Weekend Reads- Sex and Vanity

Good morning! And happy long weekend!

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Here is my book: Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan

And here is my breakfast: Bagel and lox from my local café

What a strange Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. It is overcast and on the nippy end in New York today, after some glorious weather Friday and an upcoming week in the 70s. In an alternate version of 2020, I was supposed to be in Santa Barbara this weekend celebrating my cousin Joe’s wedding. I’d been looking forward to it for over a year. My plane ticket was booked, my outfits had been selected, and then the world halted. Compared to what many have gone through, this is nothing but a sad blip, and we’ll gather next year instead–same venue, same weekend, same outfits.

I’m very excited to settle into Kevin Kwan’s latest novel, given my well documented love of the Crazy Rich Asians series. (Thank you, Doubleday!) I logged into my long dormant NetGalley account this weekend and have had lots of fun browsing the options. Sex and Vanity is among my most anticipated of 2020 (out June 30) and given that I would very much like to attend a wedding on Capri right now, I think this will be a perfect pick-me-up. I’d tell you more about it, but I’ve barely started!

I have a new writing project I’m excited about, although it requires much more research than anything I’ve written previously, but I have a solid base knowledge to work with (why didn’t I think of this years ago?!). Everything is slow going in the early stages, but now that I’m nearly finished with the Italian course on Duolingo, I’m ready for a new quarantine hobby.

Wishing you a safe and happy weekend!

 

Finds from My Closet: A Pandemic Story

A strange thing about quarantine is that the things I used to need daily now sit gathering dust. This applies to my purses, my more professional work outfits, my planner (RIP), shoes, my keys. On several occasions, I have forgotten my wallet for my weekly grocery run.

Instead, though, I’ve found a lot of never-used items in my closets, drawers, and storage areas that are suddenly getting more use than I ever envisioned. Listing some of the items I’d dug out of my closets on a work call, a colleague quipped “how large are your closets?” They are New York-sized, although one might be described my an ambitious real estate agent as a “walk-in,” but the truth is that they are well organized (not by me).

So here is an incomplete list of things I’ve found sudden uses for during this time:

  1. My crock pot. I have had this crock pot –an old hand-me-down from my grandmother–since I moved into this apartment. Last month, it was still bubble-wrapped. In four years, I had not once used it. I had an irrational fear of the electrical appliance burning down my apartment–and that was before This Is Us (I haven’t seen it, I just heard my fears were vindicated). Well, that has all changed. Now that I need to feed myself regularly and without a daily trip to the grocery store, I’ve begun making crock-pot meals that I then consume for days. I regret to inform you that after years of avoiding my crock pot, it is, in fact, extremely useful.

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    Unfortunately, I am still not a neat cook.

  2. Pyrex containers. Making six servings at a time in a crock pot has required something to store said servings in. I owned only corningware, which doesn’t keep food tightly sealed, so I had to purchase these containers from Amazon.
  3. My shopping cart. I have one of those rolling bags described by one friend as “for grandmothers.” Mine is in a houndstooth pattern from the Container Store; I always found it quite cute. I bought it thinking that I would make weekly runs to the grocery store and because I have weak arms, I thought I would need help carrying my bags. It turns out my grocery routine was sporadic at best (see above), but now I cannot imagine having to go to the store without my rolling bag.
  4. My cocktail shaker. I bought a beautiful cocktail shaker from Anthropologie (criminally marked down!) for my bar cart two years ago and had never once used it. If I wanted a cocktail, I went to a bar, where they had all the various liqueurs and bitters I did not want to buy. My cocktail repertoire has expanded dramatically.
  5. Slippers. I did not own slippers. I was not a slipper person! I love fuzzy socks and bare feet. But after considering those $95 ones from Birdies, my dad found this very reasonable pair on Amazon, which I ordered in burgundy. I love them. I especially love not having paid $95 for them.

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    Photo repurposed from my Instagram story.

