Category Archives: fun

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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?

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Judging the Book by its Cookie

 

This morning I listened to a fascinating NPR interview with Peter Mendelsund, an esteemed cover designer who has recently published his own book on cover design (did you follow that okay? I’ll wait).

Mendelsund talked to Fresh Air’s Dave Davies about how he reads every manuscript carefully. “I’m trying to be very alert for anything in that text that has structural importance or a particular kind of emotional weight,” he explained, saying that he wants the cover design to capture the feeling he had while he was reading, rather than simply recreating a character or portraying a scene.

So I was thinking deep, important thoughts about aesthetics and subliminal messaging today as I stood in the kitchen making my coffee. And my eyes fell on a framed cookbook cover on the wall in our lobby, which just so happens to be in my direct line of vision from the kitchen door. “A ha!” I thought to myself. “THIS is why I always crave cookies in the office! It’s not even my fault. It’s the cover design!” Luckily, Tuesdays are the day our intern Amy usually brings in amazing home-baked goods – chocolate peanut-butter-chip cookies are today’s treat.

I’m kidding – sort of – but I’m also thinking about covers. We do judge books by them, even when we don’t realize we are. When I worked at Barnes & Noble, I would hear at least once a day, “I don’t remember what it was called, but the cover was orange.” Below are some delightful books I discovered when their cover caught my eye:

 

What are your favorite book covers? What catches your eye when you’re browsing for a new read? Do you find yourself drawn to the same design elements over and over?

 

Covers via Goodreads

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Tension

It’s no secret to anyone who follows me on Twitter (or works here or has seen me in the last couple weeks), that I’ve become completely addicted to a new podcast called Serial (serialpodcast.org).  It’s a spin-off from This American Life, focused on one murder case and the possibly wrongful conviction of the victim’s ex-boyfriend, who has been in jail for 15 years.  It unravels in thematic episodes, following the course of the investigation not quite in real time.  The narrative arc of the “season” isn’t fully known to the producers, or wasn’t when it started airing at least, so those of us who are listening weekly with rapt attention have no idea where it will end up—or if there are even really satisfying answers to the questions it raises.  I’m completely and totally hooked, and I’ve managed to get Sharon, Miriam, Michael, Jim, DGLM client Catherine Whitney, my mother, and many of my friends addicted, too.

So for today’s blog entry, a plea to you from me:  I want to represent the book that feels like this podcast feels.  I want that tension.  I want that slow unfolding and conversational reportage.  Fiction or nonfiction is fine, but I’m not looking for a run-of-the-mill mystery or true crime book.  I want something that feels huge and also intimate.  A book where every answer raises more questions and then explores all those paths looking for the truth.  I want a book where I’m dying to get back to it and desperate for friends to read it to so we can talk about what we think is happening as we read.  I want to be certain and then confounded and certain again and endlessly curious.  I want something that grips me from the first sentence and maybe won’t ever let me go.

So if you’re the author of that book and you’re looking for an agent, please query me.  And if you want to just talk about Serial, hit me up in the comments or on Twitter (@laurenabramo). (Though let’s try not to spoil it below for anyone who’s just diving in.)

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Books near and far

With a three-day weekend fast approaching* and deliciously devoid of any plans whatsoever, I’m imagining what sort of cozy fall activities (e.g. reading in a sweater and eating pie in a sweater) I can get up to and where. My mind immediately jumps to a rotation of coffee shops and a selection of books. Only I need some new books to read, so I’ll likely stop by my local bookshop as well.

And it’s a bit serendipitous and a bit cruel punishment that they’re so far out of reach, but I just scrolled through this list of 19 Magical Bookshops Every Book Lover Must Visit and spent the next couple minutes just staring at the sofa that accompanies the listing for Hatchard’s in London, imagining reading in the window on that particular seat. While it’s pretty lovely for the Brits that this list doesn’t just focus on London or even, it seems, large cities in general, that doesn’t really help me over here on this side of the pond—though how cool is the Honesty Bookshop?!?

I know there are lists everywhere for super great New York City bookstores, and I feel lucky to live in a place where independent bookstores can and do thrive if done correctly. That’s of course not always totally the case outside of any metro area. What I’d love is to hear about or see photos of small time bookstores across the country. If I collect enough of them, then there I’ve got my idea for the cross-country road trip I’ve always wanted to take…

 

*Thank you, Christopher Columbus! I mean. Um, I know you were meant to be a terrible person, horrible, really, so maybe. Hm. Well. Yes, yes, I mean I’ll still take the day off.

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When friends succeed

1746-v1-150x.PNGThe Publishers Weekly edition which was published right before I left on vacation featured Flatiron Books on the cover and I was so pleased to see that.

I have known the founder and publisher, Bob Miller for a lot of years starting when he was an editor at St. Martin’s way back when, through his tenure at Warner Books (now Grand Central) , then Delacorte and then on to establishing Hyperion which, in its day, was a huge success.

Bob is now well on his way to another thrilling achievement with this new imprint of Macmillan Publishing.  After being in business for a little over a year they already have a number one New York Times bestseller: WHAT I KNOW FOR SURE by Oprah Winfrey.  I’m sure this is only the beginning and I am so pleased for my good friend and his super team, which includes the brilliant Amy Einhorn who recently relocated from Penguin .

