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Archives: 6/2018
Jun 25, 2018 Random Notes

Who better to give book recommendations than the bookish experts? Penguin Random House employees are sharing their favorite reads every month. Browse below!

Natasha, Associate Manager, Consumer Engagement

Natasha is a social media person by day and reader by night. She enjoys books that will either inspire her or make her cry — there’s really no in-between. You can probably find her at a bagel store or taking photos of brownstones in Brooklyn.

 

Jun 18, 2018 Behind the Scenes

Camille Perri, author of the delightful new romantic comedy novel When Katie met Cassidy answered a few questions about New York, new love, and more.

So much loving detail is given to clothing in this novel – can you tell me a little about how you present your main characters?

I like clothes. I like fashion; particularly men’s fashion. Both my father and my grandmother on my mother’s side were tailors, so I think it’s in my blood. In terms of fiction writing, clothing serves as an efficient and fun method of characterization. You can not know a single thing about someone—a stranger who steps into a restaurant, let’s say—but their clothing tells you so much about them before they even open up their mouths to speak. Clothing reveals what a character is trying to project, as well as what they’re giving away about themselves without even realizing it: their socioeconomic class; their confidence level; their vulnerabilities.

For Cassidy, the clothing she chooses to wear is of utmost importance because it functions as a reflection of her gender identity. Everything she puts on has been curated. Her clothes are her armor. Katie, on the other hand, is always deliberating about what to wear. Depending on where she’s going and which version of herself she wants to accentuate, her clothing varies greatly. I think of Katie’s many costume changes as a reflection of the way she’s still trying on different versions of herself in this novel. She’s still searching for what feels right, which version of herself is the most authentic.

This book is such a joyful, fun depiction of two women falling in love – that’s still pretty rare. Are there any books or movies with romantic relationships that meant a lot to you?

My favorite lesbian romance of all time is the 1999 movie But I’m a Cheerleader, starring Natasha Lyonne and Clea DuVall. RuPaul is also in it, so is the brilliant Melanie Lynskey. It’s a satirical comedy about a cheerleader who is sent to conversion therapy camp to cure her lesbianism. It’s one of the smartest, funniest movies I’ve ever seen. The magic of this film is that it’s so much fun to watch as it tackles the complexity of hetero-normativity and the social construction of gender.

Do you have a favorite romantic comedy?

Everything Nora Ephron. My novel isn’t called When Katie Met Cassidy for nothing! But shh…my favorite Nora Ephron rom-com isn’t When Harry Met Sally—it’s You’ve Got Mail.

What I love about all of Ephron’s romantic comedies though is the way they’re more than just love stories. They also function as reflections of something specific going on in American culture at the time they were made. YGM, for example, is more than a simple feel-good story about two people in an online romance who are unaware that they’re business rivals. It’s also about how romance was changing with advances in technology, and how chains of mega bookstores were putting beloved independent shops out of business at alarming rates. I guess I like a little bit of social commentary with my romantic comedies. And nobody did that better than Nora Ephron.

Katie grew up pretty sheltered and has always thought of herself as straight. Why did you want someone new to dating women as one of your protagonists?

I liked the idea of someone who has never before been romantically attracted to a woman, and who’s never considered herself anything but straight and “normal,” to suddenly have to rethink her assumptions. Most of us who identify as LGBTQ at one time thought of ourselves as straight, too. That process of opening oneself up to a different path is very interesting to me and ripe for good storytelling.

Part of the issue for Katie, too, goes beyond her surprise at her attraction to Cassidy; it’s also that Katie is someone who very much needs to be liked. She yearns to be approved of. It’s difficult for her to risk upsetting her parents, or to accept that if she’s out with Cassidy, some people will look at her differently, in a way that may not be as approving as she’s accustomed to. That’s what I wanted to write about because part of coming to terms with being read as gay is adjusting to the fact that there will be some people out there who aren’t going to like you, no matter how hard you try, solely because of this one aspect of your personhood.

You previously worked as a books editor for Cosmopolitan and Esquire – what would surprise the average reader to know about that kind of job?

I think the average reader would be surprised by how many Readers with a capital “R” and book lovers work at those magazines. The people behind even the glossiest of magazines are, for the most part, smart and socially aware and many of them are doing their best to provide a service—a social good—even as they’re under a tremendous amount of pressure to put out a product that remains popular and profitable.

What novels have you especially loved lately?

I’ve enjoyed the recent hardcover releases The Wife by Alafair Burke; Sunburn by Laura Lippman; The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll, and in paperback, Julie Buntin’s Marlena.

You obviously have a lot of love for New York – are there any bars or restaurants that feel like home?

I’m big on coffee shops. Fortunately I live in Brooklyn where there are many to choose from. When I lived in Williamsburg, I basically lived in a coffee/pie shop called The Blue Stove. That’s were I wrote most of my first novel, The Assistants. I’ve since moved to the Brooklyn Heights/Downtown Brooklyn area and have set up shop at a wonderful café called Swallow in Cobble Hill. It only took a few months for most of the staff to know me by name. I leave them no choice!

Check out When Katie Met Cassidy here:

Jun 10, 2018 Interviews
Tara Isabella Burton’s Social Creature is on so many summer reading lists for good reason. It’s a fast-paced contemporary thriller focused on a twisted friendship between two young women in New York City. Full of bizarre and luxurious parties, crime, sin, pretense, and social media, it’s a smart and addictive read.  We spoke to Burton on the phone and talked about her influences, dandies, and more. 

