Category Archives: culture

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I’m in the mood for…

If you’re like me, I’m starting to think longingly about fall—nestling into soft sweaters and scarves, brisk temperatures, and the explosion of pumpkin that seems to accompany autumn. It also signals a new wave of books, TV shows, and movies that many of us have been eagerly waiting for all summer. With the new wealth of things available to lose yourself in, it can seem overwhelming. I’ve noticed that since moving to NYC, I’ve found myself in a mad dash to try and keep up with pop culture and just…culture in general. As a newbie to the publishing industry, there’s so much to learn and so much to read. I’ve subscribed to a few literary/publishing industry newsletters, try and read Publishers Weekly and Publishers Lunch fairly religiously, I’ve dipped a tentative toe into the podcast waters, and I have constant running fines at the New York Public Library.  However, when it comes to movies and TV shows, I’m totally out of my element. And with all the suggestions flooding in from various sources, it can be tough to figure out exactly what you want to spend your time immersed in.

Thankfully, for the film/TV illiterate like me, Vulture has released a fall entertainment generator, which they describe as, “an interactive guide to this season’s 306 best offerings” for books, movies, TV shows, theatre, art, and music. You pick what you’re in the mood for and how you want it to make you feel, and it spits out a list of recommendations for you to choose from. I’m excited to see what it might steer me towards in the ever-busy autumn months! I’ve already got a fall reading list going, but am always looking for new recommendations.

Where do you get your book recommendations from? How do you get your daily dose of culture? What makes one book or movie stand out to you from a list?

Potter mania!

I know I’m not the only one talking about Harry Potter these days. The new “book”, which is really the published version of the play currently running in London (oh, how I wish I could go!) went on sale this week and the frenzy is out of control.

Publisher’s Weekly reports here that sales have already topped 2 million copies, in North America alone. I admit I’m one of those who preordered the book as soon as I heard it was becoming available. I actually realized that I did it twice so now have 2 copies on their way! Midnight parties across the country attracted kids and adults of all ages.

I just love how a fictional character has caused such a stir in popular culture. It’s such a positive reminder of the lasting impact books can have in a time when there is so much negativity being put out into the media. It’s incredible and practically unfathomable to me that a published play could achieve this level of success. I love theater so it’s heartening to me to know that this medium can generate big numbers, as evidenced by this new Harry Potter as well as the huge success of Hamilton (my other current obsession, more exciting news to come on that in a later post).

We’ve had our own version of Potter fever around here lately. While my oldest daughter is away at sleepaway camp, her younger sister dressed up as Harry for Halloween in July at camp (photo below). I was impressed with how she put the costume together with adult glasses and the scar drawn on a piece of scotch tape, and it helped we still have our wands from our amazing visit to Potter World at Universal in Florida last November.

Have you ordered your copy of Cursed Child yet? If you have and you’ve read it, please let us know what you think. Michiko Kakutani’s review in the New York Times was very positive and she’s one tough critic. She actually refers to it as “a compelling, stay-up-all-night read.” I’m so excited to dive back into the wonderful world of Harry Potter and read it with all the girls when Sam’s back from camp. Will let you know how it goes!

ps- my first copy arrived while I was writing this post, and it’s a beautiful book:

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Celebrities + celebrity imprints = perfect together?

So, Publisher’s Lunch announced today that Lena Dunham and her partner Jenni Konner are launching a new imprint at Random House named after Lenny, Dunham and Konner’s popular newsletter.  I have mixed feelings.

Everything I’ve heard and read about Lena Dunham suggests that she’s a thoughtful, intelligent young woman with a lot of opinions and a love of literature.  Her business partner, I’m sure, is equally gifted.  That said, does the publishing business need another celebrity imprint?  And, to what end?  What do celebrity imprints bring to the table other than the star power of the celebrity they are affiliated with?  And, is that star power a transitive property as far as book buyers are concerned?

