Category Archives: holidays

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Book Lovers’ Holiday Survival Guide

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Time to bake and cook and shop and wrap and ship and pack and travel…all things that take precious time away from READING. It’s the most hectic (and wonderful) time of the year!

Well, here are my holiday tips to make the season bright while still finding plenty of time to get lost in a good book or three.

  • With bunch of sparkly gift bags and colorful tissue, you can wrap gifts in a snap and get back to reading.
  • Pick up refrigerator cookie dough so the baking can be done in a jiffy and you can get back to reading.
  • Grab the kids and head to your favorite local bookstore for their holiday storytime. While they listen to How the Grinch Stole Christmas, you can finish your shopping because books are the perfect classy gift for any name on your list. If you’re unsure about the bookworm on your list, a bookstore giftcard means they can get the next book in their favorite series, no guessing needed!
  • If you’re shipping gifts, go to the post office at a very busy time. Plenty of time in line to read! (You’ve got the Kindle app on your phone, right? All set!)
  • Holiday guests coming to stay with you? Splurge on an hour or two of maid service to get the house ready while you sit back with your feet up and read.
  • Holiday guests coming to stay for way too long? Dig up your Starbucks gift card from last year’s Secret Santa exchange and sneak out to read in peace for a couple hours.

What are your tips and tricks for getting through the holiday season and your To Read stack at the same time? Any favorite ways you incorporate books into the merry time of year?

And wishing you all very happy holidays!

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#GivingTuesday

Today is Giving Tuesday, a five-year-old movement launched as an antidote to the commercialism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday at the start of the holiday season.

There are many fine organizations you can give to, and this year ones that work in immigration advocacy, women’s issues, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, and other human rights issues seem more worthy than ever. But because we’re in the business of stories, I wanted to take a minute to mention a few groups I admire that work to make sure folks of all ages can enjoy the power of reading and all the doors it opens–and are free to make their own voices heard.

 Girls Write Now https://www.girlswritenow.org/

Girls Write Now mentors underserved high school girls from throughout New York City’s five boroughs — over 90% high need and 95% girls of color — who must rise above the race and income-based inequalities of the city’s public school system and the nation’s workforce. Through one-to-one mentoring with professional women writers, writing and technology workshops, and leadership, college prep, and professional development opportunities, we inspire women to share their craft and empower girls to find their voices and tell their stories.

United Through Reading http://www.unitedthroughreading.org/

In more than 200 locations worldwide, United Through Reading offers military service members the opportunity to be video-recorded reading books to their children at home. Our program creates emotional connections between parents and their children, encourages literacy, and makes homecomings easier.

 PEN America https://pen.org/

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world.  Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

If you’re looking for more giving ideas, Book Riot offered a round-up with many more literacy organizations. And Electric Lit put a great list of places to volunteer your time and talents!

Do you have a favorite reading/writing non-profit that you support? Tell us about it in the comments or head on over to Twitter and share there!

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It’s that time of year again

It’s Thanksgiving already and even though I find myself a bit “down” this year because of all that has happened, I still love to reflect on what I am thankful for:

My wonderful husband, Steve, who is supportive in every way.  He is my “rock.”

My beautiful and accomplished daughter  Jessica, a correspondent at Reuters, her incredible husband, Brian, and their children Elena (9) and Leo (2).

My handsome, determined and very brave son Zachary who is currently achieving his dream of becoming a pilot as a Marine officer.

My incredibly talented partner Miriam Goderich who has helped me build and run this business for  almost three decades and my new partner Michael Bourret of whom I am so proud.

Our accomplished agents and support staff.  You are a fabulous team and I am so thankful for all you do every day.

And then, most importantly, I am so thankful for our clients without whom we wouldn’t continue to thrive and grow.  Your work is incredibly important and we are all grateful that we can continue to work together to build your careers as writers.

Of course, I would love to hear what you, our readers, are thankful for at this time of year, so let me know.

Meanwhile, a happy Thanksgiving to all.

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Tis the Season

 

What a very charming story Parnassus Bookstore in Nashville shared on their blog this week: A bibliophile in Arizona turned to Parnassus to make long-distance recommendations when his local independent bookstore closed. It’s become a tradition that the booksellers look forward to, and no doubt his family as well!

Of course I always have a lot of books on my holiday shopping list every year, from cookbooks to biographies to novels. And this year I’ve started a new little holiday book tradition. When I was little, I remember getting very excited when my mom started hauling all the Christmas decorations out every year, because the Christmas storybooks were stored with our lights and ornaments – in particular I remember one that was actually in the shape of a snowman that enthralled me year after year. Now that I have a little baby nephew, I want to make sure he builds a collection of holiday stories to look forward to each December! So a couple weeks ago I sent him a package of holiday board books, and was delighted to receive pictures of him happily gnawing on them – no luck finding a snowman-shaped board book yet, but I have a whole year to work on it.

