Friday, April 24, 2009

a substitute among the Hot 7 from Perseus

Sometimes it happens, your trombonist goes on tour with King Oliver, say, and you’ve got to fill a spot in the lineup….

Well, here’s the note I got from the Running Press publicity department earlier today:

Due to extenuating circumstances, the authors of Smart Girls Marry Money (9780762435173) will not be on The Oprah Show today. However, we have received great feedback from the Oprah team. They are actively pursuing other opportunities for the authors in the next four weeks before the show goes on hiatus.

We will keep everyone informed.

Blast. I’ll let you know should anything materialize.

But there’s always an old standby you can count on to step in (or, to think of it slightly differently, The New York Times giveth what Oprah taketh away): Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, Skinny Bastard (Running Press, 9780762435401 – c’mon, you can’t tell me you’re surprised…). It’s just landing in stores now, and Motoko Rich is first on the scene with a feature article – which helpfully includes the marketing roadmap. “All along, the plan was to target both men and women,” Ms. Freedman told her interviewer. “It was just: Let’s get Skinny Bitch out there and establish it because women are more prone to buying diet books and books in general.” To which Ms. Barnouin added: ““I think the guys will enjoy it once they have it. But I think it’s going to be the wives and girlfriends and sisters buying these books.” Which is to say: be sure to stack this one and the original next to each other. Much more national publicity is on the way (and that Skinny Bitch sitcom is still in development…).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Queen of queens, &c.

Today's New York Times featured an Op-Ed piece by the author Stacy Schiff, ruminating on what we'd find were we to stumble across (or into) the tomb of Cleopatra -- the lady or the legend. Ms. Schiff is evidently working on a biography of the great queen. It makes one wonder if there is something in the air -- after all, just last month, Diana Preston published her take on this august personage, Cleopatra and Antony: Power, Love and Politics in the Ancient World.

Ms. Schiff and Ms. Preston are both wonderful writers of serious but accessible history. So I mean them no disrespect when I say that they are treading over ground already surveyed, masterfully, by Joyce Tyldesley, in last year's Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt (Basic, 9780465009404). This was the first, and to this point, really, still the only study of this mythic figure that chose to see her as an Egyptian, and not through the lens of her overbearing Roman neighbors. In this it was a serious contribution to scholarship. But as the reviews upon publication made clear, it was equally a revelation for the general reader. Publishers Weekly, for example, gave it a starred review:

This entertaining biography hits the elusive sweet spot between scholarship and readability…. Writing with an easy mastery of her subject, Tyldesley always seems to be able to lay her hands on the perfect lively detail, whether an excerpt from an obscure bureaucratic document or a description of a kind of giant robot that paraded through the streets of Alexandria pouring libations of milk from a gold bottle. Though she makes it clear we’ll never know what Cleopatra was ‘really’ like, Tyldesley provides a memorable journey through the rich and contradictory sources of our knowledge about her.

It won similar praise from outlets ranging from the Tucson Citizen to the Feminist Review -- and at greatest length from, of all places, Newsweek: "In the year of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, untangling the legend of Cleopatra has special urgency…. To regard Cleopatra as an Egyptian ruler instead of a male myth, and to assess her using scholarly and archeological tools, is a worthy goal. It seems long overdue."

I'm moved to mention all of that not just out of pride that we got there first. More, it's because noticing these other, similar works on Cleopatra has given me an even greater appreciation of what it is that Basic Books does best. Publisher John Sherer once went so far as to call it the Basic "formula": they look for recognized experts, conducting original research in support of unconventional ideas (or unconventional approaches to conventional subjects). They have a particularly keen eye for scholars who have developed outstanding academic reputations, but who are poised to address a wider (i.e. trade) audience.

Ms. Tyldesley is an excellent example. Others among our current authors would include:

Dean Falk, whose Finding Our Tongues (9780465002191) proposes a unique theory concerning the origin of language;

Richard Wrangham, whose forthcoming Catching Fire (9780465013623) makes some extraordinary claims regarding cooked food and human evolution;

and Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek, whose The Lightness of Being (9780465003211) proposes little short of a Grand Unification Theory.