 

You initially wrote a novel that you abandoned because it wasn’t working, but you brought the characters back in this book. What changed in this iteration?
Originally the book I’d written was a Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca knockoff and it was very dated, it could have been set in 1960, it was on a Mediterranean cruise ship. It was stilted and everyone was overly dramatic. But despite that, I liked the idea of having these two women who were obsessed with each other, this man playing the role of the femme fatale character, and this fourth character, a kind of harlequin type who likes to cause chaos. The four of them, I wanted them to live! But at nineteen, I didn’t have the insights or life experience do do anything interesting with them.
I’m from NYC but was in University of Oxford from eighteen onward, so I’d never really been an adult in New York. I started coming back to NYC in about 2013, developing intense relationships with women and close friends-  the experience was an incredibly frenetic New York life. Around that time I became more and more fascinated with ways in which the internet is a canvas for people to explore their identities. How you create a literary poetic language around the internet and technology and these things that are very real in people’s lives but are not necessarily “literary”.
I wanted to write this story more about the female friendship, and being set in this New York with that frenetic feeling gave the novel it’s atmosphere. Originally no one had cell phones, I kept technology out because I wanted to write like Daphne du Maurier. But it turned out that I liked finding out how to write about someone texting and  and still keep that literary, lyrical register. The characters got reborn in a much better book for them.

You had this great twitter-thread talking about how self-creation via the internet is interesting and artistic, not frivolous. Some press surrounding the book makes it seem like it’s a scathing indictment of social media – but that’s not what you’re going for!  

No! I’m excited by it! But I see why some people would think that. So, a little bit of backstory – my doctorate is in theology but specifically about the idea of self-creation in 19th century dandies. Basically my thesis was about how in Paris, people were exploring how to create yourself as a work of art. What does it mean to create your own identity? So I think social media is fascinating! The technology is new but the instinct to create yourself is not new – it’s as old as humanity. Particularly when it comes to women online, women posting selfies, there’s a tendency to dismiss one’s social media presence as a form of artifice that has nothing to do with reality. And I find that shockingly simplistic. This is just a whole avenue to explore our identities. Is it fictional? Yeah, partly, but no more than putting on makeup or smiling when you don’t feel like it or dropping references to books you haven’t actually read.

 

 It was super interesting to hear you studied French decadent literature – the excess, the over the top social circles absolutely come through  – can you tell me about crafting that atmosphere?
Pretty much every incident in the book is something I’ve seen or experienced. I wanted to create a world that is not at all a one-to-one representation of a particular New York group, but instead a stylized pastiche of Brooklyn lit bros, finance bros, vintage club kids etc. None of these people necessarily hang out together – I wanted to create a New York scene in order to create a sense of timelessness that you don’t get by portraying just one group. The New York I created was rooted in my experience of coming back in my twenties, but very much designed not to map onto one social group.

 

Can you tell me about the two main characters’ power dynamic? Neither one is innocent, neither one is fully appealing, you can’t wholly identify with either. 
If Lavinia and Louise had been born in each other’s bodies and met, the exact same story would have played out. They’re very very similar; they appear as opposites, but the way in which they are opposite is a function of privilege and money and upbringing. Fundamentally they are just two women who lack a solid sense of self – they are constantly looking to define themselves through other people. I think their relationship is toxic and interesting because Ido think they love each other, I think they are in love with each other – for me there was no doubt there was a sexual and erotic attraction. But they are so obsessed with themselves that they can’t have any intimacy with any other human being, because every interaction is just to fill this black hole of “who am I”. Both of them have power in every moment.

 

Are there other complicated and obsessive relationships in literature that you love?
One of my favorite toxic relationships is the literalization of the trope that the most toxic relationships are when you’re two sides of the same person. So I think Fight Club is the perfect example of that. It does incredible job of making literal this metaphorical truth that the people who get inside your head are you or are as close to you as possible.
Also Henry James – one of my favorite writers. He’s hugely influential in regards to how I approach dialogue and he’s such an incisive writer about petty little social codes and class and money. Wings of the Dove has a relationship between two women that’s so mediated by outside power structures that it’s impossible for them to authentically relate to each other.

 

When friends ask you for book recommendations, is there anything new or old that you always mention? 
My favorite book of the year is The Collector which is incredibly terrifying story of am who kidnaps a women as though she’s an object.
i love latest book “based on a true story” which is another toxic female friendship. it follows a french novelist and a ghostwriter who mysteriously floats into her life.
I also used to make all my old boyfriends read D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love which is another story about very messed up people having deep conversations and glowering at the landscape. I like books with lots of intense conversation and big symbolic scenes.

 

Check out SOCIAL CREATURE!
Jun 7, 2018 Random Notes

Who better to give book recommendations than the bookish experts? Penguin Random House employees are sharing their favorite reads every month. Browse below!

Annysa, Manager, Diversity & Inclusion, Career Outreach, Human Resources

Annysa works closely with colleagues across the company to develop and advance strategic corporate and divisional diversity and inclusion initiatives. In addition to her husband and baby girl, her true loves include Spoken Word, traveling, home-made Dominican meals, and reading (at all possible times).

 

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