The origin story of Shame and Wonder, as brief as I can make it: I was sitting at my desk, four years ago, when my phone rang. It was the writer John Jeremiah Sullivan calling. “This is going to sound weird,” he said, “but I did a reading in Texas last night, and I met a guy there. He handed me a copy of an essay he’d written. I think it might be good. Can I send it to you?” This happens a lot, when you’re an editor, people sending you “good” things to read, and the track record isn’t great. But the essay John sent me that day – five typewritten, hand-corrected pages from a guy in Dallas named David Searcy, who’d only started writing nonfiction in his late sixties – was unlike anything I’d read before. An hour later, I was on the phone with David Searcy. A month later, we had a book deal. Four years later, we have Shame and Wonder. But my love for this book goes beyond its unusual beginnings. I love it for the beauty and strangeness of David’s sentences: “I can remember being a child and being blank. Without opinion. Walking around like that. Complete like that. All fear and desire with not much in between. I think of it now as an experimental setup. Like a cloud chamber – where you’ve got this otherwise empty vessel filled with a sort of mist through which events, the passage of subatomic particles, leave evanescent trails.” I love it because of the feelings of deep longing he is able to conjure in, say, a pair of initials (“little heart-shaped memories of love”) carved into the trunk of an old tree or, even, the prizes at the bottom of cereal boxes. I love it, too, because it is funny. But maybe most special of all, in the end, was being a witness to David’s process, which is not exactly typical, and to be honest, probably not advisable. Below, how a David Searcy essay – this one, titled “How to Color the Grass” — comes to be: David writes on yellow legal pads, in long hand, with a ball point pen. Here’s what his first draft looks like. (Two ways to look at this, as an editor: Fascinating or stressful.) Here’s what his second or third draft looks like, i.e. when clarity begins to assert itself: And here’s what happens when he puts his pen down and commits to a final draft, which he commemorates via a Swiss-made Hermes 3000 typewriter, circa l959, with standard serif pica font. As David says, “It’s like typing on a Steinway – just the right mechanical resistance to make you mean what you say.” Finally, David also takes photos of the things he writes about, and several of these photos appear in the book. Think W.G. Sebald… if W.G. Sebald lived in Dallas… and drove a truck… and said things like “holy crap”… and spent a lot of time thinking about the venality of Scrooge McDuck. Though I love the title, the overall effect is: no shame, all wonder. Find out more about Shame and Wonder 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. At the heart of every good cookbook is a compelling story. When I got the proposal for this cookbook, I was utterly moved by Ann Ogden Gaffney’s story of turning her own experience with cancer into a mission that has helped so many others. Ann had a glamorous career in fashion when she was diagnosed with cancer the first time in 2001. She says she was lucky that time—she had surgery to remove her kidney, and then she was quickly back traveling the world. But when she was diagnosed with breast cancer several years later her, it was a much different story. She couldn’t travel and she was bald. She took a hiatus from work to give herself the time to get through treatment. It turned out to be a decision that would change her life. As a passionate home cook, Ann found that she could cope with her symptoms by listening to what her body needed and craved. As she became immersed in the world of hospitals, she realized that she could use her skills to help other patients cope in the same way, teaching them and their loved ones how to make good food that would bring comfort and nourishment as they dealt with illness. Ann started offering advice, then recipes, and then began organizing free classes. When her own treatment was over, she discovered she had no interest in going back to client meetings to discuss the new trends in colors or skirt lengths that season. Her heart was still back in the cancer suite. In 2007, she founded Cook for Your Life which has gone from a one-woman show to a leading nonprofit that serves patients all over the tri-state area and all over the country through their popular interactive website. When I talked to Ann for the first time about this cookbook, I was struck by her spirit and fabulous sense of humor. And I heard her determination to create a cookbook that really addressed the unique challenges that cancer patients face head on. She told me that there was no other cancer cookbook out there that approached cooking the way that she wanted to. Some doctors give advice on nutrition (many don’t). But no one tells you how to implement that advice and how to cook as your cravings, taste buds, and energy levels change dramatically during treatment. What people need are simple recipes with short ingredient lists that deliver and that really satisfy. Ann’s strong vision for the book also included its design. She felt strongly that it should look rich and beautiful, not clinical. And I agreed wholeheartedly. After all, just because someone is sick, it doesn’t mean that they lose their sense of pleasure. And as Ann understands, a sense of pleasure is vital to feeling human, something so important when dealing with disease. We were lucky to have Ann’s husband Joe