Category Archives: classics


Tell the truth about your reading!

At one point or another in our lives, we’ve probably all lied about reading a particular book—whether it’s because we were trying to not get in trouble with a teacher or professor, pretending we’re up to date with pop culture, or just trying to not sound dumb in front of friends or colleagues. Indeed, the Telegraph has posted a list of the books that people have lied most about having read. (No, it’s actually not Ulysses.)

But have you ever lied about having never read a certain book? I ran with self-professed book nerds in high school and college, and because we were all judgy teenagers, there were books that we simply avoided out of ignorance or because everyone else was reading them. For example, there was a time (for a while, until I got caught) that I denied reading Twilight by Stephenie Meyer because most of my friends made fun of it (even though I looooooved that series as a preteen).

Working at DGLM, my reading tastes have broadened considerably. You read everything so you can recognize good writing or storytelling when you see it, no matter what the genre is. As an example, I’ve discovered that I really like picking up a romance at the end of a long week. theceo(I just finished Nancy Herkness’s The CEO Buys In, which I couldn’t put down!) Not that long ago I’d never read an adult romance novel—I had just wrongly assumed that I wouldn’t like them.

I’m grateful for the chance to open myself up to new kinds of writing and get rid of some of the preconceived notions I’d had as a young reader! How have your reading tastes changed over the years? Are there books you love now that you wouldn’t have five, ten, or twenty years ago?


Happy birthday, Byron!


Lord Byron’s graffiti on the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, near Athens, Greece


Ah, Lord Byron.  You were only 36 when you died, but you still managed: to write one of the best Romantic poems, become a hero in Greece for fighting in their revolutionary war, father Ava Lovelace (who was a computer programming badass in the 1840s, and no that isn’t a typo), have a lifetime’s worth of scandalous affairs, and literally leave your mark on some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.  That is a lot of life for only 36 years. Happy birthday, you mad, bad, dangerous bastard!




Keep your sense of humor

There has been so much attention on the new Harper Lee book released a couple of weeks ago that it prompted even me, a veteran publishing professional, to buy it as well as a new paperback edition of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD to re-read. GO SET A WATCHMAN came out to numbers that compare to Jurassic World for the book biz: over 1.1 million copies sold across formats in less than a week, over 3.3 million books printed according to Never have I seen in my almost 17 years as an agent such hoopla surrounding a book’s publication.

I know it’s a big deal, but it even surprised me with the scope of its coverage. I mean, last time we saw a book get so much attention was when the 50 Shades sequel was published in June (joke)!

So, it cracked me up when I came upon this piece recently in Publisher’s Weekly by (as it turns out, didn’t realize when I was reading it) Jane’s client Mardi Link about how her book’s publication fell on the exact same day. What are the chances? She has such a funny take on the whole scenario that I thought it would be fun to share.

As I’ve said on the blog before, so much in life is about timing. What do you think? Is she onto something by using her competition as a way to get publicity for her own book? I think it’s a very clever approach, and an entertaining one as well. Hope her book does a fraction as well as Harper Lee’s!



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?


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?


The classics

Last Saturday, my husband Steve and I went out to play golf and, as often happens, we were asked if we wouldn’t mind if a third player (someone we didn’t know) joined us. We agreed and played our round with a very nice and interesting man named Ed Chapman. It turned out that Ed had been in the Berkshires for the previous two weeks doing the sound design for a play that was opening that night at The Barrington Stage, a theater in Pittsfield about 45 minutes away from our home in Great Barrington. The play was THE MAN OF LA MANCHA.

Pablo Picasso, Don Quixote (1955). Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Pablo Picasso, Don Quixote (1955). Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Later that day, I asked Steve if he had ever seen the play and he hadn’t and I just knew he would love it so we bought what turned out to be the last two available tickets for this past Saturday night. Indeed, the play was absolutely wonderful in every way—everyone was raving about it afterwards. But as I was leaving the theater, I heard a woman behind me say that it was “dated.” How, I wondered, could a play based on the classic story of Don Quixote be dated? The message is an evergreen one and important, I think.

And this made me wonder why time and again we return to the classics—in theater, in film, in our music and yes, of course, in literature. Authors such as Herman Melville, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, and Oscar Wilde are constantly referenced and imitated in more recent works.

