Category Archives: reading

2

Books near and far

With a three-day weekend fast approaching* and deliciously devoid of any plans whatsoever, I’m imagining what sort of cozy fall activities (e.g. reading in a sweater and eating pie in a sweater) I can get up to and where. My mind immediately jumps to a rotation of coffee shops and a selection of books. Only I need some new books to read, so I’ll likely stop by my local bookshop as well.

And it’s a bit serendipitous and a bit cruel punishment that they’re so far out of reach, but I just scrolled through this list of 19 Magical Bookshops Every Book Lover Must Visit and spent the next couple minutes just staring at the sofa that accompanies the listing for Hatchard’s in London, imagining reading in the window on that particular seat. While it’s pretty lovely for the Brits that this list doesn’t just focus on London or even, it seems, large cities in general, that doesn’t really help me over here on this side of the pond—though how cool is the Honesty Bookshop?!?

I know there are lists everywhere for super great New York City bookstores, and I feel lucky to live in a place where independent bookstores can and do thrive if done correctly. That’s of course not always totally the case outside of any metro area. What I’d love is to hear about or see photos of small time bookstores across the country. If I collect enough of them, then there I’ve got my idea for the cross-country road trip I’ve always wanted to take…

 

*Thank you, Christopher Columbus! I mean. Um, I know you were meant to be a terrible person, horrible, really, so maybe. Hm. Well. Yes, yes, I mean I’ll still take the day off.

4

Storybook endings

Last Thursday night, in the last home game of his 20-year career as the New York Yankees shortstop, Derek Jeter hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the 9th inning. A storybook ending.

Now I’m not the resident Yankees fan here. That crown belongs to Miriam. In fact, I’m not even a Yankees fan at all. I’m a Mets fan—may God help me. But come on, how could you not love that moment? Jeter, a class act, the last vestige of the old New York Yankees, the embodiment of clutch, comes up with a big hit in the bottom of the ninth to win the game, his last game in pinstripes. You couldn’t write a better ending.

“Where fantasy becomes reality.” That’s what the announcer said after Jeter’s last ever walk-off hit. I must have watched that clip fifty times. And I got goose bumps every time. But I’m not entirely sure why.

Usually I hate storybook endings. For some reason, whenever I encounter a happy ending at the end of a book, I always feel cheated, taken for a fool. Perhaps I’m a pessimist, but I don’t think happily ever after ever really happens. Books that end that way aren’t realistic. Storybook endings just don’t happen in real life.

Except they do. It certainly did for Derek.

So why then do readers often criticize fairy tale endings? Does good literature always need to end in tragedy and despair? And if so, what does it say that a good book must leave you feeling hopeless?

I am curious to learn what our readers have to say about storybook endings. Love them? Hate them? Does it depend on a case-by-case basis, and if so, why do some storybook endings work and others don’t? Sound off in the comments!

1

My Fall/Winter Reading List

I’m really excited for pretty much every upcoming fall/winter book, but I know I won’t have a chance to read everything I want to. I don’t have enough time. So I have narrowed my blog today down to the following selections that will take precedence on what looks to be a very ambitious reading list these next few months.

A debut novel from a talented writer about a young woman growing up in a poor Irish family with a stream of consciousness narrative. Definitely worth a look.

Howley’s year-long immersion following two MMA fighters sounds fascinating. A captivating narrative that analyzes the philosophy behind MMA fighting is sure to raise some eyebrows.

I love NPH. He’s extremely talented, not to mention the clever structure of this book. I expect great things, but then again, I never expect anything less from NPH.

Yes please, I’ll have a copy. She’s funnier than Tina Fey–don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Parks and Recreation is hilarious.

Because how could I not read Louis Zamperini’s autobiography after Hillenbrand’s Unbroken?

A unique World War II story about the brutal murder of a Japanese family and those investigating it. Ellroy’s latest is receiving a lot of buzz. Color me intrigued.

Honorable mentions:

LACY EYE by Jessica Treadway

I’ve already read this book, but wanted to include it hear because I strongly recommend it. A suspenseful, haunting read.

TO RISE AGAIN AT A DECENT HOUR by Joshua Ferris

Published this summer so not technically a fall/winter book, but Ferris’s novel has been on my list for a long time and was recently shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2014.

What are you most excited for this fall?

2

Schoolday reading

With the summer season coming to a close (I know, I know, it’s a harsh reality, but we all have to accept it), I was thinking fondly on how excited I used to get to go back to school. Clean, fresh notebooks, brand new pens, new seat assignments and, of course, finding out what books we were going to be reading that year.

