Tag Archives: reading

Agents Pick the Best Books of 2014!

With all the “Best Books of 2014” lists out there, I wanted to give a chance to my colleagues, to literary agents to name their best books of 2014.

Last year, Bree Ogden at D4EO put together a list of “Agents Pick the Best of 2013” and posted it on her blog. Here’s the link: https://agentbree.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/literary-agents-choose-their-2013-favorites/

Bree is too busy this year, so I offered to put it together and post it on my blog.

I asked all participating agents to try not to list their own clients books (though some couldn’t help themselves, and I understand that – my clients books ARE the best books, lucky for me, none of my clients have books coming out in 2014, so it wasn’t an issue) – and I also asked that agents try to list books published in 2014, but that was a softer guideline.

I think this is one of the BEST ways to get a feel for what certain agents are looking for, we like to represent the types of books we like to read, so what better way to get a sense for our tastes than to pick our brains for recommendations? Since I work in foreign rights too, I wanted to try and make this as international as I could, so you’ll see some of that too. Also, who doesn’t love book lists? There is no better way to get a list of great books to read than to get it from the EXPERTS! So, without further ado….

ava lavender golden city

Rena Rossner: One of my favorite books of the year was THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER by Leslye Walton – stunning writing, magical realism, bird people, who could ask for more? I also loved THE GOLDEN CITY by J. Kathleen Cheney – an alternate history of Portugal, selkies and sea people, a mysterious underground art installation – I mean, what NOT to like? I also really enjoyed A GIRL IS A HALF FORMED THING by Eimear McBride – I love Ireland and poetry and this book is brave and wonderful. I’ll also give a nod to my favorite picture book of the year: I AM OTTER by Sam Garton (but I’m not sure if that’s cheating or not because I sold it for translation into Hebrew but tough…if there’s any example of everything I love in a picture book, this is it. Adorable. Funny. Classic. Amazing.)
The Deborah Harris Agency
You can find out more about what I’m looking for here: www.renarossner.com
Twitter: @renarossner

ocean at the end grasshopper

Linda P. Epstein: I had a lot going on personally this past year, so I didn’t do as much pleasure reading as I normally do. But 2014 was the year that I began to finally read Neil Gaiman, starting with AMERICAN GODS in January, THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE in February, and THE GRAVEYARD BOOK in April. I loved all three of those books so much, for all different reasons. But, 2014 was also the year I started to read Andrew Smith! GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE in June, WINGER in September, and 100 SIDEWAYS MILES in October. Awesome, awesome, awesome. Wait, wasn’t the assignment to tell you my SIX favorite books I read this past year? 😉
The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency
Twitter: @LindaEpstein

hen

Barbara Zitwer: THE HEN WHO DREAMED SHE COULD FLY by Sun-mi Hwang is my pick for 2014.  It is the indomitable spirit of a little hen who bravely sets out to follow her dreams and her heart that shows readers of all ages that they too can find freedom and change the world.
The Barbara Zitwer Agency

everything one and only

Carly Watters: THE VACATIONERS by Emma Straub – This novel was so memorable to me because of the cast of characters. Writing multiple POV well is hard and Emma aced it. I love seeing events through multiple characters’ eyes. It gives such great insight into human emotion of all kinds. This book will live on with you simply because the characters felt so real.

EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU by Celeste Ng – The novel weaves backstory and current story better than anything I’ve ever seen. The idea that you don’t really know the people you thought you knew is fascinating to me. The complexity of family and the decisions people make to be happy (or unhappy) is strong in this novel. My favorite literary fiction of the year.

THE ONE AND ONLY by Emily Giffin – Emily Giffin can be written off as light commercial women’s fiction, but she brings such depth to her characters and plots that I always find she breaks out of that all-too-straightforward box. Her books are never as simple as they seem. This novel is about what feels right in your gut vs what you think other people are expecting you to do. I can’t recommend this highly enough.
P.S. Literary Agency
Website: www.carlywatters.com
Twitter: @carlywatters

redeployment station eleven

Markus Hoffman: Two works of fiction stood out for me this year. The first is Phil Klay’s REDEPLOYMENT. It was one of those books that had been showered with so much praise by the time I got around to reading it that I thought it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. But it did, and then some. Many scenes and images from these incredible, authentic, tough, and nonetheless beautiful stories will stay with me forever. I also loved Emily St. John Mandel’s STATION ELEVEN. I’m a sucker for all things Shakespeare, so I was predisposed to like this novel, which managed to create something unique and moving out of an unlikely combination of genre elements.
Regal Literary
Twitter: @regal_literary

all the light mighty

Shannon Hassan: I know I am not alone in choosing this one, but ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE really captivated me in 2014. With its gorgeous writing, tight pacing, depth of imagination, and characters that jump right off the page, this novel was a pure pleasure to read.

