Category Archives: lists

5

A writer’s life

So, it’s December, which means it’s list season—in other words, the blog posts write themselves (I wish)!

Well, rather than look at the best-of-2012 lists (which would end up showcasing how few of the best-of-2102 I’ve actually read), I thought I’d share this little piece from Jason Pinter on the Huffington Post on the great and not-so-great aspects of being a writer. It’s all good fun, though I do find it a little disturbing that so many of the “great” things involve validation from other people—and that so many of the “not-so-great” are external as well. Do you find that to be the case, too? Are there any great/not-so-great things you would add to the list? I’d imagine writer’s block would fit in somewhere…

And for more good fun, DEFINITELY check out the bad book covers link he mentions!

 

4

Read what you like

One thing I’m almost embarrassed to admit is that it’s only in the past five years or so that I’ve managed to finally reach the realization that reading isn’t a contest. Not that I ever actively pursued a book or number of books with the conscious thought towards winning or understanding or reading more than anyone else, but I also won’t deny the certain pleasure I used to get when I’d already read a book we were reading in school or when people were impressed with either the books I chose to read or how quickly I read them.

I have a list somewhere I made in a notebook a few years ago while sitting in Borders (R.I.P.) going through the entirety of one of those 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die compendiums, making note of every single one that I had read—occasionally scoffing at some of the books that were included, whether or not I had read them. I don’t remember how many books I ended up having on that list, but it was definitely less than 100. Obviously I declared the list unrepresentative and inaccurate.

Similar lists like the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels and the sort still present themselves as obstacles to me to this day. While I no longer care that much about whether or not I’ve read the Top 10 Most Difficult Books, I still find all of these lists incredibly fascinating. Of course, as it’s literature, it can only be subjective. Yes, there are the “great books” that everyone is meant to have some understanding of, and there are those that are widely regarded as the epitomes of modern literature, but there’s always going to be someone to disagree.

What are the criteria for these lists? What makes a book great? What makes a books difficult? There’s really no answer to those questions that are universal, and the lists themselves are there only so people like me can get some kind of perverse pride out of having read some of them. But it really doesn’t matter, does it? As long as you read what you like, what you like is good. The only opinion that matters is your own, and simply because you haven’t read Finnegan’s Wake,* known throughout the land as virtually impossible to get through, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy the books you do choose to read.

We’re not in school anymore, though, and you don’t have to read anything if you don’t want to! So while it’s incredibly entertaining to tick off a list or check them out for inspiration (I’m of the belief that lists in any shape or form are just fun), they don’t have to be the be all end all. If the books you like to read aren’t revered by a great intellectual community, or you just don’t get what the big deal is with Catcher in the Rye or Pride and Prejudice, then you shouldn’t feel any pressure to try and slog through them.

Reading, at its core, is about exploring your own interests, losing yourself in the words, the story and the characters. It’s not about peeking over your book to see who can see what important work you’ve chosen or comparing yourself with others.

 

*(Which, I will say, is the only book I have ever actually thrown across a room, and yes, I did try and read it when I as sixteen because we were going to be reading Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man the next year in school and yes, I thought it would be better if I had read something else of Joyce’s beforehand and yes, I remember flushing with pride when my English teacher was impressed that I had tried to read it at all, and no, I did not make it past page 20.)

4

Raising geeks

Back in the stone ages (okay, the 1980s) when I was a kid, “geek” was a pretty harsh name to call someone—maybe not as soul-crushing as “nerd,” but certainly up there with “dweeb” or “spaz.” But thanks to Bill Gates and other titans of the information age, the geek stigma has been turned on its head—today we’re proud to call ourselves computer geeks, book geeks, music geeks, etc.

And now that the geeks (I would include myself, but really, I was always more of a nerd) are of parenting age, they’re raising a new generation of geeks, no doubt with the belief that their spawn will rule the world in 20 years. Hence, we have blogs like Wired’s GeekDad, which posted a list of 67 Books Every Geek Should Read to Their Kids Before Age 10 in an attempt to identify “what books are essential to the Geek experience.”

It’s a great list of books, and certainly just about every title is essential—but essential for geekiness? True, there might be a few more fantasy and sci-fi titles than you might see on a regular “best books for kids” list, and the lack of any sports titles does seem to favor geekdom. But Curious George? Frog and Toad? Charlotte’s Web? In the Night Kitchen?

I have to say, I’m a little hard pressed to see how these classics would help geek parents create a specifically geeky kid–as opposed to a generally intelligent well-rounded member of society. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive here (admittedly, a geeky move on my part), but it does bother me when the great books for kids are used to promote an outside agenda—would these parents approve if their kids asked for Matt Christopher’s or Dan Gutman’s classic sports stories?

Far be it for me to defend the jocks, but maybe a better title for the list would be “67 Books Every PARENT Should Read to Their Kids Before Age 10”, and let the kids figure out on their own whether The Lord of the Rings leads down the road to geekdom or not. After all, isn’t self-discovery the point of reading in the first place?

