Musings on the Wild World of Writing & Editing

Archive for the ‘Publishing’ Category

Copyediting Services Offered

I’ve been neglecting this blog for quite some time now–I’ve gotten distracted by the siren call of tumblr, Twitter, and Pinterest. I return to offer freelance copyediting services to anyone interested.

My résumé is available here, but I’ll provide the highlights:

  • Graduated from Texas Christian University in December 2012 after 3.5 years of study
  • Bachelor of Arts in Writing with a minor in French Language Studies
  • 4.0 GPA, summa cum laude
  • Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society
  • Graduated from John V. Roach Honors College with departmental honors in English
  • Attended TCU on a full-tuition scholarship
  • Copyedited for TCU Press during a 6-month internship
  • Acted as web-editor-in-chief and copyedited for eleven40seven: TCU’s Student Journal of the Arts
  • Edited and offered writing assistance to TCU students as a writing associate at the William L. Adams Center for Writing, in which I worked with APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian as well as all subject areas (ranging from creative nonfiction to nursing to psychology to business)

I will copyedit in any genre: poetry, nonfiction (any subject area welcome), creative nonfiction, and fiction. I have worked across the curriculum at the Center for Writing, and I have worked with all creative genres by virtue of my specializing in craft in my writing major.

I will charge $15-$20 per hour based on the following criteria (I accept payment via PayPal):

  • Copyediting level desired (heavy, medium, or light)
  • Difficulty of the text (I will charge more for dense or academic texts)
  • Citations (the more citations and the more in-depth the style, the more I will charge)
  • Style guide
  • Content editing (art, charts, graphs, fact-checking, etc.)
  • Turnaround time desired

I am happy to copyedit in hardcopy or online, but for hardcopy I will request that you pay for printing and shipping costs.

I can provide quotes for your manuscript if you send a brief summary, one or two sample chapters, desired time for completion, and level of editing.

I’m also able to send basic workshop feedback for any creative pieces on which you may want comments, suggestions, or ideas for improvement.

Samples of my copyediting are available on my external portfolio, and I can be contacted at rachelk.spurrier@gmail.com to answer any questions.

Reading is a Technology that is still Changing

When Greeks began to write, Plato lamented this new technology, claiming it would ruin learning and memory. Instead of having to memorize everything, people could store knowledge externally in print and in text form. If you have some time to read more about how writing is a technology, check out this article (warning: it’s long and dense). In the long run, people still retained knowledge and added to our knowledge base over the millennia in art, science, math, literature, and so on. We live in an age where one newspaper may contain more information than the average citizen might come across in a lifetime just a few centuries ago. But how well are we remember these days in a new era? Nick Carr explores how we treat memory and attention span differently know that we are constantly on the Internet and can store vast amounts of information in cyberspace. Why remember when Marie Antoinette was beheaded when you can look it up in seconds on Wikipedia? Why memorize your friends’ phone numbers when they’re stored on a mobile device?

Out With the Old, In With the New 

I’m getting off topic, but what I mean is that whenever we develop a new way to store and disseminate information, we evaluate if this new technology will affect our way of thinking, analyzing, and remembering. And it usually does, although we cannot fully analyze the long term effects for decades. Along with multitasking and web surfing affecting our train of thought and ability to concentrate  we’re changing the way we read because of the e-book. I read an article that explores this topic. I’ve already talked about how e-books change reading comprehension for people who’ve grown up on print books (though not children). I’ve also talked a little bit about how some publishers and retailers like Amazon want to make reading social with shared underlinings and annotations (Amazon, stop sharing my notes! It’s creepy); some applications like Riffle try to make reading and recommendations a social media experience.

But apart from sharing our highlights and notes, e-readers gather information about our reading habits–how quickly we read, where we stop and start reading, how often we read, etc. What you read and how you read it is no longer your private information. This is obvious when we get book recommendations from retailers, but publishers might use this gathered information to encourage readers to edit. For example, if readers on average stop around page 50, the publisher might recommend that the writer shorten the exposition. What if a book you buy is automatically tailored to your tastes via algorithms that know your buying habits and your preferences? What if readers have the option to group edit a text? Of course, publishers have been coming out with new editions of books for years, but usually a new edition takes a while to write and is widely publicized.  What if the edition is specific to you, or you never know that what you’re reading isn’t what came out originally? What if the accessibility of a book is dependent on other readers? All of a sudden, that quiet, private afternoon curled up with a book seems way more disturbing and intrusive.