On the kid lit side, I fell in love with THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE by Christopher Paul Curtis. The singular voice of Deza Malone and the authentic, heart-wrenching tale of her family during the Great Depression stayed with me long after I turned the last page.
Website: Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
Twitter: @ShannonHassan

give you the sun vampires

Jennifer Weltz: THE MINIATURIST by Jessie Burton – Because the historical detail combined with a hint of magic and the peek into women’s lives and the world of the Dutch when they controlled vital trade was both fascinating and gripping.  The author was able to bring such big subjects into a very small and confined world of a new bride. Over all a very satisfying read.

STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel – I am someone who loves the combination of great writing and a touch of the other world and STATION ELEVEN hit those notes. Post apocalyptic with hope threaded through works for me every time!

I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson – A truly beautiful story that is magical even though it is grounded in the real world and deals with real issues of identity, relationship and growth.  Young Adult books are so much about voice and this one had strong voices in spades.

ABSOLUTELY ALMOST by Lisa Graff – Touching in a deep way.  A book that stays with you about what we value as children and adults and that there are so many varied ways that we can be important people in the world. This Middle Grade was all about voice and heart.

ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven – I cried, I laughed and I stayed up until 2 am in a cramped hotel room in Frankfurt finishing every last word!

VAMPIRES IN THE LEMON GROVE by Karen Russell – Magical realism with depth. You get me every time.
Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency
Twitter: @JVNLA

aubyn

Anneli Høier: For me, the work that made the greatest impression on me in 2014 was: Edward St. Aubyn’s five novels: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother’s Milk, and At Last, i.e. The Patrick Melrose Novels. They are based on the author’s own life, growing up in a highly dysfunctional upper-class English family, dealing with the deaths of both parents, alcoholism, heroin addiction and recovery, and marriage and parenthood.
Powerful, heart-breaking, brilliant, a true literary masterpiece.
Leonhardt & Høier Literary Agency A/S

station elevenminiaturist

John Berlyne: Two books, outside my immediate agency reading, were stand-out titles for me this year, and both were débuts. I picked these up to see what all the fuss was about and, significantly, both are Picador titles. Emily St. John Mandel’s Station 11 is literary, post-apocalyptic science fiction. Indeed it’s a premise that I’ve seen many times, but here it is executed with an elegance and a precision that really is a cut above. Beautifully written, it’s a haunting, time-line jumping narrative that has stayed with me. The other book was The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. The buzz built early and quickly on this one and I managed to score a proof copy before it was published. How nice to encounter something that so clearly lives up to the hype! The Miniaturist has gone on to become a critical and commercial hit and has sold all over the place. It’s well deserved success for this super-tense and supremely atmospheric historical – a very classy book indeed. Hat’s off to Picador.
Zeno Agency
Twitter: @jberlyne

nothing holds back struggle 2

Szilvia Molnar:
1. NOTHING HOLDS BACK THE NIGHT by Delphine Vigan
A brave and heartbreaking autobiographical novel that explores the complexities of memory.
2. EMPATHY EXAMS by Leslie Jamison
Jamison just oozes brilliance in all of her well-crafted sentences.
3. MY STRUGGLE BOOK 2 by Karl-Ove Knausgaard
A brooding hot Norwegian writer writing about domesticity while never forgetting to be self-loathing.
Sterling Lord Literistic
Twitter: @szilmolnar

flash boys henson

Janet Reid: FlashBoys by Michael Lewis–any agent will tell you that thrillers set in the world of high finance are a hard sell, but this non-fiction book is pretty close to a real thriller.  Set in the world of high frequency trading, this book is largely about why the rest of us no longer have real access to the stock market (because HFT trade in literally the milliseconds of time before anyone else sees the offer.)

Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones You don’t even have to know what a Muppet is to appreciate this hugely readable biography of a master artist.  Even knowing Jim Henson died years ago, I wept during the scenes of the last day of his life feeling like the world was now a much sadder colder place without him.  Beautifully written and utterly charming.

