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Audio book ideas

As some readers might remember from past blog posts, my in-laws live in coastal Maine, which is about a 7-hour drive from NYC. Usually, we leave right after the boys wake up and arrive mid-afternoon. However, we’re going up next weekend, and to maximize our time, we’re attempting a night drive next Friday night. We’ve never done this before, but the boys are solid sleepers, and after a full week of camp they’re typically knocked out by Friday evening. So, I’m hopeful they’ll conk out before we hit Connecticut and stay that way!

Okay, what does this have to do with books? Well, typically when we drive up to Maine I get about a half-hour of radio in before the boys demand a DVD, and so most of the entertainment on the trip consists of me listening to the audio of their movie from the back seat. It’s a slightly surreal experience–I could probably recite the dialog of THE LEGO MOVIE and DESPICABLE ME before I’d even seen either movie.

But for the night drive, movies will be shut off by nightfall, and I figure the radio will be too noisy or distracting for the boys. And while they tend to snooze whenever we put on dub or reggae, I’m worried that might be a little sleep-inducing for the driver, too. So it dawned on me–here’s a perfect chance to listen to an audio book! And yet, I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit, I’ve never done an audio book before. Whenever I’m alone in the car, I’m a music guy–either I tune in to the radio or load up the ipod with something new.

So, any suggestions for a good listen? Any readers that I should look for or avoid if I want to stay awake but keep the boys asleep? I was thinking of downloading GIRL ON A TRAIN, since I haven’t read it yet–has anyone listened to it and can recommend? Thanks in advance for the feedback!

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Get Linked!

Per a suggestion from one of you wonderful commenters, we’ve done a little housekeeping on the What We’re Reading list of links found over to the right. And now that the out-of-date and “ghost town” blogs are gone, we have some space to add new ones!

Our list already includes many important industry resources. Like Publishers Marketplace, where you can research agents and editors, and GalleyCat, where you can find the hottest breaking news on digital and print publishing. We keep links there to big thinkers and sassy reviewers, to breaking news and conversation starters. You’ll even find our other agencies over there, because everyone’s better off when we’re all sharing what we know.

What are we missing? We want you to help us find the newest and most exciting literary sites on the web. So let me know in the comments below – where do you go for the most up-to-date book news? (BESIDES the fantastic DGLM blog, RIGHT?!)  Where do you find new books to read or catch up on the latest industry gossip? What sites offer the best fun for a bookish lifestyle?

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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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The Magic of Realism in Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth

I rarely reread a book, but there’s something about The Good Earth that gives me literary cravings. I just reread it for the fifth time in order to relive the magical world of rural pre-WWI China. I know “magical” would be the last adjective anyone would use to describe the poverty and struggle described in the book, but every time I read it, I feel as mystified as if I were reading a fantasy—a genre I associate with losing myself in another world with powers unlike those you’d find in reality.

So, how does she create this beguiling effect in a realistic book?

I’d like to attribute my mystification about the setting and characters to that fact that the world is so completely different from my own. It’s no easy feat trying to find similarities between 2015’s Los Angeles and rural China in the early 1900’s. However, there are plenty of books written on different times and places which I can barely slog through. This book is a classic for a reason, and I attribute it mostly to the way Buck makes magic out of realism. Not magical realism, every part of the book is taken from history, but she describes China using the same approach a fantasy writer would use to describe an unknown world. She mixes nature and earth with the interactions of humans, illustrating the soil and land in ways that makes it feel like it isn’t the same Earth I inhabit. The way Wang Lung appreciates the land, touches it, worships it, brings to mind a sacred connection. When Wang Lung loses his bond with the earth, we see his fall, much the same as if he were losing a supernatural power. And isn’t he?

It’s not often that I’m reminded about the enchantment of reality, and when an author can teach me this, I have a better appreciation for it. After reading this novel, I want to dig my hands into the dirt and plant seeds in order to experience the creation of life from dust. And believe me, I’m no farmer. I only want a piece of the good earth’s power as described by Pearl S. Buck.

Can you think of any other books that highlight the magic of our world?

