Category Archives: fun

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Breakfast reading

When I was a kid, breakfast was a family affair, but a mostly silent one. Every weekday morning, my parents would read the New York Times, while my sister Jane and I stared bleary-eyed at the box of cereal between us on the table. At some point, though, we kids started to read on our own, and I distinctly remember a period of reading chapter books and novels over my Cheerios—Judy Blume’s Freckle Juice comes to mind, as do the Basil of Baker Street mysteries by Eve Titus. By high school, Jane and I moved on to the Times as well, and so the quiet was only occasionally interrupted by someone asking for a different section of the paper, which suited me fine—to this day, I’m hardly what you would call a Morning Person…

Now, for the past six years, breakfast at our house has been much more rambunctious, thanks both to my wife Julia’s early riser tendencies and the two motor-mouth sons I somehow ended up with. But while I can’t get away with hiding behind the paper, we mostly keep the peace by reading picture books and early readers aloud to the boys. Not a bad solution, but hardly ideal for a morning grump like me.

And so, imagine my excitement when I was able to snap this picture at the breakfast table last week: 

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Yep, that’s my son reading Harry Potter on his own. To himself. In silence!

Aside from the obvious parental pride here, plus my hope that breakfast reading helps develop his reading skills, I can’t tell you how nice it is to have the morning noise cut in half. I’ve even been able to sneak a peek at the paper once or twice while Julia reads to our younger boy! That said, I know the day of full independent breakfast reading is about three years off, but I can see the finish line in the distance…

Anyway, I’m curious—do other families read over breakfast like this? And if so, is it a conscious family activity or one born from a need to quiet down a noisy horde of morning people?

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Look it up!

Remember that corny cliché about every book ever written being found within the pages of a dictionary?  I’ve always gotten such a kick out of that because I love dictionaries.  I love the tiny print,  the sometimes incomprehensible pronunciation guide for each word, the prefatory material that tells you how to use the book, the illustrations that accompany some of the entries (why is Sally Ride pictured but not Richelieu?), the fact that you go in to look something up for an editorial memo you’re crafting only to get distracted by a bunch of beguiling words (xylem, yurt) that you will be desperate to use in your next heated match of Words With Friends.Dictionary

As with other books, I love old print dictionaries—at last count I  had about a dozen at home, elegantly bound ones and dog-eared paperbacks; Spanish, Russian, French and German as well as English—but I also adore the convenience of my Dictionary.com app.  How excellent to have the ability to look up a word whenever and wherever you hear it, thereby appearing to be more   sesquipedalian than you really are (see what I did there?).

This ease of access, unfortunately, has made me more intolerant of authors who routinely use the wrong word in their work and other communications.  I mean, how hard is it to look it up if you’re not 100% sure whether you loath something  or loathe it?  (BTW, I always have to look those two up myself.)

The democratization of the dictionary in this age of supreme access is a great thing, in my opinion.  But, that means that there’s no excuse for lazy usage, at least not in your writing.  Just look it up, people!

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Creature comfort

I’ve been really trying to give myself more time lately for pleasure reading outside of work. It’s surprisingly hard to do when so much of my time is devoted to reading other (just as lovely!) books, manuscripts and queries. However, like pretty much anyone who decides at some point that they’d like to work in publishing, I’ve long nurtured a love of books and reading and I’ve been making a concentrated effort to go back to one of the things I most love. Reading, alone, for no purpose other than to absorb a good story. And I’m doing pretty well, if I do say so myself! Currently halfway through Meg Wolitzer’s THE INTERESTINGS and thoroughly enjoying her insightful and thought-provoking way of describing relationships and the unique ways in which people act, react and observe.

I think you’ll all agree that one of the best things about books is how widely appealing and accessible they are to all walks of life. You don’t need anything much to get absorbed in a book—you can even access entire libraries for free! I’m constantly amazed at how diverse reading culture is.

Seriously.

