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Ask a Book Question: The 48th in a Series (Earth’s Children Finale)

Pam writes in asking when the final book in a long running series will be published:Do you have any information as to when the sixth (and I believe final) volume in Jean Auel's Earth's Children series is due for publication?Auel's series about a group of prehistoric people was launched in 1980 with the wildly successful Clan of the Cave Bear. Since then, an additional four books in the series have been published, most recently, Shelters of Stone in 2002. According to the ECfans.com Auel fansite, Auel is currently writing the sixth book in the series, but considering that there was a twelve year layoff between Shelters of Stone and its predecessor, Plains of Passage, it should come as no surprise that neither a title or release date has been announced, and it may be several years before Auel completes her series.
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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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Ask a Book Question: The 46th in a Series (The Third Ford First)

Poornima wrote in with an interesting question about what to do when you really want to read a book, but there are books that come before it. Her question has to do with Richard Ford's new book The Lay of the Land, which was recently reviewed on this blog by Noah. Poornima asks,I have been very tempted to read the new Richard Ford book after reading the review on The Millions. Does one need to have read the first two to read this one?I suspect that you would enjoy The Lay of the Land without having read the other books. All three books - the first two are The Sportswriter and Independence Day - cover the life of a New Jersey everyman, Frank Bascombe, but I don't think there's anything in the book that is only fully explained in the previous books. On the other hand, you would likely not get the full sense of who Frank Bascombe is, since he is after all, one of the more storied characters in contemporary literature.This raises another interesting question, as well. I have read the first two Bascombe books, but I read them both more than six years ago. As such, I don't remember much about Bascombe, though I have impressions of him left from when I did read about him. I have to wonder how much those faint impressions would affect my experience of reading the new book. My thinking, though, is go ahead and read The Lay of the Land and if you like it, go back and read the first two Bascombe books. Readers, what do you think?
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Ask a Book Question: The 45th in a Series (Calvino Questions)

Molly writes in with a question about Italo Calvino's The Baron in the Trees.I am having a book club meeting to discuss The Baron in the Trees, by Calvino. I am having the hardest time finding discussion questions. Any leads?Millions contributor Emre has read the book, but he's out of the country and unreachable at the moment and I've never read it. Still, I figured with all the collective knowledge out there we could get some good answers to this one. So how about it folks? Can anyone out there help Molly out? Leave your suggestions in the comments.
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Ask a Book Question: The 44th in a Series (The mainstream novels of Philip K. Dick)

Don writes in with this question:Philip K. Dick wrote seven mainstream novels. I think they are pretty terrific, but except for sci-fi fans, no one pays much attention to them. Can you or your readers explain why these novels have received so little recognition among readers of "literary fiction"?Long before Dick became a science fiction icon, before he began writing the sci-fi novels he's most famous for, Dick aspired to write "serious," mainstream fiction. He spent much of the early part of his career, in the 1950s, writing these novels and was devastated by the rejections he received. In his biography of Dick, Divine Invasions, Lawrence Sutin writes of Dick's early career, "from 1951 through 1958, [he wrote] eighty-odd stories and thirteen novels-six SF, seven mainstream. The six SF novels were all promptly published, but the seven mainstream novels languished. It was an anguish to him. And out of that anguish, his best work would come."From what I can tell, in total Dick actually wrote at least eight and as many as ten or more (though some people classify different books differently) mainstream novels, some of which are still unpublished or were destroyed by Dick. Here's a list of the eight I found: Confessions Of A Crap Artist, Gather Yourselves Together, Humpty Dumpty In Oakland, In Milton Lumky Territory, Mary And The Giant, Puttering About In A Small Land, The Broken Bubble, and The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike. Most of these were eventually published after his death, and many are out of print. Certainly, none of them even approach the popularity of most of his sci-fi novels.The obvious answer as to why Dick's mainstream novels are underappreciated is that he was long ago pigeonholed as a sci-fi writer, and the blockbuster movies based on his books have only exacerbated this phenomenon. It's not news to anyone who pays attention to books that "genre" fiction - be it sci-fi, mystery or romance - is "ghettoized" in bookstores and in book review sections and that crossover success is rare. But, at the same time, as any real book-lover knows - readers who ignore the best of what genre fiction has to offer are doing themselves a great disservice.With regards to Dick, specifically, though, I'd like to return to the quote above. Sutin writes that Dick's failures pushed him to write his best work - his famous sci-fi novels. Now I've never read Dick's mainstream fiction, but I'd wager that despite the quality of that work, Dick's well-known, award-winning science fiction represents the pinnacle of his body of work. Many of history's greatest writers have impressive bodies of work, but they become known for what is considered their best work and - often unfairly - the lesser work is underappreciated. Herman Melville wrote a lot of great stuff, but Moby Dick gets all the attention. This phenomenon is likely doubly true for Dick because his underappreciated work is in a different genre from his best and best-known work, so casual fans don't even know that these mainstrem novels exist. I didn't.Thanks for the question, Don! I'm no expert on sci fi, so, readers, please share your thoughts in the comments.
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Ask a Book Question: The 43rd in a Series (Finding Historical Fiction)

