Home >Mint-lounge >Books: Will big names lure readers?

Will book sales collapse this year, or will a slate of hot titles pull readers into the stores? Leonard Riggio, chairman of Barnes and Noble Inc., has already warned his 40,000 employees that 2009 will be grim and that the chain is intent on slashing expenses. Those stacks of best-sellers famously displayed in the front of each Barnes & Noble store may be a lot shorter next year.

The old faithfuls: Publishers are pinning their hopes on new books by best-selling authors to tide over the recession.

Still, a rush of big books is on, including a new John Grisham thriller, The Associate, which will be on sale from 27 January. Doubleday says the first printing is 2.8 million copies, huge by any standard. The plot: A compromising video forces a young lawyer to spy for the firm that employs him. In March, Jodi Picoult’s latest, Handle With Care, arrives. It’s a story about the mother of a severely disabled child pondering a lawsuit against her ob-gyn, who also happens to be her best friend.

The worry is that such big-name titles represent only 20% of total retail sales, says New York literary agent Laurence Kirshbaum. Unless readers also embrace mysteries, romance novels and other genres, the literary landscape may grow much darker. “You can’t have a party only with hors d’oeuvres, you need the whole meal," he says.

Also in March, Martha Stewart offers her loyal do-it-yourselfers the highly anticipated title Martha Stewart’s Encyclopedia of Crafts.

In June, Sara Gruen moves on from the fictional circus menagerie of Water for Elephants to bonobo apes (she temporarily adopted 30), with Ape House. Independent booksellers, who helped turn Elephants into a national best-seller in 2006, are eagerly awaiting this novel.

Although few titles in translation crack the national best-seller lists, many booksellers are intrigued by Jonathan Littell’s massive novel The Kindly Ones. This fictional memoir, due in March, is told from the point of a view of a Nazi officer. It won France’s prestigious Prix Goncourt in 2006. Littell, a native New Yorker who writes in French, is the son of thriller author Robert Littell. The novel is being published by the Harper imprint, a unit of News Corp.’s HarperCollins (News Corp. also owns The Wall Street Journal).

The title’s nearly-1,000 pages haven’t discouraged Nancy Olson, whose Quail Ridge Books and Music in Raleigh, North Carolina, will feature the book in the front of the store. “We’re counting on it," she says. “People come to an independent bookstore expecting to find distinguished literature."

Other literary offerings next year include Noah’s Compass, a new novel from Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Tyler, which is being published in September, and Richard Powers’s Generosity: An Enhancement, due in the bookstores in October.

Will readers respond? Kathryn Popoff, a vice-president at Borders Group Inc., says non-fiction titles could provide the spark. “They sweep in and can really make your season," she says.

High on the list: James Patterson’s The Murder of King Tut, a non-fiction investigation into the death of the child pharaoh, which hits the shelves in September.

Marva Allen, co-owner of the Hue-Man Bookstore and Café, suggests readers will be drawn to Emmanuel Jal’s War Child: A Child Soldier’s Story. The memoir, from a former Sudanese child soldier, arrives in February. “There’s a lot more to be learnt about that subject," says Allen.


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