Is Sharing Caring? 

Mikhail Bakhtin theorized about the relationship between writer, audience, and genre. From what I can remember, a writer writes a book and publishes it, but its reception and genre is dependent on audience. For example, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was intended as an adult novel, but now it is widely considered YA fiction, though much of the content is memoir. Now, that relationship might books more malleable and changeable than ever before: writer publishes book, audience reads book on an e-reader, publisher gathers information and edits the book, and the book comes out again in a new, revised form based on the reader’s preferences and tastes.

I have no idea if this is a good or bad thing. If publishers really do start changing books to appeal to the audience preference’s, both the author’s autonomy and the reader’s choice will be limited. However, as long as the original print version is still available, I guess I’ll just switch back to print instead of risking reading a book that is not what the author intended. I would like to interpret and make reading decisions for myself, thanks very much.

Like Herding Cats

From elementary school through most of high school, I believed the rules of grammar were fixed–immutable, inexorable. Apart from creative writing, the conventions of grammar were stable and set; I liked how definitive they were. Illogical and idiosyncratic though they were, the rules of grammar made sense to me–I used to diagram sentences in my head when I spoke or read. I no longer diagram in my head, but I’ll freely admit my nerdiness unabashedly and unashamedly. Grammar came easily to me, perhaps because I read so often and internalized syntax and usage. The more you read, the more you can tell when something “sounds” wrong (as a grammarian, your reason for something being incorrect should never be that it “sounds” wrong, but I catch the error because it sounds weird and then identify the technical issue). Spelling is similar but more visual: the more you see words and the patterns of spelling, the better your spelling will be. Lesson here kids: read and read often.

Le Francais, c’est plus qu’une langue

That was the motto of my high school French club: French is more than a language. When I began taking French in high school, I took to its grammar almost effortlessly. Part of the reason is that while English is not a Romance language, many of its words have Latin roots, and some of the word order is similar. Because I felt so grounded with English, French wasn’t too much of a stretch. Plus, a mind for grammar will ostensibly do well with any language. Many people find  the French language maddening because of its odd pronunciation, its ridiculous subjunctive, its ludicrous number of verb tenses. But I liked it. I liked conjugation tables, and I liked learning new patterns of spelling, and I liked putting together the pieces of a sentence. For me, English and French grammar and spelling exercises were like candy in homework form. Once I was about to vomit from a plateful of trigonometry, I sat back, relaxed, and worked with future and conditional. It was relaxing (if you’re still with me at this point, I applaud you). I’ve basically been waxing nostalgic about my love for grammar because of what I’m about to say next: English grammar is contradictory, antiquated, and nonsensical. And there’s no such thing as “standard” English.

It All Comes Back to the Nazis

For those of you who don’t waste time on the Internet, Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies states that the longer an online discussion continues, the probability of a comparison to Nazis approaches 1. Basically, the longer an online forum goes on, the more likely someone is going to call someone else Hitler or the Nazis. So, I’m going to go ahead and fulfill Godwin’s Law and start talking about grammar Nazis.

Part of the reason I’ve been so absent from posting is that my life has been in a state of massive change. I found a job in New York, NY, and I moved at the end of January. I’ve been settling into my new job and recovering from culture shock (my Southern/Midwestern sensibilities sometimes clash with the New York ethos), and my daily exhaustion has prevented me from posting. My job is in client support, so most of my job is speaking with clients and helping them use our product. Although I was grateful for the job and liked the work environment, part of me began to worry that I wouldn’t use my training as a writer and editor. I took my first chance to prove my skills when an internal memo came around with an FAQ about the company (we just launched, so we are still familiarizing ourselves with how to address issues in the system and answer questions). Although it was internal, I marked it up and copyedited it, sent it to my boss, who passed it on to our Chief Marketing Officer. He was impressed enough to start sending me stuff to edit and write. I got to choose the style guide for our client support team as well as media relations–I chose Chicago, because the Oxford comma needs a defender from the evil AP. Speaking of which, I once took a course that included peer editing. One of my peers was a journalism major, and she kept crossing out all my commas. I kept adding in commas to hers. Both of our papers were technically correct, but we merely had different philosophies on punctuation.