A new year, a new wish list

Happy 2012, everyone! I trust you all enjoyed the holidays and had memorable New Years Eves—and if you can’t remember them, so much the better…

Well, now it’s back to work. As promised in my last blog post, here’s my wish list for 2012. Dedicated readers of the DGLM blog might recall I posted similar lists at the end of 2010, but now with a full year of agenting under my belt I’ve tweaked the list a bit to reflect the areas I’ve found myself focusing on, as well as the areas where I’ve had the most success:

ADULT NARRATIVE NON-FICTION: This is definitely the most exciting category to me right now. If there’s an amazing book-length true story out there, I want to hear it. History, memoir, sports, music, immersion journalism, popular science, health, animals—whatever the subject, if you’ve got the credentials to write about it, send it my way.

ADULT MEN’S FICTION: I’m certainly still in the market for good, original thrillers and mysteries. However, after falling in love with THE ART OF FIELDING and enviously witnessing its success, I’d love to expand a bit into more literary territory. I’d love to find a Tom Perrotta, a Nick Hornby, a Chuck Palaniuk, a Don Winslow—in other words, a great storyteller with writing chops. And if it’s genuinely funny, so much the better.

MIDDLE-GRADE FICTION: I’m still looking for that great middle-grade adventure to take the place of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson—who’s going to step up in 2012 and deliver?

REALISTIC YOUNG ADULT FICTION: Looking at the YA clients I’ve signed this year, I’m realizing that while I certainly enjoy a well-done YA fantasy, more often I’ve been drawn to realistic teen fiction. Now, that doesn’t mean they can’t be high-concept or have a fantasy/sci-fi element—think Pete Hautman, Libba Bray, David Klass, M.T. Anderson—and historical fiction is certainly viable if the era hasn’t already been done to death. Basically, what I’m really looking for are those teen characters, perspectives, and issues that feel true to an actual teen’s experience, as opposed to the more escapist words of paranormal/dystopian fiction.

PICTURE BOOKS: Nothing really has changed here: I’m still pretty much only interested in professional illustrators who can write. It’s about time someone created the next great children’s book character or a high-concept project like Bob Staake’s LOOK! A BOOK! One new thought: if anyone’s got a good nonfiction project, I’d love to see it, too.

Being that it’s the first day back in the office, preceded by two nights of staying up late to watch the Giants and Rangers (bless you, DVR!), I’m still a little foggy and probably forgetting some key areas. But hopefully that’s enough to open up the floodgates, and I’ll probably revisit as the year goes on. After all, to me that’s one of the most enjoyable things about agenting—as the market shifts, so can your areas of interest.

Best wishes for 2012, and let’s see what you’ve got!

2

Farewell 2011

As the annual proliferation of best-of  lists and year-in-review stories would indicate, it’s impossible to resist the desire to cast back over the past year. And by any reckoning, 2011 has been a momentous one. From the revolutions in the Arab world in January to the withdrawal of the final American troops from Iraq just weeks ago, from the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant to the near collapse of the Euro, the world stage has been crowded with dramatic events, both awe-inspiring and harrowing.  Perhaps 2012 will bring the books that can help sort them out, provide us with the stories both real and imagined that transform distant and massive happenings into material more immediate and emotionally comprehensible. Indeed, one very selfish wish for the new year is that a few such projects will land in my inbox. So keep the submissions coming. I’m actively looking for both novels and nonfiction, books that explain and interpret the business of being human. Many thanks to all of you who query me and share your materials.  I know yours is a tough path, and I–and all my colleagues here at DGLM–respect the often superhuman degree of effort, persistence, and emotional investment inherent in writing.   May 2012 bring joy, peace and inspiration.

4

Happy holidays—and watch out for that caterpillar!

Well, folks, this is it for me in 2011. Early Friday morning, I’m packing the kids into the car and off we go on the long drive up to Maine for the week. Every year since I first met my bride-to-be, we’ve headed north to the little coastal town of Damariscotta for a classic New England Christmas. I mean, we’re talking blankets of snow, lights in windows, caroling, ugly sweaters, the works.  And as a born-and-bred New Yorker (who spent more than one Christmas dinner at Joe’s Shanghai in Chinatown), I gotta tell you—I love it!

But wait, you might ask—a week in small-town Maine with the in-laws? Well, yes, as much as I love my in-laws dearly, it can feel a bit claustrophobic after all the wrapping paper has been cleaned up, especially when a post X-mas blizzard shows up like last year. But this time around, when cabin fever rears its ugly head, I’m going to revisit the Huffington Post’s list of 10 literary figures they’d hate to have over for Christmas dinner and count myself lucky. Unless, of course, my boy throws a Veruca Salt… and Grandpa counters with a Begbie!