I wonder what value you see in the classics. Which of our many iconic authors do you consider classic and why? Who are your favorites?


One project at a time

I was flipping through and came across some writing advice from Henry Miller that I liked and thought I’d share with our readers.

Apart from the fact that he was a master at his craft, Henry Miller’s advice feels timeless and random in the best of ways. I also like the fact that his suggestions based on his own writing habits are positioned as Commandments, an authoritative approach to getting your writing life in order. Mostly, I really like that he indicates clearly that you should work on one thing at a time until it’s finished. The rest of the ideas support this, and it’s an interesting thought. In our current culture, there’s very little focus on one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is the (not so) new normal. So the idea of working on one thing at a time until it’s done feels daunting and refreshing. How nice to have just one creative project to think about until it’s finished! While it might not always be practical or even possible, it does make one think about taking a breath and paying attention in a different way that could enhance productivity.

I also like that he tells writers to keep human and see people, go places and drink if you want to. It does conflict with his advice in point 11 to write first and always while painting, music, friends, cinema come afterwards (at least the drinking is still allowed!).

What parts of his advice resonate with you? People are so fascinating. I love hearing what makes a brilliant writer tick. Don’t you?


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!


Literarily sick

As anyone in the office here can tell you (honestly, maybe anyone within a 5-mile radius), I’ve been struck with one beauty of a head cold this week. I’ve gone through about 3 boxes of tissues and am finally able to (mostly) breathe out of my nose again! It’s a wonder!

But with all the hours spent lying down, drinking liquids and, of course, blowing my nose, I’ve had some time to ruminate on being sick. As you might remember, I’ve written already about my adolescent fascination with the galloping consumption, and though that’s obviously silly, it’s totally true that classic literature makes illness seem so glamorous. If not glamorous, then at least an indication of how delicate and pure the afflicted is.

Unless the sickness is used to indicate some sort of wrongdoing or as a comeuppance for a particularly deserving transgressor, there’s always some sort of quiet beauty to it. We never see the ugly side (for me, that’s the hacking cough and melodic sniffling I’ve been exhibiting) or really, any pain other than the emotional kind. And even then, it’s all very bittersweet.

I’m not talking about the more recent trend of serious illnesses (namely, cancer) that have been the subject of some acclaimed books in the recent years, à la Lionel Shriver’s So Much for That or John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, but more the kinds that seem to exist solely in the pages of old books.

Which is why this little slideshow delighted me so much. I’ve tried to explain what I mean by “literary diseases” to people in the past and have come up short. This is a pretty good list with some relatable examples. I know, of course, that these illnesses don’t appear anymore because we have since come up with new names or ways to cure them, but the impression they give still remains the same. That getting sick in the 19th century was more about mystery and fashion than it was about anything else. That it’s a really good way to get someone to fall in love with you—especially if you just happen to catch cold marching over to his estate in the rain and definitely have to stay over for a few days to recuperate (ahem, Elizabeth Bennett).

These days, getting a cold means taking a few Tylenol and lying down for a day. It’s not the be all end all focal point of a work of literature and certainly doesn’t get anyone fawning over you like you’re the purest and most doted upon soul that ever walked the earth. If only.


Cold weather books to keep you warm

For those of us on the East Coast, it has been another rough winter. I’ve started to compare being outside to spending time in a freezer. In the suburbs, everything is layers of ice on bottom followed by layers of fresh snow on top that eventually freeze because we haven’t seen a thermostat above freezing in what seems like weeks. There have been mornings where the temperature outside is zero with wind chills far below. My crazy husband is marathon training and running outside. What? This is what we call a different kind of slush pile (#publishingpuns)! All I want to do is stay inside, drink hot chocolate (or wine, even better) and read books.

It got me to thinking about great books that evoke the cold. I was thinking about THE SHIPPING NEWS by Annie Proulx, a favorite of mine where the weather is a lead character. Or SMILLA’S SENSE OF SNOW (one review on Amazon highlights “the language of snow and ice”) or the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. The seventh book in the series is called THE LONG WINTER! How did people live back then with no heat?

So, I’m wondering what your favorite cold weather books are. Or just your favorite books that you like to snuggle up with on a cold winter’s day. Please share, and stay warm!