Over the last several years we in publishing have watched numerous companies consolidate and our colleagues lose their jobs as a result. Many have left the business altogether; others are just getting by or trying to create new careers for themselves within the publishing world.  This isn’t easy, which is why it is always encouraging to see an old colleague’s new success.

We should all be rooting for their success, in fact.  I for one am hoping that we as an agency can contribute to that.  Congratulations to Bob and John Sargent, Macmillan’s CEO, and your talented crew for your courage in starting something new during a perilous time.

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Spoiler alert!

I’ve been thinking a lot about spoilers lately.  You can’t really talk about them without citing them, so if you’re really averse and somehow magically haven’t had Gone Girl ruined for you yet, you might want to click away.

With all the book-to-film adaptations* this fall—perhaps not more than usual, but more than I usually have any interest in—I dedicated my vacation reading to finally getting to two books I’ve been meaning to read for quite a while, before the movies could ruin them for me.  I might just be the last person to read Gone Girl, and I wasn’t exactly early to the This Is Where I Leave You bandwagon.  Fortunately, my experience with the latter was spoiler free—the only thing I’d been forewarned about was that it was really, really good.

Now, this isn’t me getting on my soapbox about spoilers, because I tend to think that if you aren’t passionate enough to prioritize something you don’t get to quell the conversations of those who are.  (I’m almost always the late one, so I’ve come to this via zen-like acceptance of my own bad impulses to get angry at someone for talking about something they care about, as if talking about something you care about isn’t a fundamentally important part of the human experience that I value highly.)  I know there was also that whole thing about how people actually like spoilers, contrary to what they think, but I’d argue that it changes your experience anyway, in a way that’s interesting but not ideal.  I know I get distracted by spoilers, and it takes me out of the experience of really enjoying the thing in the way I otherwise would.  To each their own, of course, but I’m not going to start seeking them out, and I’ll still probably have to ban myself from social media on Sunday nights when all the good TV is on for the rest of eternity.

But sometimes—like when you’ve put off reading one of the buzziest books of the last few years until the eve of the release of a film adaptation and you work in publishing—spoilers are not entirely avoidable.  To be fair, I wasn’t totally spoiled with Gone Girl.  I somehow made it all this time without finding out exactly what the twist is. When Stacey read it for DGLM book club, I fled the room.  But I can’t imagine it’s possible at this point to have heard of Gone Girl and not know there’s a twist.  And like all books (or films) that are built around a major plot twist, knowing there is one is pretty much spoiler enough.  It didn’t take me long into the book to realize that there was really only one option people would actually have been impressed with in the way I knew people were.  Unfortunately, while I found it clever and admirably crafted and insightful—that “cool girl” diatribe is everything—I missed my chance to have the opportunity with the novel that so many others did.

The thing about thrillers, or mysteries, or other twisty types of fiction is that I really enjoy the puzzle of trying to figure it out before I’m meant to, but I don’t like it when I win.  I want the author to best my whirring brain and catch me by surprise.

So having finished Gone Girl with quite a bit of like and admiration, but no love, I’ve made a pact with myself:  next time a big buzzy, mysterious novel comes along, I’m reading it right away.

*Like The Maze Runner, based of course on DGLM’s own James Dashner’s novel of the same name.  I know I’m biased, but I thought it was a perfect adaptation.  Exactly what you always hope book-to-film can be, but it almost never is.

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My Fall/Winter Reading List

I’m really excited for pretty much every upcoming fall/winter book, but I know I won’t have a chance to read everything I want to. I don’t have enough time. So I have narrowed my blog today down to the following selections that will take precedence on what looks to be a very ambitious reading list these next few months.

A debut novel from a talented writer about a young woman growing up in a poor Irish family with a stream of consciousness narrative. Definitely worth a look.

Howley’s year-long immersion following two MMA fighters sounds fascinating. A captivating narrative that analyzes the philosophy behind MMA fighting is sure to raise some eyebrows.

I love NPH. He’s extremely talented, not to mention the clever structure of this book. I expect great things, but then again, I never expect anything less from NPH.

Yes please, I’ll have a copy. She’s funnier than Tina Fey–don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Parks and Recreation is hilarious.

Because how could I not read Louis Zamperini’s autobiography after Hillenbrand’s Unbroken?

A unique World War II story about the brutal murder of a Japanese family and those investigating it. Ellroy’s latest is receiving a lot of buzz. Color me intrigued.

Honorable mentions:

LACY EYE by Jessica Treadway

I’ve already read this book, but wanted to include it hear because I strongly recommend it. A suspenseful, haunting read.

TO RISE AGAIN AT A DECENT HOUR by Joshua Ferris

Published this summer so not technically a fall/winter book, but Ferris’s novel has been on my list for a long time and was recently shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2014.

What are you most excited for this fall?

