Joan Brady's "God on a Harley" presents a dejected woman transformed by a handsome, mysterious biker who teaches her "commandments," such as "Do not build walls, but learn to transcend them."
In Frederick Lenz's "Surfing the Himalayas," an American snowboarder seeking the ultimate ride in Nepal is redirected inward by a Buddhist monk.
Irving Benig's "The Messiah Stones" tells the suspenseful story of a professor bequeathed a secret that leads him to discover, "There was a part of me that was trying to escape the boundaries I had built for myself, to reach out and up toward a large meaning for my life."
Success in book publishing spawns many wannabes, so these are but three of the books released in recent months following the monumental sales of James Redfield's "The Celestine Prophecy" (Warner Books; 94 weeks and counting on the bestseller list) and Betty J. Eadie's "Embraced by the Light" (65 weeks in Bantam paperback). The genre, which explores the spiritual searching of ordinary people, is the latest subset of what publishing types playfully categorize as "woo-woo books."
"Publishers have always been looking for lifestyle books, whether they're directed at the interior or the exterior lives of people," says Roger Cooper, a veteran publisher and editorial director of the Doubleday Book and Music Clubs and the Literary Guild. "What's new is the format, the spiritual adventure, a kind of on-the-road spirituality."
None of the recent flurry of books has broken out as a runaway hit. However, the new titles have achieved the kind of measurable success that should prompt publishers to add even more of these books to those scheduled for publication in the months ahead. As Cooper puts it, "In desperate hope, publishers will get on any bandwagon if it appears to be moving at least five miles per hour."
"God on a Harley" was described by an Entertainment Weekly reviewer as " 'The Bridges of Madison County' meets 'The Celestine Prophecy' meets Self magazine." Pocket Books, which is going back to press as a result of steady sales since publication in August, reports that it already has more than 75,000 copies in print--an impressive number for an unknown writer. Brady, a registered nurse, lives in San Diego.
"Surfing" is trying to ride a huge wave of advertising, including radio spots and multiple two-page displays in USA Today, paid for by the author and his publisher, St. Martin's Press. The company picked up "Surfing" after the novel had been dropped by Warner Books over "marketing differences." Lenz, a former college professor who is also known as Zen Master Rama, has been accused in published and broadcast reports of exerting a cultlike hold on people in his computer and spirituality seminars--accusations he denies. His publisher says reprintings have increased the number of books in print to about 100,000.
Sales of "The Messiah Stones," a first novel by Benig, have been slower than Villard Books might have hoped when it paid the former marketing consultant an advance of $500,000 (in a joint deal with the company's paperback relation, Fawcett) and launched the book in October with a 100,000-copy printing. However, the novel is a main selection in January of the Literary Guild, which paid more than $90,000, and the publishers apparently have recouped their outlay through the sale of foreign rights.
The genre also includes Tom Youngholm's "The Celestial Bar," newly published by Delacorte Press. In April, Warner will bring out "The Tenth Insight," the eagerly awaited sequel to "The Celestine Prophecy."
Still, Cooper suggests caution. "New Age becomes old age very quickly," he says. "The public is very fickle. The public can smell an old fish in an old newspaper."
Still Waiting: It was supposed to have been one of Simon & Schuster's more prominent fall books, Hillary Rodham Clinton's "It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us," originally scheduled for publication in November. Clinton talked up her book about families and children around the world during a visit in May to the American Booksellers Assn.'s annual convention.
The question: Where's the book?
"She has still been writing it," says Victoria Meyer, S & S' director of publicity. "She's a busy woman and she's been doing a lot of traveling. We're hoping to publish in mid-January."
Getting Resourceful: Two fat volumes of movie history (for filmgoers who think they know everything) have been published.
Michael Barson's 530-page "The Illustrated Who's Who of Hollywood Directors" (Farrar, Straus Giroux) profiles more than 150 movie makers from leading lights such as Blake Edwards, John Ford and John Huston to the more obscure Jack Arnold ("It Came From Outer Space"), William Castle ("Johnny Stool Pigeon") and Samuel Fuller ("Pickup on South Street"). Rare stills and movie posters complement Barson's breezy text.
Charles Matthews' "Oscar A to Z" (Doubleday) is subtitled "A Complete Guide to More Than 2,400 Movies Nominated for Academy Awards." Matthews, a writer and editor with the San Jose Mercury News, alphabetically lists and describes all the nominated films, cross-referencing winners and nominees to the other flicks that put them within reach of an Oscar. With 1,138 pages of info, "Oscar A to Z" also is sure to become a well-thumbed resource.