Category Archives: reading

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Vacation, all I ever wanted…

It’s summer time, and you know what that means: vacation.  Vacation is one of my favorite things, because I love traveling, but it’s also when I read the most non-DGLM titles in a row.  I try to keep up with personal reading throughout the year—as an agent you need to know the market—but it’s hard to do when the metaphorical reading pile is in constant danger of toppling and authors are eagerly awaiting word. If I read a book for pleasure, I have to tackle at least 10 or so work projects before I feel like I can justify dipping into anything else for fun.  Otherwise the guilt stifles my enjoyment too much.

sorrento-mare1But on vacation I can read anything I want.  And this year I’m heading to Sorrento to sit on a balcony sipping wine and reading and staring at the Gulf of Naples.  Now that everything’s booked, I have to turn to the important decision: what to read.  I’m trying to limit the physical books I bring to two, promising myself I can buy more books at the airport or in Italy if I really want.

So I’m welcoming suggestions.  The only rules are that they must be available at short notice in trade paperback (my format of choice for personal reading), they should be fiction or highly engaging and easily digestible nonfiction, and they can’t be on the DGLM client list.  Ideas?

How fast can you read?

There is SO much out there that I want to read and so little time to read it all. It’s one of the universe’s sick jokes. I thought Ken Kalfus summarized it perfectly in the beginning of this piece for the New Yorker.

So wouldn’t it be great if we could squeeze all that reading into our schedules? If we could read a page by just glancing at it? There’s no shortage of speed reading books and websites that claim to be able to drill this skill into you. And of course there are apps that help you speed read too.

A lot of these sources relay a lot of the same information. Focus and block out all distractions. Don’t read sentences more than once. User your peripheries and track your place with a finger or pointer. Don’t vocalize the words in your head, which I am pretty sure is impossible NOT to do.

These are all good tips, but do any of these sites offer any substantial improvement? While I can’t answer that definitively, I can point you to this Slate speed reading piece about the plausibility of speed reading and information retention rates.

So what do our readers think? Any tips you’d like to share?

Take the test here to see how you stack up. I got 567 wpm (and 3/3 answers). Challenge extended.

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Learning about Middle Grade fiction

I have been agenting for a long time, and I’ve met a lot of interesting and wonderful writers and learned a great deal about different categories of fiction and nonfiction, what sells and what doesn’t.  But, I am always eager to learn new things.

Over the last several years we have all heard a great deal about Young Adult books and what seems to work and what doesn’t.  And we at DGLM represent a bunch of bestsellers in this category.  One of the interesting things in this category is the crossover market that has developed with books like THE HUNGER GAMES series and titles authored by John Green and James Dashner.  And I have been fortunate to represent a number of significant new YA authors.

When we were looking to choose a category for our next book club meeting, Jim McCarthy wisely came up with the concept of all of us reading a recently published Middle Grade book and I loved this idea as this is a category I am just now dipping my toe into.  The potential market is huge since the Harry Potter series put the genre on the map and obviously crossed over into an adult market.

RATSCALIBURTo prepare, I have studied the category a bit.  I know that the age range of readers is between 8 and 12 and the average length of books is 100 pages or less.  Here is a piece I found that clearly describes this category and its traditional market.

Middle Grade classics include the previously mentioned Harry Potter titles, Charlotte’s Web, Matilda and our own Chris Grabenstein’s Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and The Island of Dr. Libris.

So I chose as my book club title (with Jim’s help) Ratscalibur by Josh Lieb.  And my thought is that I will read this and then give it to my seven-year-old granddaughter, Elena, who is a terrific reader, to see what she thinks.  Stay tuned for our thoughts.

I’d also love to know what your experiences are with Middle Grade and what you (and your children) have enjoyed reading in the category.

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Powerless

Yesterday, July 16th, 2015, will forever be known as The Day We Had No Internet and No Telephones for More than Half of the Day.

It was very dramatic.

Or was it?

While of course in the modern world in which we live and work, having access to the internet, to emails and the office phone line is very important to carry on business as usual. And it wouldn’t be ideal if this happened all the time or even frequently. But on a quiet Thursday in the dead middle of summer, it wasn’t so bad. In fact, a lot of us here at DGLM were musing on how productive we were without the distractions of constant emails pinging in.

We also had time to catch up on submissions, read manuscripts, vet contracts and edit proposals—things usually reserved for after work hours. The office was calm and quiet…and got very clean and organized, too. When service returned later in the afternoon, all was abuzz and it was a flurry of activity to catch up on those missed hours, and still, productivity and focus remained high.

Maybe it was just the blessing in disguise that we needed, or maybe there’s something to be said about turning off the notifications, closing the browser windows and minimizing email tabs for set periods of time throughout the day. Though all this communication and information technology does have immense benefits in the long run, going back to “the old ways” once in a while certainly doesn’t hurt, and even offers some real perspective.

(and now you know why the blog postings you were dying for yesterday never appeared!)

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Trust me–or don’t!