  6. My indoor pants. So I have a pair of stretchy yoga pants, which are very long and pool at my feet. They are my “indoor pants” and are not allowed outside my apartment. They are not allowed in the building hallway. They are not allowed on the terrace. I wore them only occasionally because in my previous life, I enjoyed leaving my apartment on a whim and I did not want to be caught having to change. Well, now that I never leave the apartment, the pants are never far.
  7. A short-sleeved sweatshirt. I joke that the most LA thing about me is that I own a Marc Jacobs short-sleeved sweatshirt. I bought it roughly 15 years ago. What is the point of this? I honestly do not know. In LA, a short-sleeved sweatshirt seems kind of reasonable. In New York, it does not. But now that I am indoors all day, the short-sleeved sweatshirt is getting a lot of wear!
  8. A mask. I had some masks in my storage closet, left over from when I had work done on my apartment. I dream of the day I will no longer need to wear a mask.

Weekend Reads- Wow, No Thank You

Good morning!

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Here is my book: Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

(Is this the first time someone has read Italo Calvino and Samantha Irby simultaneously?)

And here is my breakfast: A maple bacon biscuit (the last one of the batch!) and coffee

I haven’t read as I thought I would during quarantine. I have the attention span of a gnat. I have lots of submissions that don’t seem to catch my interest (but several that have!). I’ve been using this indeterminable time to read things that I’ve meant to get to—Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Italo Calvino’s Le città invisibili. (Italians, apparently, since I’ve been learning Italian.) I’ve also read a few other things for fun: The Hotel Neversink, Sometimes I Lie, Watch Me Disappear, The Forbidden Kingdom, all of which were winners.

But Samantha Irby and Wow, No Thank You is honestly the most fun I’ve had reading in a long time. I laughed out loud at least every page and spat my drink out several times. It was exactly the balm I needed right now. Many have mourned the fact that books coming out during the pandemic may get less attention—which I don’t think is entirely true, given the resources that have popped up to support them—and author tours are certainly impossible, but I do think this humorous essay collection happened to come out at the perfect time. I admire the confessional style here, although it’s something I think I’d rarely attempt on my own. But I was inspired by it! So expect a less writing and editing-focused post about quarantine soon.

Honestly, aside from the laughs, my self-directed takeaway was that there’s no one right way to live a life, a comforting thought now more than ever.

Quick Fix: Conjunctions

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had Schoolhouse Rock’s “Conjunction Junction” stuck in my head since third grade. People have a tendency to overlook conjunctions; like prepositions, they’re the boring (song exempt!) building blocks of our language. We usually don’t pay a lot of attention to them in writing and editing. But conjunctions help to make ideas flow smoothly. When conjunctions and prepositions are used incorrectly or oddly, they often alert me to an issue with the writing on a syntax level. I’m going to focus on just two conjunctions—”and” and “but”—in today’s post.

Please enjoy my simple examples I obviously put a lot of thought into!

“And” joins two related things

“And” appears everywhere in our writing. On a stylistic level, I love a repeated “and” to increase emotional intensity (“beautiful and lovely and smart” in lieu of “beautiful, lovely, and smart”) or the inverse with “and” eliminated (“beautiful, lovely, smart”). But “and” also serves an important function, especially when combining two independent clauses. Those clauses need to be related. For example: “She sat at her desk and the dog went to get some water.” This would be better separated into two sentences. They have two different subjects. Her sitting down at her desk doesn’t affect whether the dog goes to get water. Consider another example: “She sat at her desk and her eye caught the mirror.” This could be better rephrased as “She sat at her desk and caught her reflection in the mirror.” (Or whatever it is her eye caught.) There are lots of additional options to replace “and.” A semi-colon can be remarkably effective in connecting two phrases that don’t appear related on first glance. For the most part, “and” functions perfectly well and doesn’t necessarily need a second look. But if you do a search and spot an unusual number of them on the page, consider whether they’re working to their full potential.