Gaffney, a renowned photographer, on board to shoot the food photos and the results are stunning. And the recipes are terrific. I cook out of the book quite a bit for my own family—Ann developed the recipes with cancer patients in mind, but it’s the kind of simple, good, soulful food that everyone loves. I’m proud to be working with Ann to bring her story and message to so many who need it. It’s a cookbook that is as much about the healing power of food as it is about keeping a sense of self while going through the frightening and overwhelming process of treating disease. I think it will be a classic for many, many years to come. Read more about the 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. Like every editor, I learn a great deal from the books I work on. Over the past twenty-plus years, I’ve enjoyed the best continuing education course I can imagine – gleaning practical takeaways and new insights on everything from why we have eight senses, not five, and how our brains are literally wired for creativity, to how to escape a locked car trunk, the secret to translating The Simpsons into Finnish, and colorful details about the bon vivant who invented the cocktail. I can happily prattle on about research that’s found cheese to be more addictive than cigarettes, why cirrus clouds look wispy, and how algorithms actually work (ideally there won’t be any follow-up questions). But every once in a while, a book teaches me something different—something deeper. When I first learned that I would be inheriting a volume of heartfelt haiku paired with the author’s textured and intimate photographs, and editing it from the ground up, I knew that it too would be a learning experience. After all, I’d never edited a collection of poems, and with the exception of those posters in the subway, my regular exposure to poetry is more than a bit lacking. What I didn’t expect is that the author’s words and images, and the process of immersing myself in them, would touch me so deeply, and open a window onto a new way of seeing the world. It’s fair to say that Tyler Knott Gregson is a new breed of poet. Based in Montana, he’s a wedding photographer by day, a practicing Buddhist–oh, and an internet sensation. His first book, Chasers of the Light, was a national bestseller right out of the gate. His many loyal fans, hundreds of thousands in number and growing fast, follow him on Tumblr and Instagram for a daily fix of his poems composed on a vintage typewriter or hand-written on found scraps of paper. They’ve come to adore his beautifully honest, intimate words and his lush photographs that capture the fleeting moods and moments of everyday life. Reading Tyler’s poems is a disarming experience. Very quickly, you begin to feel your defenses soften. That filter of skepticism we all have begins to fade. Suddenly you’re in the hands of a writer who’s willing to lay himself bare, tuning in to his feelings of longing, passion, loss, and hope, and sharing them on the page. Before you’ve had a chance to resist, he’s pulled you into his world. From day one as Tyler’s editor, I was struck by his sincerity and purity of vision. This isn’t a flash-in-the-pan–a cynical internet celebrity making memes in his basement, or trading on his celebrity or good looks to rack up followers (did I mention he’s also incredibly handsome?). This is a generous and thoughtful writer who’s brave enough to reveal himself, in words and images, every single day. Working with Tyler on the selection and order of the poems, I had the pleasure of immersing myself in his work, experiencing up close his rare gift for observing the miraculous in the mundane, and his unique ability to put his emotions into words and images, without filtering or censoring—and without rushing past the moment in a mad dash to get more things done. While the experience moved me greatly, the editing process was also a bit unusual. Typically I connect with my authors’ words while sitting at a computer, communicating in tracked changes and comments in the margins. But not this time. Working with color print-outs of each photograph and poem, I spread them out on the biggest conference-room table I could find, and I began to physically move them around. Seeing the book laid out this way brought me even deeper into the material–and was a lot of fun. By the end of the process, I knew we had a book that effectively draws readers into Tyler’s world, one moment at a time. As the book hits stores, I’ll go back to my hurried ways, and my mad dash to collect facts and insights and cocktail party topics will continue apace. But I’ll try to hold on to that sense of wonder, and to find the courage to open my eyes just a little bit to the mystery and beauty all around us. And I’ll look forward to working with Tyler on his third collection, coming out a year from now—another chance to learn, grow, and be inspired by an author who has the courage to share his true voice on every page. Read more about All the Words Are Yours here.