Katie writes in with this question:When I was in Rome I read I, Claudius [by Robert Graves] and loved it. Now I'm looking for other historical fiction, of any period or nationality, that does a comparable job of bringing a time and place to life and maintaining some literary credibility. Any suggestions?According to Wikipedia, not the definitive source in this realm but a decent enough place to start, a work of historical fiction can be defined as one in which "the story is set among historical events, or more generally, in which the time of the action predates the lifetime of the author." This is a bit broad for my taste, but I think it's a good place to start. Going by this definition, a lot of books that we think of first as fiction could also qualify as historical fiction. Some of my favorite books by contemporary authors fall into this category. T.C. Boyle's Water Music is about a Scottish explorer in Africa in the late 18th century, and Edward P. Jones' book The Known World is about black slave owners in Virginia in the 1840s. Another example of a book like these is Charles Frazier's Civil War novel, Cold Mountain.But these books aren't really historical fiction in the same way that I, Claudius is historical fiction. Traditionally, in historical fiction, the history is like another character in the novel, and the action is more likely to be ripped from the history books, as it were, placing the reader in a novelized version of true historical events. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell about Atlanta during the Civil War is a famous example. Another is James Clavell's Shogun about the 16th century exploration of Asia. Of the few historical novels I've read, my favorite would have to be Leon Uris' Trinity, a powerful epic about the Irish struggle for independence at the turn of the 20th century.There is also historical fiction that hews closely to a particular niche, like the Aubrey/Maturin novels by Patrick O'Brian and C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower series, both of which take place during the time when tall-masted ships ruled the high seas. The there's Jean M. Auel's Earth's Children series, which is prehistoric, historical fiction. I know, crazy.I'm sure there are plenty of folks out there who have historical fiction to recommend, so please share in the comments, and thanks, Katie, for your question.Update: Jenny exposes my unfamiliarity with historical fiction by suggesting many, many fantastic-sounding books in the comments. Check it out, and leave some more suggestions if you've get them.
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Ask a Book Question: The 42nd in a Series (Garcia Marquez and Kawabata)

Ashok writes in with this question about a pair of "magical realists:"I heard that Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Memories of My Melancholy Whores can be read as a continuation of a Yasunari Kawabata novel. Can you tell me which is that novel?Kawabata was the first Japanese Nobel Laureate in literature (1968), and while not considered a "magical realist" like Garcia Marquez, Kawabata was known for the surreal quality of his writing. A brief bio is available here. For several critics, Garcia Marquez's latest novel echoes Kawabata's 1961 book House of the Sleeping Beauties, though nobody that I saw described Garcia Marquez's book as a "continuation" of Kawabata's. The pre-pub review in Library Journal describes a "situational resemblance" between the two books, while a review in the Washington Times calls Whores "something less" than Beauties. In a chat with Michael Dirda of the Washington Post (scroll way down), an anonymous reader even went so far as to suggest that Garcia Marquez plagiarized Kawabata, an idea that Dirda dismisses:Anonymous: I have read all the praise for Garca Marquez's "Memoires of my sad whores" in the Books Section of the Post, in particular the review by Marie Arana. Nowhere I have seen the reference to Yasunari Kawabata's "The House of the Sleeping Beauties." Garca Marquez himself said that that would be a novel he would like to have written.Question: Being the two stories so close to each other, Kawabata's obviously preceding Garca Marquez's, when a homage turns into plagiarism? ThanksMichael Dirda: Writers always borrow or steal from each other. G-M acknowledges Kawabata's work, just as Zadie Smith in On Beauty acknowledges E.M. Forster's Howards End. But the books are still their own. I suspect that Kawabata's book will outlast G-M's.So, clearly there is some relationship between the two books, and hopefully some Garcia Marquez fans have been introduced to Kawabata as a result.
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Ask a Book Question: The 41st in a Series (Inflating print runs)

