Tag Archives: Garth Risk Hallberg

Books I didn’t read in 2015

I get overwhelmed by how many books, good books, there are to read. There are just not enough hours in the day to read them all. Today I will write about some of the debut novels published in 2015 that I didn’t get to yet.

Garth Risk Hallberg’s, City on Fire is the debut that got the most attention in 2015. However many of the stories focus more on his enormous advance (2 million dollars) than the book itself. The book was included in a round up by The New Republic about 2015 books with mixed reviews, which also included Bill Clegg’s debut novel, Did You Ever Have a Family. I am intrigued by Hallberg’s story, set in NYC in the 70s, but a little daunted by the length, over 900 pages! And Clegg’s book, a story of a family loss, also looks moving.

And Paula Hawkins’ debut Girl on the Train, coined this year’s Gone Girl, continues to do quite well as one of the few debuts on the bestseller list. For those of you who like thrillers, it is meant to be a good read, but this book is getting enough attention that I might not review it.

Some books I hope to read are:

The Fishermen, by Chigozie Obioma is a story of four Nigerian brothers and how an encounter with a madman changes their lives. This book was shortlisted for the Booker and other prizes.

The Turner House, by Angela Flournoy is a story of an African American family in Detroit. Flournoy was a finalist for the Center for Fiction’s Debut Book Prize for this book.

Gonzo Girl, by Cheryl Della Pietra is a fictionalized account of her years working as an assistant to Hunter S Thompson. Should be a fun read!

And The Ambassadors, by George Lerner is set in Africa and New York and explores a family with a father who does expat work, traveling regularly to Africa and how that impacts his son and wife.

To a great year of reading in 2016! More reviews to come later this month.

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Million Dollar Debuts

The Wall Street Journal published an article last week, “Betting Big on Literary Newcomers,” that looks at a burgeoning trend of large advances for literary debut fiction. The writer attributes this trend to the recent success of some literary novels. The bestseller list is not just for genre fiction authors like James Patterson and Danielle Steel anymore, and so publishers are looking for the next big literary book and making bets on debut authors.

This fall, Garth Risk Hallberg’s, City on Fire, got attention for the $2 million advance he got for the book, making it one of the largest advances ever for a literary debut. And yet it was one of a handful of books coming out this year, and next, for which publishers paid over a million dollars for a debut novel. But for an author to earn back an advance of that size, at least 200,000 books need to be sold. That’s a lot of books. And a lot of pressure on a new author.

What I found interesting about the article is that it described a “winner takes all economy” that is emerging around debut books, where the books with big advances get more attention, either through social media, advertising or word-of-mouth, than other debuts, and while many of these authors never sell enough books to pay back the advance, they sell a lot for an unknown writer. And what that does is make less room for debuts with smaller advances or those that are published by independent houses.

This article reaffirmed my desire to focus my blog on debut books. There is no science to selling a book. And as one of the people interviewed in the article said, this is a business built on hunches. New authors earning large advances don’t have the same struggles as authors who publish with a small press, but it is hard for all new authors to build an audience and establish themselves in the literary marketplace. I look forward to discovering new voices in the years to come…





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Big Books

Sitting on my bookshelf right now is Eleanor Catton’s debut novel, The Luminaries (832 pages), and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (771 pages). I decided to start with Tartt’s book, as it is shorter and Catton’s book is a historical novel, which I am not as fond of as other genres. I’m guessing it will take me at least 3 weeks to read The Goldfinch, maybe more, mainly because it’s too heavy to carry on the subway. If I had bought the e-version this would not be an issue, but I like to collect first editions and this one felt worth adding to my collection.

Earlier this month, Garth Risk Hallberg sold his 900-page debut novel for $2 million in a bidding war. The book has also been optioned as a film.

It is exciting to see this spurt of big books being published, but given the sad state of the US publishing world, I wonder how many people will actually read Hallberg’s book. Some journalists are postulating that big books are the antidote to Twitter, that there is a new satisfaction in reading something that takes longer than 24 hours to finish, but I’m not sure I agree.

Clearly there is a pride in reading a big book, but how many of you are willing to sit down with a novel over 700 pages? Or a debut novel, with an author you don’t know much about, and read 900 pages?

I went back though my reading history and identified the “big books” I have read over the years. The first one was Moby Dick (544 pages), which I had to read in high school. After college, I read Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (770 pages) while living and working as an English teacher in Slovakia. One of the pleasures of that read was that I lived alone and didn’t have much of a social life, so I was able to read for very long stretches. In my twenties a book club I was in took on Ulysses, but it tore apart the group, with most of us (myself included), struggling with the book to the chagrin of the two who enjoyed it. Most recently I read Bolaño’s, 2666 (898 pages). I loved that book, but remember that I had to intentionally set aside time to read it, and only took it on after two friends told me how much they liked it.

I’m all for publishing big books, and keeping this literary tradition alive, but I wonder how many people are reading these big books and not just talking or tweeting about them….So, I’m curious, what is the last book over 700 pages you all have read and when? And if you haven’t taken on a tome recently, why not? Please leave a comment.

Happy Thanksgiving — to a weekend full of reading!


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