On the occasion of Marian Wood Books’ publication of X, Sue Grafton’s 24th Kinsey Millhone Mystery, we are pleased to present Vice President and Publisher Marian Wood. As Grafton’s longtime editor, she agreed to answer three questions involving her work with Grafton. Marian admits, “These questions brought sort of a walk down memory lane: 34 years of memories, to be exact. Foolishly, I went to my bookshelves and picked up A is for Alibi and began reading, and couldn’t stop.” What initially attracted you to Sue Grafton’s writing style and her approach to the mystery novel form? Well, although Sue never writes the same novel twice and her books consistently surprise me, rereading “A” brought back that incredible rush I had on my first reading. Here was an original voice: tough, funny, smart, without an ounce of self-pity but also without any superhero ego. From the first I knew she was a serious stylist, that her characters were fully formed and she was using genre the way earlier mystery writers (the men who gave us noir) had: to make telling points about the (largely corrupt) world their characters moved in. Be it Raymond Chandler or Ross Macdonald, their protagonists were loners, honest but flawed (and usually, unlike Kinsey, very heavy drinkers), who took on cases the way a knight errant might take on causes. The world Kinsey navigates is not as corrupt as theirs, but it is often just as twisted and dangerous. In “A,” Kinsey tells us she is 32, twice divorced, no kids, no pets, no houseplants. In short, she is independent and alone. What we learn as the series progresses is that she is also nobody’s sidekick. Unlike so many female characters in the mysteries that preceded her appearance, she is not a loyal helpmate or willing employee or second banana. Now, how refreshing is that? And when she finds herself in serious danger, she is tough enough to fight her way out—even when it means killing or maiming her attacker. But it bothers her that she has to. So in addition to being tough and honest, she has a conscience. Mayhem for mayhem’s sake is not on her resume. Her novels also do not depend on technology or gadgets for their denouements. Brains and determination are what matter. There are no James Bond gimmicks, and no saviors in white hats to come to Kinsey’s rescue. Through Kinsey, Sue is able to wrestle with some very current social ills. She doesn’t preach, but she does observe. And her intelligence in these matters raises the books to another level. You won’t find her giving facile answers to homelessness, but you will find her pointing out all sides of the problem. How you take this is your call as a reader. Sue is not here to convert you—but she wants readers to understand the human toll such problems take. And she is not here to solve our social problems. She can’t tell us how to stop the abuse of elders, for example. But she can, in horrible detail, show you how it happens. Perhaps this makes the books sound “heavy.” They are hardly that. One of the very great attractions of Sue Grafton’s writing is just how clever (both witty and funny) Kinsey is and how tellingly Sue leads her characters into crazy (but all too real) human interactions. And a large part of her success in doing this is that she has such a terrific grasp of the human condition, which is another reason her characters resonate long after you’ve finished the book. How would you describe the nature of your editor/author process when working with Sue Grafton and how has it evolved over the years? Our relationship is based on trust and mutual respect. Sounds corny, but it’s true. There may have been a few bumps early on because Sue bore some real scars from her years of working with Hollywood know-it-alls (“They all seemed to be barely out of high school,” she has said). Books, however, are not movies, and editing is a matter of supporting the writer not taking over her book. (Some of you may know of instances of editors taking credit for the quality of their writer’s book. Personally, if the writing was that bad to begin with, I’d want no part of it.) With Sue, as the years and books progressed, our working relationship, never problematic to begin with, became a sheer delight. Sue is a professional and a dedicated craftswoman. I like to think the same applies to her editor. There have been a few occasions during the writing when the plot line seems temporarily to stall out. Sue says dreaming often resolves a knotty plot line, and I say that what cannot be resolved in dreams is usually a relatively easy fix that a trusted reader can suggest. Mostly that first reader is her husband, Steve Humphrey. As someone who was long-married to a writer, I know the pitfalls that can happen when a spouse is called upon to read, but in the 34 years I’ve known them, their working relationship has been nothing short of miraculous. What has contributed to the popularity of the Kinsey Millhone character and the series, and what elements in the new novel, X, do you feel will resonate most strongly with readers? Sue never runs in place. I have read many writers who begin a series wonderfully and then, at about book 4 or 5, stall out. The books become padded, the plots are listless, the characters repeat themselves. Not so Sue. In fact, Sue brings a freshness and originality to each new book. Even those instances in which she needs to reintroduce a character from an earlier book or reprise some earlier plot line–so that a reader coming new to the series need not begin with “A”—are deftly handled and, for the veteran reader, often contain welcome new information. I think the reason the series continues to appeal so strongly is that Sue takes her writing very seriously. To turn in a listless effort would be to cheat her readers—and herself. The second part of your question is harder to answer because it would give away much of the plot of X. Let me just say this: There are three extraordinary plot lines in X. The reader will initially be hard pressed to know which is the prime plot, which secondary. But all are supremely interesting. One is outrageous—but many of us will be familiar with the neighbors from hell and, in its own way, it is very