Get Carter by Ted Lewis Published this year but written in the 60’s, Paul Oliver of Syndicate Books embarked on a campaign to secure the American rights and publish the book. We knew the outline of the plot from the Michael Caine movie, but this is the real deal. I’ll bet you a nice crisp twenty dollar bill that Lee Child read this book and loved it because it reads like a Reacher novel before there was a Reacher. (That is my highest form of praise by the way)
FinePrint Lit
Twitter: @Janet_Reid

ferrantelife drawing

Nichole LeFebvre: 2014 was full of stunning fiction (Merritt Tierce! Helen Oyeyemi!) but the two authors I keep recommending are Elena Ferrante and Robin Black.

THE DAYS OF ABANDONMENT & The Neapolitan Novels
I’m full-on infected with Ferrante Fever, the best sort of sickness. I read THE DAYS OF ABANDONMENT on a quiet beach in California, the opposite of Olga’s rage-filled apartment, and was wowed by how Ferrante’s characters nearly vibrate off the page with their passion and fury. I’d like to always have a new Ferrante novel on my nightstand.

LIFE DRAWING
Here’s a book where you know what’s going to happen from the very first line, but you have to read to fill in the gaps of how and why. It’s a stunning portrayal of the messy grudges and jealousies that often accompany a life devoted to art and love, and Black forces you to feel the sorrow her main character Gus tries to ignore. Black had me silently sobbing in Amtrak’s quiet car.
The Friedrich Agency
Twitter: @nickylefe

schragroomies

Patricia Nelson: On the adult side, by far my favorite of the year was Ariel Schrag’s debut novel ADAM. Schrag has been on my radar since she published four graphic memoirs of her teen years in the 1990s, but ADAM blew me away as a completely unique take on the coming of age story. In the novel, the titular character, an awkward teenage boy, travels across the country to stay with his older sister in New York. There he finds himself on the outside of his sister’s queer, radical circle of friends – until he decides to try to pass as a trans guy to fit in. The book is hilarious without being gimmicky, and Schrag writes with wonderful insight and sensitivity. I cannot recommend this novel enough.

On the YA side, the book that I’ve found myself thinking about most this year actually released at the tail end of 2013: Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando’s ROOMIES, which masterfully captures the feeling of that last summer at home before leaving for college. Sweet, delightful contemporary YA often gets overlooked in “best-of” lists, but this dual-narrated novel deserves more attention: both voices are pitch-perfect.
Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
Twitter: @patricianels

half bad firebug

Fiona Kenshole: My favorite was HALF BAD by Sally Green, which kept me guessing and squirming. It’s everything I look for in a debut – poised, confident, characterful writing. Shout outs also to FIREBUG by Lish McBride and BELZHAR by Meg Wolitzer because I love an unreliable narrator.
Transatlantic Agency
Twitter: @genuinefi

red rising cats pajamas

Seth Fishman: Knowing, of course, that my own client list and my own book (heh) is off limits, I’d have to say my favorite books of 2014 were RED RISING by Pierce Brown (Hunger Games meets Enders Game but with all the original excitement and intenseness), I AM PILGRIM by Terry Hayes, a great thriller, and 2AM AT THE CATS PAJAMAS by Marie Helene Bertino (Tom Robbins style intelligent fun). Oh, also, THE BEAR SNORES ON, a board book my 5 month old loves.
Gernert Company
Twitter: @sethasfishman

Sapiensspy

Jonny Geller: I will be very honest and only nominate books in which I had no involvement!
I loved SAPIENS by Yuval Noah Harari
Ben McIntyre’s A SPY AMONG FRIENDS was a brilliant tragi-comedy about class and spying
I was introduced to the world of Elena Ferrante and enjoyed MY BRILLIANT FRIEND
I’m reading three brilliant books in proof – DISCLAIMER by Renee Knight
HITLER’S FIRST VICTIMS by Timothy Ryback – up there with Hanns & Rudolph for thriller feel
Mario Vargas Llosa’s new novel THE DISCREET HERO is just wonderful
Curtis Brown UK
Twitter: @JonnyGeller

magicians  double

Josh Getzler: Adult: THE MAGICIANS by Lev Grossman, DOUBLE DOWN by Heilman and Halperin.
Kids: ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell
Hannigan Salky Getzler Agency
Twitter: @jgetzler

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Here’s to many more great books in 2015!