This kitten, for example:
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Even celebs!
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I’ve been there, guy.
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Honestly impressed at this little mouse’s tenacity when it comes to getting into a book at any cost.
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This is a bunny learning about history.
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Though I admire this pigeon’s zest for the written word, I’d really rather he choose something else to read. But what canya do?
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Normally capybaras kind of creep me out, but I could hang out with this one.
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NOW. It’s a long weekend (for us at least), so there’s plenty of time to join the ranks of reading creatures.

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Learning to read

Here’s the thing.  I’ve become deeply attached to my Kindle Fire.  I can watch Orange Is the New Black on it while I work out.  I can play the twentysome games of Words With Friends I’ve got going at any given time.  I can read The Washington Post—helpfully delivered free for a trial period by the very thoughtful Jeff Bezos, who now owns the venerable publication.  I can look at the fashion magazines I used to subscribe to physical copies of.  I can find recipes for my weekend cookfests (the chili-polenta dish I tackled last week was delicious).  I can impulse buy (that little clothes steamer is a marvel)….

However, the thing I seem to do the least on my Kindle these days is read the more than 300 books stored in it.  Part of the problem is that, while I am a fan of digital content and really appreciate how much kinder this device is to my perennially aching back—which, of course, got that way from a lifetime of lugging around hardcovers and manuscripts and hunching over thousands of pages (my eyesight is bad too)—I still prefer the heft and feel of the paper product.

As this piece in The Guardian tells us, we actually absorb less information electronically because part of the reading experience involves an array of sensory input that helps us recall the physical space the words appeared in (as well as our own physical space) while immersed in the narrative.  I used to pride myself on my idiot savant ability to find a passage in a paperback I’d read 20 years ago fairly quickly by visualizing where in the book I’d come across it.  You can’t really do that on a Kindle or other e-reader, as these devices flatten the reading experience and turn it oddly two-dimensional.  Also, my Kindle doesn’t smell like anything other than plastic and maybe nail polish remover that I spilled on it while using it as a platform to do my nails.  Real books smell like musty old shops, like winter evenings, like nostalgia, like adventure.

THE DISAPPEARING SPOON

My point is that I need to learn to read better on my digital devices and I need to do more of it.  Because with all of the distractions (see my first paragraph above) these devices allow and foster, it feels like books are an afterthought.   And, I don’t mean to be overly dramatic but when books become an afterthought, civilization as we know it is over.

So, given that e-reading is better for my back, I’m going to make a concerted effort to get more acquainted with the book side of my Kindle.  If nothing else, it should save me money on all the duplicate copies of titles I have lying around my house and hibernating in the Cloud.  What about you guys?  Do you have these problems or is it just me?

 

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Reading in a Winter Wonderland

snowy water towersEarlier this week, as I watched snow fluttering by my office window, I took a moment to daydream about curling up by a fireplace with some hot cocoa or wine or hot whiskey, reading an appropriately wintery book.  Naturally I then had to think about exactly which books might fit the bill, and the first that came to mind was Little Women, with its general vibe of New England Christmas.   Though on reflection I don’t think it’s true, in my mind every key scene in the book happens in front of a fireplace (where Amy does burn Jo’s manuscript) or frolicking about in the snow.

On the bleaker side of things, I also thought about the Jack London short story “To Build a Fire,” which is definitely not how I’d like my winter to go.

When I polled the office, Sharon reminded me of how much winter plays in to the Laura Ingalls Wilder books:  “I am fully prepared to navigate blizzards with a clothesline or twist hay into braids for the fire among other traumatizing winter survival skills.”  Now I know if we ever set up an apocalypse emergency system here at the office, I should pick Sharon as my buddy.  And bonus points for the venerable LIW, one of them is even called The Long Winter.

Jane voted for our very own David Morrell’s The Spy Who Came for Christmas.  Miriam picked The Cider House Rules and Snow Falling on Cedars, plus Holidays on Ice, while Michael thought of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (which Intern Elie also cited).  Jessica came up with The Corrections and James Joyce’s “The Dead.”  John’s vote was for Russell Banks’s Affliction.  Jim chose The Shipping News, which Stacey seconded, and Frankenstein.  And Intern Jordan made a strong case for Rachel Conn & David Levithan’s Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares that made me want to run to the store after work and pick it up.

