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Thursday, June 15, 2006 09:12 pm

Book Expo buzz

Historical novel about Mary Todd Lincoln among titles you’ll be hearing about

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A Perfect Mess by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman (Little, Brown, 304 pages, $25.99, to be released Jan. 3)
If you like books, if you really like books — if you are the kind of person whose books overrun your house, whose book budget exceeds your food budget, the kind of person who can spend an afternoon or the whole weekend in a bookstore, the BookExpo America convention is something like paradise . . . well, except that large mascot-type animals are always walking around, and a disproportionate number seem to be Clifford the Big Red Dog imitators. I hear tales this year about the flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz, but don’t actually see them, or know what they are promoting. The BEA, formerly known as the American Booksellers Association convention, showcases publishers’ wares for the following seasons. At the end of May, booksellers, librarians, and bibliophiles come from afar to the city hosting the BEA — this year, Washington, D.C. I don’t know whether it’s a coincidence, but it seems to me that political books are big this year. On the two floors of the Washington Convention Center, publishers vie to get a buzz going about their books. To get you to come to their booths, people give away tote bags, T-shirts, pens, chocolates, and, later in the day, martinis, which perhaps explains the flying-monkey sightings. I always head for the small presses’ displays first. One newer small press I like is Melville House Publishing, whose politics lean to the left, but which nevertheless has a good line of fiction. (This is actually a rare combination.) I pick up a short essay titled “Social Security and the Golden Age: An Essay on the New American Demographic,” by former U.S. Sen. George McGovern, and a paperback, Articles of Impeachment Against George W. Bush, authored by the Center for Constitutional Rights. I was on the floor for a total of five hours, which isn’t long enough to see everything. There are great books I missed, and I heard about some of them coming home on the train from other people who were there longer than me. But of the books I chose to carry home with me, I will give you recommendations on two. A Perfect Mess by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman (Little, Brown, 304 pages, $25.99, to be released Jan. 3) is something of an antithesis to all those books on getting rid of clutter. It has two subtitles: “The Hidden Benefits of Disorder” and “How crammed closets, cluttered offices, and on-the-fly planning make the world a better place.” In other words, the title is a little cluttered, but it’s hard not to love a book that begins with this quote from Albert Einstein: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk?”
Here’s the other book I predict you’ll be hearing about in Springfield: Mary, a historical novel by Janis Cooke Newman (MacAdam Cage, 650 pages, $26, to be released Sept. 12). It’s not about Mary Magdalene, as many of the books seemed to be this year, but about Mary Todd Lincoln. The epigraph for this book is “Mrs. Mary Lincoln admitted today — from Chicago — Age 56 — Widow of Ex-President Lincoln — declared insane by the Cook County Court May 19 — 1875.” The voice in the book is very similar to the PBS Mary Lincoln voice, describing her life in the asylum. It was the book, on the convention floor, getting the buzz.

Also from Gale Walden

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