The Unreliable Narrator seems to be all the rage in fiction right now. And why not? It’s a great way to surprise a reader, and to keep us guessing. The most popular current example is Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL, in which things are never quite what we gather from the two conflicting narrative voices. Paula Hawkins’s THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN uses the same technique, with the added trick of a narrator who is an alcoholic with a tendency to drink herself into memory-wiping stupors. We constantly are forced to wonder just how trustworthy her impressions really are.

Alfred Hitchock, of all people, ran up against critical brickbats by using an unreliable-narrator flashback in his 1950 film STAGE FRIGHT. By showing a leading character’s false alibi as a flashback, Hitchcock was pulling a fast one on his audience. Until then, showing someone’s narrative of a flashback on-screen had always been considered to represent the truth. Viewers had always assumed they could count on that. Unless it was clearly stated that each character had a different version of the truth—as was done that same year in Kurosawa’s Rashomon—there was an unspoken contract between filmmaker and viewer that flashbacks equaled truth.

I’ve just finished Renée Knight’s DISCLAIMER, which takes the unreliable-narrator technique to a whole new level. And I must say, I like it even more than THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN because it mixes in a juicy dose of meticulously-plotted revenge. Rather brilliantly, Knight piles on twist after twist toward the end, making us feel guilty for assigning blame based on whose story we were believing all along.

What are some of your own favorite examples of unreliable narration? I’d love to know. (But please do us all a favor and try to avoid spoilers!)

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My aspirational reading list

GIRLTRAINThis afternoon I was talking with my daughter who was just returning from her vacation and she told me that among the many things she had done while she was away, she had read a book. That made me think of when the last time was that I read a book for pleasure.

So many people assume that we who work in publishing are so very lucky because we get to read all the time; well, we are and we do, but most of the time we are reading material for our jobs and not what we would choose to read for ourselves.

Inspired by my kid, I started to put together a short list of current(ish) books I would like to read for pleasure if I had the time:

WATCHMANTHE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

PRIMATES OF PARK AVENUE by Wednesday Martin

IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT by Judy Blume

DEAD WAKE by Eric Larson

THE HUSBAND’S SECRET by Liane Moriarty

THE INVENTION OF WINGS Sue Monk Kidd

THE LONGEST RIDE by Nicholas Sparks

GO SET A WATCHMAN by Harper Lee

I’m curious. What would your aspirational reading list look like if you were to put one together? I’d love to know.

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Living Sentences

 

I’ve been thinking about sentences today. This morning I came across a Buzzfeed post rounding up “53 Of The Most Heartbreaking Sentences In Fantasy Books”, including DGLM author Jacqueline Carey at #9. Then around lunch time David Morrell’s RAMBO was included in a HuffPost list of great opening sentences. And just now a Facebook pal shared this beautiful Paris Review essay about discovering a sentence from his long-out-of-print book had a wild and unexpected new life. The signs are clear – sentences are the theme of the day, and it got me curious about sentences that truly stand out.

Fiction writers work so hard over every detail of their books, carefully choosing a setting in place and time, planning out the key plot events, bringing the main characters to life. But it seems that many of the most quoted (most Pinterested, Instagrammed, tattooed, wedding-vowed) sentences have very little to do with the story or its characters. Just browse the most popular quotes on Goodreads, and you’ll see that I’m right – very few of these offer any sort of spoiler, or are hard to understand if you haven’t read the book. They are sentences powerful enough in their meaning and in the beauty of their language to live outside of the book that was their first home.

I spent some time pondering my favorite sentences from my lifetime of reading, and wanted to share a couple with you here.

“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Corrigan had lost his line with God: he bore the sorrows on his own, the story of stories.”
― Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin

“No bathroom on earth will make up for marrying a bearded man you hate.”
― Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

“How quickly he fell; how soon it was over.”
― Donna Tartt, The Secret History

 

Have you ever loved a sentence from a book you haven’t read? What are your favorite sentences?

Share in the comments!

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Start ‘Em Young

My friend the biographer Brian Kellow (ETHEL MERMAN: A LIFE, PAULINE KAEL: A LIFE IN THE DARK, and this Fall’s upcoming CAN I GO NOW? THE LIFE OF SUE  MENGERS, HOLLYWOOD’S FIRST SUPERAGENT) came up with a great Facebook post last week that got a lot of us to thinking. He included a photo of a half-dozen original copies of his mother’s favorite books, and went on to indicate how his parents’ taste in reading helped define them, and helped shape him along the road to adulthood.

My own parents didn’t always have a lot of time to read. When they did, their inclinations were pretty straightforward. Dad always preferred non-fiction. I remember him reading David Ogilvy’s CONFESSIONS OF AN ADVERTISING MAN and William Shirer’s THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH. But when he was younger, he developed an affinity for Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Walt Whitman. I loved the old 1920s leather-bound editions of these authors that he had kept since college, and that held pride of place on our family’s bookshelves.

