Category Archives: favorites


Books that make you laugh

It’s not that often that we talk about books being funny. People look to books for a lot of things, and it’s not always to laugh. Yet there are many authors who write about serious and not so serious matters in a humorous way. And those books can be very successful.

I thought this Slate piece was kind of fun (if not funny) that asks Maria Semple the books that she picks as her top funny reads. Then they asked those three to pick their top books and it goes on in a visual pyramid with all of the colorful book covers represented. All in all, it adds up to 82 books that you can read for a laugh, some of which are by well-known authors (David Sedaris, Philip Roth, Bill Bryson, Sherman Alexie etc.)  and a couple of which are recommended twice (THE HATERS by Jesse Andrews, and WHAT I’D SAY TO THE MARTIANS by Jack Handey, must read those).

I’m a fan of classics like A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES and the more recent WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Maria Semple for their originality and unique voices. On the nonfiction side, comedians like Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, and Amy Schumer all have huge bestsellers. I enjoy the wackiness of Jenny Lawson, and I think Sloane Crosley is writing smart, funny nonfiction for a younger generation, finding humor in everyday situations.

What are your favorite funny books, or serious books that still make you laugh? It’s a hard balance to strike but I do think there is room in the marketplace for more smart, humorous fiction and nonfiction.









Take a look, it’s NOT just in a book…

This afternoon one of my clients tweeted a link to this Atlas Obscura piece on the Real-Life Homes of the Heroes of Children’s Literature, and I was instantly entranced:

Some of my favorites are mapped here, including Betsy, Tacy, and Tib’s version of Milwaukee plus the author’s childhood home in nearby Mankato, Minnesota and, closer to the DGLM office, Lorimer Street where a tree grew in Brooklyn (Williamsburg to be exact, and a very different version thereof!). But some other favorites are missing from this piece, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London that Pauline, Petrova, and Posy walked to on wet days in Ballet Shoes. And, as the authors smartly point out, some childhood favorites can never be visited, like Narnia or Hogwarts. What wouldn’t I give to visit the Berenstain Bears’ treehouse!!

Funnily enough, I don’t think I’ve ever actually trekked to any of the altars I worshipped at as a childhood bookworm. And I wonder if it’s ever really worth it to see the places in real life that once lived so vividly in your imagination—wouldn’t some of the sheen be rubbed off when you view it with your own two experienced worldly adult eyes? Even if it’s not a place you go to physically. I’ve been very much enjoying this series on What Children’s Literature Teaches Us About Money over at The Billfold. The Little House on the Prairie world seems slightly less appealing once you reach adulthood and realize the real-world implications of twisting straw to burn for warmth and, oh yeah, Pa’s all-controlling patriarchy. And I loathed Marilla for refusing Anne her much-longed-for puffed-sleeves as sheer spite because the pragmatic view of fabric costs was somehow lost on me. On the other hand, when I first moved to NYC and was a starving, exhausted bookseller, I took heart in Claudia and Jamie’s example of thrift and ingenuity in The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

So I’m not sure, in the end, if I am for or against making your childhood favorites come to life. I’ll think about it while I’m re-reading the works of Montgomery, Streatfeild, and Lovelace this long weekend.

What children’s book site would you most want to visit? Any great awakenings of a scene in a kids’ book that seemed totally different when you read it as an adult?

Books on politics

I’m guessing (hoping) many of you tuned into the first presidential debate last night, and if you’re anything like me, you probably cycled through a range of emotions from frustration and anger to despair and hope. Now I won’t get into my personal political views here—although I’d just like to reiterate that choosing between an unpredictable lunatic with the vocabulary of a 5-year-old and a history of discriminatory tendencies and zero political experience (or knowledge) and a proven policy expert with a lifetime of experience in public service shouldn’t be that difficult. But I digress.