Recently, in fact, a number of celebrity imprints have been announced—Gwyneth Paltrow, Chelsea Handler, Oprah Winfrey, Derek Jeter, and  Johnny Depp (which, huh?) now have deals with big five publishers and a mandate to buy books that sell.  Well, good luck with that.

I like to think that publishing books that enrich the culture, entertain a sizable audience, and have staying power in the collective imagination is a specialized craft.   Much in the same way that a lot of people who know nothing about the arduous process of writing a book think they can write a bestseller, it seems to me that many underestimate the equally arduous process of identifying, curating, developing, massaging, producing and promoting a work of literature.  Obviously, I get that it’s a dog eat dog world out there and that publishers need every little edge they can get in order to get their product the attention it deserves, but I worry that resources that are going into supporting the celebritization of book publishing would be better used in bolstering regular, centuries-old publishing models—with editors/publishers who don’t have a Hollywood pedigree but know a good idea/manuscript when they see one and know how to shepherd it through the publishing process into the hands of readers who care about the prose and ideas and not the celebrity behind the imprint.

Or, am I being an old fuddy duddy?  Do I need to accept the fact that there might be a Kardashian imprint down the road?  What do you all think about celebrities who dip their toes in publishing waters?

Coming soon to a bus near you!

Not in a while has an article made me smile the way this one did earlier this week in the New York Times. Booksellers are getting creative in finding new ways to reach readers, and it’s working! Not only is Ann Patchett’s Nashville indie bookstore doing well, it’s expanding its storefront in addition to taking books on the road for sale on a portable bus! It seems like such a simple thing, and yet it’s innovative as well. Go to where the people are rather than waiting for the people to come into the bookstore, not such an easy sell anywhere with so much available online and for delivery in 5 minutes or less.

As if I didn’t already love every single thing about Ann Patchett, just one more thing to swoon over. The store’s name, Parnassus, actually comes from Christopher Morley’s 1917 novel “Parnassus on Wheels,” about a middle-aged woman who travels around selling books out of a horse-drawn van. So it’s fitting that they are now taking the “bookstore on wheels” concept literally.

I was thinking as I was reading this charming article about bringing books to the masses that it’s really not that different than what Scholastic has done all these years for children’s books. They schlep busloads of books and set them up in schools across the country where parents, teachers and kids can shop in the comfort of their own gym, and a portion of sales gets donated back to the school. I personally buy a majority of holiday gifts each fall at the Scholastic Book Fair, and I’m so thrilled that next year I’ll have one of my books for sale there – Cecilia Galante’s THE WORLD FROM UP HERE. And this year, they’re doing a bus tour called Summer Reading Road Trip with events all over the country so they’re getting on the “buswagon” too. Who doesn’t love a good road trip?

Scholastic Summer Reading Road Trip

Scholastic’s is a brilliant and a successful sales model that I think is unique, although are there other “bring the books to the buyer” methods I’m not aware of? What are other ways you can think of to get books into readers’ hands? Books on a bus is so fun, I’m seriously thinking about renting a bus to sell books this summer! Ok, I joke, my lifestyle so does not allow for such a thing, but I love the idea of it so much. One can dream.

 

 

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Clubbing for change

 

As longtime readers of our blog know, we have an office book club that meets once every couple of months.  I’ve also mentioned a time or twenty that I’m a member of a neighborhood book club in my town.  Clearly, I’m a fan of book clubs—and not just because of the wonderful marriage they broker between literature and wine.  I find that I learn a great deal from the opinions of other readers.  Even when I am convinced that they are tragically wrong in those opinions (Sharon Pelletier and Michael Bourret’s wrongheadedness about The Goldfinch comes to mind), the points of view expressed generally reveal something new and different (about the work, about the person championing it) to me.   Books are the most efficient and effective repositories of ideas mankind has ever come up with, in my opinion, and only good things can come from people discussing those ideas in a respectful* and thoughtful way.