Have a great holiday, everyone—and to start off 2012 properly, look for my “wish list” after the New Year.

8

Bring It, 2012

Sure we still have some 2011 left to live, but screw it. Let’s move on to 2012. New year’s resolutions before the new year! I am on top of things!

I’ll start with the same resolution I’ve had every year since I started agenting: make more money for my clients in 2012 than I did in 2011. That I’ve so far made this goal each year only increases the pressure in each succeeding year. So…

Next goal: avoid a stress-related coronary.

Moving along…

Work to find the perfect balance of communication for each client. This is something I chatted with some folks about last week. Some people get super-stressed when I check in all the time. Other people are more worried when I don’t. I want everyone to be happy with how much attention I’m paying them. Aim to please!

Get back to my 2010 pace of reading a book a week for pleasure. I’ve always felt that turning off the inner editorial eye and reading to simply enjoy reading keeps the whole process fresh. But I was off pace this year and want to get back on!

Convince new(-ish) mother Mariah Carey to write a children’s book. I am not kidding.

Develop psychic ability and figure out ahead of everyone else what the changing face of publishing means for DGLM and our clients. If I fail: stay abreast of all new developments and try not to let failure to become psychic keep me down.

Come up with some other stupid pointless yearlong goal—previous examples: watching every Oscar winner for Best Picture and writing a blog entry about every concert, play, or live performance I attended. (Ideas welcome).

Do a million dollar deal before the end of January just to really get the year off to the right start. Okay, okay…the end of February.

And, of course…lose the 30 pounds that I found again this year. Blurgh.

Am I missing anything? Other recommendations are welcome. But if anyone tells me I actually need to lose 40 pounds, I will shiv them.

8

Twelve months of reading

I am a big Wall Street Journal reader and in the “Review” section of  this weekend’s paper, there are several pages with different lists of “the best books of the year.”  Of course we have all been reading these year-end lists for weeks now. Many of them are repetitious; some are enlightening.

Still, I am confused as to what I should read when I go on vacation later this week.  I am so immersed in the manuscripts and proposals that I review for work throughout the year that when it comes to what I might enjoy for pleasure, I am often stymied.

And, so I thought I would ask you guys what your favorite books were this year and why.  Perhaps you can help me put together my reading list for the next couple of weeks.

11

What to give?

Obviously, I’m a reader. A lot of my friends are readers. People in my family are readers. In short, I like books and people I know like books. (That actually wasn’t that much shorter…) In case you hadn’t noticed, the holiday season is upon us and with it comes gift-giving, gift-getting and the occasional stress of gift-buying. The thing is, despite all this aforementioned love for the written word, I hate buying books for people. Literary taste is such a specific and subjective thing, that no matter how much I want to share books with people, there’s always just as much of a chance that the person will hate the book as much as there is that they will love it.

It’s a shame, because for those who are so inclined, getting books is one of the nicest things—I just can’t get over my fear and indecision when it comes to picking them out for other people. Unless there’s a new book by an author I know my intended recipient loves, or I just go for a gag/coffee table/joke book, then I’m at a loss. They say you’re only supposed to give people books you yourself have read and enjoyed, but I don’t know that this actually makes it any better—awkwardness abounds if you bestow a treasured and loved tale upon someone who ends up either disliking it, or worse, feeling ambivalent about the whole thing. What if they already have the book, or have at least read it? There’s no way of knowing!

Before I pull all of my hair out distressing over this, I thought I would share this little list that I actually came across last Christmas posted on thewrittenword.com. These are perfect! Lovely little literary things that aren’t books! Look at that chandelier! That is gorgeous! And it’s pages! From a book! I don’t know how much I would like to smell like a library, but I would definitely get some kicks out of that It Was a Dark and Stormy Night board game.

There are only ten options on this list, but I know I’ve seen creative little gifts along similar lines recently, those that go beyond a journal or horrifyingly difficult to buy book. Have you gotten any great literary-themed presents in the past? Have you given any? There are still plenty of shopping days left, and I could use some options!

1

Some levity for your weekend

So, guys, things are getting a touch serious around here.  The city’s apparently closing mass transit tomorrow, and New Yorkers get a little edgy when there’s a routine train delay, so the impending hurricane has people somewhat nervous.  Instead of deliberating what degree of panic I should ratchet up to with that new announcement, I decided those of us in Hurricane Irene’s way or just having a rough day might want something to distract ourselves.  So I went to the best distraction source I know, cracked.com.

If you’re also feeling a bit freaked out or just down in the dumps, use some of that electricity while you’ve still got it and find out why Neo-Nazi’s love Lord of the Rings, that Machiavelli was a troll, how Dick and Jane made us stupider, and if Plato might’ve been trying to tell us where Atlantis was.  By the time you’re done clicking through the treasure trove of humorously rendered dubious facts that is Cracked, probably all your problems will have fixed themselves, right?  Right?