Which brings me to the fact that now I am the resident grammar nazi of my department, I get questions about grammar, and it’s so hard not to qualify my responses with, “Well in this case it would be this, but sometimes if you want it could be this.” I also have to dispel a lot of what gets incorrectly taught in schools: you can’t begin a sentence with a conjunction; you can’t end a sentence with a preposition; etc. If you ever need help definitively addressing these issues, I recommend Miss Thistlebottom’s Hobgoblins: The Careful Writer’s Guide to the Taboos, Bugbears and Outmoded Rules of English Usage by Theodore M. Bernstein or The Transitive Vampire by Karen Elizabeth Gordon.

I digress. When I’m feeling particularly feisty, I go on long rants about prescriptivist versus descriptivist grammar; open versus closed punctuation; the punctuation and spelling variations between UK and US usage (I’m looking at you, realise). I have a nice, sturdy set of reference books to dispel ambiguity when questions of grammar arise, and these books only add fuel to the flames of my grammatical passion: Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Webster’s Usage Dictionary, Chicago Manual of Style, and The Copyeditor’s Handbook by Amy Einsohn. For anyone who wants a full and spirited debate on all things grammatical, Einsohn is your gal. She discusses various grammar schools of thoughts, words that cause the most heated debate, and the tiny nuances of language that dictate how we edit and write.

How in the hell did we get here? 

How, you might ask, did we end up with so many conflicting grammar rules and pet peeves among individuals? To summarize briefly, blame Latin. A lot of our ridiculous grammar rules come from British elites several centuries ago who wished to “perfect” English by making it imitate Latin, the language of the great Roman empire. An immediate issue becomes obvious: Latin is the basis of the Romance languages, but English is a Germanic language. The two are both Proto-Indo European language, but they come from different families. The biggest example of this issue is the old-school rule that you cannot split infinitives. The basis for this rule is that in Latin, you literally cannot split an infinitive because an infinitive is one word. The other is the old standby that you cannot end a sentence with a preposition. Neither one of these rules is particularly enforced, depending on whom you ask. I am sure that my grandfather will insist that you cannot split an infinitive until the day he dies.

My grandfather is an example of a prescriptivist, a person who wants to preserve standard written English, and his less obsessed grammar counterpart would be a descriptivist, someone who is more concerned with actually employing language as it is really used. If a writer were to follow every bizarre rule in the prescriptivist handbook, he or she would be reduced to ridiculous and ambiguous wording that would obscure meaning. In all honesty, placing a preposition at the end of the sentence to communicate meaning is much more effective than obsessively preventing an ending preposition with odd or wordy phrasing.

One of the best birthday cards I ever received had two girls sitting at a restaurant. One girl said to the other, “Where’s your birthday party at?” The other girl responded, “You shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition.” When you opened the card, the first girl said, “Where’s your birthday party at, bitch?” We should not always write like we speak, of course, but there is something to be said for writing in a style that is easily understandable.

Please don’t misunderstand me; certain grammar rules exist for a damn good reason. You may not confuse there, their, and they’re; you may not mix up its and it’s; you may not create a plural with an apostrophe. These rules exist because if you make those mistakes, you obscure the meaning of the sentence; however, a sentence that does not follow the screwball rules of English but is perfectly understandable is preferable to the alternative.

Some people might want to scream that I am promoting the corruption of the language and wish to do away with all standards of grammar. Not at all. I will still stand by that the active voice is better than the passive, that vague pronoun references are confusing, that incorrect comma usage is maddening, and so on. I’m merely promoting that we let go of some of the ridiculous grammar rules that have sprouted over the years and have stuck, like bits of urban myth and folklore. They no longer serve any real purpose apart from making some writers feel superior to others (even if those writers’ writing is nigh incomprehensible).

Retreat to Move Forward

I work in an office, so I often hear “corporate speak,” which most often includes incorrect word usage to the extreme. For example, I’m currently preparing for battle on the fact that you cannot use “clean” to describe accurate information or data. 30 Rock often mocks this corporate speak and the overuse of acronyms within the corporate environment–watch “Retreat to Move Forward” for some of the best examples or the 4th season Christmas episode. I admire the corporate world’s creativity with language, but please, please, please, let’s avoid the overuse of acronyms and the obsession with catchy phrases. It’s not helping anybody. We already have words for that–we don’t need to use a new word whose denotation nor connotation is remotely close to what you mean.

So as I move forward in the corporate world, I will do battle for those rules of English that help create clarity and meaning, but I might let a few fall by the wayside, those that are outdated, confusing, and impractical. They’ve long outworn their welcome in the grammar books.

