Read This: BookExpo America’s Buzz Authors

I was delighted by the invitation to moderate the “Adult Buzz Authors” panel at the 2012 BookExpo America. During this short presentation, I introduced the audience to three novelists and one memoirist publishers will be showing particular promotional attention in the months ahead. The folks at BEA livestreamed the conversation out to the world at large, and have preserved the video file—so you can watch me do my Phil Donahue thing with the handheld mic, and of course more importantly learn about these four authors for yourself.


Rachel Joyce is an actress turned radio dramatist for the BBC who has now written her first novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It’s about a retiree in England who receives an unexpected letter from a former co-worker, a letter that inspires him to walk all the way across the country to see her one last time. But it’s also about the wife he leaves behind to make this journey, and about the both of them taking stock of their lives. If you’ve ever seen the David Lynch film The Straight Story, it’s a bit like that… only rather more British, of course, even in the explicitly yet quite subdued way that Joyce tugs at our heartstrings.

Vaddey Ratner was a young child when the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia. Her novel In the Shadow of the Banyan is influenced by her family’s ordeal, but it’s not strictly speaking autobiographical—instead, she aims to universalize the experiences of the Cambodian people during this horrific period. She has a powerful voice; as tough as it is to read some of these scenes, she makes them utterly compelling.

Susannah Cahalan is a reporter for the New York Post who was afflicted by a disease that baffled her doctors—unable to come up with a physical diagnosis, they originally thought she was mentally unstable and were prepared to send her to the psychiatric ward. Brain on Fire is the memoir of how she got her life back, an account made all the more amazing by the fact that Cahalan, remembering little of what had happened to her during this illness, used her reporting skills to get the story right. She’s already agreed to do a Life Stories interview later this summer, so keep an eye out for that.

Antoine Wilson’s Panorama City introduces us to Oppen Porter, who may be the first to admit that he’s a “slow absorber” but has a wondrously deep soul. After the death of his father, 28-year-old Oppen is taken by a well-intentioned aunt to her home in the San Fernando Valley. She tries to line him up with a real job and spiritual salvation, neither of which go quite according to plan, as we discover through Oppen’s tape-recorded account of his misadventures. It’s a deceptively funny novel—you’ll laugh plenty, but Oppen’s true sweetness will sneak up on you.

I hope you’ll give some (or all) of these four books a try as they come out later this year—in some cases, they were already on my radar before I accepted the invitation to moderate this event, but the others came as a surprise… the best kind of surprise.

11 June 2012 | read this |