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Mickey Hart in Jerusalem and the Things You Miss as an Expat

So I haven’t blogged in a while which all sort of boils down to one major thing: life. To say that I’ve been crazy busy is an understatement. I’ve been approving the final proofs of my cookbook: Eating the Bible (available here!) and coming out in November, I spent quite a few weeks editing my novel: Master of the Miracles, before it went out on submission with my new agent, Josh Getzler. A co-worker decided to come back from maternity leave, but in a different capacity, and I’ve taken on all her clients. In short, total madness. And I’ve also been reading non-stop. Queries, submissions, manuscripts, books in Hebrew and English, and I’ve been busy trying to get my author-clients published (but August has been a very quiet month on that front…)

But today I had to blog to talk about something unrelated to books or publishing.

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Last night we went to hear Mickey Hart play at the Hebrew University Amphitheater in Jerusalem. Now, I bought tickets to this MONTHS ago, the second I heard it announced, and I’d been looking forward to it all summer. But what I experienced last night was beyond words.

I’m a huge fan of the Grateful Dead. I have been since my sister first introduced me to the band when I was 12. But I’m part of a generation that never got to see Jerry Garcia live. I remember the day he died, I was 16 and working at a science summer camp and I hadn’t gotten the chance to see a concert live yet. It’s one of my greatest regrets in life.

Last night Mickey Hart came to Jerusalem. And I saw his band live, and the second song they played was Chinacat Sunflower – my favorite song. I cried when the song played, not just because it caught me so unexpectedly – the second song of the night – and bam! My favorite song. But because for me, to hear Mickey Hart play in Jerusalem, the city of my heart, and to be standing there, outdoors, overlooking the Judean Desert and hearing my favorite song – LIVE, was more than I could hold inside.

mickey hart 2

Now I know I’m totally fan-girling, which is not something I normally do about something other than books, but I need to explain something deeper and bigger. When you move to Israel (or any other country other than your birth-place,) you give up a hell of a lot. You also gain a lot, which is, I suppose, why we make the move to begin with. But, sometimes you really really miss the things you give up. And while they may not life-or-death types of things, and while intellectually you know that what you gained is way more important than what you gave up, you still miss those things tremendously. Examples:

What I miss: Old Navy (places where jeans cost less than $50, especially for kids, and jeans the actually fit, that are good quality and that are sized for all types of people and kids, specifically, where I can buy “curvy” jeans for me, and “husky” jeans for my 11-year-old and often for only $12), Target (I don’t think that needs elaboration…LOL), American Grocery Stores (that carry all sorts of products I miss, most specifically Crispix Cereal, but also Stonyfield Farms yogurt and a whole bunch of other things I won’t get into right now…), free, beautiful beaches, hotels that charge per room and not per child, cheap vacation options, camping spots with grass, water-front property, affordable cars and real-estate, large bookstores and bookstore cafes, and the list goes on…

What I’ve gained: the history of my people with every step that I walk, archaeology everywhere I go, the ability to bring the Bible to life for my kids with every breath we take, holy sites and cities that are part of my heritage, freedom from certain Western conventions about cleanliness (read: Purell obsessions – no offense to anyone intended) and allergies, basically, my kids get really dirty here and sometimes do non-hygienic things and they live to tell the tale. The freedom to wear flip-flops to synagogue, which really means, a very relaxed attitude to Judaism and religion, as in, it’s just a part of everything we do and so my kids just feel “normal” here, with no need or fear to hide their kippah (yarmulke) or tzitzit. Grocery stores where we can buy anything and everything in the entire store (as in EVERYTHING is kosher!), and we can eat in almost every restaurant in Jerusalem. So eating and ordering out is not something special that we do only from certain places, it’s just a normal part of life. The fact that my kids are fluent in Hebrew and English. The fact that there school textbooks teach them this history and geography of this land first – that geology is first about the rocks of the land of Israel. That my kids are growing up surrounded by a very diverse population base and they think that’s normal (their classes are a mix of Russian, Ethiopian, French, Hispanic, Yemenite, Morroccan and “white” or “Ashkenazi” kids). The incredible plethora of different types of cuisine and the world of Middle Eastern flavors that my kids are growing up with…and so much more.

Anyway. I think you get the point.

And then. Mickey Hart shows up. And, all I can say is that it’s a blessing. I feel blessed. The concert was incredible. And I was grateful that unlike some other musicians who have decided not to come here – from political pressure and perhaps other reasons, Mickey Hart came. And his message was simple: governments come and go, but music stays the same. Music unites. Music transcends boundaries. And I’m not going to get political and talk about why some musicians come and others don’t. All I can say is: when you come, you become a blessing to us.