I just noticed those are all scientists -- but we've also introduced several incredibly talented historians, including James Palmer (author of The Bloody White Baron (9780465014484), "a fascinating portrait of an appalling man" - PW's starred review) and Timothy Snyder (The Red Prince (9780465002375), which "captures in shimmering colors the death of old Europe and the continent's descent into barbarism" - Shelf Awareness). It is great fun to get to magpie around in these lists-- whole worlds of new ideas, and of fresh approaches to old questions await.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Hot Seven from Perseus

It is too hot out. The heat is frying my brain, and bringing me shamefully close to some cheesy, morning-radio-caliber metaphors for the publicity hits we’ve been getting this week. So with very little fanfare, let me give you the “Hot 7” from Perseus (that’s not a weather reference!) – a quick list of titles that are seeing some good action:

Eduardo Galeano, Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone (Nation Books, 9781568584232): we’re thrilled to be getting a boost from that unlikeliest of Oprahs, Venezuela President Hugo Chavez. Since he gave President Obama a copy of The Open Veins of Latin America, interest in this great writer has spiked. Justifiably: as the LA Times assessed, he “deserves mention alongside John Dos Passos, Bernard DeVoto, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.” Pleased to be able to pounce on the interest, Nation Books has pushed up its publication of Mr. Galeano’s newest opus, Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone, for an early release, May 5; we’ve also confirmed that Mr. Galeano will appear on “Bill Moyers’ Journal” on PBS. I’ve attached a little sell sheet the folks at Nation have put together, highlighting Mr. Galeano’s superb reputation and some of the new publicity. We’ve been getting a lot of interest from the national accounts (including, astoundingly, airports!), and have just gone back to press for another 10,000 copies – as many of those as you like can be yours! I’ve also got a couple galleys still lying around - let me know if you’d like one.

Daniela Drake and Elizabeth Ford, Smart Girls Marry Money (Running Press, 9780762435173): I’d love to see Eduardo Galeano on Oprah; until that happens, though, I’ll settle for Ms. Drake and Ms. Ford. They’ll visit with Ms. Winfrey on Friday, April 24, through the magic of Skype. They will be the focus of the “Hot Topics” segment – this is the same segment that launched the hysteria over Oprah Twittering. It gets attention. Ideally, this would have come next week, but Ms. Winfrey is not a woman to be kept waiting, so it’s turning into a big publicity hit before the book is quite available. Some of you might have it in time; the rest will get it next week. But this gives the book a good push out of the gate, and gives the Running Press publicity department a good springboard – as you’ll see on the attached sheet. Please don’t be shy on this one.

Alec Russell, Bring Me My Machine Gun: the Battle for the Soul of South Africa, from Mandela to Zuma (PublicAffairs, 9781586487386): South Africa holds elections Wednesday. Alec Russell has been the recent point person for a rundown on what lies in store under the leadership of the controversial Jacob Zuma, who is sure to win in a landslide. Mr. Russell had an op-ed piece in Sunday’s Washington Post Outlook; he was interviewed yesterday on NPR’s “Morning Edition;” he was interviewed today (Tuesday) on PRI’s “The World;” and, of course, he has written this fine book. The Economist raves: “It is a relief to view South Africa’s past two decades through Alec Russell’s gentler, insightful, sometimes humorous, sometimes bleak, but always kaleidoscopic prism. He robustly addresses the doleful issues of governance…. But his portrait of South Africa, alive with delicious vignettes across a range of humanity, is more nuanced—and more readable.” And in the Wall Street Journal, Matthew Kaminski calls it “an engaging chronicle of the post-apartheid years… nuanced.”

