Today's choices are Audrey Niffeneger's Her Fearful Symmetry (so far I'm enjoying it very much--plus, I had to see what the 4.5 mil advance was about) and In Cheap We Trust: The Story of A Misunderstood American Virtue. It was purchased by Little, Brown in October 2007--which is a rather long time between the deal and publication. One can guess, therefore, that the author, Lauren Weber, sold it on the basis of a proposal and sample chapters, rather than a full manuscript--as is possible with nonfiction. (Agents generally try to get the work on bookstore shelves as soon as possible, so that the author can get paid sooner.)
But this worked out remarkably well: the book was purchased before the recession--and, now, it's very, very timely.
It's an amusing and thought-provoking read, and I love works that tell me about books I'd never otherwise have known about. This is an excellent example.
My favorite passage has to do with Weber's pages on Lydia Child. At that time, women were moving to the cities to work and, therefore, the practical knowledge they'd normally get from nearby mothers and grandmothers was replaced by books. Child supported herself and her penniless, idealistic husband with her work, The American Frugal Housewife, Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy. It was printed in 1829, and was an instant bestseller, going back to press at least thirty-five times by 1850 (at which point, Weber writes, it fell out of favor because of Child's very public abolitionist leanings).
As much as I complain about Jeff Bezos, this is one example of Amazon Lurve: I've just ordered myself a copy. A reprint--a "quality facsimile of the 1833 Twelfth Edition." But still! (And for $5, I can hardly complain.) That one can log on and find such things so easily! (There's also a Kindle edition, which is weird for many reasons.) There are several from the 1800s, currently residing with everyday Americans--not professional booksellers. I'm tempted to send them questions: How'd you come by having it? (Hoping, of course, it was passed down, grandmother to granddaughter to granddaughter.) Do you know anyone who used it? Where'd the copy originate? (Hoping it'd have resided somewhere in the Great Plains, someplace distinctly American.) What does it smell like? (Flour, honey, maple?)
One forgets that--if composed politely and charmingly--such inquiries may not be entirely unwelcome. In fact, I think the world could stand many more such letters. What is this? Hundreds of authors bravely write me daily, trying to publish their work, and I can't summon the courage to make such inquiries? Courage, Gatekeeper! Coffee, then courage!
I asked for standard shipping--already, I've such a queue!--but I'll let you know how it is.
Best wishes to you and yours.