Category Archives: favorites


“You Gotta Read this Book.”

Publishers (and thus agents) often talk about word-of-mouth. The elusive factor that can make or break a book, especially in fiction. You readers know exactly what I’m talking about! “Oh, oh, you gotta read this book” or “OK…That book is SO good,” often accompanied by wide eyes, clutching your heart, and/or waving hands (personally I usually do a weird STOP motion with my hands, like some kind of frantic reading crossing guard).


The contagious excitement often leads to borrows, sales, and more – you read it, you love it, and you enact the same dance with someone else. On and on! This is why publicists often spend a lot of time, energy, and postage on getting upcoming titles in the hands of “influencers” – in addition to important reviewers and bloggers, people who are loudmouths about books in their communities, whether it’s on Twitter, in book clubs, or at the dog park.

But the real question is…just what what makes a book you gotta read? Is it something identifiable in plot, characters, setting? Is it just a lucky perfect storm of everyday readers, and bestseller headlines?

Buzzfeed asked their audience recently what books they can’t stop talking about, and the wide variety of answers seem to suggest a third option: it’s simply different for every reader. On this list you’ll find classics, contemporary award winners, scifi, YA (all genres), mysteries and histories. There’s books I loved on this list, and books I’ve hated! So I spent some time thinking about the qualities common to books I tend to force people to read: things like a big twist that I didn’t see coming will get me yelling about a book; a memoir that makes me laugh and cry; or a true story that leads me into a subject I never realized existed. Whatever the factor, it’s definitely something I’m thinking about when reading submissions – am I excited enough about this book that I am dying to recommend it to people…starting with editors?

What makes for a book you can’t stop talking about? Any of your favorite recommends make this list?


A truth acknowledged

The first time I read Pride and Prejudice I was smitten by Austen’s acerbic wit, her depiction of a woman with a mind (and sense of humor) of her own, her good humored (and, okay, sometimes a little bitter) skewering of Regency mores, her prose, her storytelling, and, okay, yeah, the most swoonworthy hero ever.    Over the years, my affection for the book has not waned.  If anything I appreciate its subtleties and charms more than ever before.  And, I get why  the novel has become the prototype of the modern romance novel.  It’s a formula that never gets old: Independent minded attractive female meets disdainful but hot male  and a battle of wits ensues; sparks fly, love blossoms, marriage results.

But, is the formula overused?  Is it time to step back from the P&P retreads?  Should we leave Lizzie and Darcy alone for a while to enjoy the glories of Pemberley without fear of encroaching rodents?  Can we agree that guinea pigs and Austen is just a “No”?

Really.  Despite what Sharon Pelletier may or may not say publicly, just no.

Are you with me blog readers?



New York, New York

When you picture NYC, what comes to mind? Skyscrapers reflecting on the river on a crisp winter night? Tourists snapping photos of costumed characters in Times Square? Writers scribbling away in an overpriced apartment in Brooklyn? Agents reading away in an overpriced apartment in Astoria? (Guess which one of those is drawn from life…).

Me in the fall of 2009 – full of excitement and bangs

New York City is even more diverse and colorful than the version of it you get on Friends or Wolf of Wall Street. It’s a city full of many different neighborhoods, and even each neighborhood can have several vibrant communities sharing the streets. Turn off the TV and turn to a book shelf to get a much broader experience of NYC’s sights, sounds and smells – the New York Public Library makes it easy for you with this fun list of NYC novels by neighborhood.

A couple of my all-time favorite books made the list, but that doesn’t mean I can’t suggest a few additions! These are all books that are tied in my memory to very specific seasons of my life in NYC. A BIGAMIST’S DAUGHTER by Alice McDermott, gives a sample of the Upper East Side neighborhood where I lived when I first moved here, and the Murray Hill location of my first job in publishing.  I couldn’t tell you what part of Brooklyn is the setting for L.J. Davis’ A MEANINGFUL LIFE , because I bought the book at an author signing at Greenlight Bookstore my first week in New York, when I had no idea where anything was. Even seeing the cover will always evoke for me that autumn of fresh excitement, anxiety, and seemingly infinite potential.

