Category Archives: reading

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Touchdown!

How terrific is it that Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has started his own book club? And not just among his friends, but a nationwide, Oprah-style club that’s social-media based and welcomes as many members as possible?

A bookworm since childhood, Luck has always been famous among his teammates for making reading suggestions and even for gifting his fellow players with books he thinks they’ll like.  “He’s definitely well read,” says center Khaled Holmes, “and his recommendations are pretty good.” With The Andrew Luck Book Club, he’s started off with two books. For those young club members he dubs “Rookies,” the choice is the 1990 YA classic Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, an inspiring story—one that Luck has loved since childhood–about overcoming racial divides. For “Veterans,” he’s picked Daniel James Brown’s highly-lauded bestseller The Boys in the Boat, the story of the U.S. Olympic rowing team in 1936.  Readers are invited to comment on and discuss the books through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and Luck uploads frequent videos in which he talks about the books and about his enthusiasm for reading.

To me it all sounds like a fine way to get that tricky demographic, Reluctant Readers, to pick up a book. And it’s great that Luck is targeting both kids and adults.  Both of his book choices share the common theme of athletics, which is not surprising. And though I don’t expect his next picks to be novels by Nicholas Sparks or Barbara Taylor Bradford, it will be interesting to see whether he is able to push beyond sports-related material.

I’d love to see other public figures follow Luck’s lead and start their own book clubs.  Louis CK really gets social media and knows how to work it; I wonder what he might do with his own club? And Barack Obama is going to have a lot of time on his hands very soon….

Do you have any thoughts on what well-known people should start a national book club? If you do, feel free to let me know!

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When to put down a book

Some people have to finish every book they start reading. I am not one of those people. There are so many amazing books out there that I want to read that it feels wrong, even irresponsible, to spend time finishing a book that has completely lost my interest.

For instance, if a novel’s written in the first person and I can’t relate to that character, then I’m going to stop reading. If a plot is dragging or meanders without a clear end in sight, I’ll usually put the book down unless I’ve become emotionally invested in the characters. Stories and characters that feel familiar are also begging to be dropped and forgotten. Very rarely will I put a book down because of the writing or an unlikable character. I can power through subpar writing if the story is that good—the kind of good that keeps you up at night and practically forces you to turn the page to find out what happens next. Plus if it’s published, then the writing can’t be that bad…right? And I love unlikeable characters, especially a flawed protagonist, which seems to be a hallmark of good fiction.

A book needs to force me to put it down. It’s not easy, but it happens and I’ve learned to recognize when it’s time to move on. What do our readers think? Do you ever stop reading a book? What makes you stop? And if you’re also a writer, are you aware of the possibility that someone might start and stop reading your work? What impact does this have on your writing?

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Travel Reads

Perhaps something about longer days and more sunshine—although you wouldn’t know it this week—gave me the travel bug, and I was shocked to glance at my calendar and see that I’m traveling almost every weekend in April. This means a lot of long bus/train/plane rides ahead and I’ve been stocking up on public transportation reads.

Last weekend, I was in beautiful Washington D.C., with the trees all abloom and an abundance of flowers (although sadly, I just missed cherry blossom peak). For that ride, I brought along two reads: I LET YOU GO, a stunning thriller by debut novelist Clare Mackintosh and one from our own client list, IMAGINARY GIRLS by Nova Ren Suma (repped by Michael Bourret). Both were fast bus reads, although I’m not sure I recommend reading I LET YOU GO right before you step off the bus in a city you don’t know very well.

Capture

I find that I gravitate towards YA or books that move quickly (like thrillers) for long rides. I tend to get bored/sleepy or distracted easily (people-watching! eavesdropping! all those phone games you can mindlessly play!) when I’m stuck on a bus or a train for 6+ hours.

Me on the bus.

Seeing as I have three more weeks of travel ahead of me, what do others find are good books to read on a trip? What makes a good bus/train/plane book in your opinion?

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The Gerard Butler Guide to Agenting

The best thing about being a literary agent is that there’s always so much to read.

The worst thing about being a literary agent is that there’s always so much to read!

Sometimes, when faced with a particularly daunting pile of manuscripts, I turn to GIFs for inspiration in staying focused and fired up. This week, hoping to get enough done to leave the work reading behind when I go away for the weekend, I am channeling the élan of Gerard Butler:

 

And when I find one of those mind-blowing, can’t-put-it-down, I-gotta-represent-this manuscripts:

 

 

 

Who are your GET IT DONE inspirations? Do you have any GIFs or characters you turn to when you need to power through an intimidating to-do list?