I remember in elementary school when there was a whole separate class called “Reading,” and that was amazing. I relished in having read a little ahead of the class and knowing what was coming next and learning about the culture surrounding each book. I think my favorite thing, however, was when we read aloud, a paragraph per student, which was excruciating when it got to those who didn’t care or couldn’t read as well (by “well” I meant with emotion as a performance because I also fancied myself a budding actress. Naturally.), but was empowering when it was my turn and I got an especially long paragraph to say.

Reminiscing about some of my very favorite books we read in grade school, my mind immediately went to Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins which immediately led me to the rest of the books in the series and will forever be remembered initially as the first time I learned what a cormorant was.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry is another one that struck me hard and I think was the catalyst for my fervent love of middle grade and young adult fiction that centered on WWII, the Holocaust and wartime in general. The memories are coming back to me in floods now and my next immediate thought is of The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig about a family exiled to Siberia. I don’t remember too much about the plot (though I did just look it up), but I do remember declaring that it was my number one favorite book for a while…and of course it turns out that it also took place during the early 1940s.

And then there are those books that I remember pieces of, but have no idea what they might be. Struck with a thought, I just searched “wearing broccoli around your neck,” and weirdly, that worked. Apparently a fourth grade favorite of mine was called Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days by Stephen Manes. I should have known that searching “everything you touch turns to chocolate” would provide me with a book titled The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling. Should have figured that one out, Rachel. I think I just liked that book so much because it’s actually a dream of mine to have chocolate whenever I want it.

It’s funny the way certain parts of stories, especially stories from childhood, stick with us even if the rest of the book doesn’t. Vivid scenes, like the making a cape of cormorant feathers in Island of the Blue Dolphins or the main character in In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson learning how to play stickball (also when I learned what stickball was, myself). Is it because there is so much new information that we’re learning for the first time or because a kid’s imagination works in overdrive, much more easily able to relate fantastical stories to his or her own life?

Whatever the reason, it was a nice little trip down memory lane—and a relief that my images of broccoli necklaces and chocolate mailboxes were based on something real and not a sign that I’m going insane. What books immediately come to mind for you when you think back to grade school? Were there any that you remember hating? Loving? Maybe it’ll jog my memory, too!

5

The dead zone

This time of the year in publishing is affectionately known as the dead zone.  Everyone is either on vacation or too busy catching up on the piles that grew while they were beachside somewhere to return phone calls or e-mails, the normally swollen river of queries slows down to a babbling brook, and offers are all pending the rubber stamp of a boss who’s in some foreign land drinking copious amounts of wine.  A kind of lethargy sets in during the hazy month of August and it feels like the whole industry has been crop-dusted with Xanax.

For me, this lethargy translates into a kind of reading fatigue.  I find the idea of diving into a new book vaguely exhausting while simultaneously wishing for that reading experience that will act like a jolt of espresso to snap me out of my summer doldrums.  Instead of excited about starting the next book on my list, however, I’m feeling like it’s a chore.   I think that those of us who define ourselves through our crazy, passionate love affair with literature occasionally find ourselves muttering bitterly, “more words, words, words”  at the sight of a shiny  new hardcover 23 people have recommended.  This too shall pass I know from long experience.

When I found myself starting three different books, flipping through a few pages, and putting them down to play Candy Crush this week, I decided I needed a break.  So, I’m reading blogs, magazines, and newspaper articles, Tweets, FB posts (you didn’t think I’d stop reading altogether, did you?).  I’m watching House of Cards and the Little League World Series.  And, I’m processing the coverage of Robin William’s tragically premature passing.   (Here are a couple of sobering and interesting perspectives on the sadness at the core of Williams’ brand of creative genius:  A great essay in Cracked and Russell Brand’s eloquent print eulogy.)  In fact, as in all good relationships, a little time away from the object of one’s affections can be salubrious.

And, of course, during this book sabbatical, I’m making lists of the titles I’m going to dive into when my energy levels pick up.  I’m thinking big biographies might be in my future….

Tell me, how do you guys get over book fatigue?  Or do you never experience such a thing?

2

What do I read next?

It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves. I often talk with friends, coworkers, and scour the internet looking for my next great read, but one avenue I almost never turn to is, perhaps, the most obvious: book reviews. Book reviews serve a variety of purposes, but their main objective is to help readers choose what to read next. I frequent the book review sections in papers, such as The New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal, as well as the “Briefly Noted” section in The New Yorker, but I can’t recall one instance in which I ever actually read a book recommended from one of these reviews.

So I’m wondering, am I alone in this tendency? Do others do the same thing: read book reviews but never actually pick up the books being reviewed? For some opinions on the matter, I turned to our interns. And I couldn’t have said it better myself.

