Galley Girl: A JFK Resurgance and a Year in Heaven

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Once a week, publishing reporter Andrea Sachs will recap the most interesting news in book publishing.


The assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963 was the Baby Boomer generation’s 9/11, as author Stephen King has cogently put it. The shock of seeing the charismatic president murdered in a Dallas motorcade was an unimaginable event, one that continues to have resonance in the publishing world. The Nov. 27 New York Times bestseller list will have three major books on it that explore the life and death of the 35th President.

The most briskly selling book is King’s novel 11/22/63, which debuted at No. 1. The hero travels back in time in an attempt to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from carrying out the shooting. Sold-out events for the author have included prestigious non-bookstore locales such as Boston’s JFK Library.

(MORE: Stephen King talks to TIME about his 10 longest novels)

For readers who prefer their facts served straight up, there is Chris Matthew’s Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero. The title comes from a quote by Jackie Kennedy, in which she referred to her husband as “that elusive unforgettable man.” Matthews, the host of Hardball and The Chris Matthews Show, attempts to answer the question, in a heavily reported volume, of who the president really was. “This book represents 50 years of Chris Matthews’s curiosity, reflection, and journalistic pursuit,” Jonathan Karp, the publisher of Simon & Schuster, told us.

And for those who prefer their history contemporaneous, there is Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy. Only two months after her husband’s death, the famously private First Lady sat down with historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and gave a breathtakingly personal view that has only now been made public. The book is accompanied by an 8-CD set of the interviews, complete with transcripts of the oral history. The family is fully behind the project, with an introduction by daughter Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. As the 50-year anniversary of the assassination nears in 2013, expect the flurry of Camelot Lit to pick up pace.


To say that religious publisher Thomas Nelson is pleased with seventh grader Colton Burpo would be to slightly understate the matter. Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of his Trip to Heaven and Back, by his father Todd Burpo, has been No. 1 on the New York Times paperback nonfiction list for a staggering 44 weeks, and on the list now for 52 weeks. The Nashville-based Christian house has sold more than 5 million copies of the surprise bestseller, the biggest book that the Nelson has ever published.

In the book, Colton, the four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor, slips from consciousness during emergency surgery and enters heaven — temporarily. In the words of his publishing house “Colton said he met his miscarried sister, whom no one had told him about, and his great grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born, then shared impossible-to-know details about each. He describes the horse that only Jesus could ride, about how “reaaally big” God and his chair are, and how the Holy Spirit “shoots down power” from heaven to help us.”

(LIST: The All-TIME 100 Nonfiction Books)

As is often true with popular Evangelical titles, the book has generally flown below the radar of the secular press, despite the impressive sales numbers. The publicity path for a religiously themed book like Heaven is for Real is different than that for, say, a Jackie Collins novel. The Burpo family has appeared on The 700 Club, Praise the Lord, and the Rick & Bubba Radio Show, as well as traditional trade bestseller stops such as The Today Show.

Publicizing a book that involves such a young child is a challenge. Stephanie Newton, the Nelson publicity director who steered the campaign, was sensitive to her charge’s needs. “’While Colton does a great job traveling, meeting readers, and taking part in media interviews, I know he would still rather be home in Imperial, Neb., sleeping in his own bed, and playing with his friends.” But it seems that Colton and his clan have more on their side than just a publicity director, according to Newton. “God continues to bless this project and opens doors that still allow Colton to be an average 12-year-old.

LIST: The All-TIME 100 Novels