 

The More Things Change

In my AP classes in high school, my teachers would prep students for the essay questions we might come across on test day. Fortunately, the College Board had set particular categories for each exam (e.g., in my English Language course, we had to prepare for an ADQ essay–Agree/Disagree/Qualify on any given subject based on primary and secondary sources). In World History and European History, I distinctly remember the category of “Change Over Time.” Basically we had to write what changed in a certain area over a certain time period and what stayed the same. In European History, that was pretty easy: the middle class is always rising. In World History, many students felt like being clever and would say that the only constant was change. The answer, though smart aleck-y, was often correct, though that’s not what the College Board was looking for. (I vaguely remember writing an essay about the change of China’s independence and loss of self-determination in the nineteenth century.) Although my classmates and I often whined and complained about having to write another CoT essay, in truth, we are quite adept at looking back at events and finding patterns. Oh and don’t worry, folks, I fully plan on writing a rant against teaching essay writing to the test. The challenge of the AP CoT essay was fairly simple, but when we turn it inwards, the task becomes exponentially more difficult. Looking at ourselves poses a deeper set of issues than studying a series of facts for a standardized test.

The Only Constant Is…

I’m reminded of a quote by Nelson Mandela that I have on my Facebook page under “Favorite Quotations”: “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” I chose that quote as one of my favorites because at the time I was feeling nostalgic, so I kept going back to old sites from my childhood. Indeed, my middle school baseball field remained unchanged, and the park where I first held hands with my first boyfriend had stayed the same. But in many ways these places were unrecognizable to me, because, of course, I had grown up and left behind the teenage girl who lived those moments. I was now viewing them from the lenses of a young woman, merely looking back on the reminisces of a 13-year-old girl.

I think I might have chosen creative nonfiction because I’m introspective and have an unfortunate tendency to navel gaze. I’m always looking inward, analyzing my thoughts and feelings, and I’m always looking back, picking apart the past for clues as to what went wrong (or right, as it were). But I think most people are fairly skilled at looking back and realizing how they’ve changed. We all chuckle a little at the follies of middle school or shake our heads at the dramatic events of high school. We can easily see how much we’ve changed from age 10 to 20 or age 30 to 40. But we are spectacularly bad at realizing how much we will change. I came across an article in the New York Times that gave some scientific insight to what I had already surmised might be true: Although right now I can tell how much I’ve changed in the past ten years, I will more than likely make an inaccurate prediction of how I will be in another ten years.

I think this article is another one of those instances where science attempts to give a logical explanation for something many people already assumed to be true. For example, the field of evolutionary psychology has provided scientific explanations for attractiveness in the case of the hour-glass figure in women and the square jaw, broad shoulders in men. I wouldn’t have thought much about the article except that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the process of reflecting. Partially this reflection comes from a desire to “sort myself out” before moving to New York, and partially this reflection merely comes from the time of year. New year, new beginnings, new life.

Reflections

One of my favorite paintings is The Penitent Magdalene by Georges de la Tour. To view a couple versions, click here and here. I’m not a Biblical scholar, and I abandoned my art history major long ago, so the reason I’m attracted to this painting has nothing to do with religious symbolism or la Tour’s skill with indirect lighting. It’s about the look on her face as she stares into the mirror, skull in her lap or on the table, dark and lustrous hair falling down her back. She is beautiful; she is pensive; she is contemplative. There are many versions of the Penitent Magdalene in artwork, much like the Pietà or the Madonna, but the versions that draw me in are the ones where Mary Magdalene stares not upwards at the heavens but downwards in the mirror, where she realizes that the answers to her salvation come not only from above, but from purging herself of the demons (figurative) within.

I connected this painting’s theme of reflection to one of my favorite poems, “Mirror” by Sylvia Plath:

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
What ever you see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful—
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

I’m not going to go into a literary analysis of Plath’s poem. I did a project on it in the ninth grade, and that was enough for me in terms of academic study. The reason I’m going on and on about reflections is that I recently came across an article about New Year’s Resolutions for the publishing industry. I’ve often told people that publishing isn’t dying, merely going under a transformative process and a series of growing pains. The best way, in my opinion, for it to survive and flourish is to do some serious reflection. Jeremy Greenfield gives some succinct advice on some of the more pressing problems in publishing today: the cost of e-books, librarians versus publishers, intellectual property, etc.

