Category Archives: fun

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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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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?

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New York, New York, It’s a Helluva Town!

Sheep Meadow at Central ParkI am unabashedly fond of New York City.  I was born in Manhattan, to parents from the Bronx, where ¾ of my grandparents were from as well and where I lived as a child.   Since I grew up in the suburbs in New York State and moved back at 18 (other than a year-and-a-half stint at an Irish grad school I’ve been in NYC ever siWater Towers Near Union Squarence), I wouldn’t quite go as far as to call myself a New Yorker, but I love the place.  It has its flaws, but there’s nowhere else I’d want to live for more than the short term.  Conveniently, it’s also the center of the industry I’m planning to work in for the rest of my career and within driving distance (not that I know how to drive) of nearly everyone in the world I love.  You can tell me that it’s not the center of the universe or that there are far better places out there, and I will pretend to believe that is a perfectly reasonable opinion, but I’m not going to mean it.

Green-Wood Cemetery, the Prettiest Place in New York CitySo of course I was a sucker for Charlotte Jones’s blog post over at the Guardian on New York in books.  New York plus books?  Who could ask for anything more?  I haven’t read all of her selections, but am eager to pick them up.  Readers followed up with their own picks, which also helps add to my list.  From these, The Great Gatsby, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and Let the Great World Spin are not just among my favorite Bright Lights, Big CityNew York books, they’re some of my favorite books period.  I’ve never quite realized that their New Yorkness might be part of the reason why.

I’m actually currently reading Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, which I’m really loving for how much it reflects my own adolescent feelings about New York (for better or worse).  And my splurge on last The Big Blue Whale at the American Museum of Natural Historyweekend’s sleepover at the American Museum of Natural History was partially informed by my childhood adoration of E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (about a different NY institution, of course, but my childhood love was reserved for the big blue whale and the brontosaurus more than anything you can find in the Met*).

I loved Rebecca Stead’s gorgeous When You Reach Me for its loving, complex depiction of city childhood.  The Wonder Wheel at Coney IslandNot to mention Patti Smith’s Just Kids, Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved, Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, so many things by Judy Blume, Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love, and probably countless others I’m not thinking of. And it’s at least part of what drew me into my client Wayne Gladstone’s Notes from the Internet Apocalypse and Jane’s client Michael Callahan’s forthcoming Searching for Grace Kelly.

Don’t get me wroLady Liberty Salutes the Sunsetng, I love reading about other places, too, but when someone captures NYC just right, it fills my heart with joy and fond feeling.  What are your favorite NYC books?  I mean, my reading piles haven’t actually toppled over to kill me yet, so clearly there’s room for them to grow.  We like to build things up high here in New York City.

*Except for the Temple of Dendur, because of this other glorious locked-in-the-Met story from my childhood.

 

The Brooklyn Public Library    Prospect Park

 

 

 

Have book, will travel

For me the hardest part of packing for a trip is making sure I have all the books I’ll need to get me through airport delays, long flights, pool lounging, and, of course, for bedtime reading when I’m too tired from a day of strenuous vacationing to fall asleep.  Then, there’s the tricky part:  leaving enough room in my bulging carry-on for the books I will be buying while abroad.  We all have these problems, right? Right?

Well, when I set off for France two weeks ago, I had the equivalent of my bedside table pile on my Kindle, the galleys I got at BEA five years ago of Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You, and a couple of back issues of the Oprah magazine. I congratulated myself on my light packing.

While in the beautiful Aquitaine region, I finished the Tropper and Jo Jo Moyes’ One Plus One (for my neighborhood book club) and I had queued up the Lily King novel that’s been getting so many raves for the flight back home.  Then, it was time to head back to the States.  We had five hours to kill in London and a large W.H. Smith store to browse in.  And they were having a “buy one get one ½ price”  sale on books that had made the British bestseller lists.  So…

Books

Having already logged quite a few miles that day and anticipating an exhausting journey home (frankly, the worst part of international travel is getting on the Van Wyck Expressway to and from JFK airport—it calls itself a road, but it’s really a parking lot), I opted for the lighter seeming of the two books to start.  And so, I dug into Letters from Skye, which feels like a cross between The Notebook and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and was not disappointed.  It’s a lovely, easy read with just the right mix of romance and sadness to keep you turning pages.  And, I’m really looking forward to diving into the Wyld book, which appears to be much darker and literary (a bit Gaiman-ish).

The best thing, though, is finding new voices as a result of my travels that I might not have ever stumbled on while on this side of the Atlantic.   Turns out both of the books I picked up in London are available in the U.S., but they were not on my radar.  The fact that they were prominently displayed and discounted at a busy airport store made it easy for me to part with the last of my Euros and take home what is to me the perfect souvenir of my European vacation.

How do you handle books and reading on your trips?  Are you literary over-packers?  Do you have to go into any bookstore you pass—whether in North Carolina or Marrakesh?  Do you jointly archive experiences, scenery, and the narratives you were immersed in while on the road?  What did you read on your last vacation?