Most of the books I review for the Historical Novel Society have little word of mouth. An unknown gem, I predict, each time I tear open the manila mailer, hoping to find the next best seller.
And then there was the time my envelope yielded At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, And Apricot Cocktails. Four dour characters commanded the cover—the men smoking and only the woman making eye contact with her reader. This one’s a loser, I concluded, unless the recipe for apricot cocktails is truly intoxicating.
Soon, my “loser” book began to taunt my flip condemnation. A full page ad in the New York Times was followed by a solid review. The Guardian joined in with a glowing analysis. The LA Times celebrated that “the existentialists come alive (over cocktails.)” Amazon.com flagged the book as the #1 Best Seller in Philosopher Biographies (admittedly a thin category.) Even the Historical Novel Society published a feature review describing Sarah Bakewell’s work as “admirable.”
So, did I agree with the experts? Read my review from the May issue of the Historical Novels Review and find out.
I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.