Resolutions

I haven’t yet written about how antiquated and ridiculous copyright laws are (I fully intend to once I’ve done some more research), but I have gotten a bit into new meanings of ownership in the digital era. This whole issue of ownership with digital media has become a problem between librarians and publishers. Unlike print books, where you pay a one-time flat fee for the book and loan it out as much as possible after that, e-books are problematic to publishers, who haven’t taken a fancy to digital borrowing. I suppose the objection is that multiple people can borrow a digital copy at once, although this solution is easily remedied with appropriate software and a simple user interface that only allows one person at a time to check out an e-book. Publishers, to offset this potential loss, want libraries to pay fees after a certain number of loans in order to continue to loan it out via e-books. Libraries are, understandably, a bit annoyed, especially as their budgets shrink and their patrons disappear. Greenfield argues that librarians should focus on bigger fish for the time being. He recommends letting the publishers come around in their own time while librarians move their focus on more worthwhile issues. (He doesn’t name which issues, so whatever.)

I could comment on his other recommendations to publishers, agents, and writers, but the only other thing I wanted to fully discuss is his recommendation to readers about complaints concerning the prices of e-books. Many people do not understand why a digital file should cost $14.99, and Greenfield explains the value of a book, no matter the format. However, I tend to favor a more practical approach in defending the cost of an e-book. In a course I took last semester, a classmate complained of the cost of e-textbooks. I’d recently read an article about how some universities are pairing with publishers to cut the costs, so I explained to my fellow classmate that the cost of producing a book is much more than printing costs. The cost of the ink and binding and paper is only one aspect of publishing: paying the sales team, acquisitions team, editors, copyeditors, typesetters, and overhead costs; royalties to the author; marketing, including advanced reader copies and travel expenses for book signings and appearances; the list goes on. Plus, converting a book into a digital file has its own set of inherent costs.

The long road of traditional publishing is an expensive one; it’s no wonder many writers are turning to self-publishing. The costs of hiring a freelance copyeditor, a freelance book artist, and some fees are minimal compared to keeping (almost) all of your own profits. As the new year begins to unfold, it’s time for everyone in publishing (from writers to readers to agents to editors) to look in the mirror and reflect on both the goals of our individual parts and the sum of the whole. After all, change is the only constant, and only with collective group effort will we manage to remain successful.

Why Should I Care?

We’ve all seen them, a side effect of the current demand for memoirs. We see them in bookstores, at airports, online. They’re ubiquitous–the celebrity memoir. I can’t look down my nose at all celebrity memoirs, because I own a couple and have really enjoyed them. I read Tina Fey’s Bossypants and laughed in an unladylike manner on a flight to LaGuardia. I recently received Miranda Hart’s Is It Just Me? for Christmas (for those of you who aren’t big fans of BBC sitcoms, Miranda Hart is a British comedienne famous for her wildly popular show Miranda), and I’m loving the quirky British humor. So no, I’m not immune to the allure of the celebrity memoir, but Miranda Hart and Tina Fey are truly talented actors with basic writing abilities, unlike some of the other ghostwritten memoirs currently clogging bookshelves.

The Lena Dunham Effect

I wasn’t planning on writing a post about the popularity of the celebrity memoir (from here on out, I’m calling it the CM because I’m tired of typing that out over and over), but I came across this article on my PW Daily e-mail about Lena Dunham being upset over Gawker publishing and mocking her book proposal, which was purchased by Random House for upwards of $3.5 million dollars. Although I didn’t have a chance to read the whole proposal because Gawker had taken down most of the proposal apart from choice excerpts by the time I read it, I did skim through the comments section and found the usual mixture of admiration and anger. Quick disclaimer: I have no feelings one way or the other about Lena Dunham. I saw her on The Colbert Report, but I’ve never watched her show, so I have no idea if she really is the voice of my generation. From what snippets I read completely out of context, I was unimpressed with her writing, but I have no room to judge considering that I don’t have my own TV show on HBO. If I were workshopping those snippets, I’d pretty much tell her that it’s been done, and her writing sounds more like what I wrote during my angsty phase at eighteen than anything I’d expect from a mature, experienced writer. The book is intended to be advice for girls, but her upbringing was so vastly different from my own–my parents are definitely not NYC artists and I didn’t go to a tiny liberal arts school–that I don’t think I’d glean anything useful or relevant. I’m getting off topic, my apologies. I suppose people will assume, “Haters gonna hate” and that I’m jealous. I’m really not. I have no desire to be famous; mostly I just want to be able to pay my bills with a little left over for savings and shoes.