Regardless of who you vote for in November, you have a responsibility to yourself and your country to be as informed as possible. First off, get your facts straight. It’s bad enough that politicians lie and conceal their meaning behind half-truths, but allowing yourself to be lied to is worse. Consult nonpartisan fact checking organizations to verify any and all claims. FactCheck and PolitiFact are both great resources, but there are others.

Second, read books about politics. Know the players AND the game. Here is a list of some of my favorites, in no particular order:

  • On Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
  • Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • Republic by Plato
  • Dark Money by Jane Mayer
  • The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
  • The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay
  • The Fix by Jonathan Tepperman (just started but so far so good)
  • The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois
  • The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
  • The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel P. Huntington
  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
  • Two Treatises of Government by John Locke

Some of these are difficult reads, but they should give you an outstanding foundation on which to approach political discourse. (And yes, I realize some of the above aren’t strictly about politics, but they’re relevant and revealing reads nonetheless.)

So now I ask our readers: What did you think of the first debate? What are some of your favorite political books?


Get Out and Read

As a huge fan of maps and finding unique things to do in my city on the weekend, I found this article detailing artist Jason Polan’s map of the best places to read in Los Angeles a wonderful treat. Even if you don’t live in LA, you have to appreciate how amazing this map is. Reading can be a very insular experience, keeping you locked indoors with your favorite blanket, or it can give you a reason to go out and just sit somewhere while becoming a part of the setting—a park, the beach, or perhaps under a tree in the amazing bookstore, Book Soup, of Los Feliz. I tend to prefer the blanket and couch scenario, but every time I do get out of my house, I find I have a far greater appreciation for reading. It could be the vitamin D, or that weird association with happiness and sun, or perhaps just that I feel more a part of society or nature. Whatever it is, there’s undeniably something special about reading outdoors.


(The back of Jason Polan’s map.)

I plan on picking up one of those maps, but what really interests me, is the thought of making my own map of the best places to read in LA. So far I have one place that is nearly unbeatable.

The café at Griffith Observatory.

I took my dog on a walk through Griffith Park late one Saturday afternoon, planning to sit under a tree and tuck into some summer reading. As I started walking, I realized I could walk all the way up to the Griffith Observatory, which seemed like a challenge me and my pup were up to. I was currently reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, which was partly the reason I tortured myself walking the two mile, six hundred feet climb to the observatory. When we got there, the café was our first stop for some water, and I was so blown away with the beautiful scenery, I ended up staying for hours. My pup slept under my feet, and I got through nearly half of Wild. I took breaks from the book to look over the city, enamored that a place so beautiful existed, AND allowed dogs, AND allowed me to sit there for hours nursing some free water. When the sun went down, I was faced with a far more beautiful sight: stars as bright as the city lights below them. It truly is a magical spot, and it made the book I was reading—particularly because the book also deals with getting out in the world—even more special and memorable for me. Plus, it’s called the Café at the End of the Universe, how could it be better?


(My dog, Nyx, looking very cultured.)

Cafe at the End of the Universe at Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, CA

Cafe at the End of the Universe at Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, CA

(The café at night.)

I’m looking forward to finding more spots in LA where I can cozy up to a nice book while also enjoying the great city I have the privilege to live in. Perhaps I’ll have a few updates in the future!

Where are the best places to read in your city?

One Book, Two Book, Red Book, Blue Book

Long weekends like the one we just had are the perfect time to take a break from queries and client manuscripts and catch up on some regular ol’ published books, so I churned through a few recent bestsellers that have been waiting on my nightstand. Naming no names, I found myself underwhelmed by a couple of them.

Now, this is a common side-effect of working in publishing – you hear so much buzz that by the time you actually read a book, your chances of coming into it without expectations are practically nil. And it’s also a side-effect of agenting – our brains are trained to look for flaws and pick apart ways to improve, and it can be really difficult to turn that engine off for pleasure reading.

