, the success of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow - in my opinion, anyway - is directly connected to word of mouth. I can't think of another novel in Mrs. Dalloway's Bookstore where I work that has created the same kind of buzz. We often get requests for titles that have just been reviewed in The New York Times or discussed on NPR, but with this one, people want it "because my friend told me to read it." No huge media blitz, no big award, just readers telling friends and family they have to read this book. And the word of mouth doesn't appear to have let up - Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is currently #12 on the Indie Bestseller Hardcover Fiction list, ahead of the latest from both John Grisham and Jesmyn Ward.

Reviewing the book last year, The New Yorker wrote, "Woven throughout [Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow] are meditations on originality, appropriation, the similarities between video games and other forms of art, the liberating possibilities of inhabiting a virtual world, and the ways in which platonic love can be deeper and more rewarding--especially in the context of a creative partnership--than romance."

Timely New Paperback Examines History of War Waged Against Palestinians

The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017 by Rashid Khalidi. This history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict - told from a Palestinian perspective - was written by noted author and historian Khalidi, a Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University. Its bestseller status in independent bookstores speaks to the increasing interest that many people - whatever their politics - have in better understanding the current war.

In the book, Khalidi takes exception to accepted interpretations of the conflict, which in his view, usually describe a tragic clash between two peoples with claims to the same territory. Instead, Khalidi traces a hundred years of colonial war on the Palestinians, waged first by the Zionist movement and then Israel, but backed by Britain and the United States, the great powers of the age. He highlights the key episodes in this colonial campaign, from the 1917 Balfour Declaration to the destruction of Palestine in 1948, from Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon to the endless and futile peace process. That said, The Hundred Years' War on Palestine is not a chronicle of victimization, nor does it whitewash the mistakes of Palestinian leaders or deny the emergence of national movements on both sides. In reevaluating the forces arrayed against the Palestinians, it offers a distinctive perspective from a learned source that has certainly captured readers' attention

"Khalidi skillfully balances analysis of historical and diplomatic documents with insights of his own and his relatives who had leadership roles throughout the 20th century . . . Highly recommended." --Library Journal

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Hi, I'm Hut Landon, and I'm a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, CA.

My goal here is to keep readers up to date about new books hitting the shelves, share what indie booksellers are recommending in their stores, and pass on occasional news about the book world. 

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