More recently I’ve been seeking out books that celebrate the diversity of NYC and call my attention to corners I haven’t explored yet. Books like Adam Silvera’s MORE HAPPY THAN NOT which takes an honest look at both the joy and the danger of growing up in the Bronx – especially when your story is different from that of those around you. And Tanwi Nandini Islam’s BRIGHT LINES took me into Brooklyn’s Bangladeshi community as young girls come of age and learn to navigate among the identities that surround them. Because I think that’s maybe what nearly every novel is really about, in same way: finding out who we are, and learning to love it.

What are your favorite NYC novels? Any neighborhoods this list overlooks?


Stately, plump Buck Mulligan

Looking through the online catalogue of the very cool Litographs which, among other things, makes literary temporary tattoos, I came across this one, which recreates Molly Bloom’s iconic closing line of James Joyce’s Ulysses, “yes I said yes I will Yes,” purposely devoid of any punctuation save the closing full stop.

It seems appropriate with Bloomsday fast approaching that I should talk about why Ulysses is one of my favorite books. Not for any snooty, ‘looking down my superior and literary nose at the plebeians who have never read it’ reasons, but because of something nearly the opposite. Being shown how to read Ulysses actually taught me so much about how to read—close reading in between the lines—in general.

My senior year of college was spent completing my English degree and fitting in any other required courses my university required for graduation. I realized, also, that I was thisclose to adding on a minor in either French or Irish Studies (you know, those degrees that are super helpful in the real world). I chose Irish Studies, mainly because I hadn’t taken a French class in at least a year and frankly, Irish Studies just seemed more interesting.

That year, I had two classes where I was the only student. The first was a class about feminism in 20th Century Ireland and not only was I the only student to sign up for it, but the university totally forgot the cancel the class, like they’re supposed to do in a situation where there are fewer than I believe five students. The professor emailed me the day before, a letter which basically consisted of “um, well, this wasn’t supposed to happen, but I’m game if you are,” and so without any classroom assignment, we met in a pub once a week and talked about cool Irish ladies. Not terrible.

The other class was one of my own making—I’d always wanted to read Ulysses, but never trusted that I could venture in on my own. An overly confident seventeen-year-old Rachel once decided she would read it over the summer after covering Portrait of an Artist in her senior year English lit class and ostentatiously carried it around with her for about a month before quietly abandoning the book after making it through a chapter and a half with only the vaguest understanding of what was going on. After approaching my advisor with the idea, I found a professor willing to take me on an independent study course where we met once a week in her office to discuss the chapters one at a time.

I loved it. I have never, ever been someone who marks up her books, but boy is my copy of Ulysses littered with as many of my own scrawlings as Joyce’s (not entirely true). I learned how to be an active reader, how to consider in depth references and also to read in virtually any style known to man (up until 1922) since no two of Joyce’s chapters, or episodes as they are called, is written in the same manner. I read each on my own, marking to the best of my ability, genuinely laughing out loud at sentences and allusions that I would never have understood previously, and then marked them up some more in the hour-long sessions with my professor.

It was a truly enjoyable and enlightening experience and I believe it has forever changed the way I approach a novel, no matter how straightforward or complicated it may be. I’ve since reread the book and have found myself able to follow along unencumbered, and I’ll always be forever grateful for the opportunity that I had. There are countless ways to write, countless ways to read and countless ways to interpret a text, which is part of (all of?) the reason why books and literary pursuits in general are so important. There is always a new thing to discover and no two people will be affected by a piece of writing in the same way. All we can do is gather more and more tools with which to approach ever more books, while delighting in going back to old favorites with our newfound perspectives.

I’d love to know, too, if there are any particular books or moments of clarity that stand out to you as a turning point in your reading career!


Cold weather books to keep you warm

For those of us on the East Coast, it has been another rough winter. I’ve started to compare being outside to spending time in a freezer. In the suburbs, everything is layers of ice on bottom followed by layers of fresh snow on top that eventually freeze because we haven’t seen a thermostat above freezing in what seems like weeks. There have been mornings where the temperature outside is zero with wind chills far below. My crazy husband is marathon training and running outside. What? This is what we call a different kind of slush pile (#publishingpuns)! All I want to do is stay inside, drink hot chocolate (or wine, even better) and read books.