But I was most intrigued to compare these books – let’s call them Red Book and Blue Book to protect the innocent – to books I read and did love. Red Book came out from the same publisher in the same season as a title in the same category – we’ll call it Green Book – that I devoured and have been recommending non-stop! To me, Red Book was tired and unoriginal, Green Book was twisty and unforgettable; yet Red Book has been tremendously outperforming Green Book in both buzz and sales! And coming from the same publisher, with similar marketing campaigns going into publication. Grrrrrrr, I say to myself, but it’s not fair! Green Book is so much better than Red Book!

I had similar feelings about Blue Book, the editor of which had passed on a manuscript I submitted, Yellow Book. I liked Blue Book fine…but Yellow Book is so much better! Yellow Book would appeal to the same readers now buying Blue Book in droves, and is strong in places that Blue Book is flawed. Ugh, wtf, editor!

So you see, agents are not immune to rejection and confusion. As Miriam recently discussed, the “I’m just not loving it” excuse is as valid as it is frustrating. Miriam described the feeling when you don’t like a bestseller: “I always wonder what’s wrong with me as a reader and then, because I’m judgy and have the power of my convictions, what’s wrong with all the other readers.” I too am judgy, with an unshakeable faith in my own taste, so a case like Red Book and Green Book where there are so many similarities makes me think on the X Factor in publishing. You never know what unseeable details of timing and taste are working for or against the story elements and marketing muscle to make one book a bestseller and banish another to obscurity.

So what’s the takeaway? Embrace the lack of control! Just kidding. I love control. And what you CAN control is being as loud as possible for the books you DO love, especially if you see them missing from Best Book of the Whatever lists! Talk about books you love on Twitter and Facebook, leave a copy in an airport, suggest them to friends in book groups and coworkers with free time.

Don’t waste your energy worrying about books you don’t like –keep yelling (or whispering, if you’re in a library) about the ones you can’t forget.


Books that spark joy!

As many of you might already know, I’m a bit of the office optimist. I love stories that inspire, delight, and enlighten. I also am a huge fan of Ann Patchett, both her writing and her overall persona. I love that she opened an independent bookstore in Nashville, and I also love that she periodically writes for their blog.

I was pleased to see this post she wrote about books that spark joy. The list describes books she personally finds joy in, and then she gives some suggestions from her staff so there are a lot of good suggestions.

Patchett  got the idea from another employee at the store who had written about books that make you cry. The reason we all read is ultimately for the emotional , spiritual or intellectual response elicited from a writer’s words. Depending on your place in life, the books that have meaning at that time can make a lasting impact.

As a child, Judy Blume did this for me, as well as Torey Hayden’s books about troubled kids. In college, it was fiction like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History that made me want to get into the world of books. I remember walking to campus in Boston reading while I walked because it was so good. This was long before distractions were digital!

When I started working in working in publishing, I worked for Polygram Filmed Entertainment  in development and read Sleepers by Lorenzo Carcaterra overnight after faxing the ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT to LA. Then I found joy and solace in writers like Ann Patchett and Annie Proulx. I loved The Shipping News.

Today it’s more about narrative nonfiction like Brain on Fire and When Breath Becomes Air and psychological commercial women’s fiction from authors like Liane Moriarty and Gillian Flynn. And of course the children’s books I read with my kids. The Harry Potter series is an overall favorite, mostly because my eleven-year-old is obsessed with it, and two out of four are loving Wonder right now. They all loved my client Cecilia Galante’s upcoming touching and heartwarming The World from Up Here.

The idea of books that spark joy, and elicit that positive response that makes us feel good is such a coveted pleasure of reading that I love thinking about it in those terms.


My 32 Favorite Books

Any book lover hates getting the question, “so what’s your favorite book?” Because it’s impossible to choose just one! Since it’s my BIRTHDAY today, I decided to go for the ultimate act of self-indulgence and list my 32 favorite books – one for every candle on my cake. These are the books I’ve read, re-read, and recommended, the ones I cherish most!


