Category Archives: Lauren

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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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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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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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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.

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

 

 

 

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Permanence

I’m not really a tattoo girl.  That might be an understatement: the notion of a tattoo terrifies me.  Not because I hate needles or pain—I’m not exactly fond of either, but they don’t bother me especially.  But getting a tattoo is decision making that is way too far down the scale of permanence.  I shudder when people suggest I will someday want to buy a house and that would be something I could sell.  Sure, laser tattoo removal exists, but I’m not sure I would ever elect to do anything to my body that requires being burned off with a laser if I change my mind. It’s not quite that I’m fickle, though it is true that I’ve hated virtually every pair of shoes I’ve ever bought within two weeks of purchase, but more that I’m the sort of person who is paralyzed by the question: What is your favorite X?  Or even, What are your top ten Y?  If you want to ask me that question, you’d better be prepared to give me paper, a pencil, and 24 hours to answer you.

I know who I am, but choosing something to visually represent that to others, something I’ll remain connected to and proud of displaying, for years of my life?  That’s daunting.  I’m simply not up for the task.  But these people are, by golly.  They not only know what their favorite books or lines from books are, but they have happily permanently affixed them to their bodies.  Leaving aside that I’m not a tattoo girl, let’s envision the weirdest possible mugging: if someone put a gun to my head, I couldn’t think of a single image or line from literature that I’d want to identify myself by to the world.  There are those that I love, certainly.  I embrace Judith Viorst’s classic children’s book so much that I’m slightly bitter when my 5-year-old nephew beats me to declaring that “It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”  But I wouldn’t put that on my body, certainly.  The final lines of The Great Gatsby are gorgeous, but again kind of bleak.  The best lines in literature are often insightful about things that are more dismal than celebratory.  Tolstoy’s observation on unhappy families is true and brilliant, but I think that tattoo might be perceived as a cry for help!  And much as I love plenty of childhood books, I don’t quite have the personality for the cartoon embrace of kidhood writ across my skin.  So I guess I’d just have to call that mugger’s bluff and see how it goes.  Or at least ask him to make it multiple choice.

What about you?  Any literary tattoos adorning your skin?  Or any you hope to get?  Or would if you ever found yourself at gunpoint?

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World Cup World Cup World Cup

If you don’t have World Cup fever, you might want to look away from this post.  (You might also want to reconsider, because not having World Cup fever is just wrong.)  I probably already love soccer too much—the 2010 World Cup reignited a passion I’d let dissipate a bit before it, and I’ve been in annoying-people-about-soccer mode ever since.  But with the tournament kicking off yesterday and how excited I am for the rematch of 2010’s finale that will be happening at 3 p.m. EST between Spain and the Netherlands today, I wasn’t sure how I’d manage to write a blog entry without writing it about soccer.

Happily for me, the fine folks at The Three Percent have made my job easy: with their 2014 World Cup of Literature I can combine the two things I love most in the world, books and soccer.  I like their strategy: books published after 2000 to eliminate the old guys who wouldn’t get called up for the squad and in some way capturing the spirit of the team.  Even if their David Foster Wallace/USMNT explanation stings just a bit.

It turns out I haven’t read any of the books in question, so I’ll just be pulling for the same “teams” here as I am in the World Cup itself: US, England, and Spain.  Which book do you think deserves the victory?

I’ll be watching Spain v Netherlands later with one of the refs—I mean, judges—so if anyone wants to offer her a bribe to honor the spirit of FIFA, please let me know ASAP.

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Tiny readers

As the absurdly proud aunt of exceptionally wonderful nephews—who we’ll call Fidge and Gus, because that is what I call them—I’ve actively made it my mission to get them to associate me with books.  Fidge once told his “Aunt” Gabby that “Aunts read books” and made her read him bedtime stories.  A few weeks after that, he unceremoniously announced his desire to go to bed by walking up to me and saying “You always read to me.”  Why yes, Fidge, yes I do.  Gus is a bit of a tougher sell—he’s rambunctious and not so fond of sitting still.  But if he can interact with a book or laugh hysterically while “At” Lauren makes faces or yells or roars, he’s game.  His biggest obsession is with Bill Cotter’s Don’t Push the Button, in which illicit button pushes lead to a whole host of multi-colored monsters named Larry.  He now “reads” that one to himself, turning each page to intone “Don’t push a button!” and then…pushing that button anyway.

As Gus’s birthd9780062247759_p0_v1_s260x420ay is coming up, I headed out of town last weekend to celebrate it with the family.  Naturally, I dragged Sharon to the bookstore with me last week to find some future favorites for him and settled on Press Here by Herve Tullet, I Am Otter by Sam Garton, and his autobiography The Boss Baby by Marla Frazee (which is really more for his parents).  I read the books to both boys separately, and Gus especially loved Press Here, which was no surprise since it’s very similar to Don’t Push the Button.  He’s also a fan of counting, so it suits him.  He did seem to think The Boss Baby was pretty funny, but now I’m worried it might’ve given him ideas.  And I Am Otter was definitely my favorite of the three.