“But” requires conflict

How many times did I begin a sentence in the last paragraph with “But?” I have no issue starting a sentence with a conjunction. It can be remarkably effective in creative, stylized writing—don’t quote me on formal writing! You should remember, though, that “but” must appear in opposition to something. For example: “she wanted to sit at her desk, but thought better of it.” This is particularly important when discussing competing ideas. They have to be in conflict with each other. “She loved him, but she found him spectacular.” These two things are not in conflict. Now, this is not a complex example of competing ideas. I see issues with this more commonly spread out over several sentences or a paragraph. When using “but,” make sure you’ve clearly identified the antagonist, as it were, earlier in the sentence (or in a close preceding sentence). Again, most people have a firm grasp on the use of “but,” but it never hurts to remain vigilant when editing!

If you have questions about pesky issues like these, please feel to suggest topics for this series in the comments below or on Twitter.

Weekend Reads- In the Dream House

Here is my book: In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Here is my breakfast: Eric Kayser baguette and coffee

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I’ve been following Carmen Maria Machado’s career for a few years, ever since the submission for Her Body and Other Parties came around. The book went on to receive much deserved attention and awards. I’m drawn to fiction with an element of fabulism and folklore, which comes from a personal desire, I think, to understand how and why we tell stories as well as why certain stories transcend time. I believe, too, that sometimes an unreality–metaphors turned literal–can better illustrate a moment or emotion.

Parul Sehgal wrote a stunning review of this book in the New York Times, explaining the magic of this book in ways much more articulate than I can.

But this isn’t entirely fiction. This memoir, for lack of a better term for this genre-bending work, was one of the most hotly anticipated books of the year for me. Machado employs a number of different narrative forms, genres, and tropes as she unfurls the story of her abusive relationship. It is smart and witty; shocking and sad. A bundle of contradictions, just the way I love my books. I admiredthe way she integrates the archival silence of domestic abuse in queer relationship into the larger narrative, using her personal story as a way to explore how and why certain stories are told (a topic of great discussion in the literary world this week) and endure.

I’m a form nut, so seeing her manipulate her personal story into various literary genres, fascinated me. Form provides the lens through which we view the story, setting up our expectations, which Machado then subverts. It’s amazing to see this done so skillfully–because it takes incredible skill to pull off this stitching of forms.

But I also enjoy reading Carmen Maria Machado’s work for her language–the pure joy of reading. I’ll leave with the last paragraph of “Dream House as Folktale Taxonomy.”

“There is a Quichua riddle: El que me nombra, me rompe. Whatever names me, breaks me. The solution, of course, is ‘silence.’ But the truth it, anyone who knows your name can break you in two.”

Highly recommending this one for fans of literary fiction, fabulism, and anyone interested in narrative form.

Quick Fix: An Editor’s Tips

After a long hiatus, I’m back to updating my blog and starting a new series: Quick Fix (thank you to The Huntswoman for the name).

In reviewing submissions and editing novels, I see the same small issues pop up again and again. We all have what I refer to as “writing tics.” In fact, I often end editorial letters to my authors with a summary of their most used. These range from overuse of “just” to POV issues signaled by italics to too many em-dashes. I myself am prone to too many parentheses; overladen, overwritten sentences; and repetition.

A large part of my job involves making good writing better. So how do you do that? Establish a voice, consistently apply POV, and eliminate redundancies, among other things.

Above all, good writing requires clarity.

The good news is, there are lots of quick and easy tricks to improve your writing. This series will provide a summary of what I look for as I read, along with issues that pop up consistently over the course of longer edits.

So let’s dive right in. 

Yes, No, Fix It So

“He nods his head ‘yes.'”

“She shakes her head ‘no.'”

Can you guess why I would flag these sentences?

The “yes” and “no” in these examples can and often should be eliminated. These are redundant. The “yes” and “no” are implicit in the action. You don’t nod your head “no” or shake your head “yes” in most cultures (I use “most” only because I don’t know what I don’t know; if this is a common practice in other cultures, please tell me!).

Peak/Peek/Pique 

An agent I work with posted something about this on Twitter the other day. Misuse of peak/peek/pique comes up all the time. I’m often guilty of it. I second-guess peak/peek all the time. But I’m most concerned when I come across a peak/peek used instead of pique. I don’t mind a letter mistake, but I do become concerned at usage that requires a different root and spelling.

All definitions (the most applicable ones) c/o Merriam-Webster:

Peak (noun)- 1. Promontory; 2. A sharp of pointed end.