The Surprising Bristol Palin Pull

The visceral reaction from many readers on the comments section got me wondering not about our fascination with celebrity (yawn) but instead about why Bristol Palin actually got a memoir as did Justin Bieber. Bristol Palin is famous because of her mother, and Justin Bieber is a talentless tween heartthrob, but hey, they sold. And that’s what I wanted to tell those enraged commenters: Lena Dunham got her millions from Random House because the publisher expects good sales from such a well-known figure. I’ve already written about how the marketability of an author is one of the biggest factors in the acquisitions process, and I have to reiterate that lesson here. Although a writer might be the next Ernest Hemingway, unless a publisher anticipates strong sales because of that writer’s brand recognition, that writer will have a hard time getting a deal. He or she must demonstrably prove that this book is different from/better than other books in the same market and that he or she already has a strong media presence. I want to ask these books, “Why should I care what you have to say?” But I already know the answer. Perhaps I don’t care personally, but we as a society care about what celebrities have to say. The proof is easy to find: celebrity gossip blogs and magazines, blockbuster movies, etc.

All About the Money 

So yes, I understand cognitively Lena Dunham’s deal, even if I’m not a fan of her show. I get why celebrities get book deals while other writers are left to desiccate quietly in a desert of lameness. But what bothers me more is the fact that we as an audience and a public are willing to buy these books. The writing often isn’t engaging or well done; the subject matter is often self-indulgent and navel-gazing; and the intellectual rigor of reading such books is minimal. It’s the literary equivalent of eating candy or watching Say Yes to the Dress. My grandmother’s house used to have this vintage 1970s wallpaper (original) that had all sorts of old-school jokes written on it. One that comes to mind is, “Western civilization? It’s a good idea.” I’d like to say that the biggest symbols of our cultural demise are reality TV, beauty as self-esteem, and Congress’ complete inability to act, but really I think one of the greatest signs of our cultural downfall is the lack of great writing in the marketplace. Yes, there are still some literary giants out there, but the real moneymakers are books like the 50 Shades of Grey series (ew) and Twilight (do not even get me started).

So yes, I’d very much like to smack down any publisher who gives an exorbitant amount of money to an author for a CM deal, but they’re just giving the public what we want: an easy read with a recognizable name. We read what we know and can depend on. We like the familiar–a well-known name, an established author, a familiar topic. I’ll be honest, I’d rather spend an afternoon curled up with a book by Tim Gunn than wading through The Sound and the Fury, so perhaps I have no room to argue with the state of pop books. The dichotomy and discussion of high brow/low brow literature is an old one, and in truth, I’m more interested in how long this publishing trend will last.

I’m fairly certain I’ve already discussed the popularity of the CM, but here I’m wanting to address that it’s not about the writing; it’s not about the book. It’s about what appeals to the lowest common denominator, what will yield the biggest profit. None of us can argue with the bottom line.

Book List 2012: Holiday Edition!

So we are officially approaching the holiday season now that Halloween is over. Like me, you’ve probably made a list of people you need to buy or make gifts for, and what better gift than a book? So, I’ve compiled a list of some of this year’s best reads (according to me) for everyone on your list. I have listed the full prices, but bargain hunters are sure to find a good deal at discount stores and online. I’ve also provided some paperback alternatives in certain categories. Also, my list is limited to the people I encounter in my social circle, so I might have missed a couple categories. Happy shopping!

For the female friend: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, hardcover $25.95.

Don’t let the Oprah’s Book Club endorsement fool you–Strayed’s powerful and insightful writing makes this memoir both harrowing and honest. Strayed recounts how, at twenty-two, she faces the loss of her mother to cancer and must find a way to survive emotionally. Four years later, now facing the destruction of her marriage, she impulsively decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. This story is one of healing and coping with crushing grief. Strayed is a masterful writer who combines wit, humor, lyricism, and emotion. I love the way she treats grief, death, and the reality that closure is just a dream.

For the mystery lover: Broken Harbor by Tana French, hardcover $27.95.

In her fourth novel, French returns with the same emotional force and talent that marked her previous three books: In the WoodsThe Likeness, and Faithful Place. This time her protagonist murder detective is Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy who, with a green rookie, takes on one of the biggest cases of the year: a father and two children slain in their own home, the mother in a coma. French employs the same psychological insight to create this masterfully constructed murder mystery, her most shocking and powerful yet. When I read this book, my jaw literally dropped when I figured out the murderer. Definitely a page turner and definitely full of plot twists and surprises, French has written another tour de force. A must-read for anyone who loves psychological thrillers.

