Among the most daunting questions Iâ€™m often confronted with is: â€œWhat should I read next?â€
Recently, I traveled to the depths of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York for BookExpo 2009, the annual American Booksellerâ€™s gathering, where I crisscrossed the convention floor, Indiana Jones-like, to gather publishersâ€™ catalogues and advance-reader copies of so many books that when I headed back to Los Angeles, American Airlines threatened to make me check my so-called â€œcarry-on luggage.â€
â€œThese are books!â€ I told them â€” although they responded as they would to a drug dealer trying to make a home use defense. One day, I explained, these may all reside on an e-book reader, but until then, my motto is: Shlep, I must. They let me on.
So, bookwise, whatâ€™s hot?
As in the movies, brand names rule, and the big books of summer and fall include Dan Brownâ€™s â€œThe Lost Symbolâ€ (Doubleday); â€œThe Swan Thievesâ€ (Little Brown) by Elizabeth Kustova of â€œThe Historianâ€ fame; Pat Conroyâ€™s â€œSouth of Broadâ€ (Doubleday) as well as â€œSully,â€ (William Morrow) the story Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger III, Americaâ€™s hero pilot.
But what, you might ask, am I most excited about? For summer pleasure I am eager to read Alan Furstâ€™s â€œThe Spies of Warsawâ€ (Random House), just out in paperback, and Elmore Leonardâ€™s â€œRoad Dogsâ€ (HarperCollins), just out in hardback.
The fall will bring new novels from Nick Hornby: â€œJuliet, Nakedâ€ (Riverhead), September; Jonathan Lethem: â€œChronic Cityâ€ (Doubleday), October; and Philip Roth: â€œThe Humblingâ€ (Houghton Mifflin), November â€” by the way, is there anything more humbling than Rothâ€™s talent and output?
Thereâ€™s good word on Lauren Grodsteinâ€™s novel, â€œA Friend of the Familyâ€ (Algonquin), about a fatherâ€™s fall from grace, as well as a C.S. Lewis-style fantasy, â€œThe Magiciansâ€ (Viking), August, by Lev Grossman, TIMEâ€™s book critic.
Betsy Carter (whom my wife once worked with) has a new novel, â€œThe Puzzle Kingâ€ (Algonquin), out in August that sounds right up my alley â€” a story of two German Jews who escape to New York and fall in love, only to become obsessed with rescuing the families they left behind.
But if you are looking for a sure thing, hereâ€™s a prediction: Mitch Albom will move us all to tears with â€œHave a Little Faith: The True Story of a Last Requestâ€ (Hyperion), September.
One of my favorite publishers, New York Review Books (NYRB), is celebrating its 10th anniversary by continuing to publish books that deserve to be called â€œclassics.â€ Among them, â€œThe Old Man and Meâ€ by â€œDud Avocadoâ€ author Elaine Dundy â€” the tale of American ingÃ©nue Honey Floodâ€™s adventures in Londonâ€™s swinging â€™60s; Tibor Deryâ€™s â€œNiki: The Story of a Dog;â€ and Alastair Reidâ€™s â€œOunce Dice Trice,â€ illustrated by Ben Shahn.
In November, NYRB will issue Jakov Lindâ€™s novella and short stories, â€œSoul of Wood,â€ and a new edition of the great Soviet author Vasily Grossmanâ€™s last novel, â€œEverything Flows.â€
Europa Editions, which I very much admire for its works in translation, has Lia Leviâ€™s â€œThe Jewish Husbandâ€ set in 1938 fascist Italy, which won the Moravia Prize for fiction.
Also of note is Tin Houseâ€™s â€œRasskazy,â€ a collection of â€œnew fiction from a new Russia.â€
This fall, The Other Press is publishing Miklos Vamosâ€™ novel, â€œThe Book of Fathers,â€ (fodder for yet another Hungarian-flavored Tommywood column), and Aly Gotzâ€™s nonfiction account, â€œFromms,â€ which tells the story of how German Jewish entrepreneur Julius Frommâ€™s condom empire fell to the Nazis.
Speaking of kinky, in October, Kinky Friedman will share his tales of celebrities and their pets in a still unnamed book (Simon & Schuster) â€” his book tour is going to four cities â€” all of them in Texas.
There are many forthcoming books of note by or about celebrities, including late-night talk-show host Craig Fergusonâ€™s â€œAmerican on Purposeâ€ (HarperCollins); Shel Silverstein, â€œSilverstein and Me,â€ by Mary Gold (Ren Hen Press); and, in October, a bio of one of our favorite converts to Judaism, Elizabeth Taylor, by William J. Mann (Houghton Mifflin). At the same time, Susie Essman, of â€œCurb Your Enthusiasmâ€ fame, has a self-help book, â€œWhat Would Susie Sayâ€ (Simon & Schuster) â€” I have a feeling thatâ€™s some tough love sheâ€™s offering.