I had tears in my eyes the whole night. Because sometimes you miss things, and sometimes you think about going back, and other times you don’t miss anything at all, but sometimes…when the things that you give up come to you, you feel like the luckiest person in the whole wide world.

mickey hart

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The Book Deluge That is Literary Agenting and Bulk Book Blogging

I have always read a ton. And when I mean a ton, I really mean A TON. As a reader, I would read. As a writer, I would read. As a bookstore employee, I would read. In university, I read a ton. As a mom, I still read. But nothing prepared me for the reading I would do as a foreign rights and literary agent.

Another thing, I ALWAYS finish books. I mean, ALWAYS. I think I could count on one hand the books that I didn’t finish…up until I started working in publishing. And now in addition to the never-ending stacks of books by my bed (and in the kitchen, and living room, and bathroom, and stairwell, and hallway) – having nothing to do with the bookcases in the bedroom, (and living room and kitchen and stairwell, and hallway and kids bedrooms…) now I am faced with SERIOUS MORAL DILEMMAS.

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Do I read:

1. A book whose foreign rights I am trying to sell (pitches with a personal recommendation ALWAYS get more requests – and I can be pretty convincing!)

2. A book in Hebrew or English by an author I might take on as a client

3. A book that might be a good comparison title to one of the books I am trying to sell for one of my clients

4. A book that I often see quoted or mentioned as a comparison title and it would be a really good idea to know what everyone is talking about

5. A book that will help me in my own research for my own writing projects

6. A book for my book club

7. A book that I simply just want to read because I love the author or it sounds great (even if…gasp! I don’t hold the foreign rights to the book and I can’t sell it which would mean that this is just pleasure reading…pure and simple.)

And of course, as you can imagine – category #7 is often what gets shunted to the side in favor of all the other books I could and SHOULD be reading.

Sigh.

Sometimes I look at all the books all around me and all the books and manuscripts on my kindle and I get paralyzed by it ALL.

ImageAnd never before have I had so many books surrounding me that are either face-down, or bookmarked somewhere in the middle – meaning I started it but…I didn’t finish. For the first time in my life I am surrounded by books I have abandoned mid-read. And I think it means two things:

1. Sometimes I would rather get a taste of something so I can at least sound like I know what I am talking about – rather than not read the book at all.

2. A book has to really grab my attention and keep it, in order for me to keep reading.

So many books, so little time, so many authors and writers and words vying for attention…and inevitably…the best ones win. That doesn’t mean that the books I stopped in the middle aren’t amazing books…it just means that something happened mid-read, something dragged somewhere, it could have been a page, or a paragraph, or my mood at the moment, but SOMETHING caused me to put that book down and NOT PICK IT BACK UP AGAIN. The horror.

ImageI came back from the London Book Fair sick with mono and CMV. So I have spent quite a lot of time reading this last month. So I am going to do a bulk book blog and tell you about the books I LOVED – the ones I couldn’t put down and read in almost one sitting…and the books that are half-finished (which I have decided that I am determined to finish this weekend…hopefully…)

THE AMAZING ONES:

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The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell – this book tells the story of two typists in the 1920s – when touch typing gave women an opportunity to enter offices and work-places that were previously male-only establishments – set against the backdrop of prohibition and speakeasies. The novel tells a tale that is somewhat of a addictive psychological thriller, but also a fabulous history lesson. The characterization and descriptions wowed me, and I read it in one sitting.

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The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison – first of all, let me just say that when I first read the description of this book I was not interested in reading it AT ALL. But I should have known. It’s an Algonquin book, and as a publishing house, they have NEVER let me down yet. I was hooked from page one, and read it in one sitting. It’s a novel about fatherhood and about tragedy, and about caring for others, and it blew me away.

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The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett – I knew I was going to read this book the second I found out it was partly set in Hay-On-Wye – the UK’s infamous “town of books” where I once tried to spend a day or two, and ended up staying a week (and having to buy an extra bag to cart away all of my purchases.) This book falls on the familiar trope of the undiscovered secret manuscript of a long-dead author (Shakespeare in particular) – and I love those types of books, but the book is also so much more – the love story and the relationship of the main character with his dead wife is heart-wrenching, and tragic, but told so tenderly and well, that it almost overshadowed the actual plot of the novel. I read it in one sitting.

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The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick – there was so much to like about this novel, but more than anything I loved the point of view from which it was told – the somewhat unreliable narrator whose life has been turned upside down – but you are quite ready to see the world through his eyes and you want to believe everything he tells you. It was sad, but it was also glorious, and full of so many truths and much sadness, but also lots of hope – lots of silver linings. I read it in…guess what? One sitting.

