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05.26.09

The Literary Life

This week, Sara Nelson attends a rare Dave Eggers speech, spotlights a trend in air-crash books, and goes to an author-packed party for the new PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories.

What does it mean that summer ’09 seems to be shaping up as the season of the airplane-crash books? Not only is Chesley Sullenberger, the hero pilot who landed his plane in the Hudson river in January, soon publishing his own book—and introducing it at BookExpo America next week—but now, too, are a group of the people he saved. And this fall, Vanity Fair contributor and pilot William Langewiesche will publish Fly By Wire: The Truth About the Miracle on the Hudson.Then there’s the news that Starbucks has chosen a new title to be featured in its 700 stores. The title? Crazy for the Storm, a true-life story of an 11-year-old boy who survived a crash that killed everyone else aboard, including his beloved father. And next month, Viking will release Down Around Midnight, Robert Sabbag’s reflective account of a plane crash the author survived on Cape Cod in 1979; 30 years later, he went back to interview the other survivors and try to understand what happened to them—and their lives—from that harrowing night on. They say that bad news comes in three, but books about bad news? It’s enough to make you wonder whether this is a coincidence—or if there’s something in the, um, air?

“The written word—the love of it and the power —hasn’t changed. It’s a matter of fostering it, fertilizing it, not giving up on it, and having faith,” Eggers said.

The Authors Guild’s annual benefit at the TriBeCa Rooftop last week seemed particularly jaunty, maybe because the venue was more relaxed than last year’s at the Metropolitan Club, or maybe because the award recipient that night—writer and publisher Dave Eggers—was in an upbeat mood. The author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and a founder of McSweeney’s magazine and publishing house, Eggers bounded to the stage to accept his award for forming 826 National, a group of nonprofit writing centers for elementary and high schoolers. On some occasions in the past, Eggers has been a reluctant speaker, but that night, he was positively ebullient. “The written word—the love of it and the power—hasn’t changed. It’s a matter of fostering it, fertilizing it, not giving up on it, and having faith,” Eggers said. Given how hard the Author’s Guild has worked to hammer out a settlement with Google about authors’ rights, his passion and support for the page won him a standing ovation from the crowd. “He’s the real thing,” someone at my table murmured. Indeed.

And to those who think that operating a bookstore these days makes about as much sense as opening a diner right next door to a GM dealership, consider this: Idlewild Books on West 19th Street was packed, packed, packed, for a casual cocktail party sponsored by the store, the PEN American Center and Random House to celebrate the just-published PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2009. Among those in attendance: Marisa Silver ( The God of War) , Joan Silber (The Size of the World)—both of whom were nominees for the recent L.A. Times fiction prize—National Book Award winner Lily Tuck and novelist Patricia Volk, among many others. The smart guests got there early enough to shop in one of the few stores in New York (another great one: McNally Jackson, on Prince Street) that makes a point of showcasing international literature, upscale travel books and unusual coffeetable tomes. If it hadn’t been so hot, in a temperature sense, the party (and the shopping) easily could have gone on well into the night.

Plus: Check out Book Beast, for more news on hot titles and authors and excerpts from the latest books.

Sara Nelson is a critic for The Daily Beast and the former editor in chief of Publishers Weekly. She is the author of the bestselling So Many Books, So Little Time.