Unexpected authors

You know how I love to inspire our blog readers with success stories. After all these years, I still enjoy learning about how writers began their publishing careers because unlike doctors and lawyers and the like which require an advance degree and extensive training, writers can pursue their craft from anywhere at any time.

I was reminded of this from reading a few relevant stories recently. Publisher’s Weekly has a series called Flying Starts where they interview various (published) writers who share their stories of getting started.

So, speaking of doctors, this Flying Start looks at the debut of Pennsylvania surgeon Ilene Wong (pen name I.W. Gregorio). She fit her writing into her schedule in blocks while she worked full-time and her first novel about an intersex teen was recently published by Balzer + Bray, a division of HarperCollins. A dream come true for her!

MOSQUITOLAND is a recent YA novel by David Arnold that got a ton of great reviews and attention, and the author talks about how he was a freelance musician and stay-at-home dad before he wrote this book. How cool is that?

My own client, A.J. Hartley, is a renowned Shakespeare professor in his day job who in his other life writes highly commercial fiction across a myriad of categories. And Deborah Lytton was an actress and musician turned lawyer before she became a children’s author.

These stories give me hope that if you are destined to become a published author, you can achieve your goals no matter what else you are doing in your life. So, soldier on, keep writing and persevering and you will find your way. If you have any great publishing stories to share here, please do so in the comments.

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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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#notagoodidea

As you all know, we’ve been pushing the whole build-your-platform-through-social-media idea pretty much relentlessly since grumpy cat memes and the Kardashians became a thing.  We’ve also suggested that understanding how social media works and knowing how to use it properly (for good, not evil) is essential.  We’ve seen how often it can backfire and how damaging the repercussions can be.

That was brought home to me this week by two separate “#Ask___” Twitter events.  First, E.L. James had to deal with responses that ranged from mildly sarcastic to outright insulting when she agreed to participate in an online chat to promote her latest iteration of 50 Shades.  Then, in a very different arena, presidential candidate Bobby Jindal’s #AskBobby hashtag elicited some pretty rude commentary about the Louisiana governor’s policies and even personal life and left a lot of people wondering if someone so clueless about how Twitter works could actually be a good president.

What’s amazing about both of these situations is that these are folks who should know better—or at least their handlers and p.r. people should.  The social media universe is mostly a Hobbesian place—all cynicism, righteous anger, and meanspiritedness—where moderation in opinions or dialogue is in very, very short supply.  And, those who are out there promoting themselves, their work, or a cause, need to figure out how not to fall victim to the pitchfork wielding mobs (metaphorically speaking, of course).  So authors need to beware.  In order to reap the benefits of an effective social media presence, you need to understand the potential pitfalls and be thoughtful about how to avoid them.  Like any tool, this one can help build or destroy.

What useful things have you learned from your experiences on social media?

 

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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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Listen up

It’s no secret around here that I’m obsessed with podcasts—I started a one-woman mission to convert the DGLM staff to Serial fans last year after all.  And you wouldn’t want to get me and Sharon going on You Made It Weird or to get stuck listening to Jim and I dissect episodes of How Did This Get Made.  (I also listen to Undisclosed, TAL, About Race, Hound Tall, Stuff You Should Know, Nerdist, and Serially Obsessed.  Feel free to make me recommendations for others in the comments!!)  My latest podcast obsessions are Mystery Show hosted by Starlee Kine (who you might’ve heard on other podcasts or public radio shows) and Criminal hosted by Phoebe Judge.  In Mystery Show, Kine takes a mystery that cannot be solved on the internet and tracks down answers people have been wondering about for a long time (like how tall Jake Gyllenhaal is really? or who is the rightful owner of a belt buckle found on the street decades ago that has a toaster with toast that actually pops up if you flip a lever?).  It’s weird and hilarious and the stories Kine uncovers along the way have so much charm.

Criminal also often involves mysteries, but much more, well, criminal ones.  The stories are surprising in very different ways from Mystery Show’s, but with a much more serious edge.   Criminal’s latest episode synced itself onto my phone this morning, so I had to give it a listen as I got ready for work.  And you guys, it turns out to be all about books.  And in particular, rare books, plus one particular rare book thief who’s been caught many times but can’t seem to stop.  Give it a listen—you won’t regret it.