Sunday, April 8- Rules of Civility

Good morning!

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Here is my book: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Here is my breakfast: croissant and coffee

In our last installment, I was reading Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, which I highly recommend. I don’t want to spoil the novel, but as the end neared, I realized just how much I had become invested not only in these characters lives, but in their happiness, which hasn’t happened to me in some time.

Recently, in my submissions pile, I’ve been finishing full manuscripts to realize I don’t have “that feeling.” I don’t want to talk to someone immediately about it, I don’t feel my heart race, I don’t think “I need this book now.” It’s the reading equivalent of a shrug–and a shrug isn’t enough to acquire a book. It’s disappointing, but I’m optimistic something that makes me feel bright and shiny and awed and jumpy will come around soon.

You know those books that are just pure magic? The ones where you read one sentence and know that you’re in. The ones that make your heart flutter and your eyes linger over a single page. The book you’re convinced was written just for you?

Well, that’s how I feel about Rules of Civility. Except I’ve taken it a step further: this book wasn’t just written for me; I was born to read this book. After many years staring at and referencing this cover, I finally bought myself a copy. (Whoever recommended this to me about two weeks ago, please make yourself known! It gave me the push I needed.) This does have an exemplary cover. It tells you everything you need to know: sophisticated, aspirational, slyly sexy historical fiction. And the inside delivers.

I will probably have much more to say about it soon, but for now I’m savoring each word.

Sunday, March 25

Good morning! It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these.

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Here is my book: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

And here is my breakfast: Coffee (and baguette, not pictured, from Eric Kayser)

I’ve had this ARC of The Miniaturist since 2014 or 2015, swiped from the free take shelf at work. I remember thinking it was such a prize. I don’t often keep books from the take shelf around for long; if I haven’t read them or added them to my home collection within a couple months, I usually put them back. I have enough unread material at home and a pipeline of submissions on my iPad to keep me reading until the world ends.

But I love this cover so much, I couldn’t bear to get rid of it. I was going to read it someday, I promised myself. Because who wouldn’t love a novel about a dollhouse during the Dutch Golden Age? I’ve never been to The Netherlands, but I’ve armchair traveled there plenty (The Girl with the Pearl Earring, The Goldfinch–just putting those in the same sentence makes me laugh!).

I’ve been reading a lot of great historical fiction on submission recently, which makes me wonder if a renaissance is on its way (pun intended). Much of it has been set in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries, all with a mystery or thriller component. World War II fiction has dominated for the past several years, and the rest of the historical fiction market has stagnated. I think fondly of the authors I read as a teenager–Sarah Dunant, Tracy Chevalier–and the historical thriller period I went through– The Rule of Four, The Shadow of the Wind–and wonder if those books would have found their audience today. I hope that the great rash of submissions in the category means that great writers and readers have renewed their appetites for these kinds of books. I’m certainly ready.

In the meantime, I’ll be savoring The Miniaturst.

Happy Reading!

The Exterminating Angel and Bel Canto

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On Friday, I went to see The Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel. I was initially a little nervous. The Met performs a contemporary opera each year, and although I love trying new works, the results tend to be controversial. Some of that could be ascribed to the older audience and some of that could be due to the (possibly outsize) expectations for each new production.

I did (some of) my homework before I went. The production received a rave in the New York Times. I read about the unusual instruments in the orchestra and watched all of the promotional videos. I studied the Wikipedia page for the source material, Buñuel’s surrealist film of the same name. The only thing I didn’t do was watch the film itself.

Some friends who went to the dress rehearsal warned me that they had had trouble distinguishing between some of the characters, which was helpful to know so that I could pay greater attention to it.

I bought a ticket through the Fridays Under 40 initiative once I realized that I wouldn’t be able to make the performance date I had previously planned to attend (Nov. 7). I’ve been to a few Fridays Under 40 before, and I enjoy them. Although I’m more accustomed to the Young Associates evenings (friends! prosecco! fellow opera lovers!), Fridays Under 40 has given me the chance to introduce a number of my friends to opera, and the pre-performance talks and demonstrations are always interesting. In this case, members of the Met Orchestra came by to play and discuss some of the unusual instruments used in the show, including—but not limited to—a slamming door, 1/32 size violins, and the Wagner tuba. (I have a feeling I’ll force everyone at the office to listen to a portion of Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze” played on the tiny violins.)