Laurie noticed that she sometimes sees two different print numbers for the same book and wrote in with this question: How do you find out how many copies are being printed of a new book? Is there a single website that lists this? I've only occasionally seen the number printed in a first run, sometimes at Amazon, sometimes other sites.Unfortunately, publishers don't publish that info regularly. You'll see it sometimes in the publishers' catalogs, and Kirkus or PW will sometimes have it in their pre-pub reviews, to illustrate to book buyers if a book is going to be really big... but it's well-known in the industry that these numbers aren't always accurate. For example, a publisher may say that the initial print run of a book is 50,000 when, in actuality, it's much less. They cite the big number in order to generate some hype around the book, though since everyone does it, it's not terribly useful. Sara Nelson, the editor in chief of PW recently addressed this issue. The article isn't available online, but I've excerpted it below. She starts out by saying that Scholastic's enormous print run for the new Harry Potter (10.8 million) is important both because of its size and because it is accurate: The fact that Scholastic's number is a real one is interesting to the because it suggests that publishing ways are changing a bit. It used to be that the routine inflation of first-printing figures was one of the only ways a publisher could signal enthusiasm to booksellers and the press. "We really, really like this book," a first printing announcement of 100,000 would say. "We have high hopes for it." Never mind that the "real" first printing was probably closer to 20,000; we all nudge-nudged and wink-winked and hoped that the buzz would inspire retailers and consumers to pay more attention. Maybe the publisher would eventually print and sell that 100,000--and if not, at least they weren't going to be left with 80,000 returns.But with a book like a Harry Potter, you don't have to do that wishful-thinking kind of promotion: the marketplace (and, to some extent, the story-hungry press that begins tracking a big book like this months in advance) has already done it for you. You don't have to tap-dance, you don't have to inflate, you don't have to fudge the numbers.With smaller books, of course, publishers still do a fair amount of fibbing--and they continue to do so even though they know that nobody--except, sometimes, the naive first-time author--believes them. That darling, brilliant, moving debut novel you're going to love supposedly shipped 50,000? Get real: everybody knows it was probably closer to 15,000.
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Ask a Book Question: The 40th in a Series (The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford)