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A list is a list is a list

Recently, I was challenged by a friend on Facebook to list 10 books that had “stayed with me.”   Normally, I enjoy those types of FB challenges as much as I do folding three weeks’ worth of laundry and I often decline to participate.  But, given my line of work, it feels churlish and ungenerous to refuse any opportunity to share what I consider to be one of my life’s  great passions, so despite the ambiguity of the challenge—“Stayed with me” how?  In a good way?  In a throw-it-across-the-room-in-a-fit-of-rage way?  I mean, I hated everything about The Scarlet Letter, but it stayed with me.  And don’t even get me started on The Goldfinch—I went ahead and posted my list.  

Thing is, I find listing books for any purpose—favorites, tree killers (those that are a waste of paper), recommendations, etc.—a trying activity simply because there is so much to choose from and there is such judgment implicit in every choice.    In fact, no one is as judgmental as a book lover.  Admit it, you have mentally demoted friends and lovers based on their book preferences.  You have gloated (internally or otherwise) about how much better your taste in literature is than anyone else’s.  You have shamed people publicly after finding out they’ve never read a certain author’s work (okay, maybe that’s just me…and, the rest of the DGLMers).  So, there’s no way to pick the best of any category of books without great screeches of dissent, anger, hostility, possible projectile throwing.

And the weird thing is that I love book lists.  Other people’s that is.  I love nomination lists, seasonal lists, lists about books featuring animal protagonists, whatever.  I will happily read lists about lists of books.  In fact, you can keep your Booker and Pulitzer and National Book Awards, just hand me their shortlists.   Given the proliferation of lists on the Internet, I suspect I’m not alone.

To that end, and because it’s back to school, time to get serious about reading again, here’s The Millions’ Lists page where you can get as lost as the kid from The Phantom Tollbooth.   Go crazy and then tell me what your favorite book of the year thus far is.

 

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Outlaw Pete

With the Labor Day weekend nearly upon us, I feel like the only books people are thinking about are which ones to take to the beach. But I did see this bit of book news on the Times site, and of course it made me sit up and take notice. Yes, the Boss, Bruce Springsteen, is diving into the picture book game, joining the ranks of many of his fellow dinosaur rockers. (Hey, that sounds like a picture book, too!)  Of course, “diving in” may be stretching it, since it sounds like Bruce pretty much just handed the lyrics to an illustrator, which is how these things usually go—though I do have dreams of Bruce waking up one morning and saying, ‘Gee I’d love to go to ALA this summer and pitch my book to all the teachers and librarians…”

What’s really weird about this one, though, and why it probably hasn’t been bigger news, is that the book is going to be published by the adult division. Which makes sense once you give the lyrics a read—yes, it begins with a cute image of a baby outlaw, but from there we get into guns, blood, death, knives, and a 25-year-old main character meditating on mortality and redemption. I’m not sure even Maurice Sendak could get away with all that!

So I’ll be curious to see how it plays out, but early signs aren’t encouraging. The cover image makes it look like a typical picture book, playing up the cute baby outlaw for kids who love cowboys, which seems like a bait-and-switch. Now, maybe it will be a wonderful book that will appeal to both adults and kids, and I’ll certainly reserve full judgment until it comes out. But on first glance, it does seem like the most cynical kind of celebrity/children’s publishing—let’s hope The Boss takes charge and gets it to that place where we really want it to go. And then we’ll walk in the sun…

 

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The dead zone

This time of the year in publishing is affectionately known as the dead zone.  Everyone is either on vacation or too busy catching up on the piles that grew while they were beachside somewhere to return phone calls or e-mails, the normally swollen river of queries slows down to a babbling brook, and offers are all pending the rubber stamp of a boss who’s in some foreign land drinking copious amounts of wine.  A kind of lethargy sets in during the hazy month of August and it feels like the whole industry has been crop-dusted with Xanax.

For me, this lethargy translates into a kind of reading fatigue.  I find the idea of diving into a new book vaguely exhausting while simultaneously wishing for that reading experience that will act like a jolt of espresso to snap me out of my summer doldrums.  Instead of excited about starting the next book on my list, however, I’m feeling like it’s a chore.   I think that those of us who define ourselves through our crazy, passionate love affair with literature occasionally find ourselves muttering bitterly, “more words, words, words”  at the sight of a shiny  new hardcover 23 people have recommended.  This too shall pass I know from long experience.

When I found myself starting three different books, flipping through a few pages, and putting them down to play Candy Crush this week, I decided I needed a break.  So, I’m reading blogs, magazines, and newspaper articles, Tweets, FB posts (you didn’t think I’d stop reading altogether, did you?).  I’m watching House of Cards and the Little League World Series.  And, I’m processing the coverage of Robin William’s tragically premature passing.   (Here are a couple of sobering and interesting perspectives on the sadness at the core of Williams’ brand of creative genius:  A great essay in Cracked and Russell Brand’s eloquent print eulogy.)  In fact, as in all good relationships, a little time away from the object of one’s affections can be salubrious.

And, of course, during this book sabbatical, I’m making lists of the titles I’m going to dive into when my energy levels pick up.  I’m thinking big biographies might be in my future….

Tell me, how do you guys get over book fatigue?  Or do you never experience such a thing?