  1. Seuss’s ABCs (proud to say this is my 11-month-old-nephew’s current fave)
  2. Go Dog Go by P.D. Eastman
  3. Richard Scarry’s Busytown (probably where my big-city dreams first took root)
  4. The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper (a pen name for Arnold Platt of the publisher Platt & Munk!)
  5. Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
  6. Meet Kirsten by Janet Shaw (the first book that broke my heart)
  7. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (the first book I remember reading on my own!)
  8. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary (the author’s 100th birthday was last week so my book club is reading this one this month…life comes full circle)
  9. Betsy-Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace(the whole series is a fave, but this is the first I read and, as book lover’s bonus, centers on Betsy’s own writing, her Uncle Keith who is an author, and a theatrical production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin!)
  10. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett(I yearned for the glamor of being orphaned and indentured, in a freezing attic with bread crusts to eat.)
  11. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
  12. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (the second book that broke my heart. RIP Beth, it’s an injustice that you died and bratty Amy married Laurie.)
  13. Emily of New Moon (while I of course adore the Anne series, I gotta give the nod to L.M’s slightly less famous trilogy…)
  14. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  15. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  16. The Great Gatsby (I know, me and everyone else in America. But I just love it so and will gladly read any/all Fitzgerald fanfiction you throw my way. #FitzgeraldForever)
  17. Lolita (come for the scandal, stay for Nabakov’s incredible prose…in his second language, no less)
  18. East of Eden by John Steinbeck (vastly more fun than Grapes of Wrath, if you don’t mind the page count.)
  19. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
  20. Paris Trout by Pete Dexter (To Kill A Mockingbird…but better!)
  21. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (I know, I know! Snobby post-college me loved it and post-30 me defiantly still does)
  22. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  23. The Secret History by Donna Tartt (I’ll pause here to let Miriam yell at me about how much she hates The Goldfinch)
  24. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (the first book I read after moving to NYC and now one of my lifetime faves)
  25. A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse (a book lover’s bookstore book…need I say more?)
  26. Claire Marvel by John Burnham Schwartz
  27. The Round House by Louise Erdrich (suspense, coming-of-age, and marginalized communities all in one amazingly powerful literary novel!)
  28. My Education by Susan Choi
  29. An Untamed State by Roxane Gay (warning: a brutal, beautiful, unforgettable novel)
  30. The Magicians series by Lev Grossman (a lot of fun in its own right and for its nods to other fantasy classics)
  31. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
  32. …??? Leaving this one blank! What will be the next book I love and recommend and re-read?


This book-list-as-memoir was a lot of fun…and I think you can see the exact moment where I left the Midwest and started exploring literature outside the classics. Looking forward to a lot more exploration in the next 32 years! Share your favorites in the comments to make sure I’m not missing out! 

And thanks to Kemi for this perfect birthday card: 


Form & function

Yeats full

Mr. Yeats attended two universities with me and lives his life with paper clips marking the poems I’ve studied and annotated.


Heaney and Muldoon live on my shelf in many forms, but NORTH and QUOOF actually live at my office. Six months before I began working at DGLM, I turned in my master’s thesis on these two collections. And something about identity and politics. I’m not sure I ever knew what I was trying to say about them. But now they live in my office reminding me of what words can do and why I broker them for a living.

Last week, Sharon and I were discussing a book she wants to read that I own a copy of, and we agreed on the one major failing of borrowing a book:  you don’t get to keep it.  I’m a hard copy person (a trade paperback person, if we’re getting specific), and I not only want to own physical copies of the books I’ve read and loved, I want to own the exact copy I read and loved.  I’ll borrow a galley if I want to read the book before I can buy it and don’t have a copy of my own, but if the book is available for purchase, I’d rather go buy it just in case I love it enough to give it a permanent home on my shelves. 

I mean, sure, I could borrow the book and go out and buy my own if it turns out to be worthy, but then I wouldn’t have an emotional attachment to the book as an object as well as to the book’s contents, and it’s just not the same.  I’ve always wanted to be a library person, since it’s obviously more fiscally sensible, but ultimately I’d rather forego new clothes and expensive dinners and fancy technology and living in a trendy neighborhood so I can curate my own personal library. One day I’m going to be a rich person with a dedicated library and rolling ladder, and I want the books that I fly past Beauty in the Beast-style to tell the story of my reading history.


