What does a publisher at the world’s biggest publishing house read for pleasure? (And how does she find the time?) Jane von Mehren is the Senior Vice President and Publisher of Trade Paperbacks at the Random House Publishing Group. Every now and then, she’ll be featuring her favorite reads in her Reader’s Circle column, Jane’s Bookshelf—books that she thinks you’ll love, whether you read them solo or with your club! And if you’re on Twitter, you can follower her tweets at @janeatrandom.
In an editor and a publisher’s life, there are certain authors and publications that stand out. For me there was my first acquisition (House of Heroes by Mary La Chapelle), first bestseller (Backlash by Susan Faludi), the first bestseller I didn’t originally acquire (Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman). It’s sort of embarrassing to realize how well I remember these events from almost two decades ago!
Here at Random House, Lisa See is an author who looms large for me in large part because Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was one of the first big paperbacks I published when I came here nearly seven years ago. We moved the paperback up from the traditional 12 months after hardcover publication to 9 months, completely redesigned the jacket, sent Lisa on a huge tour, and did major marketing outreach targeting book clubs and avid fiction readers. The success we shared with that campaign became a calling card for Random House Readers Circle and our trade paperback program. So February 7 was a special day for me: Dreams of Joy went on sale in paperback. I won’t try to describe it since the Los Angeles Times does it better than I ever could: “The scope of the novel is astonishing. . . .See aims her pen at the most vivid aspects of daily life but never loses the sweep of history. In the end, it’s a story with characters who enter a reader’s life, take up residence, and illuminate the myriad decisions and stories that make up human history.” And you may be able to catch Lisa while she is out on tour.
Being that it’s near Valentine’s Day, I can’t help but think of some other firsts: first kiss, first love … though I’m not sharing them! Instead here are some of my favorite love stories: Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand combines British wit and charm, a small British village, and two wonderful characters – the Major and Mrs. Ali – who fall in love despite everyone’s disapproval; it’s an endearing, thoroughly grown up romance.
Some love stories take place in the midst of momentous events, so that the relationships at their heart take on almost epic proportions: I think of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities and Sydney Carton’s sacrifice that allows Charles Darney and his lovely Lucie to remain together despite the ravages of the French Revolution. Or how World War II interrupts the young love between Henry and Keiko in Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.
Perhaps it is stories of young love that resonate most with us as readers. I for one can’t forget the angst-ridden romantics that Scott Spencer created with his teenage protagonists in Endless Love. More recently, I adored the young characters at the heart of Haley Tanner’s Vaclav and Lena; theirs is a story not only of love, but also of magic. Need I say more?
As you think of your first Valentine or your favorite love stories, I hope you will share them with me and our Random House Readers Circle community.