(adjective) Being at or reaching maximum.

Peek (verb)- 1. To look furtively; 2. To take a brief look; glance

Pique (verb)- 1. to excite or arouse especially by a provocation, challenge, or rebuff; 2. to arouse anger or resentment in; irritate.

(noun) A transient feeling of wounded vanity; resentment

You see the difference? You reach the peak of a mountain or peak productivity. You peek around a corner. His comment piques your interest, which leaves your friend in a fit of pique.

In other words, you peek at the peak of a mountain, the height of which piques your curiosity.

We all make mistakes! I’m sure I’ve made a number here. We all could use an edit. Good writing contains mistakes; the best we can do is be smart about them. I hope Quick Fix will help you do just that.

Join me on Twitter, where I share more writing advice and publishing industry news.

Introducing FILL ME IN!

It’s been a while since I’ve written here—partly because of fall submissions season, partly because of work changes, and partly because my reading has felt a little uninspired lately.

But today I get to write about something I love, FILL ME IN, a journal I created with the rest of the Touchstone team. Today is its publication day!

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This book started with the germ of an idea a year and a half ago. It was May 2017, and I’d gone to a friend’s apartment with a group of people I thought I knew well. We opened one of those question chat packs and went around answering increasingly personal questions for hours. We had the best time, and I learned a lot about everyone else in the process.

May also means graduation season, and as I saw photos of newly minted graduates in their robes, I remembered my own graduation festivities. The night before we graduated college, my friends and I sat down and wrote out predictions for the rest of our lives—where we’d live, in what order we’d marry, whether we’d have children. As the unofficial group secretary, I took the notes and became the keeper of the document (and bets).

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I wondered why there were no friendship journals for adults, the kind I wanted with my friends. So, after thinking it over for a week, I walked into a coworker’s office and asked if this idea for an adult friendship journal-—part memories, part predictions—was crazy. She didn’t think so, and I brought it up at a meeting our editor-in-chief held for young editors. No one there thought it was crazy either.

So I went ahead and made the friendship journal I wanted myself. The content was written and workshopped with much of the Touchstone team (and at dinner with friends). We hired the fabulous Jo Harrison to create illustrations to accompany several of the questions. Our production and design teams outdid themselves to make our vision a reality. I am so, so grateful.

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Getting a book from idea to finished product is hard; I’ve shepherded enough of them to know. Creating the content, trusting my instincts in package and design was hard, but this book was also a lot of fun—pure joy when so much of the rest of the world has felt dark.

There’s a short introduction at the beginning of the book that I’ll quote in part here: “I’m sure all your friends are great, but mine are the best.”

I hope you’ll share it with yours.

x Kait

P.S. You can purchase a copy here on Amazon. If you love it, find us on Instagram @fillmeinjournal. All photos here by our fabulous marketer and Instagram queen Isabel DaSilva.

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Kait’s Vacation Reads

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I’m going on vacation soon, which pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to in the past month knows. I’m that excited. I’ve taken one day off work in all of 2018–and it was a “use it or lose it” carryover vacation day from last year. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to some quality time away from New York and my work email.

That has me thinking about what I’m going to read. I’m headed to Hawaii, which screams “BEACH” even if I’m not exactly a beach gal. I like the water, but I hate sand on wet feet. I have never tanned in my life, but I burn exceptionally well.

Vacation, for me, means time to get swept up in a good story: sometimes it’s the real one right in front of me, and sometimes it’s many miles or centuries away.

And that makes me think about “beach reads.” I’m not a fan of the moniker, which is a demeaning term meant to belittle women’s stories and their reading habits simultaneous. It conjures froth and frivolity–a breezy read with little substance. But who cares? Sometimes I like a light read, something to lift my mood. I believe that reading–no matter what the genre–should be fun. I read for entertainment and edification. Every book I’ve read has taught me something. Books without substance rarely get published.

But I also rail against the concept of a “beach read.” I don’t always love a fast, quick read on vacation. I want something immersive. Men read at the beach, too, and no one has ever referred to my dad’s military history books as “beach reads.” And this year, the books I plan to bring on vacation don’t strike most people as “beach reads.”