Dara Chadwick, You’d Be So Pretty If…: Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies Even When We Don’t Love Our Own (Da Capo, 9780738212586): the producers at the “Today Show” were so impressed with Ms. Chadwick that they’ve bumped their segment on her book up from May 1 to April 29 (next Wednesday). They’ll be interviewing Ms. Chadwick and her daughter, and introducing the segment with a longer string of interviews with Moms on the Street. It should be a good segment, and will definitely raise the profile of this paperback original. Please check to be sure you have it in stock.

Mark Arax, West of the West: Dreamers, Believers, Builders and Killers in the Golden State (PublicAffairs, 9781586483906): a great weekend out of the gate for this. Item 1, the San Francisco Chronicle review: “As a native Californian with deep roots in both Northern and Southern California, Arax is the perfect cicerone through the heavenly and hellish landscapes and historical evolutions he has chosen to chronicle. He does not shy away from the gritty or the infernal, but is also alive to the incredible riches of this continually unfolding promised land. A longtime newspaper and magazine feature writer, he has a nose for a good story, and in this book, freed from the constraints dictated by those media, he has the time and space to follow up on multiple angles where they will be fruitful. So the tales here are never hurried but unfolded in a measured, controlled manner for maximum context and texture.” Item 2, the LA Times review: “Arax is trying to put his finger on the shifting nature of the place where he grew up and to which, as an adult, he returned…. [L]ike all good reporters, he has the knack of putting us there, fixing an era and making us reassess our relationship to an economic and geographic landscape that never stops changing.” Item 3, a feature article in the San Diego Union Tribune, praising its mix of “the rigor of investigative journalism and the personal voice of a memoir.” And if you want a better taste of what exactly they mean, you can listen to Scott Shafer’s interview with Mr. Arax on “The California Report,” airing on a public radio station near you (and online: http://www.kqed.org/servlets/playClip?programId=RD8&episodeId=R904171630&segment=ca). And to all of you who got this on the SCIBA Bestseller List last week, our hearty thanks!

Henry Harpending and Gregory Cochran, 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution (Basic, 9780465002214): Saturday’s LA Times ran a feature article on Drs. Harpending and Cochran, and the research that is chronicled in this book. The article focused on one of the more attention-getting claims – in the Times’s words, “Ashkenazi Jews have a higher rate of some deadly genetic diseases -- and of high IQs. Scientists Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending say that's no coincidence.” (You can see the entire piece here: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-sci-jewish-iq18-2009apr18,0,2228388.story.) For a while, this was the most e-mailed article on the website, and it has since been picked up by papers across the country. Yahoo news ran a similar article from McClatchy newspapers.

Francis Wrangham, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human (Basic, 9780465013623): the “Science Times” section of the New York Times ran an outstanding Q & A with Dr. Wrangham this morning…and I subsequently got some galley requests! (I choose to believe that that’s because the book sounds interesting, not because Dr. Wrangham mentioned that Jane Goodall once prohibited him from running around naked with a bunch of chimpanzees.) The book is to be published in May (at the same time as Mirrors), and has been assigned for review at numerous papers and magazines. I think it will get noticed. Get ready!

So there you have it – a strong lineup indeed. Let me know if you can use more of anything…and stay cool.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

We can be heroes

The editors, writers and artists of Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology (The New Press, 9781595583987) are out on the hustings, trying to spread the word about their original, innovative project, and pursuing every available channel to generate interest. The odds are good that one or more contributors will be appearing at a college campus or Asian (or Asian-American) museum or cultural center somewhere near you in the next 6 weeks -- they've got a long list of engagements from Encino to Tacoma. And with this, they've almost gone mainstream: ABC News's Charlie Gibson, introducing a brief piece by editor-in-chief Jeff Yang for an ABCNews.com web exclusive. Pretty cool.

From today's "Shelf Awareness"

Shelf Starter: An American Trilogy

An American Trilogy: Death, Slavery and Dominion on the Banks of the Cape Fear River by Steven M. Wise (Da Capo Press, $26, 9780306814754/0306814757, March 23, 2009)

Opening lines of books we want to read, excerpted from the prologue:

In the fall of 2008, I learned that an undercover agent working for People for the Unethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had been investigating reports of cruelty at a large hog-breeding farm. I asked PETA lawyer Dan Paden to send me some video showing what their agent had seen.

