Category Archives: fun

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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!

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Books and lyrics

Driving in to work today, I was listening to Spotify and thinking about books.  I’m currently obsessed with the song “Ugly Heart” by G.R.L. and I was thinking it could be the basis for an angstsy teen novel.  One thing leads to another in my often labyrinthine thought process and I soon found myself trying to list in my head songs I love that are based on books, poems, or other literary works.

Some obvious ones came to mind—“Calypso” by Suzanne Vega, “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, “Romeo and Juliet” by Dire Straits, “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush, “Moon over Bourbon Street” by Sting.  All of these have been longtime favorites because of the dimension they add to the fictional works they, well, ripped off.  (Isn’t all creation  stealing, really?  Or at least borrowing heavily?)

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As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I love the marriage of music and literature and I often find myself making musical pairings in my mind: Paolo Nutini riffing on The Fault in Our Stars?  Fun. taking a crack at Atonement?  Adele reinterpreting Bel Canto?  Jay-Z channeling Tennyson?  You get my drift.

What is your favorite song based on a book?   And what book would you like to see become a hit song?

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A couple guest posts by our interns on what they’ve learned so far

A Little More Than Nothing About Publishing by Francis Adams

Today, when Mike asked me if I’d like to write something for the blog, I looked at him blankly, then said, “Sure!”, knowing full well that I had no idea what I was going to write about. After kicking around a few ideas, he suggested that I might talk about a few things I’ve learned about publishing since taking on this internship. After thinking about this for some time, I must say (in the spirit of Socrates) that the only thing I know for sure about publishing is that I know only a little more than nothing about publishing.

But upon further (and only somewhat more serious) reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that the clearest glimpses I’ve gained into the world of publishing have come in the moments when I am doing the exact opposite of what I am supposed to be doing, or even what is socially acceptable! Let me explain. The truth is, I often find my attention drifting from the narrative of my n’th slush sample of the day, or the reader’s report I am writing, and zeroing in on the things going on around me—whether it be a phone conversation, a quick (or not-so-quick) glance at my fellow colleagues’ monitors (I hope that’s vague enough), or even, in the more extreme cases, overhearing someone interview for a job, or listening in on a meeting. When you’re new to a job, you tend to try to hold as much as possible to the conventional wisdom that tells you to always be focused and attentive to completing the task at hand, or on figuring out what new tasks need doing—in short, don’t slack off–but I have found that it is in the idlest of moments, when I let my focus drift momentarily from the task at hand, that I actually learn the most.

So when I try to pinpoint one thing, one overarching theme if you will, that these little diversions have alerted me to, I am forced to conclude, simply, that communication is paramount in this business. I say I am forced to conclude this only because nearly every glance to a monitor displays either an open email or twitter page, and nearly every phone conversation—especially if it is with an author—seems to be directed towards clarifying some misconception or making sure he or she knows what works, what doesn’t, and, overall what is marketable about the work.

I’d be interested to know if anyone else has experienced this irony—the realization that one has actually learned more by doing the opposite of what one is supposed to be doing, or even what is socially acceptable? If so, maybe it’s worth writing about …

 

The Ingredients of Book Publishing by Amy Hendricks

Before applying to internships, I knew I wanted to get into publishing somehow. Being able to work with books is a dream for any passionate reader, and I was eager to see what it would be like. I never realized just how many people are involved in the production of one book! From what I’ve gathered in the office, there’s the query to be read, calls to be made, publishers to shop around to, emails sent, financial negotiations, contracts to be signed, covers to design, and so so so much more. I’m not sure what I imagined before seeing it in action, but the most important ingredient in the recipe for a book seems to be a supportive team of ambitious agents.

One week in September I was able to help Lauren with the packaging and shipping of some boxes. This day of work entailed unpacking foreign copies of books and sorting then sending them to authors. It was a good day of work, and as someone with a bit of wanderlust it was interesting to see the different covers and titles of the same book throughout different countries. Lauren taught me how to decipher their country codes and send the books on their way, and I spent my commute home imagining the variety of languages these stories would be told in.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned interning here is that there are so many good ideas out there! Reading queries and helping agents look over potential manuscripts has been an exciting part of this internship, and I am endlessly amazed by the wide range of stories which come into the office. The volume of queries is another thing I didn’t quite grasp the enormity of until I was sent an email with several attached at once. It has been so exciting to read some of these stories, and even if they don’t make the cut it is an honor to read something that has been worked on lovingly by someone.

Something I’ve learned, which pertains less to books and more to what it’s like working in an office, is that baked goods don’t last a long time in the kitchen here. I’ve been able to try out a few new recipes (like today’s White Chocolate Pumpkin Snickerdoodles) on everyone, and am happy to say I never need to cart leftovers home on the train!

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What I did on my vacation

2 collageOver the years, I have developed quite an adventure lust,  journeying to such places as Greece, Turkey, Venice, Berlin and Prague, Israel, Jordan  and Australia.  Wherever I go I come back with a fresh perspective on our work and many times I return with ideas which I subsequently help develop into books.

This year was no different although our trip was a bit more exotic and adventurous than they have been in the past.  In mid-September, we went to Kenya on the east coast of Africa and journeyed on a nine- day safari.  We flew all over the country, from Nairobi where we visited Karen Blixen’s  home  (Out of Africa), to the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro, to the Mara and Mt. Kenya, and back to Nairobi.  We went on at least a dozen game drives, saw the great migration and experienced the thrill of a hot air balloon ride (with its scary, controlled crash landing).  Ultimately we returned with wonderful photographs and stories to tell.

3 collageAnd, as in the past, I came back with a couple of book ideas that I am actively pursuing—a book about what the world would be like without wildlife and another about giraffes.  I am really hoping that one or both of these come to fruition.

In the end, this vacation was restorative to my psyche and my creativity.  Vacations should do that for all of us—enable us to renew our energy, so to speak.

I’d love to hear your vacation experiences and what resulted from your time away.  I hope you will share those here.

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I’ll take mine with a twist

TwistI’m still reeling from Atonement.  Charlotte Brontë destroyed me with Villette.  And, I’m glad the Huffington Post agrees that Liane Moriarty’s bestseller ends with a, well, twist because I was bowled over.

Thing is, I hate surprises.  Really, I do.  I actually break out in hives at the thought of a surprise birthday party.  Whether the surprise is good or bad is irrelevant.  I don’t like to be there when it’s happening.  My peripatetic childhood, which involved periodically arriving in a new place whose culture (and even language) I didn’t understand made me wary of the unexpected.   That, combined with my type-A, OCD nature makes me dread anything I can’t see coming from a good distance.  (I will be taking all of this up in therapy some day, do not fear.)

As a result, I am one of those rare people who also appreciates a certain amount of predictability in my reading.  Rather than finding a book whose ending I can intuit or guess at a waste of time, I enjoy being able to focus my attention on the author’s prose, character development, and attention to detail.  I like category fiction because it generally follows a formula and it’s the skill of the author at things other than surprising us that tends to set these works apart.

So, of course, it irks me no end to admit that some of my most memorable reading experiences have involved not just a surprise ending but a shocking one.  My initial response is usually rage and confusion, followed, after a while, by admiration at the author’s ability to yank the rug so forcefully out from under me.  It’s so hard to pull off, but when it’s done right, it tends to make the narrative it closes unforgettable—especially when the finale seems organic and not gimmicky.  I hate surprises but I tend to end up loving books that surprise me.

What are your favorite surprise endings?  And why?