Which is why I’m so excited about Emma Watson’s feminist book club, Our Shared Shelf.  In an era when there seems to be a great deal of ambivalence, at best, and disdain, at worst, for feminism, I think Ms. Watson’s mission is excellent.  For all the important gains the founding mothers of the feminist movement achieved (our own Phyllis Chesler among them), we still have a long way to go in attaining equality and, in many cultures, basic human rights for women.

How cool is it that Hermione Granger’s alter ego is spearheading this movement?  I’m totally fangurling!

Hermione reading

 

*Not always the case at DGLM gatherings, I confess.

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Books Stand Guard

Sharon Pelletier eloquently expressed in this blog last week how books can give us great solace in times of trouble—as in the recent events in Paris. The shock waves that weekend were felt worldwide, and for some of us with strong connections to Paris, they reverberated with particular force. I spent my senior college year at the Sorbonne,  a confirmed Francophile since childhood.  And every time I return to Paris, be it for work, pleasure, or both, I fall in love with the city all over again.

Shakespeare and Company, Paris’s famous English-language bookstore, is a Left Bank haven many of us have frequently visited to browse and to attend readings by Anglophone authors and poets.  On the night of November 13, it suddenly became a place of refuge. Approximately 20 customers were in the shop when the violence erupted. They barricaded themselves inside, pulled the shades, blacked out the lights. All night long they remained together in the relative safety of Shakespeare and Company, keeping track of the real-time events on their smartphones and texting loved ones to let them know they were okay.  And some were undoubtedly passing those frightening hours trying to calm themselves by reading books off the shelves.

All night long, it was as if all those books were standing guard. Art, as often happens, was watching over humanity through one of its darkest hours. That night, the bookshop truly lived up to the Bible quotation which hangs over its door:  “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.” Rose Alana Frith, a bookseller at the store, said  that its role on November 13, 2015 as “a refuge from atrocities” was something “many will be unable to forget.”

You can read a fuller account, with links to first-hand reports, at this Shelf Awareness page:  http://www.shelf-awareness.com/issue.html?issue=2635#m30518

These days, the final line of Oscar Hammerstein II’s lyrics for “The Last Time I Saw Paris” keeps running through my mind:

“No matter how they change her, I’ll remember her that way.”

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The Sticking Power of Harry Potter

 

My Twitter and Facebook feeds have blown up with the announcement that the new West End play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, was going to be “a fullblown sequel” to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Eighteen years after Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published, the Harry Potter fandom (which my generation was raised on) is still going strong. I’ve heard many accounts of parents saying that this was the book that finally got their kids to read and even friends who said they weren’t big readers until they discovered the Harry Potter series.

cursed-child

I remember many people being disappointed when they turned eleven and hadn’t received their letter from Hogwarts. The rush to every midnight premiere of a Harry Potter movie was insane and Pottermore is still going strong. Clearly, all these years later, we’re still enchanted by Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the promise of Hogwarts.

So I’m wondering: what makes a book this universally powerful? And even more so: what creates the staying power of a book through generations? What do you think, dear readers?

 

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Buchkultur

During my year abroad in Germany, I was lucky enough to have a host mom who was also a librarian. My first week there, she signed me up for a library card and once I stopped getting lost on public transportation, I often visited a small library a half hour away (Bücherhalle Bergedorf). For an avid reader, Germany felt like paradise to me. Like in America, there was a bookstore in the mall, a small independent bookstore around the corner in a small square from my German tutor’s apartment, and books in train stations.

Unlike what I had experienced in America (living in several small towns without much public transportation), everyone seemed to be reading. My host sister and host brother (ages 16 and 12, respectively) brought two or three books with them to the beach. (I was charmed by the German “vacation books”—slender, inexpensive volumes of fiction that would be typed as “beach reads” or “light reading” here—but for €5 or even sometimes less.) It seemed like everyone carried at least one book around with them to read on the bus, the train, while waiting in line. Bookstores abounded.

