Category Archives: reading

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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. 

1

Why reading matters

As a parent of young kids, my Facebook feed is inundated with articles about parenting, and this week everyone seems to be passing around this piece by Leonard Sax, the famous child psychologist. Evidently, in his new book THE COLLAPSE OF PARENTING, Sax argues that, “American families are facing a crisis of authority, where the kids are in charge, out of shape emotionally and physically and suffering because of it. He calls for a reordering of family life in response.” 

Now, I haven’t read the book yet, but in the article Sax offers some concrete advice for helping parents regain their authorityno cell phones in kids’ rooms at night, family dinners, no earbuds in the car, and getting outdoors. All of which are certainly good pieces of advice that I’ll take to heart, particularly how to handle electronics when the kids get to the age of fully abusing them. It’s already starting with my seven-year-old, who fancies himself a budding iphone film director…

Yet, I have to say, among Sax’s advice was one glaring omission that should be obvious to anyone in our industrywhat about reading? 

Perhaps Sax does encourage reading to one’s kids in his book (like I said, I haven’t read it yet), but I’m a little disappointed he doesn’t list reading as a primary method for helping families. I would think the daily structure of a child listening to a parent read aloud, particularly at bedtime, would be an ideal way for parents to reclaim authority from their kids. And of course, the benefits of
reading are pretty darn fundamental, don’t you know
and don’t just take my word for it, it’s science

So, how many of you read or used to read to your kids aloud? And thanks to that reading, were your kids  absolute angels who always respected your authority? Of course they were! So I’ll be curious when I read THE COLLAPSE OF PARENTING to see if Sax does actually encourage reading aloudif anyone has read it yet, please let us know!

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Reading through Jonas

IMG_7527This weekend a winter storm poured snow all over the East Coast, bringing 27 inches to my neighborhood and as much as 30 elsewhere! Most in my circle on Twitter seemed to be rejoicing at the “snow day” (though is it really a snow day if it falls on a weekend??) to read, snack, and watch Netflix. Instagram was full of people’s cozy blanket piles, pots of soup, and cups of cocoa steaming next to a stack of books.

What interested me most, though, was the celebration of the “excuse” to stay home and catch up on reading. Being something of a homebody, I frequently spend one or both weekend days holed up to read no matter the weather, so Jonas was less of an excuse and more of an atmospheric backdrop. So I am curious about those bookworms for whom this was a deviation from their usual weekend routine. Do they simply have more dynamic social lives than I do? Do they make more brunch/theater/museum plans thus putting me to shame as a New Yorker and cultural citizen by comparison? I thrive on long hours in silence, alone, to counterbalance the busyness of the work week and the stimulation of the social engagements – I figured a lot of avid readers feel this way but perhaps my introversion is more rare than I thought.

What’s keeping us from making every Saturday a snow day?

3

Is This Trip Necessary?

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post expressing my enthusiasm for Julian Fellowes’s decision to launch his upcoming novel BELGRAVIA as an electronically-enhanced weekly web serial that will include links to all kinds of cool supplementary material in each installment.

Now it looks like a new app called Crave is poised to outdo Fellowes. Dedicated to romance novels, it is targeted at the young Smartphone user who only has a few minutes to read between texting friends and checking Instagram and Twitter accounts. A typical Crave romance novel will be available each day in bite-sized 1000-word chapters, and as the reader scrolls down, the text will be periodically interrupted with brief film clips and gifs (often of a hunky actor playing the male lead), text messages between the characters, even notifications from the characters directly to the reader.  As this Huffington Post article explains, “the folks behind Crave think this format just might save the novel.”

Yikes! I didn’t know the novel needed saving so badly that it might only survive in such an interactive slice-and-dice form. As exciting as it is to see the reading experience assuming different dimensions in the digital age, I have to wonder whether this dumbs the whole thing down a bit as it caters to ever-shortening attention spans. There’s a lot to be said for the immersive experience of focusing on a book for long stretches of time while we put everything else on hold. But perhaps for many people that is becoming a luxury, or—worse—a  chore, one that demands intermittent distraction.

Or maybe Crave and whatever other apps it spawns will be just another choice for readers, not the one that necessarily becomes the norm. It will certainly create a new genre and a new platform. And some novels developed with Crave in mind may become an entirely valid and valuable entertainment choice. I’d love to hear other thoughts on this. Let us know what you think, and whether you’ll give this kind of reading a try.