I thought that nothing we humans do to pigs could upend me. Then Paden sent me a four-minute highlights clip of what the latest farm investigator had seen. Soon after I flicked it on, I began crying so uncontrollably that it took me an hour and a half to finish it.

In this book, I do not recite the atrocities we perpetuate upon pigs. Instead, I discuss why we think it's okay to inflict them. And that discussion brings us to the study of history. [The slaughterhouse] rested on what were once the fields of a plantation . . . both slaughterhouse and plantation occupied ground upon which had strode, and likely lived, Native Americans.

North Carolina's settlers were mostly Protestant, mostly Englishmen. They brought their Bibles with them and located varied alleged Divine justifications for exterminating the Indians, enslaving Africans, and inflicting hideous cruelties upon mother pigs and their babies . . . The stories of how the Indian genocide, the black chattel slavery, and the war upon pigs were perpetrated, how the first two were overturned by the religious themselves, and how the justification for the last is being vigorously challenged today, again by the religious, is An American Trilogy.

--Selected by Marilyn Dahl

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Not so secret anymore

I just want to give a brief shout of thanks to Julia at Book Soup -- in case you didn't see it, she devoted her blog yesterday to discussing The Secret Lives of Boys by Malina Saval (Basic, 9780465002542). Have a look.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Straight outta Jersey

Leaping right out of the gate from sales conference, we’ve got a wide range of things to offer – from a rather large crash title, to some great launches for books now hitting the marketplace, and strong early signs for a few things a little further down the line. So while I’m sorting through the Fall catalogs etc., I hope you’ll take a bit of time to size up what’s still coming from the Spring:

Starting with the crash title: I sent out a separate notice of this, but want to remind you again that we have a new book from Michael Eric Dyson, Can You Hear Me Now?: The Inspiration, Wisdom and Insight of Michael Eric Dyson (Basic, 9780465018833), which we are rushing out at the end of this month. As Dave Eggers says in his introduction, it is “A one-volume greatest hits package. Dyson’s always been the kind of writer you read with highlighter in hand, ready to illuminate some sentence you could have sworn was written by Cicero or Douglass or Lincoln or King. So this book does the work for you.” Please let me know as soon as possible if you’d like to place an order; and I’ll be sure to update you as we get more confirmed media.

Getting back to books that are out now, I’m pleased to report a quick hit for Beyond the Revolution: A History of American Thought from Paine to Pragmatism, by William H. Goetzmann (Basic, 9780465004959): we had a nice review last week in the Seattle Times! “Beyond the Revolution is a stimulating volume that will make you see U.S. history—especially the parts you thought you knew well—with fresh eyes. And what more could one ask of a great teacher?” What, indeed?

We have come to expect The New Press to have an eye for exquisite fiction, especially in translation. Further validation of that expectation came with the announcement last week of the finalists for the 2009 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award: the short list included Ravel, a novel by Jean Echenoz, translated by Linda Coverdale (The New Press, 9781595581150). In its review upon original publication, Booklist wrote: “Echenoz employs almost no dialogue and nothing that departs from known facts in this tiny miracle of a biographical novel, which begins dryly and builds to a shattering, but still contained and elegant, emotional climax, like a Ravel masterpiece.” PW agreed: “Echenoz's prose is stylish and delightfully soft-pedaled, expertly conveyed by Coverdale, leaving the sensation of a life lived exclusively for the creation of art.” Mr. Echenoz has previously won the Prix Goncourt – I’m hoping he’ll be able to add to his trophy case.