For the statistician/math nerd: The Signal and the Noise: Why so Many Predictions Fail But Some Don’t by Nate Silver, hardcover $27.95

Nate Silver, famed author of the blog five-thirty-eight on the New York Times, is renowned for his uncanny ability to use statistics to make amazing predictions in politics and in his previous career, baseball. He recently received flak from political pundits for projecting a solid electoral win for President Obama, and his predictions turned out to be right. I’ve seen him on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and he is adorably geeky, a lovable nerd with his large glasses and awkward demeanor. What can I say? I have a thing for smart guys. Even for those who aren’t the best mathematicians, this book is great for anyone who loves to stretch his or her mind. Settle down with your calculator to learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff in a world full of proliferation of polls and manipulation of numbers.

For the journalist/CNF lover: Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries by Jon Ronson, hardcover $26.95

One of the current kings of nonfiction and investigative journalism, Jon Ronson has captured America with his The Men Who Stare at Goats and The Psychopath Test. His subtle humor and hilarious handling of some of the most absurd situations in modern society make Ronson one of the most entertaining and intelligent authors on the market. In this book, Ronson examines the deep, underlying crazy that defines human society and some of the more bizarre ideas we’re willing to believe in, from seemingly mundane topics like credit card companies’ ability to bleed you dry to the more outlandish, like self-made superheroes. His humane treatment of some of the most inhumane and puzzling issues in our world today makes for a fascinating read, colored by his self-deprecating and goofy British humor.

For the fiction fan: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, hardcover $25

I keep seeing this book in lists of the best books of 2012 and at the top of bestseller lists. If you keep up with publishing industry news, you can’t escape the darn thing. Suspense writer Flynn takes a look at the dark side of marriage with unflinching honesty and thrilling prose. An ingenious plot, a dark tone, and a fast plot make this book a must-read. If you’re looking for a calmer piece of fiction, you might want to look elsewhere to avoid reading about a serial killer. I’ve been behind on my fiction reading this year, so I’m lost in the dark on this one, but hopefully one of your friends will appreciate this great thriller. If you’re looking for an alternative, Barbara Kingsolver’s new book Flight Behavior is now available for $26.99. With Kingsolver’s usual lyrical writing, she delivers another social commentary (this time on global warming) through her incredible storytelling.

For the history buff: The Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 by Anne Applebaum, hardcover $35

With so much misperception around the Cold War, Applebaum’s thoroughly researched work sheds light on the traumatic period from the end of WWII to the beginnings of the Cold War. Applebaum debunks myths, clarifies confusion, and shares testimonies of men and women caught in this time and place. Not a fan of the Cold War, European history, or modern history? Don’t worry; this book is highly readable and based on primary research, so no slogging through academia and secondary sources. If you’re looking for something more suitable to your tastes that you might have missed last year, consider Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie, now in paperback for $20, a fifteen-dollar reduction from last year’s hardback.

For the psychology student: Coming of Age on Zoloft: How Antidepressants Cheered Us Up, Let us Down, and Changed who We Are by Katherine Sharpe, paperback $14.99

Katherine Sharpe blends the best of both worlds in this well researched and personal book: personal narrative memoir and interviews with history writing. In an age where many of us are medicated, Sharpe takes a look at the antidepressant age’s effects on adolescents, who either find antidepressants freeing of depression and a return to normalcy or instead those who find them too altering and hate the label of “chemically imbalanced.” Sharpe combines her personal experience with antidepressants and skillful historical writing. A balanced discussion of a controversial topic.

For the comedian: America Again, Rebecoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t by Stephen Colbert, hardcover $28.99

Colbert showcases his satire and parody in his latest book, which addresses the paradox that Americans are clamoring to become great again without admitting that America might have fallen from being the best country ever. Whether or not you’re a fan of the show, this book is sure to entertain as well as provoke some thought while providing America with a blueprint with how to get back on track. If you’re looking for a less expensive alternative, consider Tina Fey’s Bossypants, her hilarious memoir, now in paperback. With her usual self-deprecating humor and odd-earned wisdom, Fey discusses her childhood, dealing with “crotch muffins,” and “having it all.”