I knew also from articles and the pre-show talk that repetition is an important part of the opera. I’d never before seen the sputnik chandeliers inside the hall lowered and raised as part of the production itself, which was a real treat. It helped to have the repeated portions obviously signaled.

Although I don’t want to delve too deeply into the production here, I greatly enjoyed it. Best of all, no one told me it was funny. Not just comic opera (it’s certainly not a comedy), but laugh-out-loud funny.

The crux of the plot is this: after an evening at the opera, a group (including an opera star, a pianist, a conductor, a doctor, a colonel, and assorted others) attends a dinner party at the home of their hosts. The servants all mysteriously flee as the dinner begins. And as the night wears on, the guests realize that they cannot leave. Some strange force keeps them from crossing the threshold of the drawing room. While Acts I and II take place over the first two nights, Act III takes place two weeks later, as the group has descended into illness and madness, and as those on the outside try to find a way into the house.

As I watched the beginning two acts and then at intermission, I couldn’t help but think of Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto. Bel Canto is one of those books that flits in and out of my awareness on a fairly regular basis. After all, it combines two of my great loves: books and opera. I think of it often while at The Met, but never has it seemed so relevant as it was when I watched The Exterminating Angel.

The initial premise is similar: a large group of diplomats, businessmen, and other guests gather in an unnamed South American country to celebrate the birthday of a Japanese businessman the country wants to convince to build factories to boost economic development. The businessman only agrees to attend because the country has hired his favorite opera singer to perform. As the opera star’s performance ends, the house (the residence of the vice president) is overtaken by a group of terrorists, and all of the guests are taken hostage.

Both parties are trapped, one force more obvious than the other. Both of these works, though, are about what unfolds between people when unable to leave. People fall in love, they grow mad, they rely on one another to ensure their survival.

I can’t remember exactly when I read Bel Canto; my best guess is around my freshman year of college (likely the summer before or after). All I know is that the book had been sitting on my shelf for a couple years at that point. My parents had purchased it at the end of one school year. It seemed made for me—all about opera and language. But I’m sometimes resistant to things that I will likely love (see: Crazy Rich Asians; also, if I had a therapist, this would really be something to unpack in therapy) and so I let it languish until I found the urge to pick it up.

After the opera, I came home and plucked the novel from my shelf, determined to reread it. I turned it over, pages facing toward me, to find them dog-eared.

I have a thing about making notes in books—namely, I don’t do it. Sometime when I was a teenager, I got it in my head that making notes, highlighting, or underlining is disrespectful to a writer’s work. It seems a little silly, but I’ve stuck by it for all these years. Instead, if I find a line I love and want to remember (usually to add to my quote book), I dog-ear the page to come back to it.

Except that in the case of Bel Canto, I never came back to it. No quotes from Bel Canto appear in my quote book; I only have dog-eared pages.

It was fun, going back and scanning the pages I’d noted. I wanted to see if I could pick out the lines that had resonated with me some five to eight years ago, and in some cases, I found the lines right away. They struck me now as clearly as they did then.

For example:

“Gen, in his genius for languages, was often at a loss for what to say when left only with his words.”

or

“‘People love each other for all sorts of different reasons,’ Roxane said, her lack of Spanish keeping her innocent of the conversation, slow-roasted guinea pigs on a spit. ‘Most of the time we’re loved for what we can do rather than for who we are. It’s not such a bad thing, being loved for what you can do.'”

But there were other pages turned down for reasons I couldn’t parse. Sometimes I thought I could pick out which line, but not why it felt important to me at the time. That’s part of the beauty, I think, of rereading. I’m a little glad these quotes never made it into my book, because I get to test my theory: do the things that resonated with me years ago still resonate when I don’t read them again on a regular basis?

I guess the answer is sometimes.

In any case, I’m glad to be rereading Bel Canto, which is even more beautiful than I remember it being. And I’m immensely grateful I took a chance on The Exterminating Angel, which I think will stick with me for some time.

 

 

A Monday Breakfast: October 16, 2017

Good morning!

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Here is my book: The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

Here is my breakfast: Maple bacon biscuit (c/o Huckleberry cookbook) and coffee

It’s been an awfully long time since I’ve done one of these, and today I’m coming forward with a special Monday edition.