Mom used to like to disappear into the latest sprawling historical epic, be it Leon Uris’s EXODUS or James Michener’s HAWAII or THE SOURCE. I was somewhat distressed when she chose to buy and read a paperback novelization of the romantic-comedy movie FOR LOVE OF IVY in 1968. Well, that was a tough time in her life, for a lot of reasons, and I shouldn’t have begrudged her that search for a bit of  escapism.

It was always a sad feeling I got whenever I would enter the homes of friends whose parents didn’t seem to read; who had no bookcases in the living room. And I’m grateful that my parents taught me to read at a young age and, without really even trying, instilled a love of books in me right from the start.

What books do you remember your parents reading when you were growing up? And did you ever go on to read the same books?

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Stately, plump Buck Mulligan

Looking through the online catalogue of the very cool Litographs which, among other things, makes literary temporary tattoos, I came across this one, which recreates Molly Bloom’s iconic closing line of James Joyce’s Ulysses, “yes I said yes I will Yes,” purposely devoid of any punctuation save the closing full stop.

It seems appropriate with Bloomsday fast approaching that I should talk about why Ulysses is one of my favorite books. Not for any snooty, ‘looking down my superior and literary nose at the plebeians who have never read it’ reasons, but because of something nearly the opposite. Being shown how to read Ulysses actually taught me so much about how to read—close reading in between the lines—in general.

My senior year of college was spent completing my English degree and fitting in any other required courses my university required for graduation. I realized, also, that I was thisclose to adding on a minor in either French or Irish Studies (you know, those degrees that are super helpful in the real world). I chose Irish Studies, mainly because I hadn’t taken a French class in at least a year and frankly, Irish Studies just seemed more interesting.

That year, I had two classes where I was the only student. The first was a class about feminism in 20th Century Ireland and not only was I the only student to sign up for it, but the university totally forgot the cancel the class, like they’re supposed to do in a situation where there are fewer than I believe five students. The professor emailed me the day before, a letter which basically consisted of “um, well, this wasn’t supposed to happen, but I’m game if you are,” and so without any classroom assignment, we met in a pub once a week and talked about cool Irish ladies. Not terrible.

The other class was one of my own making—I’d always wanted to read Ulysses, but never trusted that I could venture in on my own. An overly confident seventeen-year-old Rachel once decided she would read it over the summer after covering Portrait of an Artist in her senior year English lit class and ostentatiously carried it around with her for about a month before quietly abandoning the book after making it through a chapter and a half with only the vaguest understanding of what was going on. After approaching my advisor with the idea, I found a professor willing to take me on an independent study course where we met once a week in her office to discuss the chapters one at a time.

I loved it. I have never, ever been someone who marks up her books, but boy is my copy of Ulysses littered with as many of my own scrawlings as Joyce’s (not entirely true). I learned how to be an active reader, how to consider in depth references and also to read in virtually any style known to man (up until 1922) since no two of Joyce’s chapters, or episodes as they are called, is written in the same manner. I read each on my own, marking to the best of my ability, genuinely laughing out loud at sentences and allusions that I would never have understood previously, and then marked them up some more in the hour-long sessions with my professor.

It was a truly enjoyable and enlightening experience and I believe it has forever changed the way I approach a novel, no matter how straightforward or complicated it may be. I’ve since reread the book and have found myself able to follow along unencumbered, and I’ll always be forever grateful for the opportunity that I had. There are countless ways to write, countless ways to read and countless ways to interpret a text, which is part of (all of?) the reason why books and literary pursuits in general are so important. There is always a new thing to discover and no two people will be affected by a piece of writing in the same way. All we can do is gather more and more tools with which to approach ever more books, while delighting in going back to old favorites with our newfound perspectives.

I’d love to know, too, if there are any particular books or moments of clarity that stand out to you as a turning point in your reading career!

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So, this happened…

These days, it seems that everyone and their pet snake has a memoir.  The category is jam packed with offerings that range from the sublime (beautifully written literary narratives) to the ridiculous (vapid celebrity p.r. releases masquerading as books), as Sharon discusses below.  So, I don’t know how to feel about the news that the great Barbra Streisand has a memoir in the works.  On the one hand, the woman’s had a fascinating life and career and if she chose to write about it candidly (and has an accomplished ghost writer helping her) it could be great.  On the other hand, this is the lady who filmed herself through a Vaseline coated lens in The Mirror Has Two Faces.  On the other, other hand, even if the book is a panegyric  to herself, won’t it still be compelling?

All of this makes me think about memoirs I’d like to read, based on the perhaps misguided idea that these authors would knock my socks off  in the way Patti Smith and Keith Richards did with their books.  Can you imagine Jack Nicholson reliving his wild days in print?  Or Toni Morrison using her prodigious gifts to tell us about her journey from poverty to international acclaim? (In 2012, Morrison scrapped plans for a memoir, claiming her life was not interesting enough…whaaat?) Basically, it’s the people who probably wouldn’t ever write this kind of narrative whose books I would most want to read.

Whose memoir is on your fantasy bedside reading pile?