Sunday, August 5, 2012

Polling the Masses: Picks from the Random House Phone Sales Team

Stacey's Pick--The Healing
Today is both Friendship Day and International Forgiveness Day, so it seems appropriate that we pick on some of our pals and hope they're forgiving, right?  I (Liz) spend my office days sharing space with Zorro at home and safely removed from my colleagues around the country, but Random House also has a telephone sales department.  These reps manage thousands of accounts across the country, an incredible task, and they also have to be social and interact in a real office environment.  I'd last about 20 minutes before committing a fire-able offense.  I thoroughly enjoy the company of the phone sales reps and seek out their company at sales conferences; they are a twisted group of weirdos who know how to take a joke, recognize bullshit when they see it, and possess passion for both books and the stores with whom they work.  I also enjoy emailing one phone sales rep with instructions to pick on someone else in the group.  (And this is why I'm stationed 1,500 miles away.)  I thought it might be a hoot to see what books have stuck in their heads as great reads and then share them here.

Stacey at sales conference
with John Grisham

Stacey shares some of my geographical territory--the Deep South--and obnoxiously good at various iPhone word games.  I don't like losing.  She speaks Italian and likes to vacation in Branson, Missouri, even though she'll photoshop herself into pictures of coastal Mexico and argue that that's where she went for her trip.  Here's Stacey's pick:

The Healing by Jonathan Odell is a wonderfully powerful book with some of the most memorable characters I’ve ever encountered. It’s the story of a young slave named Granada, and her journey to find her true self with the help of mysterious healer, Polly Shine. The story is beautifully written, with characters who will stick with you long after you’ve finished the final page. But what I love most of all is the book’s message:  sharing our stories is our most valuable gift.

Pam's cat Fred. Trying to
clean something that, well,
no longer exists.
Let's talk about Pam.  Pam loves Chuck Palahniuk books (Fight Club, etc), and she owns a cat that recently had, as Stacey phrased it, "sex change surgery."  Pam's cat Fred (Frida?) had a penectomy, and she's now sending me emails that say things like "Fred now tinkles like a girl."  I'm not making any of this up. See why I love these people?  Pam recommends a new release and one of my favorite books for this fall:

The Dogs Stars by Peter Heller is seriously one of the best books I ever read. Some have compared this to The Road and I can see that comparison, for its post-apocalyptic story. But this is an entirely different reading experience. The Road is a much darker read, and I was never able to get close to McCarthy’s characters. While reading The Dog Stars, I not only felt close to Heller’s characters, I embraced them and felt completely connected to them. These people are so real and so damaged, but at the same time resilient and strong. I loved all of them, and will think of them for a very long time. There is heartbreaking beauty in the scenery, but the sense of loss is evident on every page. Do yourselves a big favor and pick up a copy of The Dog Stars at your local independent bookstore on August 7th. 

Sherri is an integral part of the Random House sales team as a whole, sending out reports every week to all of us that allow us to actually do our jobs (it's the little things that make a huge difference).  Sherri is my pick from the phone sales team as "most likely to secretly be a serial killer."  She's friendly and professional and hard-working and she has a corpse hidden in her cellar.  Her neighbors are quick to tell reporters that she was so quiet and friendly....

Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall
Sweeping Up Glass is a mystery filled with love, devotion and the devastating damage caused by bigotry and secrets. A powerful story of great depth and beauty that you won’t want to end.
[Gianna and I both loved this book too.  Got a book group?  This would be a great choice.]

Sarah is the lone children's book expert working out of the Random House Westminster, Maryland, offices.  That's a formidable amount of work, yet she was considerate enough to send a recommendation for this piece.  That's some bookish dedication.  That she picked a Texas author too suggests that maybe she's trying to win brownie points over here in Book Land, to which I say "Yes!  I absolutely can be bought! Sarah is, without question, the greatest sales rep in the country, by which I mean 'the universe.'  Gianna is getting herself knocked up just so that she can name her child after Sarah (boy or girl, doesn't matter).  We also accept chocolate and cash as bribes."  From Sarah:
Texas boy grows up and writes a heck of a good kid’s book – author Lee Bacon grew up in College Station, Texas, and though he has moved away he certainly got his writing skills started there.