The news from South Africa continues to be alarming. Just yesterday it was reported that the criminal charges pending against ANC leader Jacob Zuma have been dropped – and that this is likely to further polarize a country already suffering significant political fractures. Expect attention to South Africa to grow more intense in the coming months, as they prepare for national elections (and for next year’s World Cup). Essential reading for understanding the state of affairs will be Alec Russell’s just-published Bring Me My Machine Gun: the Battle for the Soul of South Africa, from Mandela to Zuma (PublicAffairs, 9781586487386). Last week Gillian Slovo reviewed the book in the Financial Times: “Bring Me My Machine Gun, layered with anecdote, historical background and close scrutiny of recent events, stands as an informative, nuanced, and provocative end-of-era report…. A valuable contribution to the debate about the future of the rainbow nation. Alec Russell has looked at the country with a sympathetic and knowledgeable eye and he leaves his reader with a deep understanding of the challenges to come.” We’ve also confirmed that Mr. Russell will be on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” although the date is still to be confirmed, as well as on KALW’s “New America Now,” on April 22.

Quinn Bradlee and PublicAffairs are delivering on their promised publicity for A Different Life: Growing up Learning Disabled and Other Adventures (9781586481896): Mr. Bradlee will appear on the PBS “NewsHour” tonight (April 7), along with his parents Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn. This follows last week’s feature in USA Today, in which Craig Wilson called the book “refreshingly honest… Bradlee's voice, both poignant and humorous, rings true, that of a young man struggling to figure out who he is and where he fits in.” Barbara Kantrowitz contributed a lovely piece in the Daily Beast, writing that “Bradlee is, at times, funny, mordant, surprisingly perceptive and disturbingly na├»ve…. it’s clear that even enormous privilege did not protect him from the profound loneliness of being different.” And next week Mr. Bradlee will be on ABC Radio’s “Imus in the Morning,” so things should keep rolling along nicely for this.

Without dwelling too long on our ever-growing financial cataclysm, I do want to mention that the PublicAffairs tandem of Charles Morris and George Soros continue to get attention and praise. Mr. Soros’s The Crash of 2008 and What it Means (9781586486990 – this is the fully revised and expanded paperback version of The New Paradigm for Financial Markets) has just landed, and is the beneficiary of a significant online marketing push, as well as coverage on CNBC, CNN, and Bloomberg TV and bloomberg.com, as well as Fortune, Reuters and Yahoo! Finance. Meanwhile, Mr, Morris was just singled out by key Democratic advisor Laura Tyson in the Wall Street Journal as the go-to guy for making sense of a complicated mess; the book, now in paperback, is The Two Trillion Dollar Meltdown (9781586486914 – the hardcover edition was called The Trillion Dollar Meltdown – my, how things change!).

Looking a little bit down the line: a 2,000-3,000 first serial feature from Richard Wrangham’s Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human (Basic, 9780465013623) will run in the June issue of Discover Magazine, which goes out to subscribers and hits newsstands May 10-15. We also just got a starred PW review: “[A] fascinating study… Wrangham's lucid, accessible treatise ranges across nutritional science, paleontology and studies of ape behavior and hunter-gatherer societies; the result is a tour de force of natural history and a profound analysis of cooking's role in daily life.” But this is more than just a good book – as I’ve been saying all season, it’s a significant scientific event. Dr. Wrangham’s recent attendance at the AAAS conference has led to full-length articles in The Economist and the Associated Press on his pioneering ideas. The blogosphere, too, has been abuzz, including blogs at New Scientist, Wired, and National Geographic, with a discussion scheduled for the US News & World Report “Thinking Harder” blog later this month. We’ve also gotten confirmation that there will be feature article in The New York Times’s “Science Times” section. And we’ve received another glowing review, from perhaps the best-titled journal ever, The Harvard Brain: “With clear and engaging prose, Catching Fire addresses a key and enduring scientific issue central to the quest to understand our species. It offers new insights for anyone interested in human evolution, history, anthropology, nutrition, and for everyone interested in food.” Dr. Wrangham will be bringing his show out west in early June. He is the real deal.