Americaâ€™s favorite Holocaust survivor, Haganah fighter and sexologist offers â€œDr. Ruthâ€™s Top 10 Secrets to Great Sexâ€ (Wiley), which I havenâ€™t read, but hereâ€™s my own advice for great sex: Put down the book!
Pop Culture quiz: Who hosts two shows, one of which is my daughterâ€™s favorite and the other my wifeâ€™s? That would have to be Tom Bergeron, who hosts both â€œAmericaâ€™s Funniest Home Videosâ€ and â€œDancing With the Starsâ€ and whose book is called, not surprisingly, â€œIâ€™m Hosting as Fast I Can â€” Zen and the Art of Staying Sane in Hollywoodâ€ (HarperOne).
Another cute volume is Jerry Levitanâ€™s â€œI Met the Walrusâ€ (Collins Design) about how, as a teenager, he interviewed John Lennon and the impact that had on his life, with illustrations and a DVD of his interview (only later did I discover we share a literary agent).
Alyson Books has â€œMy Red Blood,â€ Alix Dobkinâ€™s memoir of growing up communist, of the Greenwich Village folk scene and of recording the first openly lesbian album, â€œLavender Jane Loves Women.â€
Ang Leeâ€™s August film, â€œTaking Woodstock,â€ starring Demetri Martin and Emile Hirsch, is based on Elliot Tiberâ€™s charming and funny memoir (Square One Publishers) being released in paperback to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the three-day festival that rocked the world.
If you are hungering for a little nosh, David Saxâ€™s â€œSave the Deliâ€ (McClellan & Stewart) shares his journey into the heart of … well, heartburn. By contrast, if you want to lose your carnivorous appetite, in November, Jonathan Safran Foer will make the case against â€œEating Animalsâ€ for Little Brown, no doubt in his own illuminating, loud and incredibly close way.
As for serious nonfiction, Daniel Goldhagen returns this fall with â€œWorse Than Warâ€ (Public Affairs), his first book since â€œHitlerâ€™s Willing Executioners,â€ this one an investigation into political mass murder the world over in modern times. Goldhagen wrote the book in conjunction with a WNET-TV documentary, in which he visits killing fields and speaks with some of the murderers to develop his own theories of what he calls â€œeliminationismâ€ and postulates what the international community can do to intervene.
If itâ€™s politics you are interested in, California Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) issues â€œThe Waxman Report: How Congress Really Worksâ€ (Twelve) in July, while Frank Luntz of â€œThe Contract With Americaâ€ fame lets us know â€œWhat Americans Really Want,â€ (Hyperion), at the end of September.
What do you want in business books: good news or bad? Ace Greenberg tells his version of the fall of Bear Sterns, while Dan Senor and Saul Singer offer â€œStart Up Nation: The Story of Israelâ€™s Economic Miracleâ€ (Twelve).
In the ever-growing world of graphic novels, prize-winning childrenâ€™s author David Smallâ€™s memoir, â€œStitchesâ€ (Norton), has been getting a lot of good word of mouth. Judge Sonia Sotomayor will be happy to know Nancy Drew is also available in graphic novel form â€” issue No. 17 features â€œNight of the Living Chatchkeâ€ (their spelling, not mine).
I canâ€™t wait to see â€œThe Book of Genesisâ€ (Norton) as illustrated by R. Crumb, who promises â€œNothing left out!â€ â€” but if that concept seems not safe for work or for home, you can always hide Crumb behind a copy of The Jewish Publication Societyâ€™s â€œJPS Illustrated Childrenâ€™s Bibleâ€ â€” the word of God as retold by Ellen Frankel and illustrated by Avi Katz.
Janet Peer, author of â€œYiddish for Dogs,â€ now offers up â€œYiddish for Babiesâ€ (Simon & Schuster), to which I can only say vey iz mir.Â One of our favorite childrenâ€™s dogs, Mo, who last year starred in the scent- enhanced â€œMoâ€™s Noseâ€ returns with â€œMo Smells the Holidays,â€ by Margaret Hyde and Amanda Giacomini, complete with scent-filled stickers.
Finally, Rebecca Rubin, the newest American Girl Doll and a child of Jewish immigrants, is accompanied by â€œMeet Rebecca,â€ which will surely be on many Jewish New Yearâ€™s lists (if you can hold out that long).
What to read next? You decide. New or old, serious or slight, fiction or non, just follow the dictum of the late Jack Lord and â€œbook â€˜em.â€
Tom Teicholz is a film producer in Los Angeles. Everywhere else, heâ€™s an author and journalist who has written for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Interview and The Forward. His column appears every other week and his Tommywood (the blog) appears daily, pretty much.