A Thousand Splendid Suns

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Digging into the IMPAC Longlist

The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award has unveiled its voluminous 2009 longlist. Recall that libraries around the world can nominate books for the prize, and these nominations, taken together, comprise the longlist. This year there are 146 novels on the list, nominated by 157 libraries in 41 countries. All of the books must have been published in English in 2007 (including translations).Because of the award’s global reach and egalitarian process, it’s always interesting to dig deeper into the longlist. Taken as a whole, the literary proclivities of various countries become evident, and a few titles recur again and again, revealing which books have made a global impact on readers.Overall favorites: books that were nominated by at least five libraries.A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (18 libraries representing Belgium, England, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, Uganda, and the US)Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje (13 libraries representing Belgium, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Poland, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, and the US)On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (10 libraries representing Canada, the Czech Republic, England, Estonia, Germany, Portugal, The Netherlands, and the US)The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (8 libraries representing Belgium, Canada, England, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, and the US)The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon (8 libraries representing Canada, England, and the US)The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (7 libraries representing Ireland and the US)The Gathering by Anne Enright (6 libraries representing Brazil, the Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, and the US)What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn (5 libraries representing Canada, England, and Northern Ireland)You can also look at the list and see which books are favorites in different countries. Several books were nominated by multiple libraries in the same country. Here’s a few:In The Netherlands, The Dinner Club by Saskia Noort and Lost Paradise by Cees NooteboomIn the US, Tree of Smoke by Denis JohnsonIn Canada, Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay and The Outlander by Gil AdamsonThere were also several countries with only one library nominating just one or two books. Here are a few of those:From Colombia, Delirium by Laura RestrepoFrom Barbados, Man Gone Down by Michael ThomasFrom Estonia, Between Each Breath by Adam ThorpeFrom Jamaica, The Pirate’s Daughter by Margaret Cezair-ThompsonFrom Russia, Tomorrow by Graham SwiftFrom The Gambia, Ishq and Mushq by Priya BasilThe shortlist will be announced on April 2, 2009 and the winner on June 11, 2009.

Quarterly Report: Tough Year Ahead

As we have every quarter for the last several, we’re looking at Barnes & Noble’s recent quarterly report to gauge the trends that are impacting the book industry – which books were big over the last few months and what’s expected for the months ahead. With a recession threatening, Borders faltering, and some even suggesting a merger between the two big book chains, 2008 is shaping up to be a rocky year for the book retailers.Barnes & Noble’s fourth quarter (which ended on February 2nd) was slightly worse than what analysts had expected, but the stock hasn’t been punished on Wall Street. Here are the highlights from CFO Joseph J. Lombardi from the March 20th, Q4 conference call (courtesy Seeking Alpha):”Fiction and the genres had a strong quarter, especially graphic novels and romance. Hardcover sales were driven by a host of familiar names, including Sue Grafton, Dean Koontz, Ken Follett, Stephen King, and a holdover from the spring, Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns.”“Both John Grisham and James Patterson had two bestsellers; Grisham with Playing with Pizza and The Appeal, and Patterson with Quickie and Double Cross. Trade paper fiction was driven primarily by movie tie-ins and selections from Oprah Winfrey. Movie tie-ins included The Kite Runner, Atonement, and I Am Legend, and the Oprah recommendations for Pillars of the Earth and Love in the Time of Cholera drove the sales of those titles.” Pretty amazing that Grisham’s The Appeal was a bestseller when it came out only five days before the quarter ended. Meanwhile, Oprah continues to move books.“In non-fiction, areas of strength included biography, humor, health and diet books, as well as the continuing success of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret. Other key hardcover titles included Stephen Colbert’s I Am America, Tom Brokaw’s Boom!, The Dangerous Book for Boys and its sequel, The Daring Book for Girls, and Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. Non-fiction movie tie-ins also included in non-fiction were Into The Wild and Charlie Wilson’s War.” The continued success of The Secret is somewhat disheartening.Aggressive discounts associated with Barnes & Noble’s membership programs continue to eat into the chain’s gross margins, but interestingly, so did “bestseller markdowns associated with the seventh and final Harry Potter book,” though to a lesser extent.In 2008, Barnes & Noble expects to face a double whammy of “recessionary pressures in this uncertain economic environment” and very challenging comparisons against the final Harry Potter book and improved hardcover sales last year.