Joshua Dread coming out September 25 is clever, fast paced, and funny. This book is the reverse side of all those PERCY JACKSON books, with Joshua having to hide the fact that his parents are supervillains (The Dread Duo), enduring his friend’s adoration of Captain Justice (his parent’s enemy), and finding himself suddenly having inexplicable powers to burn things!

Laugh out loud scenes with interesting interactions between Captain Justice and the Dread Duo and Joshua and an unexpected friend saving the day.

Don’t miss this middle grade book for all your readers.

Scott. Questionable
taste in baseball teams.
Scott is the token man in the phone sales department.  I hope for his sake that his desk isn't close to Pam's (see above).  Scott and I share some accounts, which I can only describe as a terrible strain that has aged me grotesquely.  He is great about following through with my dastardly plans to create office turmoil (by kicking Stacey's or Pam's chairs for me), but I think he's still within the hazing period for newish reps (Random House does not have a hazing period and condemns such acts), so at some point I'm going to have to pick on him at sales conference.  Scott recommends:

I just finished The Last Policeman by Ben Winters and I can't wait for the other two books to come out!!

 At first I must admit my reservations in reading this book. I thought to myself "How could I get into any other pre-apocalyptic books that would rouse me as did the catastrophe in The Age of Miracles (the slowing)?" Well, it did because the lead protagonist Detective Hank Palace is quite a character. He is hellbent on investigating a death by hanging in a city that sees a dozen suicides every week. The story takes place in Concord, New Hampshire. This investigation is different, though, and Hank is determined to solve what he believes is a suspicious murder. The big picture is there is an asteroid en route to the earth with about six months left until impact. People are taking their own lives, giving up like there is no chance left, but not Detective Hank Palace. He is the only cop who cares and will stop at nothing to find out who murdered the late Peter Anthony Zell, a thirty-eight year old, Caucasian male, insurance salesman.

Thank you Quirk Books and Ben Winters for this wonderful new adventure in mystery, sci-fi, whodunit.

Judy?  Well, Judy loves the Baltimore Ravens.  Like LOVES them.  She believes in the power of wearing purple on Fridays.  She also wants to get a tattoo to honor her father...who hates that she has tattoos.  She's also the category specialist for audio and large print, travel, and information books.  I think there's a chance that someday Judy's body will be the one found in Sherri's cellar, identified by her purple boots and fairy tattoo that she swears is actually an angel. Judy picked this audiobook:

Drift by Rachel Maddow
Read by the author, so the timing and inflection is natural and even funny at times; this is great storytelling mixed with simple to understand descriptions of complex policies.

Cheryl and Emily poses with
The Night Circus display.
Cheryl is the mystery specialist, but she reads all kinds of books and has great taste.  Don't think she's the exception to this group of freaks, though.  She's a twin.  Twins are extremely disturbing.  Cheryl is also passionate about horses, which would make me inclined to like her, except again there's that twin thing.  Cheryl offered up a selection of great picks:

The River Wife by Jonis Agee
This oldie but goodie is my “go to” when gal pals ask me for a book suggestion. This epic historical fiction is about 5 women connected to Mississippi River pirate Jacques Ducharme. The writing is beautiful and if you’re a sucker for historical fiction, be prepared to get lost in this rich, atmospheric read. 

The Road to Valor by Aili McConnon and Andres McConnon
Think Unbroken for the cyclist fans – this is the story of Gino Bartali, Tuscan peasant and two time Tour de France winner who sets out to save Italian Jews during WWII. Bartali is brave, loyal, and has so much inner strength he was able to carry himself through the difficulties of WWII. The authors are a sibling team who have created a magnificent story. The history, facts, and mere story telling are fabulous. In fact, this is the required history reading I wish I had in school! 

