Category Archives: great books

2

Start ‘Em Young

My friend the biographer Brian Kellow (ETHEL MERMAN: A LIFE, PAULINE KAEL: A LIFE IN THE DARK, and this Fall’s upcoming CAN I GO NOW? THE LIFE OF SUE  MENGERS, HOLLYWOOD’S FIRST SUPERAGENT) came up with a great Facebook post last week that got a lot of us to thinking. He included a photo of a half-dozen original copies of his mother’s favorite books, and went on to indicate how his parents’ taste in reading helped define them, and helped shape him along the road to adulthood.

My own parents didn’t always have a lot of time to read. When they did, their inclinations were pretty straightforward. Dad always preferred non-fiction. I remember him reading David Ogilvy’s CONFESSIONS OF AN ADVERTISING MAN and William Shirer’s THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH. But when he was younger, he developed an affinity for Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Walt Whitman. I loved the old 1920s leather-bound editions of these authors that he had kept since college, and that held pride of place on our family’s bookshelves.

Mom used to like to disappear into the latest sprawling historical epic, be it Leon Uris’s EXODUS or James Michener’s HAWAII or THE SOURCE. I was somewhat distressed when she chose to buy and read a paperback novelization of the romantic-comedy movie FOR LOVE OF IVY in 1968. Well, that was a tough time in her life, for a lot of reasons, and I shouldn’t have begrudged her that search for a bit of  escapism.

It was always a sad feeling I got whenever I would enter the homes of friends whose parents didn’t seem to read; who had no bookcases in the living room. And I’m grateful that my parents taught me to read at a young age and, without really even trying, instilled a love of books in me right from the start.

What books do you remember your parents reading when you were growing up? And did you ever go on to read the same books?

1

London Calling

I’m off to London, catching the tail end of events connected to the London Book Fair and attending a conference on literary translation at Oxford. I love London unabashedly, with the kind of nostalgia-tinged enthusiasm folks reserve for the place that was their first trip abroad, their first experience with independent city life.  I studied in London as an undergraduate and have returned at every opportunity I could manage. (I still mourn the demise of the Virgin Atlantic 99£ fare, which bore me across the ocean on an editorial assistant’s salary.)  In London I find a wonderful mashup of my childhood fantasies (surely there is a wardrobe into which I may wander? A chance to swoop past Big Ben and fly straight on ‘til morning?) and the rich, contemporary, polyglot literary scene that exists atop it,  a palimpsest of history, language and cultures.  Like many bookish kids, I was an Anglophile. I grew up reading C.S, Lewis, E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, J.R.R. Tolkien, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Noel Streatfield, J.M. Barrie, and later Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Iris Murdoch, A.S. Byatt—and the list goes on. Although it dates me to admit it, I was already a full-grown muggle and working in publishing when a colleague brought me back a first UK edition of Harry Potter and urged me to read it. I was foolish enough to pass that copy along to a friend, who passed it to a friend, who passed it to a friend who never quite returned it, but I found my way back to Hogwarts later, and also found ample consolation in the magical landscapes of Philip Pullman’s Oxford, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and in the less fantastical (but no less transporting) works of post-colonial experience—books by writers like V.S. Naipul, Hanif Kureishi, Monica Ali, and Zadie Smith.

My own literary map of London would surely be less beautifully detailed than the one I found on-line, here and below. I’m not much of a cartographer and there are titles here that I’ve not read—but  it would be fun to make a personal version.  What books, or what city, would feature in your own literary map? What book would you nominate as the quintessential London read?

0

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!

 

 

 

 

0

The best books we read last year

Happy New Year! The last month has been a blur of holiday parties, vacations, birthdays, book deals, and lots of presents, both giving and receiving. Now it’s back to reality, and I thought before we get into more titillating conversations about the inner workings of book publishing that I’d share a link I read at the end of last year from the editors over at The Atlantic discussing their favorite books of the year. They’ve been doing this since 2010 and it’s a fun exercise to look at a sampling of the year in books over at The Atlantic from a very savvy literary perspective.

They’re not all new books, and they are wide-ranging in their categories. There really is something for everyone, even those of you who have small children will find Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site on the list! And read the descriptions by the staff at The Atlantic. They are quite entertaining.

How many of these have you read? And which books are you putting on your to-read list? I haven’t read nearly enough, but I will share a couple of my favorite books that I read last year. I thoroughly enjoyed The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty in the commercial fiction department (with thanks to the lovely Amy Einhorn, who gave me a copy at our lunch date), and I was completely mesmerized by Susannah Cahalan’s memoir Brain on Fire on the nonfiction side. There are so many wonderful books published every year, and I look forward to reading as many as I can in the year to come!