Quarterly Report: Potter Rides into the Sunset

Every three months I’ve been looking at Barnes & Noble’s quarterly conference call to get some insight into recent book industry trends and to see which books were the big sellers over the past few months and which are expected to be big in the coming months. Barnes & Noble’s second quarter ended August 4th. Almost certainly, it’ll be the last time that the bookstore chain will experience the rush of sales generated by Harry Potter, and the company made the most of it, riding the Boy Wizard to results that came in at the high end of its forecast and meeting Wall Street estimates that had been padded with high expectations for the final Potter installment. With Potter coming out late in the quarter, however, the vaunted “Potter effect” was only in play for the final two weeks of the period.Here are the highlights from CEO Steve Riggio on the Q2 conference call (courtesy Seeking Alpha):Harry Potter drove sales higher but knocked Barnes & Noble’s profit margin lower thanks to “significant discounting.” The book was marked down 40% instead of the usual 30%.More Harry – selling well but tailing off: “The book sold even better than our expectations in its first days on sale, but in the following weeks, sales of the book tailed off quite a bit, as it was available in abundant quantity in a large number of mass merchants and non-book store retailers. Nevertheless, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows continues to sell well. It remains our number one best selling hard cover title, and we expect to sell hundreds of thousands of copies through the end of the year.”But perhaps the Potter party isn’t over yet: “We believe that sales of the entire series are going to continue to dominate children’s bestseller lists for many, many years. While the Harry Potter cycle may be complete for those who have read the entire series, it is yet to be discovered by millions of readers now and in the years ahead.”Moving beyond Potter, Barnes & Noble saw “a mix of expected bestsellers from brand name writers and the emergence of a few sleepers.” The expected: Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, Janet Evanovich’s Lean Mean Thirteen and James Patterson’s two books, The Quickie and The 6th Target. The sleepers: Conn and Hal Iggulden’s The Dangerous Book for Boys. Thomas Cathcart’s Plato and A Platypus Walked Into a Bar, Denise Jackson’s It’s All About Him, and Elin Hilderbrand’s Barefoot. The fourth Barnes & Noble Recommends selection, Paulette Giles’ Stormy Weather also saw “strong sales.”Riggio also mentioned a recently published book, Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer. Apparently vampires never go out of style because according to Riggio, the book has “catapulted Stephanie Meyer into the ranks of mega bestselling authors. It outsold Harry Potter, toppled it from the bestseller list and it actually became the fastest-selling teen novel in our history.”And finally, Riggio previewed third quarter releases that are expected to be big: Bill Clinton’s Giving, Alan Greenspan’s The Age of Turbulence, the late David Halberstam’s final book, The Coldest Winter, John Grisham’s Playing for Pizza, Alice Sebold’s The Almost Moon, and the tie-in book for the Ken Burns WWII PBS documentary airing this fall.

Quarterly Report: Book Industry Trends

Every three months I’ve been looking at Barnes & Noble’s quarterly conference call to get some insight into recent book industry trends and to see which books were the big sellers over the past few months and which are expected to be big in the coming months. Barnes & Noble’s first quarter ended May 5th. Here are the highlights from CEO Steve Riggio on the Q1 conference call (courtesy Seeking Alpha):In keeping with an ongoing trend, Barnes & Noble’s margins were pressured as the chain continues to discount heavily to stave off competition from the likes of Wal-Mart and from Amazon’s popular Amazon Prime program. Nonetheless, Wall Street seemed to like the overall numbers and pushed the stock higher.Sales in both the stores and online were better than expected. “Both benefited from a better new release schedule than we’ve seen in some time.””Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret has the unique distinction of being our bestselling title in hardcover, audio book and DVD.”Riggio said that Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist was the third straight “Barnes & Noble Recommends” selection to “become an instant fiction bestseller upon publication.”Meanwhile, Oprah drove sales of Sydney Poitier’s Measure of a Man and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.The quarter’s non-fiction bestsellers were Einstein by Walter Isaacson and In an Instant by Bob Woodruff.Looking ahead, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will hit the shelves at the end of Barnes & Noble’s Q2. Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns just debuted “with very strong sales.” There’s also new fiction on the way from James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Robert Parker, and Ian McEwen (On Chesil Beach).On the non-fiction side of the ledger, new release The Reagan Diaries is already selling well. A pair of books on Hillary Clinton are coming shortly: A Woman in Charge by Carl Bernstein and Her Way by Jeff Garth. “We expect, of course, many more titles by and about the candidates for the presidential election season to be coming over the next year to 15 months,” Riggio said.