The Eighty Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts 
Based on the life of a Dutch immigrant who saves a plow horse, this extraordinary story is about an unlikely hero who stole the heart of the our nation during the 1950’s. This book will appeal to history lovers, readers of animal stories, or anyone who simply loves a good book!

Emily is tall, and I don't like tall people.  She also has a decidedly geeky side and loves uber-geek read Ready Player One by Ernie Cline and things like experimental aircraft at the Smithsonian.  I think that there will come a time when Emily and I are pitted against each other in a cage match for ultimate domination, and because of this inevitability I think it's best to harbor a strong, unfounded hatred toward her.  Emily performed the penectomy on Pam's cat.  (I may be making up some of this stuff.)  What really pisses me off is that Emily picked a book that I absolutely love, which is further proof in my mind that she's trying to usurp my position as most beloved rep ever [Gianna: Really?  Does anybody really believe that Liz is beloved?] [Liz: The answer is always 'Liz.']  Here's Emily's pick:

Chinaberry Sidewalks by Rodney Crowell 9780307740977
I have nothing in common with Rodney Crowell, who turns out to be a pretty famous country music composer and singer. Country music to me is what my husband sings when he really REALLY wants to annoy me. But I fell in love with Crowell after reading his incredible autobiography Chinaberry Sidewalks. Really it is a biography of his hard-drinking, abusive, but loving parents. Crowell’s father always wanted to be a famous musician but the most he accomplished were bar gigs where his wife would tackle the women-of-loose-morals that undulated in front of him during gigs.  Rodney took up the guitar and, for himself and his father, achieved the fame that had eluded his family for so long. From a house in Houston with paper thin walls and cockroaches that ran for cover when the lights came on, to marrying the daughter of Johnny Cash, Crowell lived a life that all of us can learn from.

Lori Zook is the intrepid manager of the phone sales department, and is responsible for this group of reps.  I include her last name here because she's legendary for casting a "Zook Look" at people when she's annoyed.  I strive to receive the Look, but sadly every encounter I've ever had with Lori has been pleasant.  Usually she's laughing at me.  She's worked for Random House since she was, like, seventeen years old or something, so she's pretty much seen it all.  Some of Lori's reps revealed to me that she's scared of birds, which helps to explain how someone so seemingly level-headed and kind assembles this team of oddballs.  Lori was on vacation when I asked if I could feature her department on our blog, but she bothered to respond to my query anyway with her blessing.  Then she asked if she had to pick a Random House book (never a requirement for our blog), but then didn't get back to me with her actual selection.  So I'm picking a book for her.  I'm sure she would approve.

Inspired by the Cold War and the threat of Soviet attack in the aftermath of World War II, The Birds by Daphne DuMaurier was a 1952 novelette that became the basis for the famous Hitchcock film.  It's the story of a farmer and his family who come under attack by seagulls assaulting them from the sky.  It's the best book I've ever read.  I read it before I go to sleep each night.

[Not featured: Amiee was on vacation while we were gathering picks, and I can only hope that, in the spirit of International Forgiveness Day, she doesn't believe that her exclusion is a reflection of anything other than that we needed to post something on the blog and this is what I had in my file. I mean, if anything, I would have excluded Emily, because she's shifty and troublesome. Or Pam, because she chopped off her cat's wee-wee. Sorry Amiee. Or consider yourself lucky?]


  1. Sarah made an excellent recommendation of JOSHUA DREAD. What a great MG novel!

  2. Sweeping up Glass is great. A bit of Lee Smith, a hint of Dorothy Allison (Bastard Out of Carolina), and an ending reminiscent of David Hill's Sacred Dust. - Laura Hansen, Bookseller, Little Falls, MN

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