 

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Inspiration for Young Readers

I’ve mentioned a few times before that unlike most people in the publishing business, I did not fall in love with books at the tender age of 8 months.  I wish I had, and sometimes I find myself looking out for great books I might have missed out on at the time. There were no specific reasons for my not being interested in reading, I had all the resources at my fingertips but I just wasn’t bothered.

The same can’t be said for the many children living in the slums of India. I read this short article about an inspiring young girl named Muskaan, who at the age of nine runs her own library outside her house in the slums of Bhopal.

As she returns from school, Muskaan would find eager young readers awaiting her at the spot where she lays out a mat and arranges her total of 119 books (donated by officials from the State Education Board), then they would gather around and listen intently as she reads out loud to them. After these allegedly fun reading sessions, the kids would then borrow whatever books they can and settled on the mats to read, or take them as they leave.

Having read this article I am reminded how much we take for granted. While majority of the world struggle to have decent and well stocked libraries, we feel the need to cut the budget on libraries, perhaps ensuring children in the future won’t have the same library experiences most of us had growing up. At the same time, Muskaan’s courage also shows me how blessed we are as a human race because no matter what the situation may be, there is always something, despite how small it is that gives us hope.

 

 

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How do you read?

And by that I mean, do you read one book at a time or multiple books at once?

As for myself, I’m always reading at least 3 books at any given time, not counting those for work. It’s a tendency fed by both practicality and whim. When I’m on the go, I’m reading a book on my Kindle or iPhone. When I’m home it’s always print books—I’m curling up on the couch with a nice new hardcover or lying in bed with a paperback before going to sleep. But I also shuffle between books based on mood. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood for nonfiction and would rather read a fun, fast-paced espionage thriller instead of that critically-acclaimed National Book Award nominee.

reading-balancing-gif

Average readers might find the habit odd—I know many of my less literate friends do—but book lovers, more often than not, couldn’t imagine reading any differently. I polled a few coworkers, and all of them responded with the “multiple books at once” answer. Not a fair poll, I’ll give you that, considering we all work in publishing, but I think you’ll find that most serious readers are in the middle of a few books. Which brings me to my next question.

Is this an efficient reading habit? Is it the “right” way to read?

Although several studies have looked at multitasking and its harmful effects on the brain, I’m not sure you can consider reading multiple books as “multitasking.” At least in the sense of rapidly switching attention from one task to another. However, I could also easily see how shuffling between books might decrease reading speed. Regardless, I won’t be changing my reading habits any time soon. Not only is reading multiple books at once both practical and enjoyable, but it’s also rewarding in the sense that sometimes the books play well off one another—whether it be a juxtaposition of different writing styles or books with similar settings or the structure of nonfiction books.

I’d like to hear what our readers think. How do you read? Have you seen a dramatic difference in reading efficiency reading one way over the other? Let us know in the comments!

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Finish what you start (or not)

For most of my life as a reader, I read every book I started to the end.  Not finishing a book was sacrilege.  No matter how tedious the narrative (I’m looking at you, James Fenimore Cooper), how irritating the storytelling (Hi, Dan Brown), or how purple the writing (Ugh, take a bow, Robert James Waller), I would slog through the whole thing figuring that even if I hated the book I would have learned a valuable lesson about bad choices and the authors who make them.

Then, I became a grown-up.  With a job that requires a lot of homework, a husband I like to talk to, a kid with more activities on his calendar than Babe Paley in her heyday, and friends I’d ideally like to see in person rather than just on Facebook, reading for pleasure has become a, well, guilty pleasure.  My once holier-than-thou attitude about finishing what you start has now morphed into if I’m not intrigued by the second page and in love by the fiftieth, the book is going back on the shelf to collect dust and await discovery by a more committed reader or eventual relocation—so I don’t feel guilty every time I look at it.

There are exceptions, of course.  You all know I read every last annoying word of The Goldfinch even though I disagreed with all those who thought it was brilliant.  Occasionally, I do force myself to keep reading, because there are glimmers in those first 50 pages that the story will unfold to reveal something exceptional.  Mostly, though, my pleasure reading follows the pattern of my work reading.  If you can’t capture my attention very early on, the crush of other manuscripts waiting in the wings will make the decision for me.