But my favorite reading moment of the weekend was this one: in a crowded house full of family, with Gus trying to go to sleep in the bedroom, Fidge was clearly ready to wind down.  Fortunately, aunts know what to do when you need a moment away from all the bustle.  So I gathered up Gus’s new books and some old favorites and hunkered down in a Super Secret Hiding Spot under the dining room table with Fidge.  We read through the above three plus Madeline and Wild About Books, one of his absolute favorites, since it’s got books AND animals AND ample opportunities for counting and guessing and finding hidden frogs.  Not only did we get quiet time (where, according to Fidge at least, no one even knew where we were!), we also got to revisit old friends and make new ones.

I kind of miss Otter and Teddy, actually.

6

Perfection

Just now on Twitter I came across possibly the most perfect line of copy I’ve ever seen:  the revamped cover from Atheneum/S&S Children’s of Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret contains the tagline “Growing up is tough. Period.”

Atheneum, I salute you!

“Growing up is tough. Period.”

If you’re not familiar with the book you probably weren’t a preteen girl post 1970 and you also might not know that this, perhaps the most perfect book I read in all of elementary school, is about a girl trying to figure out her religious identity while facing the many struggles of puberty.  (I read it young enough that it was my first introduction to what was coming my way, and I remember having to ask a lot of questions, including interrupting a roomful of people to loudly ask my mother what a sanitary napkin was.)  The copy is coy enough to not offend, except perhaps those who already try to get the book banned for being honest about complicated things, and you can hardly market to that crowd.  It cleverly alludes to the contents for those of us who grew up with it and might need to go snag some Judy Blumes on the way home to re-read this weekend or give to any preteens we know.  And it’s smart since it gets people talking—when I googled it to find the cover image, I saw that the sites that covered it when the new editions were revealed all acknowledged it.

Writing any kind of marketing copy is hard.  As agents, we have to draft it for our pitches to publishers when trying to sell books, and as rights director I often have to write it for foreign or audio submissions (either because it’s too early for publisher-generated copy or because different markets will need a different approach).  It’s one of the toughest things about a query letter or a sales pitch.

So when it’s just right, well, I think we should all give kudos where they are due.  Congratulations, Atheneum, because that’s a stroke of genius.

Ever seen any book copy that made you sit back and take notice?  Share the brilliance with the rest of us below, please!

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Under Pressure*

Earlier today, I gave up. Looking at the bookmarks toolbar on my web browser, I thought that I should really read some of those articles over lunch, because they’re timely and important or potentially edifying and I will be a better person if I read them or a terrible person if I don’t.  At first I thought about how I could send them to my Pocket app and read them this weekend, but then I realized that would cut into the time I’d planned to set aside to crack open one of the new books I’ve bought myself lately.  Then it occurred to me that my list of subrights reading is growing at such a fast pace that I wouldn’t have time for a pure pleasure read till late May at earliest.  And there are three books for two different book clubs sitting next to my TV, shaming me every time I pick up the remote.  Though those aren’t quite as time sensitive as those requested manuscripts sitting on my iPad, so I’d have to tackle them this weekend instead.  Which naturally lead me to count up the books on my weekend to do list of reading and editing for clients—which is pretty much going to dominate every minute I’m home this weekend except for those I’ll need to spend sleeping.

And while I love reading and feel grateful to have the career I do, I won’t lie:  when the piles of obligations get so high they look like they might topple, the idea of how much I have to (or “have to”) read really stresses me out.  It’s a lot harder to love a book if all you can think about is that you’re reading it too slowly.

So I was honest with myself:  I’m just never going to read all those can’t-miss articles I’d flagged for later because there was no time to dive into them during work.  Instead of reading through as many as I could at the fastest possible clip during lunch, I deleted them.  Going through, some of them seemed so important that at first I was conservative in ditching them.  That technological development sounds like it could be relevant to publishing five years down the line, so I should definitely take a look.  Or that essay on contemporary fiction by Julian Barnes, he’s one of my favorite writers so I can’t skip that.  But when I realized that some of those links were from best books of 2012 lists, I knew I had a problem.  I mean, sure, that summer reads of 2013 list would be kind of handy to have as the warm weather approaches (one assumes!) and those books hit paperback release dates, but that doesn’t mean I actually need to read it.  After all, there are stacks and shelves and stacks and more stacks of books in my apartment and office, so it’s not like I’m short on ideas of what to read next.  So I deleted all those bookmarks and gave myself the favor of a blank slate.  And, I told myself that if I don’t read the 15 books I impulse bought in the last month before the end of 2014, it’s probably going to be okay.

I still have a ton of reading to do this weekend, but the load on my shoulders feels just that little bit lighter. There’s a seemingly infinite amount of writing in the world, much of it worth reading.  Sometimes we just need to let ourselves off the hook so that we can give our best attention to what we do read—and maybe even have some time to enjoy it.

*If you saw that title and thought of this interview, you are my favorite person today.