comic. Another is a complex scam that has grown out of the broken marriage of two hot-tempered people who should have taken the time to cool down. And the third? It is the harrowing story of a vicious sociopathic serial killer who has left a trail of dead women going back nearly thirty years. The victims have either been declared suicides or they have simply vanished. The killer is at large, and Kinsey is in his sight lines. Dark, chilling, and clever, X is also infinitely wise in the matter of human misbehavior—or why we are often our own worst enemy. Read more about X 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 fell in love with Naomi Jackson’s debut novel about a matriarchal family in Barbados, The Star Side of Bird Hill, from the opening page. In short order, Jackson indelibly captures Barbados’ Bird Hill neighborhood and the two young Braithwaite sisters who have left Brooklyn to come and live there with their grandmother. From its very first line, Star Side plunges us in this very specific, very beautiful community: The people on the hill liked to say that God’s smile was the sun shining down on them. Jackson’s first descriptions of the girls at the heart of this novel are also stunning. Dionne, the elder sister, is “sixteen going on a bitter, if beautiful, forty-five.” Phaedra, age ten, saw “her skin had darkened to a deep cacao from running in the sun all day in spite of her grandmother’s protests… Glimpses of Phaedra’s future beauty peeked out from behind her pink heart-shaped glasses, which were held together with scotch tape.” Before I turned to the second page, I was fully immersed in this place, and I felt I had known these girls for years. Author Naomi Jackson grew up in a predominantly West Indian neighborhood in Brooklyn and spent summers in Barbados with her family. There is a strong autobiographical element to Star Side, which explores themes of immigration and identity, motherhood and family, sexual awakening and coming of age, and mental illness and belonging. After their mother’s breakdown in New York forces them into exile in Barbados, Dionne spends the summer in search of love, while Phaedra explores Bird Hill, where her family has lived for generations. The girls’ grandmother, Hyacinth, is a midwife and practitioner of the local spiritual practice of obeah. Hyacinth is a magical character, and the novel beautifully explores parenthood through her loves and losses. Her daughter Avril left Barbados for good when she fell for the girls’ father Errol. When Errol arrives to reclaim the sisters, the girls must choose between two worlds, as their mother once did. It has been so gratifying to see in-house readers, booksellers, and reviewers connect with this lyrical narrative. Jackson’s Barbados captured our imagination, and her characters are unforgettable, especially the heartbreaking young Phaedra.The Star Side of Bird Hill is an Indies Introduce selection, and many of our independent bookselling partners told me at BEA how excited they were to get this novel into the hands of their more advanced YA readers, as well as their adult readers who love transporting, literary fiction. I look forward to seeing many more readers fall for Star Side and the very talented Naomi Jackson. Read more about The Star Side of Bird Hill 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. A few summers ago, Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s novel The Sound of Things Falling had just taken the literary world by storm. Bestselling, universally praised, hailed as “brilliant” on the cover of the New York Times Book review by Edmund White, the novel was a huge moment for Juan. Riverhead had published two earlier critically acclaimed novels of his as well: The Informers and The Secret History of Costaguana. He happened to be in New York, visiting from Bogota, Colombia, for the Brooklyn Book Festival where he wowed crowds with his mellifluous voice. I met up with Juan and his wife, Mariana, before his Festival events and we had a bagel brunch on the roof of my apartment building in Brooklyn – a quintessential borough activity. As we talked about future books by Juan, he mentioned an earlier book of his – Los Amantes de Todos los Santos (which we’ve translated as Lovers on All Saints’ Day) – a collection of stories that he had always felt was some of his best writing. And it had never been translated into English, not one story. I remembered his translator, the inimitable Anne McLean, confiding in me that the stories had always been some of her favorite writing of Juan’s too. I got jealous: they all loved this book and I had never read it! We hatched a plan then and there to bring this book out to American readers, to get it translated into English for the first time. One of the wonderful things about this story collection is how different it is from Juan’s novels. It takes place in Europe – mostly in France and Belgium – which had for many years been the place where Juan lived as an ex-pat, far from Colombia and South America. The influence of European writers, of a moody, earthy, ancient perspective, resounds through these stories. Juan references the idea that a story collection is like a novel where none of the characters know each other. They exist in a universe, struggling, loving, making grave mistakes and small triumphs, and at the end of this crescendo of a collection, you come away with an overwhelming sense of loss and love, of humanity at its most burdened and brilliant. This collection showcases the breadth of Juan’s ability; he is truly one of the great writers of our time, in any language, and I’m proud to bring all of his writing to American readers – past, present, and future. Learn more about Lovers on All Saints’ Day here.