A propos of all of this, today, on Galleycat, I saw a piece about how women are more apt to stay with a book they don’t like than men.   And, from my experience, I find that to be true.  The women in my book club, for instance, will routinely report that they have read an entire book they felt lukewarm about at best or hated outright at worst.  My husband and other male friends, on the other hand, will leave a trail of half-read volumes in their wake with not even a discernible glimmer of guilt or regret.

What does that say about women and men as readers?  And does it mean that my reading process has become more, er, masculine as I’ve gotten older?  Do you guys finish everything you start?  And, if not, at what point do you throw your hands up, toss the book aside, and go in search of the remote?

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Expand Your Empathy Through Novels

President Obama, while talking on the subject of empathy and how it helps him be a better president and citizen, said in an interview with The New York Review of Books, “The most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy…And the notion that it’s possible to connect with some[one] else even though they’re very different from you.”

I don’t mean to quote this to be political, but his words stood out to me because he said everything I feel about novels. This is why I read. I love being able to get into the head of another person—even if that person isn’t real. It allows me to understand the world through another perspective, and this is tantamount to better understanding other people.

We all have different lives and different obstacles that lead to the same emotions. While you may not be able to understand how it feels to say, be a war refugee, if you read about the pain another is experiencing, those feelings can be understood because no matter your economic status, your race, your nationality, you have the same raw emotions as every other person on this earth—that’s what connects us.

Empathy grows through every novel we read. We chip away at the mystery of humanity with every word. So what are you waiting for?

What books have taught you to be more empathetic?

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It’s About Time

 

Some very good news was announced last week by the National Book Foundation’s BookUp, one of my favorite literacy programs. BookUp is dedicated to getting books into the hands of at-risk youth, instilling in them a love for reading. The group is now going to focus some attention specifically on a demographic that has needed it for a long time: LGBTQ kids.

Many of these children and teens find themselves homeless when their parents discover their orientation. Some become prey to drug and alcohol abuse; some become sex workers to survive. If books are pressed into their hands that let them know they are okay, that they are not alone, it can make an incredible difference in their lives.

Entitled LGBTQ BookUp, the program will be centered at New York City’s Hetrick Martin Institute, a high school for LGBTQ students. Lambda Literary will partner with the Foundation on this effort, which will include not only reading and study groups, but field trips to The New York Public Library’s Gay and Lesbian collections and various LGBTQ history sites all over the city.

It’s an idea whose time has come, but that time really should have been decades ago. Too many kids have had their lives ruined or even lost because they could not envision a better, more hopeful path. If the program can flourish and grow, perhaps we will see less of this dispiriting trend.

Meanwhile, if you’re not familiar with BookUp and its amazing outreach, you can read more about it here.   Its motto is, “Where Lifelong Readers Begin.”  I like the sound of that.

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A Word on Fan Fiction

It was in my early years of high school that a classmate introduced me to the world of Fan Fiction. I thought it was the most amazing thing ever, because not only did I already have the habit of rewriting the ending to every book / movie I wasn’t quite satisfied with, but I also wondered if there were others like me, people who enjoyed doing something similar. I was happy to find out that there were a million and one!

Many years later, and with the increase of its popularity, there seems to be a debate about the benefits of fan fiction. Does it indeed help writers learn and improve their craft, or is it more of a crutch, preventing them from moving on and creating their own original works?

I will say this: Fan fiction can be helpful, but I think it depends on the writer. Some take the opportunity to be truly creative, experimenting and finding ways to strengthen their skills; others fall into a certain pattern for the sake of getting the most likes/reviews, and it’s not really about the writing anymore. Then, I guess, it’s also what you read. If a person spends time reading things of little quality, then nothing can be gained from it. I think it is important for every writer to keep in mind the ultimate reason for writing fan fiction, which is writing their own original work. And honestly, for some people it’s simply to get more out of their favorite books and there is nothing wrong with that.

I ended up being more of a fan fiction reader than a writer; however, what I did get from it was the first inclination of what I wanted to do when I grew up. I found myself at various times patiently sifting through all the different stories until finally finding one that truly struck me. It was always a gratifying feeling finding that needle in a haystack and those were the moments when I knew I wouldn’t mind doing something like this for the rest of my life (this was way before I knew literary agents existed!).

What are your thoughts on fan fiction? Here’s a list of published authors who have a thing or two to say about fan fiction.