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When it’s good, I’m really good, and when it’s bad, I go to pieces

My musical hero and idol David Bowie died on Sunday at the age of 69, and it felt to me like a light had gone out in the world. He was, along with Jim Henson and Stanley Kubrick, one of the three great artistic influences on my life. (That combination should explain me and my taste pretty perfectly.) I wanted to join in the celebrating and singing like they were doing in Brixton, but I kept bursting into tears. (Am I the only one who cries about ten times more easily as I get older?)

I really don’t remember there being a before-Bowie time in my life. He was there in my childhood, on MTV looking all sweaty in Australia in the “Let’s Dance” video. There he was in Labyrinth, which I remember watching at my friend Paul’s house (Paul knew all the cool movies), laughing hysterically and rewinding over and over to watch him step from the bottom of a platform to the top, in what at the time seemed like mind-blowing special effects. Then there was my obsession with the “changesbowie” album, which got me really hooked on his music. From there, my love only accelerated.

I was lucky to see Bowie live several times 2002-2003, including at an amazingly intimate show at Jimmy’s Bronx Cafe during his New York Marathon tour. The man couldn’t have been more than 25 feet away, playing songs from the brilliant Heathen, but also favorites like “Starman,” “Be My Wife,” and even “Ziggy Stardust.” I might have smiled for days afterwards. When he had a heart attack on stage in 2004, I had a feeling we weren’t going to see him play live again. And he disappeared, for the most part, for so many years. (Though this cameo on Extras in 2006 cracks me up every time I watch it.)

When Bowie released The Next Day last year on his birthday, I was hopeful that we’d entered a new era of music. And I was thrilled when it was announced that yet another album, Blackstar, was coming on his birthday this year. It’s clear now that this period of creativity was a goodbye, and what a way to go. The man’s been dealing with mortality and dying since the beginning, but relistening to this new album through the lens of his dying…damn.

So, while this post was mainly a way for me to deal with my own grief, it also has to do with books! Because, as I’m sure you’ve heard many times over, Bowie was quite the reader. And boy was his taste varied, as evidenced by this list of his 100 must-read books. If you’ve been following along with him at all, many of the books aren’t much of a surprise, and also not surprising is where our reading overlaps: The Gnostic Gospels, A Clockwork Orange, 1984, The Great Gatsby, The Iliad. Those works influenced some of my favorite Bowie albums, like Diamond Dogs, Station to Station, and Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, and it’s fun to try to make other connections between the books and his own work.

Looking at this list and thinking about his lyrics, I can’t help but wonder what a Bowie novel would have read like. It would have been weird and likely esoteric, and I likely would have spent ages trying to decipher it. And I would have loved every minute of it.

Saying goodbye to friends is hard. I miss knowing that David Bowie is another person in our world, making things brighter, shinier and weirder. But I will continue to celebrate his music and spirit, and I’m going to try my damnedest to grab life and knowledge by the throat the way he did.

“Should’ve took a picture

Something I could keep

Buy a little frame, something cheap

For you

Everyone says hi”

3

Hail Fellowes!

 

Like a lot of people, I’m rejoicing that the new season of DOWNTON ABBEY has started, while I simultaneously lament its imminent demise: This season is to be its last. But its tireless creator and head writer, Julian Fellowes, won’t be snoozing on a beach in the Bahamas. He’s taking a cue from Charles Dickens with his next project, BELGRAVIA, a novel told in serial form that will make the first of its eleven episodic appearances this coming April, right after DOWNTON will have concluded and many of us will be in the throes of mourning.

BELGRAVIA, set in that very tony neighborhood in mid-19th-century London, will be available first on the web, then will  be published in a complete hard-copy editon by Grand Central in June, once all of the episodes have appeared. But Fellowes is wisely taking advantage of all the technology that Charles Dickens never could have imagined. Each of the episodes will be made available not only in digital but in audio, and subscribers, who will pay $13.99 for the entire package, will be able to switch back and forth between the two as they choose. In addition, there will be all sorts of bells and whistles—bonus materials, video clips, surprise extra features—embedded within each chapter through hyperlinks.

It’s likely to be one of those great web-based events, like NPR’s Serial podcast series, that captures the attention of a huge swath of the country. And if that is the case, it’s a fair bet that plenty of other big-deal books will receive similar treatment as time goes by. It’s one more way that technology will expand the reading experience, and make it something we can all share simultaneously on several different platorms.