I’ll confess that I just didn’t get Rachel Lehmann-Haupt’s forthcoming In Her Own Sweet Time: Unexpected Adventures in Finding Love, Commitment, and Motherhood (Basic, 9780465009190) … until I had dinner with an old friend who told me of her bizarre and exhausting fertility odyssey. From relationship struggles to insurance hassles, the questions around motherhood are many and complex, more so than ever. It requires tremendous honesty, I think, to write about them as Ms. Lehmann-Haupt has done – and it helps that she’s done it with good humor as well. But you don’t have to take my word for it – here’s what Mary Pipher had to say: “This book offers extraordinary fresh and well-synthesized information that will be useful to doctors, therapists, women and couples who are striving to understand the complex worlds of fertility and relationships. Its author is thoughtful, honest, compassionate and funny. She reminded me of my daughter and her friends, all those Ophelias who are now in their thirties and struggling with the stormy seas of motherhood, commitment and work.” We’ll have a first serial in Newsweek either May 4 or 11, and Ms. Lehmann-Haupt will appear on “Good Morning America” on May 11. The book has also been assigned for review at the New York Times; that’s hardly a surprise, but….

Dread: How Fear and Fantasy Have Fueled Epidemics from the Black Death to Avian Flu, by Philip Alcabes (PublicAffairs, 9781586486181) is a book that I did get right away…although I wasn’t sure how widely noticed it would be. I ought not have been concerned. For starters, it received a starred PW review: “his study provides enough gruesome details and unexpected sidelights to captivate history fans. Looking first at the plague that swept Europe in recurring waves from 1300 to 1700 (‘the model for the epidemic’), Alcabes sorts through the widespread confusion over its cause and method of transmission. Rubbing up against theories of ‘contagion, intemperate air, poisoned water, astrological influence’ and ‘deviltry,’ accounts of brutal pogroms and apocalyptic dread, Alcabes makes the science behind the history—as in a description of infected fleas regurgitating the plague bacteria into a victim's system—just as gripping…. Alcabes chastises the use of ‘epidemic’ for behavioral issues like obesity or teen sex, and the panic over isolated events like the Anthrax outbreak (only 22 cases), while 9 million cases of tuberculosis go untreated every year. Showing how even epidemics hinge on societal attitudes and expectations, Alcabes presents an engrossing, revealing account of the relationship between progress and plague.” Several of you suggested that this is exactly the kind of thing that ought to appeal to Jon Stewart & co. at “The Daily Show”…and you were right: Mr. Alcabes will appear on April 22. Add that to reviews and features in The Washington Post “Outlook” section, SEED Magazine, ForeWord, The New Scientist, and Smithsonian.com, and interest looks to be spreading like….

The early word is in on Ray Raphael’s Founders: The People Who Brought You a Nation (The New Press, 9781595583277), and there appears to be wide agreement that this is indeed his crowning achievement to date. Last time out I mentioned the starred Kirkus review. Now, Booklist praises its “robust storytelling” and calls it “almost an evangelizing introduction to the American Revolution.” PW assesses that “No one will come away without a better idea of how social class, ideas, careers, ambitions and plain luck interwove themselves into the revolution carried on by an entire people. …it will delight readers and no doubt add to their knowledge through a tale rarely told so well.” Even Library Journal says it is “sure to be a hit” – how can you go wrong?

And finally, a heads up on the upcoming publicity for You’d Be So Pretty If…: Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies – Even When We Don’t Love Our Own, by Dara Chadwick (Da Capo, 9780738212586). The current issue of Shape Magazine has a six-page excerpt (complete with jacket image), and next month’s First Magazine should have an additional author interview and feature; Family Circle, Parenting, and Weight Watchers will follow shortly. Ms. Chadwick has been blogging for Psychology Today’s website, and has been interviewed for AOL Health’s diet and fitness blog. There will also be an extensive radio tour through the ABC Radio Network, and we’ve confirmed a couple of national TV appearances: “The Today Show,” on May 1 (the official publication date, although you should have the book before then and are welcome to sell it), and Fox’s “The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet” on May 6. I think this is one that belongs just about everywhere.