For the chef: Barefoot Contessa Foolproof, Recipes You Can Trust by Ina Garten, hardcover $35

Even though I dislike the Contessa for turning down that dying little boy who wanted to cook with her for his Make a Wish, you can’t deny that Ina’s recipes are delicious (probably because the first item on each one is at least one cup of heavy cream or two sticks of butter). Garten focuses on making cooking easy and helping you plan menus and coordinate cooking so that you host the perfect dinner party. A must-have for anyone who loves to host, entertain, or cook. If you’re looking for a low-cost way to give your friend some cooking ideas, consider giving them an iTunes gift card so they can buy that Food Network or All Recipes app they’ve had their eye on.

For the intellectual: Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks, hardcover $26.95

Neurologist Oliver Sacks is back to explain to us that hallucinations are everyone’s problem, not just the clinically insane. We have hallucinations for a whole host of reasons: sleep deprivation, lack of food, illness, etc. Sacks discusses his patients and investigates the cultural and scientific history of hallucinations to show us how halluncinations are an integral facet of the human condition. Written for laypeople, Sacks’ writing is accessible to the non-neuroscientists of the world. If you’re looking for a paperback alternative, consider getting Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, one of the best science writers out there.

For the political scientist: The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Political Campaigns by Sasha Issenberg, hardback $26

Prepare to be creeped out by Sasha Issenberg’s new book that looks at how the political campaign has become an industry full of market research using voters as unwitting test subjects. By collecting information from where you live, where you shop, what websites you visit, what magazines you subscribe to, campaign advisers now think they can predict for whom you’ll vote before you do. You’ll discover that political campaigns have adopted advertisers’ tactics of tracking your habits without your consent to predict your behavior. Possibly paranoia-inducing, this book promises new insights into a multi-million dollar industry.

For the friend who is never afraid to tell you that no, those shoes do not go with that outfit: Tim Gunn’s Fashion Bible: The Fascinating History of Everything in Your Closet, hardcover $28

In his second book about fashion, Tim Gunn (famous for his sass, flavor, and wit on Project Runway) takes you through the different items in your wardrobe and tells you the history of each piece and forms a narrative of the history of fashion from togas to chain mil to corsets to skinny jeans. If you love Gunn’s flair, this book is a great gift for the intellectual fashionista who will be glad to have a historical reason as to why that top and those pants just don’t work together. If you’re looking for more on fashion and culture and want a paperback alternative, consider Joan DeJean’s Essence of Style about how the French invented haute couture, haute cuisine, and everything fashionable in between.

For the person who has to read the book before seeing the movie:

  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, paperback $6.95: The unforgettable, timeless Russian classic by one of the great masters. The movie comes out on November 16.
  • Life of Pi, Deluxe Illustrated Edition by Yann Martel, hardcover $16.50: So I’m sure many of you have already read Life of Pi, but I just recently found out about the illustrated edition, in which Croatian artist Tomislav Torjanac illustrates scenes in beautiful oils. The movie comes out November 21.
  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, paperback $21: The new movie Lincoln starring Daniel Day Lewis will be out November 16, 2012, so prepare to read through this long, fascinating historical account of how Lincoln worked with his “team of rivals” to lead the US through the Civil War.
  • Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, paperback $9.95: French classic, the movie adaptation of the famous musical stars Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman and will come out Christmas Day.
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, paperback $8.75: A staple of the American literary canon, The Great Gatsby will receive a new interpretation by Baz Luhrmann, director of Moulin Rouge. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Tobey Maguire, the movie will come out on May 10, 2013.

If you want to give a book-related gift but don’t have the cash or the time to sniff out deals, consider making bookmarks for your family and friends! Lamination is fairly cheap these days, and personalizing a bookmark is easy: cut some cardboard or scrapbook paper into a long, thing rectangle, personalize with stickers, quotes, pictures, etc., and laminate! Or, for a more crafty touch: http://www.countryliving.com/crafts/projects/practically-free-crafts#slide-1

Anyway, happy holidays everyone! I’ll be spending this month counting out the things I’m thankful for: good books, great friends, wonderful family.

We Now Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

I won’t be posting anything about the publishing world this week. I’ve spent the past forty-eight hours frantically trying to track the progress of Sandy while hoping and praying that everyone in the storm’s path stays safe. I find that writing a post about something banal and relatively unimportant would trivialize the plight of everyone trying to recover from the storm’s devastation. I do have to admit that I put out a special prayer for all the bookstores in harm’s way–something got to me when I thought about all those books in The Strand with water damage or with their pages ripped apart and blown into the wind.

I’ll be back next week with something more relevant.

All my thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who has been affected–directly or indirectly–by the wrath of Sandy.

 

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