Book Beat: More Publishers Get Political and the Obamas Make Bank

‘Ello! It’s Stephanie again with this week’s Book Beat! In the past week the Obamas made bank, some ancient Egyptian myths are being translated into English, and bios begin even as biographers die! Let’s get into it.

As Ashley covered last week, book publishers have gotten decidedly political lately. Our newest champion is independent Brooklyn publisher Melville House. The victim of these both silly and snarky tweets? White House press secretary Sean Spicer. Fiction mag Fireside Ficition Co. soon jumped in with a suggestion to start an antifascist publisher’s club along with online science fiction and fantasy (SFF) magazine Uncanny Magazine. I, for one, look forward to seeing the tweets from their first club meeting.

Speaking of publishers, Penguin Random House won a hot bidding war Tuesday night to the rights to upcoming books by Michelle and Barack Obama. The joint advances are rumored to be over $60 million dollars but don’t worry — the Obamas have already said that they will donate some of the advances to charity while Penguin Random House has pledged to “donate one million books in the Obama family’s name to First Book, a nonprofit organization that provides books to disadvantaged children, and Open eBooks, the Washington-based partner for the 2016 White House digital education initiative.” Now that’s putting your money where your (book)mark is.

Speaking of potential memoirs, the biography world has had its ends and beginnings: Patti Hartigan, a former theater critic for the Boston Globe, will be writing the first major biography on playwright August Wilson to be published in late 2019 by Atria Books imprint 37 INK. Wilson’s plays focused on the black American experience in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — you might have heard about the movie adaptation of one of them, Fences, scooping up Oscar noms and a Best Supporting Actress win for actress Viola Davis this past Sunday. On a sadder note, Trump biographer and “borderline anarchist” (according to his son, anyway) Jerome Tuccille passed away last Friday. He was never given access to Trump or many sources close to the man and had to draw upon media coverage as well as his own experience in stockbroking to write a political and financial analysis that NYT reviewer Michael Sterne called “a gee-whizzer of a biography.”

Playwright August Wilson as photographed by John D. Kisch in 1995. Getty Images and the NYT
Playwright August Wilson as photographed by John D. Kisch in 1995. Getty Images and the NYT

Meanwhile Andy Weir’s novel The Martian, the movie adaptation of which earned its own share of nominations at last year’s Academy Awards, has been released by publisher Crown in a cleaner format for physics, chemistry, and math teachers in middle school and high schools to incorporate into their teachings. Crown ended up editing or omitting more than 160 swear words from the book, a censoring process that some teachers disagree with, but who can argue with getting kids excited about science class?

Finally BBC Culture has published its monthly compilation of “must-be-read” books for March. Put together by short-story author Jane Ciabattari, the list seems to be skewing towards SFF, takes both fictional and not on historical figures, and decidedly fictional familial conflict. Maybe I’m overthinking it but it seems like we need books to distract us more than ever.

Stephanie Tran

Stephanie Tran

Queer, 20-something intersectional feminist, Vietnamese-American, and born fangirl. Writes about anything geeky and thinks about food too much. You can find Stephanie's Twitter rants at @YouAndYourEgo.