THE HALF-FINISHED ONES (which I will finish this weekend!):

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The Innocents by Francesca Segal – this book got SO MUCH HYPE! It was nominated for so many awards, it actually won three awards (the Costa Book Award and the National Jewish Book Award and the Samy Rohr Prize) but….I’m stuck at page 122. I wanted to love this book so much…but I lost interest.

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The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand by Gregory Galloway – I heard so many amazing things about this book – everywhere I went people were mentioning it, talking about it, on twitter, facebook, in reviews…I stopped on page 68. There wasn’t enough to keep me riveted, even though I liked what I read.

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The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker – so this book doesn’t really count as one of the books I didn’t finish because it lost my interest – this books is in a different catagory – this is a book I am loving so much that I don’t want it to end and I am savoring it, I am actually choosing to read this book slowly, and in truth, in the way it’s written, it sort of lends itself to that – alternating perspectives – and so much beautiful description – the inner torment of the characters – the meshing of all their very different lives…I will finish this one this weekend too, but I will be sad when it’s done…one of the best books I’ve read all year, but just not a page-turner in that sense, it’s a book that needs to be savored and enjoyed, one delicious page at a time.

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The Middlesteins by Jamie Attenberg – (I actually finished this book this morning…) but again, a book that got so much hype I knew I HAD to read it. I LOVED the beginning, but Edie’s slow descent into her own world of food and self-loathing was difficult to read and I did feel that somewhere in the middle the power of description displayed in the beginning of the book was sort of lost. But…it picked up and I loved the end, and Attenberg’s powers are back in full force. I’m really not sure why I got stuck in the middle, but I’m glad I returned to it and finished.

Of course, there are other books that read and enjoyed, and other books and manuscripts that I am in the middle of too…but if I told you about those I would have to kill you. Sigh…the life of a literary agent. (Or should I say book-slave?)

Wish me luck this weekend! I have books to finish!

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My Year of Reading – 2012

Disclaimer: I did not make a list of books I read this year, but I am going to try to list them anyway, just for some kind of closure and because it’s interesting, to me at least. After some agonizing and scratching my head a bunch, this is what I’ve come up with. It’s by no means complete, and I will likely add more as I remember more. Also, this doesn’t include manuscripts I read for friends and clients, which is at least 10-15 more books.

Fiction:

1.The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

3. Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

4. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

5. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

6. The Drowning House by Elizabeth Black

7. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

8. Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner

9. San Miguel by T.C. Boyle

10. The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood

11. Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander

12. The Middlesteins by Jamie Attenberg

13. The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon

14. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

15. Suddenly, A Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret

16. Threats by Amelia Gray

17. Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy

18. Triburbia by Karl Taro Greenfeld

19. The Age of Hope by David Bergen

20. The Memory Thief by Emily Colin

21. The News From Spain by Joan Wickersham

22. A Blessing on the Moon by Joseph Skibell

23. Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

24. An Extraordinary Theory of Objects by Stephanie LaCava

25. The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

26. Be My Knife by David Grossman

27. Then by Julie Myerson

28. Amongst Women by John McGahern

29. A Boy by Lara Santoro

30. The Qualities of Wood by Mary Vensel White

31. Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey

32. The Neon Graveyard by Vicki Pettersson

33. Dictation by Cynthia Ozick

34. Sorry, Please, Thank You by Charles Yu

35. Breed by Chase Novak

36. An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer

37. The Archivist by Martha Cooley

38. City of Women by David Gillham

39. The Face Thief by Eli Gottlieb

40. About Schmidt by Louis Begley

41. Strangers by Anita Brookner

42. Carmen’s Rust by Ana Maria del Rio

43. Memories from Cherry Harvest by Amy Wachspress

44. The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O’Melveny

45. The First Warm Evening of the Year by Jamie Saul

46. 50 Shades of Grey (Books 1 and 2) by E.L. James

47. The Mirrored World by Debra Dean

48. Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

49. Lover Reborn by J.R. Ward

 

YA Fantasy:

1. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

2. Furious by Jill Wolfson

3. Shattered Souls by Mary Lindsey

4. House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier

6. Throne of Glass by Sarah Maas

7. Wither by Lauren DeStefano

8. Evermore by Alyson Noel

9. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

10. Pure by Julianna Baggott

11. Jepp, Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh

12. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

13. Venom by Fiona Paul

14. Origin by Jessica Khoury

15. Poison Study by Maria Snyder

16. Ripple by Mandy Hubbard

17. Catherine by April Lindner

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Q&A with “The Qualities of Wood” author, Mary Vensel White

