Sophia Amoruso, the New York Times–bestselling author of #GIRLBOSS and Nasty Gal founder, is back with a beautiful, ambitious book. We spoke to Kerri Kolen, the editor, to find out how an art book like this gets made: The book is so distinct in look and feel – what made you zero in on this style and vibe? Like any book, some of the style and vibe came along organically as the book morphed from an idea to a real book. But we always knew we wanted the book to be unlike anything else out there. There are so many other coffee table books, style books, photography books, fashion/lifestyle books. Sophia really wanted this to be its own thing—not like any of those but a mashup that more appropriately reflected the inspiration that she sees in the world—as she has experienced it. It was also important to both of us to include the essays—in the midst of all the style, there are real nuggets of wisdom and hilarity that Sophia wanted to express but that didn’t have a real place in her previous book, #GIRLBOSS. How would you describe your collaborative process with Sophia? The conversation is very open and fluid but also traditional in a lot of ways. For this book, we brainstormed the larger goals, overarching look and feel, and pulled inspiration together and discussed it all in very broad terms. Then Sophia went off and started collecting and creating the pieces of the book. We had a live working document in Google that we both had access to. Sophia would work on it pretty much daily and I would go in every few weeks at the beginning and make comments, notes, ask questions, make suggestions, etc. In this way, the book and its contents kept changing. Once the content felt mostly in place, we started doing the same thing with editing and making final selections, reordering, finding new images and replacing some images, etc. Eventually it felt finished enough to move to a “working manuscript.” Once we had this in place, we would each go off on our own to make notes and then get on the phone to go through the whole book—page by page—discussing our notes in detail, until the next round. We did this until there were no more notes…which was pretty much right up until the end. With so many photos, designs, letters, and more, what was the biggest challenge in making this book? Editing! There were so many great individual pieces that felt worthy of inclusion so the weeding out process felt a little grueling sometimes, though necessary. Plus, every time one design element changes, the whole book changes, and needs to be looked at again as a whole. What’s your favorite piece of advice in this book? There is so much great advice in this book. Sophia is terrific at packing a lot of wisdom in her own pithy anecdote. The essays in Nasty Galaxy are small but pack a lot of punch. I think my favorite piece of advice, though, is in the essay “On Fear”: “Get attached. Stay attached. Just don’t forget to keep evolving.” I also like her instructions for How to Check Out of a Fancy Hotel because I couldn’t agree more. Why do people still go through a formal check-out process? What is your horoscope according to Nasty Galaxy? Apparently I am an “intense mother*cker,”: really good at getting people on my side and have some jealous tendencies. I’d say it’s all true. What would surprise readers to know about the making of this book? It was harder to write and edit than #GIRLBOSS! Find out more about this beautiful and unique book here:
Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best. When the proposal for Stir came in, it was subtitled “How My Brain Exploded and I Got Cooking.” What I found in those pages just about made my own brain explode. Here was a memoir by a first-time writer who had survived a traumatic brain injury, a Harvard Ph.D candidate who lost sight in one eye, her sense of smell, and a chunk of her skull so large that she had to wear a hockey helmet to protect her brain, impressive enough, but what made the proposal a standout was not her injury, but the way she wrote about how food and the simple everyday acts of cooking, baking, stirring, sautéing, and sharing it, helped her to heal. As she writes in the book, getting well meant finding her everyday, and she found hers in the kitchen. This stunning book didn’t fit neatly into any category in the bookstore, but everyone at Penguin Random House who read it loved it, and we knew we had to publish Stir. Every author takes an approach to writing that makes sense to them. Some outline, others write set pieces to be stitched together later. Some write almost in a fugue state, getting the book down on paper from beginning to end, barely stopping to put in commas. Jessica was not that kind of writer. She was careful, precise. Every word worked at the sentence level. The challenge with Stir was broader—we didn’t want the book to be pigeon-holed as a recovery memoir, but we also knew that her illness was the natural beginning of her story. During editorial talks, we spent much of our time discussing how to weave various strands together. First, of course, there was the aneurysm. Then, there was the food—the facts of cooking it and eating it and recovering because of it. Beyond those two main threads, there was a love story between Jessica and her unflappable husband, Eli, including their attempts to start a family (spoiler: they do! as anyone who follows her wonderful blog, sweetamandine.com knows from the pictures of her two adorable daughters she posts there); an ode to the constellation of women in her life—her mother, stepmother, grandmothers, her Aunt Fran, and close friends—whose influence she feels strongly in the kitchen; and, finally, the story of how she came to a new understanding of the link between food and identity. As we’d talk, Jessica would occasionally ask me, “How do you think I should…?” We’d mull it over and then she would go off and come up with a perfect solution. When I said as much, more