New York Bob Wietrak, a sales executive at Barnes & Noble, sees the fall book season as the story of the "Four T's": Tiger, Twain, Theodore and Tolkien.
Tiger is Tiger Woods, who in "How I Play Golf" shares his insights with the swinging masses. (Some might then consider Craig Brass' "How to Quit Golf: A 12-Step Program").
Twain is Mark Twain, author of "A Murder, a Mystery, and a Marriage," an unpublished story written in 1876 and finally coming out as a book.
Theodore is Theodore Roosevelt, subject of Edmund Morris' long, long-awaited biography, "Theodore Rex," the sequel to his award-winning "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt." It's Morris'first book since the notorious "Dutch," in which Morris inserted himself as a character in his authorized biography of Ronald Reagan.
Tolkien is J.R.R. Tolkien, the late British author whose "Lord of the Rings" trilogy has been a best seller for months and promises to rise even higher with the film version due out in December.
"These are the kinds of books that bring the customers into the store," said Wietrak, a vice president of merchandising for Barnes & Noble. "They bring the gift buyer in. They create excitement about books in general."
With the economy slow, the publishing industry is counting on consumers to think of books as both relatively affordable (a Tolkien paperback can be had for under $10, cheaper than a new CD) and widely accessible, bringing in everyone from the fantasy golfer to the reader of fantasies.
All about people
Any number of subjects might produce best sellers this fall. In "Fire," Sebastian Junger of "The Perfect Storm" fame takes us into the burning canyons of Idaho. Studs Terkel gives us stories of mortality in "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" Authors David Edmonds and John Eidinow turned a 10-minute argument between two major 20th-century philosophers, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper, into the anticipated nonfiction book "Wittgenstein's Poker."
Consumers can also choose such standard fare as the memoir; at least one publisher is putting up big money to make that happen. Time Warner Trade Publishing will commit $1 million or more promoting "Jack: Straight From the Gut," General Electric CEO Jack Welch's memoir, for which he received a $7.1 million advance.
Others telling their stories include Clinton confidant Vernon Jordan, producer Quincy Jones, rock star Eric Burdon, actress Anne Heche and wrestler Kurt Angle. Some late public figures will be discussed by their offspring: Ricci Martin is author of "That's Amore: A Son Remembers Dean Martin," while Jo Hammett looks back with "Dashiell Hammett: A Daughter Remembers."
Besides Morris' "Theodore Rex," major biographies include "Savage Beauty," Nancy Milford's extensive work on the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, and a book about Jesus Christ by Jack Miles, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "God: A Biography." Andrew Morton, the man who brought us the authorized "Monica's Story," returns with the unauthorized "Madonna."
Another Roosevelt is also likely to be in the news. In "Roosevelt's Secret War," historian Joseph Persico alleges among other things that President Franklin Roosevelt inadvertently gave atomic secrets to the Soviet Union and used a former mistress as a spy.
For followers of contemporary politics, Jeffrey Toobin's "Too Close to Call" should offer the most thorough summary yet of the 2000 presidential election. Ralph Nader weighs in with "Crashing the Party," while true obsessives can savor the title of this book: "The Accidental President: How 143 Lawyers, 9 Supreme Court Justices, and 5,963,110 Floridians Landed George W. Bush in the White House."
Poetry and religion
Incoming poet laureate Billy Collins has a volume of new and selected work. Poetry will also come from Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz, Adrienne Rich and filmmaker Ethan Coen, whose book has the Coen-like title "The Drunken Driver Has the Right of Way."
Two compilations are of special interest. "Poetry Speaks" includes aural recordings of poets from Alfred Lord Tennyson to Sylvia Plath. And Caroline Kennedy has compiled "The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis," featuring Homer, Shakespeare and some verse from the late first lady herself.
"The Kennedy book should give a lift to poetry books in general," says Margaret Maupin, a senior buyer for the Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver.
In commercial fiction, Stephen King and Peter Straub resume their partnership with "Black House," the sequel to "The Talisman." John Grisham's latest is called "Skipping Christmas," while novels also are due from Danielle Steel, Dean Koontz, Nicholas Evans, Anne Rice, David Baldacci, Nora Roberts, Clive Barker and Isabel Allende.
In "Long Time No See," Susan Isaacs brings back heroine Judith Singer from her popular "Compromising Positions." Sherlock Holmes also returns this fall. In "Night Watch," author Stephen Kendrick imagines Holmes meeting the popular Father Brown of G.K. Chesterton's fiction. The sleuth also appears in Larry Millett's mystery "Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Alliance."
Look again for religious titles to appear on mainstream best-seller lists. Readers of "The Prayer of Jabez" can look forward to "The Prayer of Jabez Gift Edition" and "The Prayer of Jabez For Women." The million-selling "Left Behind" series, by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, continues with "Desecration."
A lighter touch can be found in the updated "Joys of Yiddish," the 1968 best seller by Leo Rosten that taught so many the difference between a "schnook."