What are your favorite bookish holiday traditions? What are some must-haves for little ones’ holiday book collections? 

 

 

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Holiday gifting

Because of what I do, I generally don’t buy books as holiday gifts.  Frankly, I find it too difficult—there are so many to choose from.  This year, though, I thought I would try to select some that family and friends would enjoy.

But what should I be considering?  Their interests? Their reading taste?  Perhaps I should pick books that I would want to read.  In the end, I chose the latter, simply because that is always the way I buy gifts—I buy others what I would want for myself.  I so enjoy doing that.

So, here is a list of ten books—all published in 2015—that I think might make great gifts.  My one disclaimer is that I haven’t chosen books that I represent for the obvious reason: I think they are all pretty fantastic, and I couldn’t possibly single out ten.  So, here goes:

FICTION:

City of Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (Knopf)

God Help the Child  by Toni Morrison (Knopf)

Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon (Atria)

A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin (Farrar, Strauss)

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead)

NON-FICTION:

Guantánamo DiaryDaughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back by Janice P. Nimura (Norton)

Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedo Ould Slahi (Little Brown)

Jonas Salk: A Life by Charlotte de Croes (Oxford University Press)

Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel by Dan Ephron (Pantheon)

The 613 by Archie Rand (Blue Ridge Press)

All of these are books I would love to read (in fact I have only read one). How do you choose the books you will give as holiday gifts and what are you planning to give?

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Book Lists

I’ve never experienced the holiday season in NYC and it’s been one of the things I’ve been looking forward to ever since moving downstate. Despite the temperatures remaining unseasonably warm, it seems that holiday cheer is in full swing. There’s nothing I love more than walking out of work and through the Christmas market in Union Square to get to the subway—all glow and promise. Christmas trees are being sold, signs are aglitter advertising gifts, and a street I walk down fairly regularly has wreathed their trees in holiday lights.

This time of year also always heralds the “Best Books of 2015” in all their varying forms and can provide a great holiday reading list for those quiet moments you can snatch away! (And for those of us who still have time to read copiously, it’s always very satisfying to go down a list and check off the ones we’ve read.)

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The New York Times released their list—“The 10 Best Books of 2015” yesterday. GoodReads, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post among others, have released their choices as well. (Congratulations to Mary Doria Russell, whose EPITAPH made The Washington Post list and to Colleen Hoover, whose CONFESS was the best in the GoodReads Romance genre!)

However, “Best ___ of 2015”  can sometimes turn into a rabbit hole of fiction, non-fiction, young adult, and other genre specific lists. Which lists do you always look at? Do you pull some of your holiday reading from these lists?

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Storytelling, Myth-making, and What I Did for the Thanksgiving Holiday

I spent the day after Thanksgiving at what is arguably the Thanksgiving capital of the country, Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts, where a now-famous group of Protestant separatists set up their fateful and relatively short-lived settlement. The open air museum is a fascinating day trip, and, much to the delight of my children, the pilgrim re-enactors stay firmly in character—their accents, persona, and roles carefully maintained. Alongside the folks in doublet and hose, bonnets and iconic hats, there are modern museum personnel who can expound on objects and events from a 21st century perspective. Thus, in a small wattle-and-daub hut dubbed America’s first test kitchen, we watched a luxuriantly bearded young curator (as bewhiskered as any of his 17th century colleagues) cooking up something Pilgrim-style. When my son asked what was in the pot, he produced a brace of plucked, stringy bird-flesh he identified as quail. My sons and their cousins quailed and fled. Apparently, this glimpse of poultry freed from the usual plastic wrap and looking recognizably avian was a little too real.

Fun as it is, there’s a strange and sometimes unsettling combination of the real, the recreated, and the mythologized. Even though Plimoth Plantation does not shy away from the abundant horrors of life on and off the Mayflower (the dimensions of which are shockingly small), and does not represent the feast with which most Americans commemorate “the first Thanksgiving” as historically accurate, to visit this place is to see the power of narrative. Even the model Wampanoag encampment, which is staffed not by actors, but by members of the Wampanoag tribe, is a sharp reminder that history is written by the victors. Indeed, the long-serving Governor William Bradford’s history Of Plymouth Plantation is a literary record crafted with– if not myth-making—then certainly posterity in mind. That book turned out to play a surprisingly pivotal role in our national origin story. For more on this, there’s piece here by the New Yorker’s Jill Lepore, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick, and an American Experience documentary airing on PBS.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/pilgrims/player/

I came away from my visit with a renewed interest in the political and social context of the day (the 17th century was rife religious warfare), my own replica of a 17th century disease ( I’m coughing, but I’m pretty sure I don’t actually have consumption), and most of all, a renewed respect for the profound power of storytelling.