It got me to thinking about great books that evoke the cold. I was thinking about THE SHIPPING NEWS by Annie Proulx, a favorite of mine where the weather is a lead character. Or SMILLA’S SENSE OF SNOW (one review on Amazon highlights “the language of snow and ice”) or the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. The seventh book in the series is called THE LONG WINTER! How did people live back then with no heat?

So, I’m wondering what your favorite cold weather books are. Or just your favorite books that you like to snuggle up with on a cold winter’s day. Please share, and stay warm!







I’m not really a tattoo girl.  That might be an understatement: the notion of a tattoo terrifies me.  Not because I hate needles or pain—I’m not exactly fond of either, but they don’t bother me especially.  But getting a tattoo is decision making that is way too far down the scale of permanence.  I shudder when people suggest I will someday want to buy a house and that would be something I could sell.  Sure, laser tattoo removal exists, but I’m not sure I would ever elect to do anything to my body that requires being burned off with a laser if I change my mind. It’s not quite that I’m fickle, though it is true that I’ve hated virtually every pair of shoes I’ve ever bought within two weeks of purchase, but more that I’m the sort of person who is paralyzed by the question: What is your favorite X?  Or even, What are your top ten Y?  If you want to ask me that question, you’d better be prepared to give me paper, a pencil, and 24 hours to answer you.

I know who I am, but choosing something to visually represent that to others, something I’ll remain connected to and proud of displaying, for years of my life?  That’s daunting.  I’m simply not up for the task.  But these people are, by golly.  They not only know what their favorite books or lines from books are, but they have happily permanently affixed them to their bodies.  Leaving aside that I’m not a tattoo girl, let’s envision the weirdest possible mugging: if someone put a gun to my head, I couldn’t think of a single image or line from literature that I’d want to identify myself by to the world.  There are those that I love, certainly.  I embrace Judith Viorst’s classic children’s book so much that I’m slightly bitter when my 5-year-old nephew beats me to declaring that “It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”  But I wouldn’t put that on my body, certainly.  The final lines of The Great Gatsby are gorgeous, but again kind of bleak.  The best lines in literature are often insightful about things that are more dismal than celebratory.  Tolstoy’s observation on unhappy families is true and brilliant, but I think that tattoo might be perceived as a cry for help!  And much as I love plenty of childhood books, I don’t quite have the personality for the cartoon embrace of kidhood writ across my skin.  So I guess I’d just have to call that mugger’s bluff and see how it goes.  Or at least ask him to make it multiple choice.

What about you?  Any literary tattoos adorning your skin?  Or any you hope to get?  Or would if you ever found yourself at gunpoint?


Bernadette’s Busy Morning

One of my favorite picture books from my childhood vanished years ago, and I’ve never been able to find it since. I’ve scoured every corner of the internet, from Amazon to Powells, only to find no mention of it. I’ve raided the kids’ section at every used bookstore or library sale in my path hoping to see its familiar cover. I’ve interrogated children’s librarians and booksellers – none of them have ever even heard of this amazing story.

Bernadette’s Busy Morning is about a delightful circus bear who wanders away from her trainer’s trailer one day and has a bunch of adventures in the city. I loved Bernadette and read her story over and over and over, poring over every detail of every picture. And I’ve never stopped hoping that one day she would turn up – perhaps on a dollar cart at The Strand, or tucked on a bottom shelf at HousingWorks Bookstore. I’ve even considered blogging about Bernadette before this, in hopes that maybe, just maybe, one of you might hold a clue that brings my search.

So you can imagine my utter shrieking elation a few weeks ago when I opened a birthday present from my brother. THERE WAS BERNADETTE.




There may have been some jumping up and down and screaming, maybe even a tear or two shed. I called him right away – “I can’t believe you found it!” She plays in the fountain! She marvels at the loud and constant traffic! She tries to make friends, but everyone just runs away screaming! (If this is a metaphor for NYC life, I don’t know what is.) Finally, tired and lonely, she’s reunited with her trainer and returned to her safe and happy home in the circus.

 My brother still won’t tell me how or where he tracked it down. I suspect a genie might have been involved.

Are there any long-lost books from your childhood that you wish you could find again?

Any success stories of tracking down a particularly rare book that you just had to have?


When worlds collide

Inspired by a recent posting on Buzzfeed compiling a great list of some of the most mouthwatering foods in literature (with recipes, thank goodness), I started thinking about food and meals in books. Again. Because, if we’re being honest, I think about food a lot anyway, so it wasn’t much of a stretch.