Mary Vensel White’s debut novel The Qualities of Wood is part of a very exciting venture by HarperCollins into a digital-first imprint in conjunction with the HarperCollins slushpile website Authonomy. Mary’s book came out on January 31st at a special introductory rate, leading as an e-book and will eventually have a print run as well. Not only is the cover of this book visually stunning, but the book itself deals very much with the idea of art and visual perception – both in the way that it is written – so very lush with detail, and in the way that the characters grapple with their life circumstances. Things are not always what they seem in this stunning world that Mary’s created….or are they? Read this wonderfully rich debut novel to find out.


Mary – you have written a novel that is rich in atmospheric detail. Did you grow up in similar surroundings or have a country house somewhere in the woods?
In short, no! I grew up in the high desert of California. Sagebrush, Joshua trees, lots of dirt. A very sparse landscape. We used to travel to West Virginia to visit my grandparents in the summer, and the difference in scenery was always stunning to me. There were hills and lush trees and grass everywhere. I dreamed of living somewhere green. Many people find the desert quite beautiful, but I think part of us always aspires to something different than what we know.

I find that every writer has a starting point. Something that inspired them to write that first word. What inspired you to commit your first word to the page of this novel?
The initial inspiration was just that—the setting, the countryside. I had just moved to Chicago, my first experience in an urban surround, and as much as I loved the city, I sometimes craved open land and nature. The first image became the first scene of the book, Vivian’s small airplane touching down amidst fields of green.

I was bothered by Vivian’s relationship with her husband Nowell. I think that author-spouse relationship is inherently problematic, but in their relationship it feels like something more. As a writer, I sympathized with Nowell, as a woman, he infuriated me. Was that your intention?
I would rather write a character that inspires a reaction, even if it’s fury! Married couples start out as two individuals but soon, they play off each other and their paths become tangled with the other’s, as it should be. The novel takes place after they’ve been at it for some time, this fusing of paths, and it’s hard to say what the nature of their relationship was in the beginning. But it has veered and they must decide the path for the future. I wouldn’t say I wanted Nowell to be infuriating, but I’m glad he inspired feeling. In the end, I wanted characters that were flawed and multi-layered, as people are.

One of the other major issues in the novel that Vivian grapples with is finding her place within the creative spectrum – figuring out what is “special” about her. I personally think that everyone has a creative space inside of them, much like Dot says, but Vivian seems content for much of the novel to just “be average.” What are your thoughts on this?
For me, the specialness or purpose in life is related to happiness. Because all human wants and needs are basically in service to a pursuit of happiness—the quest for knowledge, engaging in relationships, and creating art, we do all of this to find happiness. For some people, simply taking care of a family makes them happy and they don’t want much else. Others need to travel or learn; artists need to create. Vivian grew up in the shadow of two people who were very fulfilled in their pursuits, and Nowell has been distracted working on his writing. She has no idea what she might like to do, where she wants her life to go. This is a basic part of growing up, I think, and just being human.

There is so much art in your novel. Not just in the way that you paint pictures for us with your words, but also all of the paintings that keep popping up in Vivian’s mind. Do you yourself have a background in Art History?
I have a meager background, which consists of several courses in college, but I do consider myself a visually-influenced writer. Colors, layout, impressions of things—these are all important to me when considering how to “paint” a story on the page. And I’ve always felt that different art forms only enrich each other.

Well. Enough about the novel. Tell me something about you. I’m always interested in hearing about what books and authors inspired someone as I often find new reads that way myself! What books would you say had a significant impact on your life and work?
I’ve always been a huge reader. As a child, I loved the author Ruth Chew. She wrote what we’d call fantasy now, stories about kids coming into contact with some sort of supernatural force. A lot of them had witches. Through these stories, I learned that books can really do just about anything you want them to. Little Women was a lesson in characterization and structure, and as a young adult, Lolita just blew my mind. I read it every few years and it still has that effect. It’s not really a matter of the subject matter, although it is shocking, but it’s more the style of it, the verve, the voice. Life-changing, that book. Also a work of history called Imagined Communities, the basic premise of which is that nations were formed, in part, because people started to imagine themselves as a community. This is a very simplified statement of the book, but this idea—that our very history could be altered by our thoughts (again a simplification of my thinking)—this had a huge impact on my writing and still does. Lastly, The Qualities of Wood was very influenced by Winesburg, Ohio, a novel that employs a direct, simple style to relay universal truths and longings.