There were two votes for Snow—but for two different books by that name.  Jessica went with Orhan Pamuk, while Jim picked Maxence Fermine.  And there were two for Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, including Sharon and Intern Francis, who is reading it right now.  Plus three for the Harry Potter books, from Interns Tatiana, Amy, and Elie.

A few people came up with books that might not be quite winter books, but have a winter feel to them nonetheless, including Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers (Miriam), Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (Mike), The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Into Thin Air by Jon Kraukauer (both Stacey).  On a similar note, Intern May Zhee reads a lot of Russian novels that feel wintery even if they’re not, like Anna Karenina and Doctor Zhivago.

So now that I have such a long list of wintery reading options, all I need is some snow days to curl up and give them a go.   What are your favorite winter reads?

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Book in hand. Or bag.

Whenever I go anywhere anymore, I carry my regular bag* as well as a canvas tote bag that holds two notebooks (that have no real distinction between them, I just have two for some reason), a crossword puzzle and a book along with the bits and bobs that tend to find their ways into bags and never find their way out.

The other week, I was walking with my boyfriend who offered to carry my tote bag for me, which I handed over gladly as my shoulder was beginning to ache. He commented “what do you have in here that’s so heavy?” for of course, my book that week was a rather thick hardback, so it wasn’t the most lightweight of reading material.

“Why do you need a book today?”

“I always take a book with me, you know that. Just in case.”

Since we had an agenda for pretty much the entire day, it took some explaining to convince him that I needed to carry an extra bag because who knows how long it would be until I could get back to my book. No, I wasn’t planning on being bored or having much down time, but you never know.

Sure, sometimes I lug a book around all day and never once even consider opening it. Either I don’t have the time, or I’d rather finish that crossword puzzle that’s been niggling at me all day. But I must have one on me!

The answer here is, clearly, a bigger everyday bag, and I am pining after several (in conjunction with Lauren’s post recently, maybe you could get your book lovin’ friends a really nice bag that neatly holds daily reading material, too…), but I’m also looking for other answers and opinions.

Am I crazy to need to have a book on me at all times? If not, what other options are there besides an electronic reading device? I have them and I don’t love them. If you know of any magical solutions (or if you have any reasons to call me out for being silly) I’m really interested in hearing!

Until then, I’ll be a cumbersome bag lady and smile through the pain. For the books. Doing it for the books.

 

*I hate the word “purse” for some reason. “Pocketbook” is a little better, but not great and “handbag” is just too fussy. But I guess I am referring to a purse in this case.

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Listing

Our office book club is a lovely thing, in theory.  We each pick a different book from a predetermined category and we report on it to the group.  We write a pitch letter, as if we were sending the project out on submission, and then tell our colleagues what we really think of the title in question.  It’s both fun and sobering to see how adept we all are at false praise and how mean spirited we can be when an author disappoints us.

Given that book club is an extracurricular activity for all of us and that, ironically, none of us has a lot of free time for reading, our picks are a hotly debated (sometimes hostilely so) subject.  If you’ve been following this blog for a while, it won’t surprise you that the most vituperative battles usually erupt between Jim McCarthy and myself.  I like to think that’s because we are the most passionate about book club.  Our co-workers think it’s because we’re the most immature.

But I digress.

It’s time to select our next round of titles and we decided (as we usually do at this time of year) to choose from the “best of the year” lists.  Jim forwarded a link to the New York Times Notable Books of the Year and I perused it with a gimlet eye.  Like the Academy Awards, the paper of record seldom goes for fun over (heavy) substance when it crowns its winners.  Its year-end list is always full of unimpeachably good-for-you books, and if you’re looking for the literary equivalent of junk food, you’re out of luck.  So, I went hunting and found the Goodreads list (via Buzzfeed), a more, shall we say, democratic round-up of the year’s best.  After looking at the offerings there—Rainbow Rowell! Stephen King! Anne Rice!—I ended up choosing from the Times list after all.  The Goodreads titles are must-reads by excellent authors, sure, but the Sarah Waters novel on the Times list looks like it’s going to be both healthy and delightful in a Downton Abbey sort of way.

