Category Archives: reading

4

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”?

0

Tiny readers

As the absurdly proud aunt of exceptionally wonderful nephews—who we’ll call Fidge and Gus, because that is what I call them—I’ve actively made it my mission to get them to associate me with books.  Fidge once told his “Aunt” Gabby that “Aunts read books” and made her read him bedtime stories.  A few weeks after that, he unceremoniously announced his desire to go to bed by walking up to me and saying “You always read to me.”  Why yes, Fidge, yes I do.  Gus is a bit of a tougher sell—he’s rambunctious and not so fond of sitting still.  But if he can interact with a book or laugh hysterically while “At” Lauren makes faces or yells or roars, he’s game.  His biggest obsession is with Bill Cotter’s Don’t Push the Button, in which illicit button pushes lead to a whole host of multi-colored monsters named Larry.  He now “reads” that one to himself, turning each page to intone “Don’t push a button!” and then…pushing that button anyway.

As Gus’s birthd9780062247759_p0_v1_s260x420ay is coming up, I headed out of town last weekend to celebrate it with the family.  Naturally, I dragged Sharon to the bookstore with me last week to find some future favorites for him and settled on Press Here by Herve Tullet, I Am Otter by Sam Garton, and his autobiography The Boss Baby by Marla Frazee (which is really more for his parents).  I read the books to both boys separately, and Gus especially loved Press Here, which was no surprise since it’s very similar to Don’t Push the Button.  He’s also a fan of counting, so it suits him.  He did seem to think The Boss Baby was pretty funny, but now I’m worried it might’ve given him ideas.  And I Am Otter was definitely my favorite of the three.

But my favorite reading moment of the weekend was this one: in a crowded house full of family, with Gus trying to go to sleep in the bedroom, Fidge was clearly ready to wind down.  Fortunately, aunts know what to do when you need a moment away from all the bustle.  So I gathered up Gus’s new books and some old favorites and hunkered down in a Super Secret Hiding Spot under the dining room table with Fidge.  We read through the above three plus Madeline and Wild About Books, one of his absolute favorites, since it’s got books AND animals AND ample opportunities for counting and guessing and finding hidden frogs.  Not only did we get quiet time (where, according to Fidge at least, no one even knew where we were!), we also got to revisit old friends and make new ones.

I kind of miss Otter and Teddy, actually.

0

I like reading YA and I don’t care who knows

I’ve always felt secretly awkward of the fact that I love young-adult fiction. I mean, can you blame me? Just look at how the phenomenon of adults reading YA has been dissected.

With so much analysis aimed at those of us adults who read YA, we needed a hero, someone to stand up and say nay, it’s not weird. And then I came across this game changer from John Green. (Who else?) And now I’m not hesitant to admit it. I love reading YA. I want to shout it from a mountaintop.

Do you qualify as a YA addict? Gotta love the shout-outs to Richelle Mead and James Dashner…but don’t stop your YA reading list there! Many of our clients are doing awesome things in YA!

Now, to get to the point of this post, I’ve been searching for a series that can live up to the recent ending of, what is scientifically speaking, the best YA series of all time: The Wheel of Time. Any suggestions? Anyone? Bueller?

I wish I grew up reading…

It wasn’t too long ago that I became Uncle Mike. My cousin gave birth to a little baby girl, Eleanor. (I know that technically makes me her second cousin, but Second Cousin Mike doesn’t really roll off the tongue.)

It also wasn’t too long ago that a roommate told me he wished he read more growing up. He can’t remember the last time he read a book cover to cover and attributes this shortcoming to the lack of pages he turned as a kid.

Now I’m not a scientist, but it seems to me that if you develop a love of reading when you’re a child, you’ll be more likely to pick up a book in adulthood. And let’s face it, wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone read more? Numerous studies show positive correlations between reading and intelligence, empathy and emotional health. This is just one of many.

So I’d like little Eleanor to grow up reading. And when she actually is able to read, I’d like to give her a basket full of books similar to the one in my childhood room at my parent’s place—only with fewer books about aliens, wizards, knights, and trains. But until then, I’m in the market for some good board books that her parents can read to her.

So please help! What do you read to your children?

10

Series fatigue

Jane and I had dinner with the delightful and very savvy Abbi Glines last night.  During the course of a delicious meal of tapas-like small plates at ABC Cocina (which, in case you’re wondering, we liked better than ABC Kitchen, its sister restaurant), we talked about a number of interesting topics, from trends in fiction categories—ever elusive and often fleeting—to the lasting power of series.  Abbi pointed out that series can get tired after a while and that readers get tired of the characters right along with them, so an author needs to know when to move on to new pastures.

This reminded me of my love of Patricia Cornwell’s early Scarpetta books and how tedious I found the later ones, Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries which I lost interest in at about the letter G, and that by the time my son and I were at the 24th Magic Tree House book, I was ready to chuck them all out the window.  It’s possible that I just have a short attention span, but, Richelle Mead’s wonderful Vampire Academy series, for instance, kept me hooked up to the very last page of the final installment.

Sbook serieso, is it that authors don’t know when to put a cash cow out to graze and so keep adding books to a successful series even when the characters would much rather have retired to their home in Florida?  Or is it the readership that is so enamored of the characters and their universe that they keep clamoring for more even after the passion has faded?

Do you read every book in a series or do you find your attention wandering to that fresh, bright newcomer on the next shelf?  And do your favorite series authors maintain their effectiveness over numerous titles?