More than that—because sure, I could list even more foods from books that are great and that we should all eat all the time when reading about them and just whenever we feel like it—I’m thinking about the thrill I (and obviously most readers out there) get when a book references a real place, phenomenon or some other specific and actual thing that I can picture in my head through personal experience. There are so-so books that take place in New York that are elevated in my perception of quality because I can envision the exact locales a character may be wandering around. I’ve bought books that take place in the particular region of South Jersey where I grew up (okay, there was just the one, but still) solely because of their setting.

As a child, I cajoled my family into taking not one, but two trips to Colonial Williamsburg, not because I was super into the culture, but because I could go to the Governor’s Palace and the same sweet shop that Felicity did in the American Girl books.

Even more recently, I was finishing up Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (sidenote: highly recommend) and coincidentally had to run an errand on the Upper West Side. Coming out of the subway station, I was faced directly with an awning on a residential building that predominately stated “The Beresford.” I stopped, stared, considered and then looked at the actual address of the building (211 Central Park West) and concluded that yes, this was the exact building in which one of the main characters in the book I had currently in my bag resided. I had had no idea that it was a real building and it delighted me to no end to be faced with its reality so blatantly. I’ve since told several others about that moment and they were more unimpressed than I’d have liked, but maybe because they hadn’t read the book…

I don’t necessarily fall to pieces when books reference popular songs or television shows, but for some reason, very stable things like food, location and iconography really get me and it’s true that I remember the book more distinctly—and generally more fondly—for that fact. There’s a reason people flock to King’s Cross Station to try and see if they can spot Platform 9 ¾ and why all of a sudden The Frick was flooded with book lovers who wanted to get a glimpse of Fabritius’ The Goldfinch.

Planting these notions and references in literature allows sense memory to take over, whether it’s a smell, taste, sound or sight. The story becomes that much more real, the characters that much more relatable to the point where you can’t forget about it. Intentional or not, it’s a truly fascinating combination of literary artistry and the science of brain synapses firing off and making connections that makes at least certain passages of a book memorable.


Long ago favorites

Inspired by this Buzzfeed post from earlier in the week, I thought back on my favorite illustrated books as a kid. They were mostly fairy tales (or close to), as are the illustrations in that post. I know the trends in children’s book illustrations change drastically from generation to generation—even year to year—so when I went hunting, it was no real surprise to me, that it took some more serious digging to find examples of the types of books—both in story and design—that I loved the most.

It wasn’t hard, however, to remember the titles of my top favorites, since they still hold a place on my bookshelf (albeit in my childhood home, but they did withstand all the teenage and college year purges).

I remember reading Melisande by E. Nesbit and illustrated by P.J. Lynch (Harcourt 1989) over and over and over as a girl, fascinated as I was by the artwork (and envious of her lustrous hair) and drawn in by the recognizable elements of both Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty in a story that was an original unto itself.


Another favorite about another plucky, independent girl was Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully (Puffin 1992). Mirette has a very French Toulouse-Lautrec poster advertisement look about it and I remember thinking that I would have given anything for her outfits, hair and bravery. Similarly, I loved the Madeleine books as well, but I don’t think I need to post a reference picture for those!


In addition to these and the usual Berenstein Bears and Mr. Men picture books that crowded our shelves, I realized I had an odd penchant for inherently sad stories as well. Some of my favorites (when I was in the mood—otherwise I would make my parents skip them when reading to me) were stories like The Velveteen Rabbit, Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant and original versions of Grimm’s fairy tales—most notably The Little Mermaid wherein the Mermaid must kill herself with a dagger in the end. I don’t know what attracted me to these books, but I loved them.


Your turn.

We have a lot of fun with our blog posts around here. Whether we’re drooling over the latest book swag or marveling at the latest technology that’s changing our industry, this blog serves as a great place to share what we’re thinking.

But it’s not ALL about us, you know. And we love it when you get involved in the conversation, like the important discussion sparked by Jim’s post yesterday.

So I’m turning the spotlight on you for a minute. Let us know what YOU want to read about. Do you want more or less…

Or hankering after something else altogether that we’ve never thought to post about?!

Leave a comment below and maybe, just maybe, your DGLM blog wish will come true.