I think part of the German insistence and delight in reading comes from their idea of a “Kulturnation”—a country bound together by tradition, literature, language, and religion. The act of reading and writing has always furthered (and often challenged) these aspects of any country. Back in the U.S., as I read headlines about the demise of independent bookstores, Borders closing, and many questions about the future of print books, I wondered how the Germans did it. Now granted, Germany is considerably smaller than the United States, and one might argue that we do have a substantial book culture here. But is it more due to geographical size and population than an actual ingrained cultural tradition? How could we here in America make turning to a book as natural as turning to our phones or another electronic device?

What do you think of the U.S.’s book culture? How can we make it better? Or do you think we’re doing just fine, after all?

**If you’re further interested in this topic, I found this article, originally published by The Nation in 2012 to be very interesting and helpful.

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Fruit flies and me

A conversation I was having with a publisher last week, went off topic (after we’d reached an agreement about the client in question, of course) when we started discussing vacations and vacation reading.  One thing leading to another as it does, we began to reminisce about the days when the publication of a big book was an EVENT and how rare a thing that is these days when Kim Kardashian’s latest naked selfie breaks the internet every 4.5 days (yawn!), Donald Trump opens his yap and the news cycle is hijacked to the exclusion of anything else, iPhones, tablets, FireTV sticks, and watches that text and send e-mail keep our attention buzzing from one landing spot to another like a drunken fruit fly.

Not to sound like a crotchety old lady but I remember when books made headlines and created the kind of anticipation blockbuster movies can still sometimes drum up (I’m there for the next James Bond film…just sayin’).   Sure, not so long ago the Harry Potter titles were doing just that but it’s been a while since a book was not only buzzed about but read by everyone immediately upon publication and then discussed ad nauseum everywhere you went.  (I don’t count the “new” Harper Lee since, personally, I consider that a cynical, somewhat soulless publishing move that has more in common with the Kardashian publicity machine than the event books I remember fondly and whose success was usually more predicated on their content than the marketing behind them.)

Is all of this due to the fact that there’s too much competition for our ever more fragmented attention spans or is it that we are slowly losing the ability to commit to a reading experience and the subsequent processing of that experience that involves discussion, debate, criticism, etc.?  Have the Buzzfeed book lists taken the place of the lively conversations about important titles that added something to the culture and our understanding of the world?

On a less cranky note, I’m reading The Martianthe martian right now and in the past two weeks have spoken to six people in vastly different contexts and in a serendipitous fashion, about the book.  This, combined with the rise in print sales and the fact that readers are looking for what the publisher I was speaking with called “the physical connection” we experience when reading hardcovers or paperbacks makes me hopeful that the big event book is not totally a thing of the past.

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#notagoodidea

As you all know, we’ve been pushing the whole build-your-platform-through-social-media idea pretty much relentlessly since grumpy cat memes and the Kardashians became a thing.  We’ve also suggested that understanding how social media works and knowing how to use it properly (for good, not evil) is essential.  We’ve seen how often it can backfire and how damaging the repercussions can be.

That was brought home to me this week by two separate “#Ask___” Twitter events.  First, E.L. James had to deal with responses that ranged from mildly sarcastic to outright insulting when she agreed to participate in an online chat to promote her latest iteration of 50 Shades.  Then, in a very different arena, presidential candidate Bobby Jindal’s #AskBobby hashtag elicited some pretty rude commentary about the Louisiana governor’s policies and even personal life and left a lot of people wondering if someone so clueless about how Twitter works could actually be a good president.

What’s amazing about both of these situations is that these are folks who should know better—or at least their handlers and p.r. people should.  The social media universe is mostly a Hobbesian place—all cynicism, righteous anger, and meanspiritedness—where moderation in opinions or dialogue is in very, very short supply.  And, those who are out there promoting themselves, their work, or a cause, need to figure out how not to fall victim to the pitchfork wielding mobs (metaphorically speaking, of course).  So authors need to beware.  In order to reap the benefits of an effective social media presence, you need to understand the potential pitfalls and be thoughtful about how to avoid them.  Like any tool, this one can help build or destroy.

What useful things have you learned from your experiences on social media?