Book Expo America, the publishing industry's largest trade show, opened today in L.A. Acres and acres of books and book people. Stepping onto the show floor is like leaping into a raging river. You swim from log to log, just hoping you don't go over the falls. We talked to authors and publishers, most of whom were spreading the word about their fall releases, and here are some of the highlights from today:
* Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist and author of The World is Flat, gave the convention's keynote address to a large crowd, discussing his September release Hot, Flat and Crowded. Friedman is widely respected for his ability to translate complex, world-changing trends into digestible ideas and keywords, as he did in The World is Flat, which explores the rise of the new working class in India and China (hence the raised, or flattened, global playing field). He promises more of the same in his new work, which warns of the current convergence of three factors: the rise of the developing world, climate change, and population overcrowding. America, he posits, must be at the forefront of solving the looming crisis that awaits at this convergence if it hopes to retain its power and influence in the world. Few analysts have the authority and popularity of Friedman, and he definitely knows it. He was almost presidential as he described our current predicament and offered his solution as a challenge to America. But it's almost certain this book will be widely read and discussed, and hopefully heeded.
* We were pleased to run into Tim Winton, one of Australia's most revered writers. His novel Cloud Street may be the national book of Australia, and The Riders is one of our favorite recommendations for trip reading. Tim came to America on book tour several years ago and spent some time in Mississippi. We were glad to show him around, taking him deep into the countryside, feeding him barbeque and catfish, and introducing him to Larry Brown, the late and great north Mississippi writer, at a bonfire in Taylor. For such a big-shot in Australia, Tim is one of the most humble, down-to-earth guys you'd care to meet. It was good to catch up and have him sign a copy of his new novel, Breath. We read an early copy a few weeks ago and were fairly blown away. We'd never thought much about surfing until reading this novel, set in Western Australia and following two teenagers being pushed to extremes by their surfing mentor. This is a superbly written, visceral novel with heart-pounding surf scenes and sophisticated character relationships. We were all ready to put it in the hands of every kid who came into the store this summer until the end took a strange turn into some kinky sex, but hey, they'll probably love it even more. We'll read anything Tim Winton writes.
* Since we're partial to Australians, we stopped to say hello to a kindly writer named David Francis, whose novel Stray Dog Winter comes out in October with our friends at West Coast publishing house Macadam/Cage. The book is an unusual Cold War-era thriller with overtones of Graham Greene. Sonny Brewer, the writer, bookseller and all-around good bookman was there and gave David's book a hearty endorsement, then gave us a few sample chapters from the eagerly awaited new novel from William Gay this fall. It's called The Lost Country, and William has spent years writing it. It's inspired by his travels across the country during his military days. We greedily lapped up the teaser and are happy to report that William continues to perfect his craft. Over the years we've seen him compared to Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner, but that should all end with this book. He's laid claim to his own style of storytelling and prose, which is greatly influenced by the rhythms of the Tennessee hills where he lives. Here we have flawlessly flawed characters — the unlikable are likable and the good guys aren't so great. We can't wait to see more.