often than not, she’d respond that she had simply looked at a memoir she admired to see how that writer succeeded in doing whatever it was Jessica herself was trying to do. She was applying the skills she’d honed as an academic to the process of writing a memoir. She read and dissected every memoir she could get her hands on —Wild, The Liar’s Club, Eat, Pray, Love, and My Stroke of Insight, and dozens of others– to pick them apart and learn how they performed different feats of narrative and storytelling. She marked her copy of Wild with a “Pivot!” in the margins next to the places Cheryl Strayed switched from one subject to another without losing the reader, and then figured out a way to make the technique her own in Stir. It was as if she was reading to defend her dissertation and her dissertation was how to tell the story of her life. Again and again, I could see her incorporating the lessons she’d gleaned from the writers she loved into her own book. One day, she sent me a document I’m not sure I was meant to see. It was an eleven page spreadsheet with columns delineating plot, characters, conflict, what we learn (general), what we learn (food), and “to do.” It showed an awareness of how the book was working—or not—from a structural perspective, which helped to keep everything in balance. Another time, she sent me a file that had all of the material dealing with Eli in one document so she could make sure the story hung together, which it did. This all sounds terribly clinical, but the book that came out of it is anything but, despite a good part of it taking place in and out of hospitals after brain surgery. What I love about Jessica’s writing, especially her writing about food, is how unfussy it is—the opposite of academic writing with its particular conventions, and different, too, from a certain type of food writing, the kind with sumptuous descriptions of dishes that sound like menu items at a restaurant where almost no one can afford to eat. Jessica, however, writes every bit as much for the person who swoons over grass-fed butter as she does for someone who savors a Ritz cracker melting on her tongue. She writes exquisitely but without pomp about how the way we prepare food and who we eat it with connects us to our past, our future, and our true selves. The moments where she connects to food shine brightly on the page. She writes about the smell of cucumber when her olfactory nerves kick in again, the mushrooms chopped for a favorite pasta dish when she first returns to the kitchen, and an almond cake resting on a counter that acts as a Proust’s madeleine of sorts as it lets her know, as she writes, that food had something to teach her, and that it felt good to listen. I am glad that she did. Read more about Stir here.
Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best. I was 25 when the proposal for Book of Numbers first appeared in my Inbox, and it was my very first acquisition. Over the previous years, I’d edited several novels, and, like all editors, had been perpetually on the lookout for something that recreated the feeling of magic I had reading my favorite books when I was young. Alongside those professional endeavors, though, in my private life as a reader I was eager to see something that reflected and explored the experiences of people my age: the first generation to grow up with the Internet. In my mind, at least, the so-called Digital Revolution and the Internet in particular have changed our culture and society in ways that are just beginning to be understood. Of course, everyone knows how much time everyone else spends online these days, and the manner in which we do our shopping, socializing, dating, and reading. But it’s the subtle ways the Internet has changed us – the ways it infiltrates our consciousness, for good and for ill – that interest me the most. I was always a little surprised that there weren’t more literary novelists taking a hard look at this phenomenon, because no medium is better suited to examining the personal, the private, the inner life than the novel. I wanted to read something that looked at life with the Internet from the bottom up – something that got into the dirty details of how the Internet affects our thoughts and behavior on a daily level (a poet once said that all art has to begin in “the foul rag and bone shop of the heart”). I distinctly remember reading the manuscript of Book of Numbers at home on my couch the night it came in. It only took me about fifteen pages before I knew: This Is It. And as I continued to read on, what started as recognition quickly turned to awe. It felt then as if Josh’s novel was updating the world – like it was pushing literary culture into the digital age, and pushing digital culture to acknowledge its debt to literature, to the human heart, to human beings. On top of that, it was funny, and exuberant, and just sheer entertainment on the highest level. That said, the work was not finished at acquisition. Indeed, Josh and I spent quite a lot of time collaborating on the novel, making sure every sentence was as close to perfect as we could get it. Every Friday afternoon, from the first week of January 2014 until the end of December, Josh and I met in an office in 1745 Broadway. We went through the entire book, covering twenty pages a week. And then we went through it again. And again. And again, and again. This time working with Josh was, without a doubt, the highlight of my career thus far. Nothing is more fun than sitting with a world-class writer (laughing and joking the whole time) and tweaking a scene, a paragraph, a word, until it’s just right. At least, that’s my idea of fun. The reception of the book has been wonderful, and I’m as proud of the book itself as I’ve been of anything, but it was those hours working together with Josh, when nobody else in the world was paying attention, that I’ll remember most. Read more about Book of Numbers here.