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I read an article in Publishers Weekly which wondered whether or not publishing has become too reliant on bestsellers. The article discussed how top tier authors are taking over marketing budgets and shelf space in retailers (which also extends to libraries), and how what we call ‘midlist’ suffers as a result.

 

A long time ago when I was just out of university I worked in the box office for the National Ballet of Canada. Now you’re probably wondering what ballet has to do with bookselling, but stay with me here and you’ll see where this is going.

 

I remember a top executive explaining that while internally the staff and the dancers generally hated The Nutcracker, it’s the bread and butter of the company and the revenue generated from this holiday classic helps fund the more modern works that challenge and excite the dancers. Personally I love the full-length classical ballets, but those also need to be refreshed with new choreography, costumes, and staging which are also partially paid for by revenue from The Nutcracker.

 

The same logic applies to publishing. While some of us may roll our eyes at seeing the same group of authors on our bestseller list all of the time, those authors are like a publisher’s version of The Nutcracker. In theory, they generate enough revenue that the publisher can afford to take a chance on a special book that the editor loves, or a debut author whom they hope will find similar success.

 

To some extent that’s true. A publishing house is not made on midlist authors alone, but when bestsellers start drowning out midlist, it creates a vicious cycle where few new titles can break through. If you’ve read my blogs, you probably know that I’m a veracious reader, and while I try to read widely, it’s a lot easier to go back to the authors I know and love rather than spend my precious reading time on someone I don’t know and who I’m not sure I’ll like.

 

That being said, I do have a tremendous appreciation for unusual and original books, and if something catches my eye when I’m sorting through seasonal catalogues, or through online/social media channels, I will often request the title and give it a shot.

 

Recently I read a wonderful fantasy debut titled The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by New Zealand author H.G. Parry. It caught my attention because it’s been labeled Inkheart  for adults, and I love that book. I’ve also seen references to an adult sci-fi series Libriomancer by Jim Hines, which I’m definitely going to check out.

 

Charley Sutherland has a gift. He is what they call a Summoner, which means he can read the characters out of books. That alone sold me. Who wouldn’t love to be able to spend time with their favourite literary characters from time to time? From early childhood, Charley could make mischief with the Cat in the Hat, have tea with Sherlock Holmes, solve mysteries with a Millie Radcliffe-Dix, a Nancy Drew-like character, and hosts of others, and when when he's done, he returns them to their book. 

 

One night, he frantically calls his older brother Robert explaining that he accidentally read Uriah Heep (the villain from David Copperfield) out of the book and he’s escaped. Heep is a pretty dastardly villain, and Victorian or not, you really don't want this guy running around loose in the world.

 

In their pursuit of Heep, they uncover a hidden Victorian street where they meet other literary characters who have been living there in secret, including the White Witch from Narnia, Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray who handles the secret world’s finances and tech, four Mr. Darcy’s from Pride and Prejudice. As it turns out, most people inadvertently summon a character at one time or another, and the version of the character that appears is subject to the reader’s interpretation. Darcy, not surprisingly, is a fairly often imagined character which is why there were four of them. Somehow, all of these ‘summoned’ characters have found their way onto the street, and they live there to keep themselves from being detected, and keep from being sent back into their books.

 

The brothers also discover that the street was created by another Summoner with Charley’s powers and malicious intent who needs to be stopped. All of the characters are aware of the other summoner's plans for a new world, but they don't know who he/she is, or exactly what that means for themselves or the real world.

 

I love books that reference other books, and I really enjoyed seeing different literary characters popping up in the novel. It’s also a wonderful tribute to the power that books and characters have over us, and still manages to poke a bit of fun at the literary theory we were all forced to study in English class. It’s smart and funny and original, and it’s one of my favourite books of all time. If like, me, you’re getting a bit tired of seeing the same old/same old on your bookstore/library shelves, give this one a try and I’m sure you’ll be as enchanted as I was. Or, if you were a fan of the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde, you'll at home in these pages.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter, and to subscribe to our new YouTube Channel. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Happy Reading!

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