Dee writes in with this question:Do you know when Richard Ford's sequel to Independence Day will be published?Richard Ford's Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award winning Independence Day from 1995 revisits Frank Bascombe, who Ford first introduced to readers as The Sportswriter in 1986. In the novels, Ford plumbs the angst of the 1980s and 90s through the everyman character Bascombe. A third book in the series would likely place Bascombe in the current decade. I'm sure the Bascombe followers out there would like to see how he is faring.As Dee suggests, Ford is indeed working on a third Bascombe novel, to be called The Lay of the Land, and while I could find no indication that he has completed it, he has been reading from the unfinished book at readings over the last couple of years. In fact, attendees of Ford's reading tour in the UK in fall, 2004, received a bound excerpt of the new book. As for the actual release date, I don't think they've set one yet, but I did spot a note on one British Web site (see the box labeled "Also of interest") that seemed to indicate the book will be out some time in 2006, but I couldn't confirm it. He briefly touched on the new book in a 2002 interview with Robert Birnbaum of identity theory:Birnbaum: You leave it all on the playing field...Ford: Yes. That's kind of how I go about doing it. I get to that frame of mind perhaps a with little more difficulty. But I'm working on the 3rd Frank Bascombe [The Sportswriter, Independence Day] book...Once I finish that...Birnbaum: I thought you said you weren't going to do that?Ford: No I said...Birnbaum: I'm kidding, I'm kidding..Ford: I hope I didn't say that. I might have said it. I do a lot of things to remind myself of how serious projects need to be to do them.Birnbaum: So you are working on the next Frank Bascombe novel?Ford: Yes and I will be working on it. There are moments when I feel like I can really do it. There are moments when I feel like...yesterday was a bad day. You find out things, people don't like your book, you think to yourself, "I don't know how I can spend the next three years writing a book when I feel so shitty about this now?" But being a novelist, it is important to average your days. It's like Olympic diving. You throw out the high score and the low score. I threw out the low score yesterday...Another interview from 2002, with Dave Weich of Powells.com, offers more details:Ford: When I began this third book called The Lay of the Land, I asked, What could I make Frank be next? And I finally decided that he can be a realtor. It seemed to me to be both plausible and to give rise to new speculative developments of his character. Obviously you can't have him go back and do the same kinds of things - he has to have a whole different orientation to life, which is not difficult to do, really - but it wasn't broke in the last book, so I think I don't have to fix that.Dave: What's the motivation for going back to his character rather than starting fresh with someone else?Ford: To write about Frank again is truly one of the pleasurable things I've gotten out of writing - that is to say, palpably pleasurable - so I'm writing about Frank as a gift to myself. I think it would be fun to write about him again and to see what my imagination can turn up for him. Who knows? Maybe I can't do it. It's always a possibility. Because you can write two doesn't guarantee that you can write three. If I can't, that'll be okay.Dave: Will Frank be in New Jersey again?Ford: On the shore this time. Married, I think. Have left Haddam. This is much more involved with his daughter, Clarissa. Taking place on Thanksgiving in the year 2000.Dave: A holiday again.Ford: I gotta do holidays. They offer me so much. In particular, for me and the reader, a whole set of associations. If you write about Easter, if you write about the Fourth of July, something as important, almost invisibly important, as the temporal setting of a book...if the reader can say, "Gee, that's a time I know. I have a whole set of memories and associations to bring to bear on whatever's happening then," you've got a lot going for you.It may still be a while yet, before we read it, though. According to this post at TEV, by summer of 2004, Ford had "completed 380 typed pages - 'about half' - of The Lay of The Land." And an interview from February of this year has Ford saying, "I'm well past the middle of it, the last fifth of it probably."Update: In the comments, Stephan notes that an excerpt from the novel appeared in the New Yorker a few months ago. You can read it here.Update 2: Lay of the Land will be released on October 24, 2006.
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Ask a Book Question: The 39th in a Series (Finding First Editions)

Michael writes in with this question:I want to know how to determine if I have a first edition book or not. I have several books, Black Beauty 1945 without any other copyright dates, I also have The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin, without any dates but the one given, Darwin doesn't even have a date of copyright. Where can I learn about old books and their value? Much appreciated if you can help.This is really a two part question. How to find first editions and how to figure out what books are worth. I am a book collector, a book hoarder even, but I don't give much thought to the value of my books, and I don't particularly look for collectible books when I go out shopping, just cheap ones. Still, I have managed to pick up some knowledge about collecting over the years.At the bookstore our rule of thumb for identifying first editions (and first printings - which are even more important) was to look for the numbers one through ten on the copyright page of the book - if all were present it supposedly indicated that the book was a 1st/1st; that is, a first edition/first printing. I was later told by a book collecting acquaintance that this technique is laughable at best since different publishers indicate the edition and printing of a book in different ways and that these methods have changed over the years. According to him, the only surefire way to properly identify editions and printings is using a guide. And apparently the best of these guides is Edward Zempel's First Editions: A Guide to Identification, which contains listings by publisher and year.As for assessing the value of your books. I have seen massive volumes dedicated to pricing books, but they are probably not worth the investment. Aside from the most high end and obscure stuff, a simple search on bookfinder.com will do the trick. This handy Web site aggregates the inventory of thousands of booksellers using various book listing services. Just type in title you're looking for and see what that edition in a similar condition is going for. Once you know what the market is asking for your book, you have a good idea of approximately what your book might be worth. One last note: 99.9% of books, including paperbacks, book club editions and nearly all non-first edition hardcovers - aren't worth much more than pocket change - unless, of course you decide to read them.But like I said, I'm little more than a novice on this subject, so if anyone has any expertise they'd like to share, please press the comment button below.Update: From the comment below, B Thomas suggests using Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions and Points of Issue, both by Bill McBride. "They are pocket-sized so you can take them to the bookstore with you." Sounds pretty handy.