Do you write like Nowell? Secreted behind a sheet-curtain? What is your writing space like?
Well, I’m writing this as three men are sawing and hammering in our bathroom about ten feet away. I have four children. If I expected seclusion or quiet to write, I would probably never write a thing. I have an open desk, crowded with papers and empty mugs, with photos of my kids and husband all around, school calendars, coupons, etc., etc. I use two monitors for one computer and usually have a second computer on too. This speaks mostly to my organization and the fact that I have things on both hard drives and am always going back and forth to see where something is. My oldest son says “Why do you have so many computer screens? You don’t have that much to do.” Kids always keep it real.

I’ve read a few chapters of another novel of yours, “Fortress For One,” is that your next project? Or is there something else in the pipeline?
I finished the second half of Fortress in November of last year. I’m letting it stew for a while but am just about ready to dive back into it. I wrote notes on that book for over ten years, so once I sat down to write, it felt fully formed in some ways. I’m also working on a collection of interrelated stories, an experimental sort of project called Human Stories. The idea is that all stories are based on certain archetypal outlines (i.e. Boy Meets Girl, Boy Grows Up, etc.), but in modern times, these archetypes can be upended. I began the first story after reading the collected stories of Lydia Davis, who really is an innovator of form, a maverick. Oh, and I’ve got an idea for another novel brewing…

You can buy Mary’s debut novel here or here
And visit Mary’s website or blog to find out more.

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May 19 – The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen

Though I have to say that I thought this book would be more about birds than it was (and I was looking forward to reading about various species of birds and how the sisters in the book took care of them and treated them), The Bird Sisters truly impressed me. Not just because the writing was breathtaking in many places, but also because the book was not what I expected at all. In the end, I think, it was the idea of a bird – caged vs free – that was more important than the story of the actual birds themselves. The cages we create for ourselves. Often these are cages of our own making. The concept of what it means to “fly free” and how there can be many interpretations of what that means – allowing yourself to be free – giving others the opportunity for freedom – even at the expense of your own – and how that can be a form of freedom for yourself too…

As a writer myself, I am spellbound by books that are written in such a different voice than I could ever write – it totally amazes me and makes me feel smaller and more insignificant as a writer because I feel sometimes like, “Wow. I could never write this.” And that humbles me. In a good way. I sometimes have a hard time reading books that sound too much like my own voice or books whose characters and voice I identify with too much or wish that I could sound like – sometimes that just makes me depressed because I either feel like, “I could do that! Why am I not published yet.” Or alternatively, “Wow. I could never do that but I wish I could.” But with The Bird Sisters I didn’t feel that way at all. I was just wowed by the writer. Wowed by the story. It’s a story I could never have told in a voice I could never master and that was its charm and beauty.

One thing that bothered me a little bit – but I always feel this way in books that I read that don’t necessarily have “happy” endings – was that I wished I could have changed the ending. Perhaps widowhood/spinsterhood suited the sisters. Like I said above, perhaps for them – their choice was “freedom” – but the choices that they made could also be interpreted as creating “a cage of one’s own.” I was bothered by the ending, I wanted a different life for them – but I guess if the novel hadn’t bothered me so much it wouldn’t have stayed with me as much as it did – and that is what we want from good literature – to be challenged, to be bothered, to think.

I’ve been participating in a book club discussion of this book over at TNBBC on Goodreads. Check out TNBBC’s blog for more book giveaways and discussions. Thanks so much to Rebecca Rasmussen for participating in a discussion of the book – she has been busy traveling the country promoting her book and you can find out all about her and her book at http://www.thebirdsisters.com/.

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May 5 – Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

I enjoyed this book almost as much as I enjoyed The Glass Castle: A Memoir. I found Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novelless shocking, but no less eye-opening and enjoyable. I felt like I was introduced and transported to a completely different world and found it intriguing and vivid and real. Jeanette Walls is truly a talented storyteller. The book is hailed as “Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults” and while I see no reason why the Little House books are not for adults, I certainly agree with that assessment. Life on the prairie, on ranches, learning about the nitty gritty details of the lives of real ranchers and cowboys was not a topic I ever thought that I would find enjoyable or fascinating and yet in this book, they were both. In truth, it is a good idea to read the books in tandem, as Half Broke Horses explains a lot about Rosemary by way of Lily and in turn, Jeannette as well.

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