I remember the thump on the porch. The thump when the UPS guy dropped that heavy box of hardcovers a few weeks before the pub date. I wanted to wait until my wife came home but I couldn't hold myself back and as I was splitting it open with my keys I couldn't help think of the final scene in Back to the Future when Crispin Glover opens a similar box and pulls out his novel, A Match Made In Space.
See Marty, if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything!
As exciting as that was, though, I'm not sure it matched the day in New York, probably six months earlier, at a very nice restaurant filled with publishing types, when my editor handed me the Advanced Reader Edition of Cast of Shadows. Before that I can't remember if I even knew what an Advance Reader Edition (or an ARC or a galley) was. Basically it's a paperback version of the book, printed many months before the actual publication date, that goes to reviewers and booksellers and other influencers. That afternoon, in that restaurant, was the first time I saw my book in book form. And it was incredibly exciting.
Probably as a result I still have a thing for ARCs. It's a thrill when I get my hands on an early copy of someone else's novel, especially one I've been waiting for. For instance tomorrow, Stephen White's 15th Alan Gregory novel, Dry Ice, will hit shelves, and as someone who was able to read it months ago I just can't say enough about it. It is tense and dark with terrific writing and characters that have just gotten better and more complex with age. Over the course of the series White has explored psychological and philosophical issues with thoughtfulness and depth and the mystery plots themselves are always top shelf. One of the pleasures of the Gregory novels is the way characters are allowed to evolve--they meet and get married and get sick and sometimes expire. Even beloved characters sometimes die unexpectedly. Pick up Dry Ice and I predict that within pages you'll do what I did when I discovered the series a few years back. You'll go straight to the beginning and read them all in a mad rush.
Another book I read in galleys last year was Julian Barnes's Arthur & George, which is one of the entries in this year's Tournament of Books at the Morning News. The ToB is an idea I had three years ago (after a few drinks, frankly) that I didn't really take seriously but made the mistake of mentioning to a couple of guys who had the means and the desire to make it happen. Basically we take sixteen of the most hyped books of 2006 and seed them in an NCAA basketball type bracket, pitting them against each other in a "Battle Royale of Literary Excellence." Both a book award and a silly parody of book awards, the Tournament of Books is, shockingly, in its third year with a corporate sponsor and coverage in the New York Times and judges that include Sasha Frere Jones of the New Yorker, Colin Meloy of indie rock fave The Decemberists, a writer for The Onion, and The Outfit's own Marcus Sakey. Of particular interest to Outfit readers, I think, will be not only Arthur and George, but the second book in Kate Atkinson's excellent detective series, One Good Turn.
Anyway, the competition begins on Thursday and in the meantime there's even a chance for one reader to win every book in the competition. Along with my frequent co-conspirator John Warner, I'll be providing color analysis throughout the tournament and I hope you'll stop in. It is always great fun for book folk. And if you've read any of the books in competition and you have a prediction for this year's tournament, let's hear it. Wagering, as always, is encouraged.