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles- I’ve written (and spoken) extensively about how much I loved Rules of Civility, and I’ve been saving his sophomore bestseller for the right time. Days (in a hotel) overlooking the ocean feels like the right time.

Perfume by Patrick Suskind- Obsession? Murder? Historical setting? Sign me up!

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami- I am deeply embarrassed to have never read any Murakami, so I’m looking to fix that.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer- The most recent Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner! And the rare comic novel to win. Plus, travel is essential to the plot and structure of the book, so it seems like a perfect travel read.

The Three-Year Swim Club by Julie Checkoway- My mom and I will be taking part in a book club in Maui, and this is our read. It’s fascinating and engrossing so far.

The last time I visited Maui, I brought only four books with me, and I finished them all before the long plane ride home. I won’t be making the same mistake this time! My iPad with Alexander Chee’s Queen of the Night, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, and Dana Schwartz’s Choose Your Own Disaster will be coming with me. (I’ve always said I had eclectic taste.)

Weekend Reads- Lolita

Good morning!

Here is my book: The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman

Here is my breakfast: Balthazar croissant

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My Book Expo loot

Getting back into the groove of reading and writing here! After a frenetic few weeks, it feels like summer is finally upon us here in New York City.

Two weeks ago was Book Expo, publishing’s big trade show, where publishers promote their late summer and fall titles–fall being the biggest season in publishing. For people like me, it’s a chance to pick up galleys of buzzed about upcoming titles. One of those is The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman, out in September, which I’ve been enjoying. A work of true crime, it toggles between the real-life kidnapping of Sally Horner in in 1948 and Nabokov’s writing of Lolita, a novel arguably influenced by Sally’s much publicized story and rescue. It has me reaching for the copy of Lolita on my shelf. Lolita has always been a book whose language is so masterful, so captivating, that it shrouds and distorts the subject matter. The Real Lolita has me thinking about Lolita in a way that I haven’t for years.

Yesterday, I headed to Central Park, crowded with tourists and residents strolling on the paths. I took some of the little known walkways down by the lake and into the Rambles, where everything was much calmer–although in the process I managed to crash two weddings and an engagement.

Last night, I headed to the opera house to see ABT’s Romeo and Juliet starring Isabella Boylston and David Hallberg, which was stunning. I had never seen Isabella perform in person, and was surprised by the joy that emanated her dancing (and those perfect bourées!). David and Isabella made a lovely pairing. I now can’t seem to stop listening to the Prokofiev score.

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Happy reading!

Weekend Reads- Less

Good morning!

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Here is my book: Less by Andrew Sean Greer (the winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)

Here is my breakfast: coffee and a baguette from Eric Kayser

I’ve been on a great book binge recently, and Less is no exception. I’m embarrassed to say I’d hardly registered the novel before its surprise Pulitzer win last month. It had great quotes, great reviews, but it hadn’t appeared on a lot of awards lists (probably in part because of an annoying bias against comic novels). In any case, it has been an absolute delight so far. I’ve already noted several lines for my quote book, including two below:

“There were the politicians sizing him up as for a suit fitting. There were the actors trying him on the red carpet. There were the photographers getting him in the right lighting. They might have done, many of them. So many will do. But once you’ve actually been in love, you can’t live with “will do”; it’s worse than living with yourself.”

and

“New York is a city of eight million people, approximately seven million of whom will be furious when they hear you were in town and didn’t meet them for an expensive dinner, five million furious you didn’t visit their new baby, three million furious you didn’t see their new show, one million furious you didn’t call for sex, but only five actually available to meet you.”

I’ve had a pretty stellar month in reading. Among the highlights: Rules of Civility (the book I’ve been joking I was born to read), The Rules Do Not Apply (a pattern emerges!), I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, and now Less. I was disappointed by Behind Her Eyes, mostly because I found it such a slog to get to the twist ending, a twist that made me want to hurl the book across the room.

Most of my weeknights and weekend have been taken up with editing and submissions, which I need to get back to, no matter how much I’d like to continue with my recreational book today.

Happy Reading!