When I’m trying to figure out what to read next, I don’t take reviews into great account. At bookstores, I make selections based on covers and jacket copy, but don’t pay much attention to endorsements and praise unless it’s coming from someone in whom I already have an interest (typically, authors whose books I have enjoyed.) On my iPad, I usually select from whatever Oyster recommends based on other books I’ve rated. A lot of other books I read come recommended by my grandmother and her gal pals. When I do look at reviews, it’s usually on Goodreads or Amazon, because many of those users post plot synopses that are more detailed than what the publisher offers. In the end, I try to make my own judgments and not let them be swayed by what others may think about a story. Weirdly, despite the fact that I don’t use reviews as a deciding factor in my reading choices, I still have made a point recently to post reviews of books I’ve read to my personal blog. 

As much as it pains me to admit, I primarily rely on Amazon when I am looking for book reviews. Generally, I don’t frequently read the reviews posted by users, but I do look to see how many stars a book has received. Anything less than three stars, and I get nervous about purchasing the book. But while I do look at the ratings, I primarily decide on what books to read based what my friends suggest. I trust that my friends will know more about my likes and dislikes when it comes to books than some random Amazon reviewer. For example, a book may have three stars on Amazon, but if my friend recommends it to me, chances are, I will still purchase the book. When I do read Amazon customer feedback, I generally read the one or two star reviews. I find those to be much more honest and entertaining. I also will use Publisher’s Weekly for suggestions and reviews, as well as some blogs.

Let’s face it: Amazon’s library and Barnes & Noble’s shelves are overwhelming. I can easily spend more time reading reviews than I’ll spend on the novel itself, and it’s hard to be sure reviewer K.Reader978 has more discerning taste than Good_Books4U. I solve this by starting my book hunts with someone’s personal recommendation. While that someone is often an enthusiastic friend, I found some of my recent favorites through a blogger’s musings, or buzz on my Twitter feed about upcoming debuts. It’s rare for a book to be a total flop if someone’s taken the time to rave about it for four paragraphs. Before buying, though, I get some groupthink insurance by scrolling through Amazon reviews. Weirdly, long-winded three-star-awarding purchasers are the most accurate. Fellow essay-trained humanities majors unite?

So now I’ll ask our readers: how do you decide what to read next? Do book reviews play a major factor? Sound off in the comments.

1

Berry berry good books

This morning I picked up an oversize box of raspberries and a regular box of strawberries from the fruit stand on the corner by the DGLM office. berries

Both looked so bright and succulent and rosy and delicious! Then I proceeded to eat way, way too many of the raspberries, giving myself something of a sugar buzz and a slightly sick feeling.

It’s the same feeling I get when I finish a really amazing book. Ever heard of a book hangover? It’s when you find a book you absolutely love, that has everything – plot, characters, writing, it’s all perfect, and you read it in two or three big gulps. A berry berry good book that ruins all other books for you for a little while. Sometimes you just can’t get into the next book you read – it’s flat, overwritten, or too melodramatic. And sometimes you end up judging a book pretty harshly that you might have liked if you read it at a different time, not right after the berry berry good book.

There is no known cure for the post-berry berry good book malaise. I sometimes resort to re-reading something comfortable and well-loved that won’t need to compete with the berry berry good book. For example, a few weeks ago I read My Struggle Part I by Karl Ove Knausgaard. I unexpectedly loved this book of very little plot and very quiet, self-absorbed prose, and the next few books I started were just…lame. So I picked up an old favorite, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, to reset my book appetite. And sometimes it helps to switch genres, like when I read Detroit by Charlie LeDuff after Sappho’s Leap by Erica Jong. Nothing like contemporary hometown journalism as a chaser for ancient mythological fiction!

I’m not complaining about berry berry good books, though – aren’t we all looking for all-consuming, unforgettable books, as readers and as agents?

What are some berry berry good books you’ve read recently? How do you get over the post-berry berry good book slump?

1

Reading then and now

Reminiscing with a friend the other day about books we loved growing up, I started to feel nostalgic for the times when I would vociferously race through a stack of books in a week—so much so that the librarian, who should have known me well enough by then, would eye my pile and ask, “you’re going to read all of these before they’re due?” YES, RHEA, I AM. (You should know, that my librarian as a child was named Rhea). And I did. Week after week.

I also re-read books much more as a kid and teenager. I don’t know what it is about being young that inspires the passion to go back and dive into the same story you have so many times you’ve had to tape the cover back on more than once (I’m looking at you, The Switching Well), but it’s something that I’ve lost as an adult. And something I wish I could get back.

While furiously looking up the entire oeuvres of Judy Blume, Carolyn B. Cooney, Kit Pearson and Jerry Spinelli, to name a scant few, my friend and I crowed and delighted when we found the exact covers that were the books that we had read back then.

