True Story

Space and Glowing Girls: The Buzzy Nonfiction of BookExpo

Hello, fellow nonfiction aficionados. I’m writing this newsletter having just gotten back from BookExpo in New York City. BookExpo is an annual trade show conference for publishers, authors, booksellers, librarians and other book-adjacent professionals. During the show there are book signings and galley giveaways, as well as presentations, education sessions and panels covering all sorts of trends and issues in the book world.

This is near one of the main entrances for BookExpo. Dad-like dudes were popular this year.

(As a quick informational aside, the conference recently split to address the needs of two different audiences – BookExpo, on Thursday and Friday, is more publishing industry focused, while BookCon, on Saturday and Sunday, is designed more for consumers.)

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In my experience, the buzziest books of BookExpo tend to be fiction – some of the longest lines this year were for authors like Jennifer Egan, John Grisham and Celeste Ng, or for celebrities like Chad Michael Murray, Savannah Guthrie, or Isla Fisher.

If you’re excited about nonfiction, you’re generally not going to stand in any really, really long lines (unless it’s a celebrity memoir, but even those seemed more muted this year). That said, there were two nonfiction books that generated quite a bit of excitement, one by a celebrity (of sorts) and the other capitalizing on the popularity of nonfiction in pop culture.

Scott Kelly signed excerpts from his upcoming memoir, ENDURANCE. I was… not smooth when I got to meet him.

My first highlight of BookExpo was getting to meet Scott Kelly, an astronaut who spent a year living on the International Space Station. He was signing samples from his upcoming memoir, Endurance (Oct. 17 from Knopf), and couldn’t have been nicer during his autographing session. He followed up a very, very long line by jumping across the Penguin Random House booth for another signing, this time for his children’s book, My Journey to the Stars.

Kate Moore was very charming during her signing of RADIUM GIRLS. This one is next up on my TBR.

The other book I was pleasantly surprised to see generating a lot of buzz was The Radium Girls by Kate Moore (April 18 from Sourcebooks), a true story of the young women tasked with painting the glowing numerals on watches using a newly-discovered element, radium, around World War I. But as we know now, radium turns out to be incredibly dangerous, setting up a faceoff between the increasingly ill girls and the factory owners who are slowly poisoning them. I suspect the excitement around this book has something to do with the popularity of Hidden Figures, and I hope will lead to more books on women often ignored by history.

I feel like I have a ton more to say about BookExpo and trends in nonfiction, but I feel like this newsletter is getting a little long already. So, I’ll just leave you with five titles that are at the top of my TBR – one that’s out now, and four you can look for later this fall – and a promise to feature some of the other books I brought up closer to their publication date.

Upcoming Books On My Radar (BookExpo Edition)

All Day by Liza Jessie Peterson (April 18 from Center Street) – Poet and actress Liza Jessie Peterson writes about a year spent teaching at Island Academy, the high school for teenagers detained at Rikers Island.

Bored and Brilliant by Manoosh Zomorodi (Sept. 5 from St. Martin’s Press) – Based on an experiment conducted by the Note to Self podcast in 2015, Bored and Brilliant looks at “the connection between boredom and original thinking.”

Crash Override by Zoe Quinn (Sept. 5 from PublicAffairs) – Video game developer Zoe Quinn shared her experiences as a victim in the #gamergate awfulness, and about her work with her advocacy and online-abuse crisis resource, the Crash Override Network.

The Last Castle by Denise Kiernan (Sept. 26 from Touchstone) – The Last Castle is the book I decided to pick up on my plane ride home. Kiernan – who previously wrote The Girls of Atomic City – turns her attention to the story of the Biltmore mansion and the end of America’s Gilded Age. It’s a lot of fun so far.

Bunk by Kevin Young (Nov. 14 from Graywolf Press) – Subtitled “The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News,” Bunk is a look at the history of the hoax, and its connection to stereotypes, suspicion and race. This one feels substantial and important.

And that’s what I’ve got for this edition! As always, feedback and comments are always welcome. You can catch me on Twitter @kimthedork, Instagram @kimthedork, or via email at Happy reading!