— August 2012, Oakland
I have something to reveal.
the cover below to turn off the lights:
It is a work of mad genius by Rodrigo Corral at Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
When this book sits on shelves and in store windows: It will glow. When it rests at night on your bedroom floor, or reclines on your tray table during a transatlantic flight with the shades all pulled down and the passengers all dozing: It will glow. And when it’s late and you’re reading in bed because maybe—just maybe?—you can’t put it down: It will glow!
Okay, the lights are still off, right? the space below for another surprise.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore has been selected for Barnes & Noble’s Discover Great New Writers program, which means a lot to me because I have actually seen those shelves. You probably have, too, if you’ve ever been to a B&N: they’re right up front and they hold just a few books every season. This is a program with a long history; those shelves have supported writers like Haruki Murakami, Jennifer Egan, and Junot Díaz. When the email came with the news, I was stunned, not because I didn’t think Penumbra would be chosen, but because I didn’t even know it was being considered.
I have learned that there is a lot of considering taking place right about now.
This, it turns out, is what happens in the dark, after a book is finished but before it’s published. FSG has given Penumbra to a group of people ahead of time. Now, those people are reading the book and thinking about it. It sounds so simple! And yet, day by day, good things emerge:
- Spaces open up, like the Discover shelves at Barnes & Noble and a spot on October’s Indie Next List.
- Events take shape, like this one at City Lights here in San Francisco, which is more truly Penumbra’s than any place on earth.
- Validations arrive, like this sharp summation from Publishers Weekly and this bright fizzing review from Nick Harkaway and (holy crap) this fall book preview from Flavorpill.
- Readers multiply, like this one spotted by CoverSpy: “F, 30s, wild curly hair, tan pants, turquoise sandals, smoking, 17th Street.” Who was that, toting a copy of Penumbra? I don’t know! And I love that I don’t know. The book is out there. It is moving under cover of darkness.
Things like this happen when you give a book to a group of people, a set of potential allies, ahead of time—when you give them just that, time: to read it, to love it, to make it their own and share it with people of their own. It takes patience (never my strong suit) but the reward is real: a group of allies larger and more far-flung than any you yourself could ever assemble.
I use the word far-flung with some precision. Right now, publishers beyond these borders are taking the book and truly making it their own, translating it into Italian, German, Portuguese, Korean, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Chinese, Czech, and Turkish. Please allow the following series of exclamation marks to represent the magnitude of my delight: !!!!!
It’s like the planning before a surprise party. You: bring the balloons. You: buy some noisemakers. You: translate the message on the cake into Italian. And you: watch the door. We’re all in on this now. The room is dark and the book is glowing. It’s almost October, and there are footsteps in the hall.
Soon, the lights will come on.
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