Also fun was actually reading the book descriptions of titles remembered, but plots long since forgotten and wondering how in the heck we ever thought these plausible. Example: a book I remember loving called Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix. In my memory, it was about a girl who grew up in a Williamsburg, Virginia-esque old timey reenactment town who had no idea she didn’t really live in the olden days and who one day figured it out and escaped to the modern world. I remembered there being a lot of things she thought were mirrors, but which were actually one-way glass. TURNS OUT, the book is actually about that, yes, but the reason she needs to leave the reenactment town is because all of the children are dying from diphtheria and no one is doing anything about it. Her mother sends her out to get real medicine.

I loved that book. To bits.

My point here is basically this: while I dearly love books that I read now, the passion I feel for them is much more subdued than the fiery fervor I had when I was younger. I remember books fondly, and might return to favorite passages, but rarely do I read them cover to cover, over and over. The amount of books, of course, has more to do with the vast spans of time I could give myself as a kid that are less accessible anymore. I miss it, sure, but that doesn’t mean my love of reading is any less today.

What were the books you read over and over? What were some of the best, but most out there plots that you loved?

2

New friends, old books

Last week I went on a great big adventure and travelled the farthest west I’ve ever been in my whole life. Which is only as far as Colorado, but sometimes adventures can be done in baby steps, right? Not only is it a gorgeous state with absolutely beautiful weather (at least while I was there), but I was attending a wedding that was equally gorgeous and beautiful and all those other nice adjectives combined. I was a little nervous, though—I’ll admit it—since I didn’t know anyone else in attendance besides the bride and groom and wow that’s a whole lot of people to meet in unfamiliar territory.

Luckily, people love bonding over shared interests and passions and when they’re even the slightest bit obscure, well then that makes for excitable, easy friend-making. I’ll be honest, I don’t quite remember the start to the conversation, but when I heard someone talking about one of my favorite, but rarely referenced books, I couldn’t help but jump in uninvited to animatedly begin extolling its virtues. The book itself is unimportant, and I’ve definitely talked about it on this blog before, but I’ll divulge anyway lest you die in the frustration of not knowing. Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle is a well-enough known (I think) book, but continually under the radar. I never meet people who either have read or remember it, sadly.

However! This time I did! And from there, we all got to talking about various other books, books in general and then who knows what else. All I know is that it was the perfect icebreaker as I was left to my own devices at the time. There’s something really lovely about initiating a friendship (or acquaintanceship) over a love of a particular book. So much less dull than “so, what do you do?” or “oh, this is your first time to Colorado?” which can really get old after a while. Similar taste in literature, however, speaks to an entirely more personal, relatable aspect and you’ll either have a great person to bounce other interests and ideas off of…or someone with whom to engage in lively arguments with and both are pretty cool.

I even made another friend over liking another book, but I’ll admit that this other person was two and three quarters and the book was made almost entirely of pictures. And we both also had curly hair and were born in the same month and were wearing tulle skirts, so actually that was the best friend I made on the trip…

9

Book’s too long or life’s too short?

Jim McCarthy and I spend an inordinate amount of time instant messaging each other about everything from our lunch orders to what horrible fashion choices Lena Dunham has made lately.  This morning, our exchange went like this:

 jmccarthy@dystel.com 9:09 am
have you heard about this 3,000 page norwegian autobiographical novel My Struggle?

Mcgoderich 9:10 amMY STRUGGLE by Karl Ove Knausgaard
uh…no
sounds…deadly

 jmccarthy@dystel.com 9:11 am
it’s getting an absurd amount of press. i decided to give it a shot. i’m 50 pages  into volume 1 (of 6), so i can speak on it pretty authoritatively.
it’s…really good
so far

Mcgoderich 9:12 am
what’s it about?

 jmccarthy@dystel.com 9:14 am
it’s kind of just about his incredibly ordinary life. and it feels like it should be just a whole lot of navel-gazing except for the fact that he’s incredibly thoughtful and brutally honest.

Jim and I tend to have similar responses to fiction (with the glaring, appalling exception of Atonement, which I consider brilliant and he “meh”),  so I generally trust his judgment when it comes to recommendations for new reading material.   But, while we are both voracious readers, Jim still has the will and wherewithal to tackle massive literary novels with relish whereas I often look on them with fear and trepidation.  I feel like what he’s describing above can be handled by Nicholson Baker in under 300 pages.  Three thousand pages full of “the ordinariness of life, which is sometimes visionary, sometimes banal, and sometimes momentous, but all of it perforce ordinary because it happens in the course of a life, and happens, in different forms, to everyone…,” as the New Yorker puts it, makes me just want to take a nap.

Maybe it’s old age, mommy brain, or general crankiness, but I want my fiction to be more…extraordinary.  And shorter.  Yeah, definitely shorter.

What about you guys?  Do you gravitate towards this kind of minutely observed life narrative or do you shelve it in a corner of your mind under “some day I’ll read Finnegan’s Wake”?