Do I sound like I’m shilling here? So be it. Mr. Fellowes, I’m on!  April can’t come soon enough.

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Reading Goals

I’m the kind of person who loves a good To Do List.  (As I’ve probably mentioned before, since I’m also the kind of person who talks too much about the kind of person I am.) In fact I keep several kinds of lists, varied in form, content, technology, and location. I used to keep a To Read list on my phone, but then I found that I wasn’t actually ever reading anything from it except by accident, so now I keep my To Read list in the form of stacks of books. I’m far more likely to read a book if it just happens to be in my apartment when I finish reading another one. (Now is the time some of you will be tempted to tell me that this is where e-books come in handy, but I don’t read digitally except for submissions and manuscripts. The strict divide between work reading and pleasure reading does me a world of good psychologically and makes me better at turning my editor brain on and off as befits my reading purpose, so I’m sticking with it.) I even keep a high-priority To Read list in pile form (things I’m super excited about, plus DGLM galleys, plus books for my office and personal book clubs) right next to my TV, to shame me into not neglecting them in favor of rewatching The West Wing for the 83rd time.

So naturally I love when other people make lists of books I should read, so I can mine them for new reading goals. I was pleased to see that Esquire enlisted eight “female literary powerhouses” to help them make a list of books everyone should read. You see, the last time they did that, it was kind of a disaster. The fantastic Rebecca Solnit (go read her collection Men Explain Things to Me) rightly called them out for their myopia, so they called in some reinforcements to give it another go.  It’s a pretty fantastic list—and not just because it features DGLM’s own Tayari Jones and her excellent Silver Sparrow.

Hey, credit card, looks like we need to stop by the bookstore on our way home from work.

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Quality Time

One of the few drawbacks of this profession is the limited time an agent gets for recreational reading.  Most of us are backlogged with work-related reading—new manuscripts from clients; new manuscripts from prospective clients; newly-published books that are competing with those of our clients.

So I wind up carving out a couple of periods during the year when work-related reading gets put on hold and I get to read whatever I want.  One of those is when I’m vacationing; usually during the summer, and the other is during holiday week, when the book business mostly shuts down and I can call my time between Christmas and New Year’s my own.

Here are the must-reads for me during the last week of this year. I’ve either already bought these—or friends and family have received not-so-subtle hints from me about what I hope to find under my tree.

 

  1. BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  I already feel way behind the curve on this one. It seems everybody, and particularly every news commentator, has read it except for me. I don’t think any other book has received this much attention all year. With Black Lives Matter on everyone’s mind, this book has definitely come at the right moment.
  2. THE MARVELS by Brian Selznick. Selznick is a literary and artistic visionary who has created his own unique storytelling genre. I share his fascination with theater and film, and am very much looking forward to this story about a theatrical family which, based on what I’ve heard, begins in the mid-eighteenth century and hopscotches up to the late twentieth.
  3. THE CATSKILLS: ITS HISTORY AND HOW IT CHANGED AMERICA by Stephen Silverman and Raphael Silver. This lush, lavishly illustrated story of New York City’s upstate playground looks fabulous, and it covers a part of the world that has seen enormous changes—from its prehistory to its Native American dwellers, through Rip Van Winkle, numerous wars, and the rise and fall of enormous middle-class Jewish resorts such as the Concord, Grossinger’s, and the Nevele.

 

Do you have your own end-of-the-year reading list? If so, let me know what’s on it. I’d love to hear.

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‘Tis the season to read & read & read

Because I don’t do enough reading as it is, I’ve already started compiling my holiday reading list for our winter break. I have a bad habit of squirreling books away in various corners of my office and apartment all mentally marked “to read later,” but never really quite getting to them. But I’m going home to my quiet rural town for six days (!) and what else is a girl going to do but read?

On my list:

  • UNBECOMING by Rebecca Scherm

unbecoming

  • THE LAKE HOUSE by Kate Morton

the-lake-house-9781451649321_hr

  • THE JAPANESE LOVER by Isabel Allende

the-japanese-lover-9781501116971_hr

  • YES PLEASE by Amy Poehler (this has been on my list since last summer, embarrassingly enough)

yes please

  • ORDINARY LIGHT by Tracy K. Smith

ordinary light

What’s on your list? Any books you’re looking forward to pick up in the New Year? 

Let nothing stand in the way of your holiday reading. Taking some tips from this bun.