Quarterly Report: Book Industry Trends

Every three months I’ve been looking at Barnes & Noble’s quarterly conference call to get some insight into recent book industry trends and to see which books the retailer expects to be “big” in the coming months. Here are the highlights from CEO Steve Riggio on the Q4 conference call (courtesy Seeking Alpha):One of the big stories for book retailers this year was a lack of blockbuster titles to get shoppers into stores. “It was a year that produced two titles that garnered significant media attention. But while the lack of traffic producing new releases didn’t help our top line, what’s important is that our core booklist was solid.” I’m not sure which titles he’s referring to there – which says something about last year’s lack of blockbusters – but I’m guessing one of them was Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope.Riggio also noted how customer loyalty programs have made for “a vastly different environment than just three years ago,” and he alluded specifically to Amazon Prime, the online retailer’s popular shipping offer.Riggio said the chain has high expectations for new books by Lisa Scottoline (Daddy’s Girl), Jonathan Kellerman (Obsession), Mary Higgins-Clark (I Heard That Song Before), David Baldacci (Simple Genius), Michael Chabon (The Yiddish Policemen’s Union), and Khaled Hosseini’s follow-up to Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns.”The Oprah effect on books continues.” Oprah helped make YOU: On A Diet, Bob Greene’s Best Life Diet, and The Measure of a Man by Sidney Poitier. But the really big seller – much to the chagrin of many – was The Secret by Ronda Burn, which Riggio called “probably one of the fastest non-fiction selling books we’ve had in recent memory.”B&N is also looking forward to some new non-fiction titles: Einstein by Walter Isaacson, Where Have All the Leaders Gone? by Lee Iococca, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, and Paula Dean’s memoir, It Ain’t All About the Cooking.Finally, “we are just beginning to see a wave of books about politics and those related to the 2008 Presidential election at this time and by far, Barak Obama’s The Audacity of Hope leads the pack.”Previously: Barnes & Noble’s third quarter.

Ask a Book Question: The 47th in a Series (When a Writer Comes to Town)

Denise writes in asking how best to find out when authors are visiting her town: I was perusing your blog and thought you might know how I can get advance info on book tours. I have been to different publisher Web sites and sent in faxes per their requests, and I never get a response. Book tour info, like for Khaled Hosseini’s new book coming up in May, would be helpful for those of us that live in places like Montana. NO ONE comes to Montana!!!! At least, not willingly, or unless they already live here. I get it, but it makes it tough to get signed books by our favorite authors, like Hosseini. I’d love to get my copy of Kite Runner signed if he passes though promoting his new book. Do you have any tricks up your sleeve you can share?For music and movies there are exhaustive databases available online that are rich with details on musicians, actors, directors, albums, and films. Want to know when your favorite semi-obscure band is going to be an tour? Check Pollstar. Want to know what movies your favorite actor has on the way? Check IMDb. Want to see the full discography of a band you just found out about? Check allmusic. With Amazon and publisher Web sites, one can cobble together something like this, but these sites are for shoppers, not enthusiasts and so don’t offer quite the same experience.So, the best advice I can offer is to mostly do what you’ve done already, with a few additional steps. Out of the possible places to find book tour info, publisher sites, for whatever reason, are typically the least helpful. Hosseini’s new book A Thousand Splendid Suns is being put out by Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin. The Penguin site doesn’t yet have the new book listed and the Riverhead site is even less helpful (warning: the Riverhead site annoyingly generates a pop-up and resizes your browser.) Publisher Web sites have gotten better, but they are rarely the repositories of information about their authors and books that they could be.Author Web sites are often better, probably because there are less people involved. There are many, many authors who do a great job of communicating through their Web sites, updating readers about book tours and the like. Some are even prodigious bloggers. Khaled Hosseini’s site, unfortunately, appears to have not gotten all that much attention over the last year or so – no mention of the new book even, as of this writing, though you may want to sign up for his mailing list to see if he prefers to get the word out that way.The best way, though, to find out about author events in your area is to get schedules from the venues. Bookstores and libraries typically are shouldered with most of the burden of publicizing author appearances, and so they do the best job of getting the word out, often posting notices of upcoming events well in advance. So my advice would be to locate the venues nearby that would be most likely to host Hosseini and ask them if he’ll be appearing and sign up for their mailing lists so you can see who else is coming your way.Returning to an earlier point, though, I’ve often wondered why there isn’t a better repository for literary information online. I’ve seen a few half-hearted attempts over the years, but none of them have approached the comprehensive experience offered by movie and music sites. Still, I think the opportunity is there. It’s even possible that existing “user-powered” sites like Wikipedia or LibraryThing could, with some effort by active contributors, offer what Denise is looking for and more.Anybody else have site recommendations or other thoughts on the topic?

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