To the left, my reading-worn original. To the right, my pristine copy signed by the master himself.

This is such a strong issue, that it turns out both Sharon and I have some books that we own in two copies: the one we read, and the one we got signed at an event.  I’m not really that big on signed books, but obviously, you can’t get rid of a signed copy, especially if it was personalized. But how am I supposed to part with the object I was holding in my hands as I experienced a book that means something to me?  That would just be insane.  So I’ll just persist with multiple copies of Let the Great World Spin on my shelves forever.  

Emma Donoghue signed this, my most coveted BEA galley of all time, after it had been read by me and several friends of mine.

Emma Donoghue signed this, my most prized BEA galley of all time, after it had been read by me and several friends of mine.

Many of the books I own have lived on two continents, in two countries, in three towns/cities, in two boroughs of NYC, and in around ten apartments.  I paid about $100 extra just to get all my books on the plane when I moved home after grad school in Ireland.  And when I’m old and grey, they’ll still be there, physical reminders of the worlds I’ve had the good fortune to temporarily inhabit.

These are some of Sharon's special totems (though she also has the same double McCann "problem" that I do). I'm most envious of her signed copy of Roxane Gay's AN UNTAMED STATE, with that incredible inscription. Though Matt Weiland is no slouch at book signing himself.

These are some of Sharon’s special totems (plus she also has the same double McCann “problem” that I do). I’m most envious of her signed copy of Roxane Gay’s AN UNTAMED STATE, with that incredible inscription. Though Matt Weiland is no slouch at book signing himself.


Smells like a bestseller!

Like many in publishing, I was an English major…by default more than practicality, because I was pretty good at reading and writing, knew I wanted to spend my life obsessing over commas, and ran screaming from the room the first time a science teacher broached the possibility of dissecting a sheep’s eyeball (still one of the worst experiences of my life). To this day I don’t really understand the principle of gravity and find it highly suspicious.

My science aversion has not kept me from accumulating quite a few science-loving friends, though; in fact, my college roommate double-majored in chemistry and physics and is now a science professor in upstate New York. She’s always trying to trick me into sciencey things, like a poetry reading based on the periodic table of the elements, which actually turned out to be pretty fun. (Plus there was wine there – fermentation is one scientific process I am not averse to.)

So I was not surprised to find this post from her on my Facebook wall today: a scientific breakdown of the smell of books. You know what I’m talking about –  that big whiff of delicious mold when you step through the door of a used bookstore; the fresh perfume released when you crack the spine of a brand new hardcover. Old or new, the smell of books has been a favorite topic of nostalgians and those resistant to the lure of digital reading. But did you ever stop to wonder just what produces those beloved aromas?

This chemistry website did, and their in-depth report will no doubt enthrall those of you with room in your brains for science and literature.

Do you prefer the aroma of old books or new books? What burning literary question do you think science should turn to next?


Children’s best-of picture books

I know this time of year everyone is compiling best-of-the-year lists. And I take it all with a grain of salt because there are so many great books published every year that it’s hard to pick just a sampling. Although I do love when I see my own titles on there, like Christie Matheson’s beautiful and thoughtful TOUCH THE BRIGHTEST STAR on this best-of list from B&N. I especially love that it’s listed under Books That Are a Feast for the Eyes.

I also saw this great list compiled by a Huffington Post editor, some of which I knew and others I was happy to learn about. All of which look interesting and beautiful. I appreciate the list because it’s incredibly diverse and comprehensive, and she gives the honorable mention books in addition to the winners. There is something about the timeless beauty of a good picture book that warms my heard and makes me happy to have it in my collection.

What were your favorite children’s books this year? And what would you like to see more of next year? I’m working on a few new projects that I think and hope will entertain, educate, and enlighten both kids AND their parents.

Touch the Brightest Star