Penguin Random House deeply mourns the passing of Random House author E. L. Doctorow, who died on Tuesday at the age of 84. Doctorow was an American master whose works of fiction, from Ragtime and The Book of Daniel to Billy Bathgate and The March, span centuries, taking readers into many eras of the American experience, and from the Great Plains to the Adirondacks, from the Deep South to New York City. In his novels and essays, Doctorow also illuminated social and political issues. In the words of Don DeLillo, “Doctorow’s great topic is the reach of American possibility, in which plain lives take on the cadences of history.” Edgar Lawrence Doctorow, born in the Bronx, New York, on January 6, 1931, was named after Edgar Allan Poe, another Bronx writer. After receiving a B.A. from Kenyon College and doing postgraduate study at Columbia, he spent two years in the U.S. Army, serving in Germany. Back home, he took a job as a staff reader for Columbia Pictures and moved on in 1959 to become associate editor, then senior editor, at New American Library. He began his career at Random House as an editor at The Dial Press. In 1964 he was named editor in chief, and he published the works of Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, and others. As an author his body of work, written over the course of five decades and including novels, volumes of stories and essays, and a play, has been published in more than thirty languages. The honors Doctorow received include the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle Awards, two PEN Faulkner Awards, the Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, and the presidentially conferred National Humanities Medal. In 2009 he was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize honoring a writer’s lifetime achievement in fiction. In 2012 he won the PEN Saul Bellow Award given to an author whose “scale of achievement over a sustained career places him in the highest rank of American Literature.” In 2013 the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded him the Gold Medal for Fiction. In 2014 he received the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. He was also the Lewis and Loretta Glucksman Professor of English and American Letters at New York University. Kate Medina, Doctorow’s editor, said, “Edgar’s work has always been ascendant, always steeped in the new, with original language, surprising storytelling, rigorous thought and standards of truth. Through books of great beauty and power, and characters I’ll never forget, he showed us America’s great flaws and its astonishing promise, and our own. Edgar was fun, even as he was holding all of us to the high standards he set for himself. To be with him was to be at one’s best; to read him was to discover, again and again, the joy of reading a master.” Gina Centrello, President and Publisher of Random House, said, “Edgar Doctorow was one of the great creative minds of our time. We were honored to publish him, and his legacy will continue at Random House. He was sharp and funny, vocal and opinionated, and he inspired readers with every book, every story, and every essay. We will all miss our author and friend dearly.” Browse through Doctorow’s books 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.
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. The friendship between women can be one of the most significant bonds we ever experience. Our female friends sustain us through the pivotal moments of our lives; they support us in times of crisis and share in our joys. They laugh and cry with us through every exhaustively recounted detail of our daily trials and tribulations. This is the territory that author Wendy Wax explores so winningly in her new novel, A Week at the Lake, which is at heart the story of friendship—the friendship between Emma, Mackenzie, and Serena. These three women met in college, and afterwards pursued their separate dreams—theatre, costume design, television–achieving varying degrees of fame and fortune. But every summer they would spend a blissful week together at a summerhouse on Lake George—a week filled with shared confidences; certainly much laughter, and possibly a few tears. Why this wonderful tradition began to unravel and the three of them drift apart is a bit of a mystery, but when the story opens, Emma, Mackenzie, and Serena are about to get together for their first “week at the lake” in five years. Fate, of course, is about to take a hand… I will resist the impulse to give away the plot. Suffice it to say that this will be a week unlike any they have experienced in the past. Wendy Wax clearly knows from personal experience what it’s like to be part of a close-knit group of women. Over the years, I have often heard her refer to authors Karen White and Susan Crandall as her “BFFs”. I know that these three musketeers have their own annual retreat, during which they claim to get enormous amounts of writing done, fortified by pinot noir and Talenti salted caramel gelato. It’s no wonder, then, that Wendy is able to portray her three main characters in A Week at the Lake with so much insight, affection, and humor, and make us fall in love with every one of them. In the end, there may be a little of Emma, Mackenzie, and Serena in each of us. For myself, I know that the only thing my own friends and I are missing is that gorgeous summerhouse on Lake George! Read more about A Week at the Lake here.