What list are you choosing your holiday reading from?  Or are you going to ignore both the cognoscenti and the rabble and go your own way, picking your next book from a clever flap copy or an arresting cover?

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Bad sex

I’m sure I’ve mentioned here before how much I relish certain kinds of bad writing.  Whether it’s found in queries so incoherent they make you want to request the manuscript they reference to see if the actual pages can possibly be as gawdawful (I do not recommend this as a tactic for getting your foot in the door), a passage so ripe in an otherwise well written novel that you question everything you ever believed about the author’s talent, or a subject so tricky that even otherwise skillful writers royally muck it up time and again when attempting to capture it in simple, lucid prose.

Sex is one of those subjects that turn good and even great authors into flailing amateurs.  It’s so hard to depict well that there should be dedicated writing courses teaching young MFA candidates how not to  screw it up (no pun intended).

That said, bad sex writing is a particularly fun subset of bad writing, and the 22nd Bad Sex in Fiction Awards once again celebrate that badness.  So, wander on over to the Literary Review for a peek at the nominees for “Britain’s Most Dreaded Literary Prize.”

Can you come up with anything similarly cringeworthy?

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Want it.

Clearly I’m late to the party, but I’ve just come across Book Riot’s Book Fetish series, and now I know where I’ll be doing my gift shopping this holiday season.  (I operate firmly on the one for them, one for me rule.)  Union Square has started assembling its holiday market, so ready or not, it’s that time of year!  But this year, I’m feeling prepared:

This Shakespearean insults poster is going to come in very handy.  And there are some tedious rogues in my life who might love it, too.

I might just buy a new bookcase so I have an excuse to use the Clampersand, which is genius.

Plus the many, many literate lawyers I know would look great in this t-shirt.

And this vintage library cart bar cart combines two of my very favorite things and would be a fine addition to my home.  Who do I know that’s crafty enough to make it for me?

My book-obsessed nephews will for sure be getting some of these.  And their mom loves socks almost as much as books, so I’ve gotta get her these.

24x36-Little-Women-column-SDBook Fetish aside, my favorite lit paraphernalia is PosterText prints:  prints made of the text of books, where the negative space forms an image.  I have Little Women in my office and The Great Gatsby at home, and everyone is always amazed when they look closely.

So, my fellow book nerds, where else should I be shopping this holiday season?

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National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo)

Happy National Novel Writing Month everybody! Writing a draft for a 50,000-word novel in a single month is no easy feat, so I figured I would help out those of our readers who are writers currently working on a project with some helpful tips and resources.

First things first, if you’re going to do this, don’t make excuses. Check out this advice about finding time to write. I especially like #2. As an iPhone 6 Plus user, one of the benefits a big screen provides is the ability read and edit manuscripts on the go. Smartphones do everything. They can be your pen and paper when you’re out and about.

GalleyCat also has some useful advice for writers. Their first writing tip this November can be found here.

Who better to take advice from than Ernest Hemingway? Ever heard of him?

And perhaps the most important tip of all: don’t get discouraged! You can do it! After all, it’s been done before. And if you need some inspiration, here’s a pep talk from James Patterson.

Show, don’t tell. This is a classic piece of advice. It’s also what I tell my clients on a consistent basis. Not only does showing the reader actions and emotions make your story come alive, but it’ll help you increase that word count so 50,000 words in a month seems like no big thing!

How many of our readers out there are currently partaking in National Novel Writing Month? Do you have any other tips for fellow writers? Let us know in the comments below.

Lastly, and on a completely unrelated note, we here at DGLM would like to express our sincere gratitude to all former and active members of the U.S. military. Happy Veterans Day!