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You’re A Good Writer, Charlie Brown

A Charlie Brown Christmas celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and last night ABC ran it with a feature on the history of the special’s creation. Did you know that Coca-Cola contacted Charles Schulz’s team to express interest in sponsoring a Peanuts holiday special, and he and his animators put the basic story together for a pitch in just a couple of days?

Funny that such an beloved holiday movie, one that we all grew up with, takes as its theme (if softened by animation) very adult struggles with self-doubt and seasonal blues. Don’t we all have an internal Charlie Brown…I guess you were right, Linus. I shouldn’t have picked this little tree. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I really don’t know what Christmas is all about...especially when we’re writing or trying to do something creative. Everything can turn into a competition – write the best manuscript, make the most important lists, get the shiniest awards – and meanwhile we’re full of self-doubt.

 

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Oh brother…

Here’s an idea! Try to laugh off the Lucys in your life, the people barking orders, pointing out your flaws, or trying to hold you accountable to arbitrary standards that aren’t what really matters to you.

Lucy: What has Beethoven got to do with Christmas? Everyone talks about how “great” Beethoven was. Beethoven wasn’t so great.

Schroeder: What do you mean Beethoven wasn’t so great?

Lucy: He never got his picture on bubblegum cards, did he? Have you ever seen his picture on a bubblegum card? Hmmm? How can you say someone is great who’s never had his picture on bubblegum cards?

Don’t worry about getting your picture on a bubble gum card! Or finding the perfect pink aluminum tree, or writing a world-changing story in a couple of days. Surround yourself with friends like Linus who will believe in your talent, give you valuable feedback, and encourage you to do work you believe in.

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I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really.

Maybe it just needs a little love.

 

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Thanksgiving is here again

I cannot believe that Thanksgiving is here already. The last year seems to have raced by with many, many changes in my life. Usually, at this time of year, my husband and I spend the holiday in Florida visiting his family and our friends. This year, however, my father-in-law Sam Schwinder and my old and close friend Rena Wolner (a former head of Pocket Books, Berkley, and Avon) passed away and so we will be sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner around our dinner table here in Manhattan along with my daughter, my son, my son-in-law and my two adorable grandchildren. I will think about Sam and Rena on that day, as I am very thankful for having had the chance to know, love, and learn from them.

I am also incredibly thankful for so many other things: the talented, brilliant, funny people on my staff (we are now 14 strong), my wonderful clients, my colleagues at the many publishing houses and other agencies we do business with. My business partner Miriam Goderich helps me run our company and think through the numerous issues we face every day. She is the best editor I have ever worked with and a stabilizing force in a world that has lots of highs and lows. I am so grateful to her. My daughter Jessica Toonkel is a talented reporter with Reuters and a superb partner to her husband Brian and mother to her children, eight-year-old Elena and almost-two-year-old Leo. I am incredibly proud of her. My son, Zachary Schwinder who is about to enter Officer Candidate School for the Marines—I am both frightened for his safety and oh so proud of his goal to keep our country safe. My kind and wonderful husband and partner Steve who is by my side through thick and thin and has been since I met him almost 30 years ago—I am so very grateful for him and his love.
I encourage each of you to think about those things and people you are grateful for at this time of year. And, if you like, I would love you to tell me what they are.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all. May it be filled with peace and everything delicious!

via GIPHY

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Scary Stories

With Halloween just days away, I’m sure you’re already gorging yourself on candy and marathons of scary movies, skirting your reading list or half-finished manuscript to work on your prize winning costume. And that’s fine, but let’s admit there are more productive ways to get your spook on. Why not read a spine-chilling short story?

“A Collapse of Horses” by Brian Evenson is bound to freak you out. The narrator, recovering in a hospital, tied to the bed, tells the story of his mysteriously changing house, where light switches change locations, windows grow and shrink, and one day he has three children, another day he has four. After coming upon a paddock of horses lying as still as if dead, the narrator takes drastic measures to end the madness.

Or if you’re looking for a scary story with more of fun twist, check out “Royal Jelly” by Roald Dahl, in which a man attempts to cure his baby’s starvation by giving her the jelly meant to feed queen bees. Originally published in Twilight Zone Magazine, Dahl spins this weird and freaky tale with his usual hint of humor.

I hope you have a fun and frightening Halloween while using some scary stories to improve your craft. What spooky stories will you be reading this year?