Product Details

Product Details

1

What I’m looking for in 2015

Happy New Year everyone! I’m a bit swamped catching up on work that accumulated over the holidays, so I’ll keep my blog post today short and sweet.

I’m looking to acquire character driven fiction.

I’m currently reading David Mitchell’s THE BONE CLOCKS, and the first thought I had was: wow, this is a character (referring to Holly Sykes—one of the many characters in THE BONE CLOCKS). Holly Sykes is vividly drawn; she has her own slang and mannerisms, has hopes, dreams, desires—in short, she comes across as real person. She has a voice. Of course, Mitchell has a voice too, an exceptional one, and it’s the way he writes his characters, it’s his voice that gives Holly a voice.

All great books have a great voice. Some are plot-driven. Some are character-driven. I’m looking for the latter. Is anyone currently working on a project that fits this description? If so, please query me and reference this blog post in the subject line. I’d love to read what you’ve got.

0

Rory’s Reading List

I’ve started watching this great show on Netflix. It’s called Gilmore Girls – ever heard of it? Okay, so maybe it’s not a hidden gem; when the series hit Netflix a month or so ago, my Twitter exploded with glee from ecstatic fans who began planning marathons, comparing favorite episodes…and chastising in shock and horror those of us who have never seen an episode (even our own Miriam Goderich was appalled at me).

So this weekend I finally bowed to the pressure. And I found something to love right away – Rory Gilmore has a book in her hand in almost every scene. In fact, her high school sweetheart first notices her when she is so utterly absorbed in a book that she is oblivious to a fight breaking out nearby.

And it turns out I am not the only one to notice the bookwormyness of Gilmore Girls. From this EW list highlighting seven titles to this massive Buzzfeed post on all 339 books mentioned in the show, the internet seems to love Rory’s reading lists as much as they love the show itself. One superfan even pledged to read every one of those 339…and this Goodreads list will make it easy for the rest of us to add a few to our own TBRs.

Reading is not a spectator activity, usually, so hats off to Gilmore Girls for making the love of literature so prominent in such a lively show. And now I’m thinking how to add more bookishness to my favorite shows…maybe one of the firms on The Good Wife could represent a library facing an FBI subpoena of patron activity! And come to think of it, The Mindy Project just finished an arc in which one of Mindy’s party-boy coworkers dated a romance author and learned authors a lot more fun than he expected.

What other shows would you like to see add a book-loving character? Ever discovered a favorite book recommendation through a character on television?

 

1

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?

0

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.

 

3

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

 

 

 

1

Silent fans

Of course you all know that yesterday was Harry Potter’s birthday. I mean J.K. Rowling’s birthday. If you want to get technical about it since Harry Potter is not actually a real person (spoiler alert). In any case, this is a fact that I was fully aware of, among many, many other pieces of Harry Potter trivia and minutiae.

This is because I love the series—I grew up with it, read the first book in 1999 and didn’t stop. I’ve actually lost track of how many times I’ve reread those books, but I can tell you it’s an embarrassingly high number, particularly for the earlier ones (even though Chamber is my least favorite of the series, but I had a penchant for having to read the series all the way through every time a new one came out).

What I miss most about the books, I think, is the pure speculation between each release. I lived on Muggle Net and pored over predictive books in Borders for hours, debating with friends about what tantalizing secrets would be revealed, who would die next, who the new Defense against the Dark Arts teacher would be. I went to every midnight release and finished every new book in under 36 hours. Argued about which Weasley brother was the best (George, obviously) and scoffed and derided the films for getting EVERYTHING WRONG.

However, unless you actually talked to me about the books, I bet I never came off like a die-hard fan. I’ve never once dressed up, never gone to a themed party, I have no deathly hallows or lightning bolt tattoos. I couldn’t tell you what butterbeer tastes like, never having tried to make it or order it in a bar. I don’t visit message boards now that all the books are out. Sure, I joined Pottermore over a year ago, but haven’t looked at it since.

Does that make me less of a fan? Culture today is so enmeshed in publicly avowing your love for a particular series, character or phenomenon and sometimes I feel I have to prove myself against those who are much louder and more obvious about their passion. I once went to a Harry Potter trivia night and did very well, plainclothesed and silent in the corner. That, I felt, was a victory for me—don’t doubt me just because I’m unassuming!

However much I really feel no need to do any of those aforementioned things, it’s true that I wonder if I’m missing out in some way. What’s your opinion? I personally feel like I love the books just as much or more than anyone with a scar drawn on their forehead, and that’s enough for me. What’s your favorite book to get totally immersed in the culture of fandom of?