Sunday, July 1, 2012

Summer Reading: Waiting for Columbus

It's not a sales conference dinner without
dozens of glasses on the table at the end of the night.
(Liz) As I mentioned in my last post, I spent last week attending sales conference at the Random House offices in New York.  One of the cooler things about conference is a dinner with reps and editors.  For nerdy book types, editors can become celebrities themselves.  You know what a Steven Spielberg movie is, and a Martin Scorsese, and a Christopher Nolan, and a Penny Marshall, right?  I know what a Robin Desser book is, and I tend to read, for example, Robin Desser new books because I've previously loved the books she's edited.  (There's a good chance you know what a Robin Desser book is, too, and you just don't know it.  She's edited Cutting for Stone, The Emperor's Children, Please Look After Mom, Wild.  She's edited Jhumpa Lahiri, David Guterson, A.S. Byatt, Jane Smiley, and Sandra Cisneros.)  Editors are the directors of the book world and their tastes emerge in the books they choose to champion.

So last week I sat at a table with Gerry Howard who edits Fight Club author Chuck Pahlaniuk, and Jenny Jackson who bought us Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan and the forthcoming (and amazing) Dog Stars by Peter Heller, and Allison Callahan who edited Ann Patchett before coming to Doubleday and The Night Circus, one of our favorite books of 2011.  While talking to Alison Callahan, I mentioned one of my favorite books she edited, Thomas Trofimuk's Waiting for Columbus.  This book came out a couple of years ago during a fall season with some huge books by authors like Margaret Atwood and Jonathan Lethem.  Alison was and remains passionate about this book, and I know that many of my colleagues loved it too.

Night Circus author Erin Morgenstern
and editor Alison Callahan
One of the frustrating parts of our jobs is that we necessarily have to focus on new books.  We strategize for months on the best ways to position new books when selling them to our bookstore buyers.  We don't, however, have as much time to focus on the thousands of older books that deserve reader love.  If there were any justice in book sales, Waiting for Columbus would sit atop the paperback bestseller lists next to Cutting for Stone and The Kite Runner and every book group in the country would add it to their reading lists, and Alison Callahan, who is a lovely person and great lover of books, would have a belated but worthy bestseller to celebrate.  This pick for summer reading, therefore, is my feeble attempt to begin to spread the word about this great book that almost no one read.

Waiting for Columbus is the story of Christopher Columbus, a man who washes up on shore near Barcelona on the Spanish coast.  He's naked...and he's claiming to be Columbus the explorer even though it's the 21st Century.  Unsurprisingly, Columbus finds himself in a Barcelona mental institution, where he refuses to engage with his psychiatrist and also, well, refuses to wear clothes.  (There's some humor here, see?)  One of the nurses, Consuela, takes a special interest in Columbus because he tells her his stories of wooing the queen in order to fund his expedition to the new world.  Obviously this man isn't the real Christopher Columbus, but who he is and how he ended up inside this asylum is a great mystery that engages Consuela and the reader alike.  Madness, identity, history, the treatment of mental health patients, the bond between nurse and patient, family, nudity (heh), and memory--this is a great book that begs for great conversations.

Holy crap, I love this book.  Have you read it?  Do so, and then let me know what you think.  Spread the word, too.  We have the power to make a bestseller; crazier things have happened.  And then keep an eye out for the next Alison Callahan book.  She edits some terrific ones.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds great, I've added it to the list. Thanks Liz.