An Epic Week for the Books Desk

Are virtual debates still contentious?

PAUL It’s hard to get heated in a Zoom meeting. Everyone has to take turns, because you can’t talk over one another like you could in a live space without creating a lot of confusion. No one is stomping off.

Is the field less competitive this year?

PAUL Relative to the rest of the cultural world, books are doing quite well, actually. Unlike film, theater and TV, the book world didn’t get interrupted midstream. A lot of books had their publication dates delayed, but most came out this year as planned, just a little bit later.

Are there any clear favorites?

PAUL There hasn’t been a lot of crossover between the shortlists and longlists that have come out from other institutions thus far. There’s only been one book that was on both the Booker Prize list and the National Book Award finalist list, which is Douglas Stuart’s “Shuggie Bain.” It doesn’t feel like there’s a coalescing around one particular title.

How influential is The Times’s list in the industry?

PAUL We’re constantly asked to release the list early. In the past, publishers have run out of books we’ve included. When we announced our 10 best titles, a lot of books went out of print because they couldn’t keep up with the subsequent demand.

How are things in the publishing world in general this year?

LAVALLEE It’s been insane. We’re covering both the business and the cultural dimensions of the publishing world, which has been grappling with not only the pandemic, but greater interest and intensity around diversity and issues of racial and social justice.

PAUL This political cycle has also been incredibly intense with books, going back to the “Fire and Fury” book by Michael Wolff in 2018. There’s just been book after book embargoed out of Washington. This year alone we had books by John Bolton, Bob Woodward and Mary Trump.

What titles are on your night stands right now?

LAVALLEE I have the new autobiographical story collection from Scholastique Mukasonga, which is set during the Rwandan genocide; “Breasts and Eggs” by Mieko Kawakami; and “Just Like You,” by the British novelist Nick Hornby.

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