Thursday, November 04, 2004


The Little Song Reader That Could

When Book Sense announced its 2004-2005 Reading Group Suggestions, it designated six novels as "amazing debuts": The Dive from Clausen's Pier, Everything Is Illuminated, The Lovely Bones, The Song Reader, The Time Traveler's Wife and White Teeth. The only long shot on this list--not a Today Show Book Club selection, a big prize winner or even reviewed by the likes of the New York Times--was The Song Reader by Lisa Tucker. This wasn't the first time Tucker's debut had exceeded expectations.

Published in May 2003 as a trade paperback original by Downtown Press (S&S's "chick lit" imprint), The Song Reader quickly proved to be more Secret Life of Bees than The Devil Wears Prada. In a starred review, PW called the story of two sisters in Missouri "an achingly tender narrative about grief, love, madness and crippling family secrets." Excerpted by Seventeen, chosen for Border's Original Voices and a July/August Book Sense Pick, the novel went back to press five times last year and became a regional bestseller. This year, in addition to making the Reading Group Suggestions list, The Song Reader has been chosen by the American Library Association as a popular paperback for young adults and again by independent booksellers as an "Adult Book Recommended for Teen Readers," along with books such as Catcher in the Rye and Girl with a Pearl Earring. With more than 70,000 copies in print, Pocket plans to expand the readership for Tucker's novel still more by publishing a special YA edition next June.

The Song Reader has also done surprisingly well in several foreign markets, especially in Germany, where Eichborn's July 2004 hardcover release was both a critical and commercial success, leading to a heated auction for the paperback recently won by Goldman/Bertelsmann. Reached by phone, Tucker said she is "thrilled" by her German reviews. "My German editor sends over stacks of them at a time, from highbrow newspaper book sections to magazines like Elle and Glamour," she told PW Daily. "I love the way they talk about Song Reader. To the Germans, it's a psychologically serious novel that's well written. A literary novel, as we would call it, but they don't seem to classify the way we do, where literary is defined in opposition to popular."

What's next for Tucker? This year saw the release of her second novel, the more suspenseful Shout Down the Moon, about a jazz singer and her son. She also had a story in Lit Riffs, alongside Jonathan Lethem and Neal Pollack. She's currently working on two new books. "One of them is about a father who has disappeared from his life and headed to New Mexico, hoping to hide his children from a dangerous world, " Tucker said. "The other is about a 19th-century physicist working on the nature of reality.... I doubt that anyone would mistake them for chick lit," Tucker added with a laugh.

Whatever she publishes next, Tucker can count on independent booksellers to help her get the word out. "I love Lisa, " Deb Wehmeier of Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans told PW Daily. "She came here and signed books for our New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival that benefited our children's book bank for kids who don't have access to books. I do a book group for a dozen women in a women's shelter and Pocket donated copies of her second novel for the group. Lisa asked me the names of all the women in the group, and a short time later we got 12 copies of The Song Reader personalized to each women in that shelter. She deserves all good things."
--Kevin Howell
PW Daily for Booksellers (Thursday, November 4, 2004)

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