I am addicted to Advance Readers Copies. You know, those flimsy paperbacks that preview upcoming books, that ostensibly only get sent to book reviewers and book sellers.
Specifically, I am addicted to what’s new in the publishing business, what’s got the buzz, what’s hot. It’s not that I only read the most-respected up-and-coming literary authors, but that I like to have read the books that are currently being discussed in book reviews and on blogs.
A few ARCs I’ve been lucky to read in the last 2 years include Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson (a compelling non-fiction book about a pair of scuba divers trying to identify a sunken WWII submarine); Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (he needs no introduction); The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler, and California Crossing by Adam Langer. (I kept thinking it would be about California, but it was about Chicago.)
Somehow, I enjoyed each of these books more by knowing I was reading them before they were formally published. It’s as if I had been admitted to an exclusive club. Now I realize most people aren’t interested in joining this club, but it’s one that I would pay dearly for to obtain a lifetime membership.
Unfortunately, I just got kicked out.
For the past few years, I have gotten these Advance Readers Copies at a Bay Area bookstore that “rented” bestsellers. When the store first opened, it offered copies of New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle bestsellers for about $3 a week. You could also buy a yearlong membership for about $170.
I am a fast reader and I quickly fell in love with this store. The owners love books, obviously, so when I would drop not-so-subtle hints that I had heard about an interesting book, they would order it and put it in the rental program.
Over time, the bookstore started to “rent” out its ARCs. For three years, I was as happy as I could be. I would hear about a promising book, and chances were good that the bookstore already had it. I became the first among my friends to read books like All Over Creation by Ruth L. Ozeki (I preferred My Year of Meats) or The Quality of Life Report by Megan Daum. (Amusing). Whenever an acquaintance would want to know about a book, my friends would say “Ask Frances.”
But this year, my favorite bookstore went straight. Book reps who came into the store would look disapprovingl at the ARCs on the shelves. The owners realized that it wasn’t entirely ethical to loan out the ARCs, even if they weren’t selling them. They decided to revert back to their original concept – only “renting out” published bestsellers.
Despite this change, I renewed my membership in December. At that time, there were a lot of good books on the bestseller list, and the first book I took out was The Inner Circle by T.C. Boyle. (great book) But since then, I haven’t really been excited about America's top books. The New York Times bestseller list is heavy with John Grisham, Michael Crichton, and the like. I regret my membership at times. It’s particularly difficult because I can look from the store into the back storage room and see a cart loaded high with ARCs – all off limits to me.
I still have plenty of books to read. Now I’ve taken to reserving the “hot” books through the library. I’ve already requested March: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks (publication date March 3, 2005) and The Position by Meg Wolitzer (publication date March 8, 2005). But they are not immediately available. I have to wait like everyone else. I’m going through book withdrawal, and it’s not pretty.