I’ve had an ARC of The Wangs vs. the World for a while now, but hadn’t cracked it. After getting sucked into Crazy Rich Asians, though, I decided I needed more in the same vein. The cover of the ARC and hardcover (the paperback cover is different) long perplexed me; I couldn’t figure out what it was supposed to represent, and I always believe that a cover should give you some indication of the story. I was about 20 pages in when the realization hit me–the Wangs made (and lost) their money manufacturing cosmetics; the dots on the cover represent lipstick swatches. I only wish I had known that from the outset! I would have thought it was terribly clever.

Now that fall submissions season is slowing down, I hope to get back to my regularly scheduled programming (reading recreationally) and posting here. In the meantime, you can follow some of my reads on Instagram. 

An (Overdue) BookExpo TBR

BookExpo happened two months ago, but it’s still fresh in my mind thanks to my recent reading choices. For those who don’t follow New York publishing as closely as some people track, say, baseball stats or college football rankings, BookExpo has become the industry’s de facto trade show. It highlights fall books, the publication season for many publishing heavyweights–particularly in literary fiction–and buzzworthy debuts.

BookExpo (and I struggle here not to use its old abbreviation, BEA) has become something of a phenomenon, particularly since the addition of BookCon, a consumer-facing weekend for fans. Bloggers, media professionals, and publishing professionals now compete alongside librarians, booksellers, and distributors for advance editions of coveted fall titles. It’s become, well, something of a circus.

Last year, BookExpo occurred in Chicago, and I missed the opportunity to go. But I made it to Javits the previous two years to attend for a few limited hours. This year I had my own badge, and so I decided to take advantage of it.

BookExpo is best experienced with a plan. If your goal is to accumulate books, you need to find out when signings and giveaways will occur, some of which can be found online in the days leading up to the show (I had located some dates/times for giveaways from sources like Publishers Weekly, then found a helpful Google doc a couple days before the show). I mapped out a game plan the night before the show started. I printed out a list of giveaways and signings, highlighted the ones I was interested in, found dates and times, and arranged them all in a color-coded Google doc. Since many happened at the same times, I bolded my priority titles.

This year, I decided, I would only get books I really wanted to read. It didn’t exactly work out that way, but I managed to snag copies of almost every ARC I set out to get.

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A peek at some of my ARCs on Instagram @breakfastatkaits

Here’s what I’m looking forward to reading (asterisks denote that I’ve already read):

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng*

I loved Everything I Never Told You, so I had high hopes for this one. It did not disappoint. Celeste Ng is a master of complicated mother/daughter dynamics. (Side note: my signed copy was swiped from our editor-in-chiefs desk, and I am devastated.)

Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss*

If anyone else has read this yet, I’m eager to discuss!

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan*

Fine, I didn’t actually acquire this one at BookExpo, but I’m obsessed. I don’t think anyone else can construct a narrative like Jennifer Egan, and my investment in some of these characters caught me off guard. I admire the risks she takes with every book–especially her fearlessness in taking on something new, like historical fiction.

Sourdough by Robin Sloan*

This has all the hallmarks of his debut novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: quirky characters, futuristic technology, cult-like groups of those with narrow interest. Set again in the tech scene of San Francisco, Sourdough was a delightful read that had me constantly Googling the latest in food tech. Also, it’s inspired me to find a San Francisco-worthy sourdough loaf in New York.

The Misfortune of Marion Palm by Emily Culliton*

I just finished this today, so still processing my thoughts about it, but this is a perfect read for people who loved Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

Code Girls by Liza Mundy

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin

The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson

Buzz Books:

The Buzz Panel, which usually occurs Wednesday afternoon for adult fiction, has become something of a tastemaker. Every year, six books–usually a mix of fiction and non-fiction, although all fiction this year–are selected as buzzworthy titles. They are presented by their editors. The only requirement is that the author not be well-known, which means that many are debuts. They often include some of the year’s biggest breakouts (Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven or Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood, for instance). At the end of the Buzz Panel presentation, attendees can grab advance copies (if you can fight your way through the sea of people). I managed to get all six books this year.

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Buzz Panel books on Instagram @breakfastatkaits

Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

The World of Tomorrow by Brendan Matthews

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

If you want to read/are reading/have read any of these, please let me know!

Books and Breakfast: Sunday, March 26

Good morning!

It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these.

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Here are my books: The Guineveres by Sarah Domet and Bleaker House by Nell Stevens

Here is my breakfast: homemade hash brows and sausage; coffee (obviously)

This blog is like my journal in a lot of ways: I always say I’m going to write in it, then I don’t. I come up with ideas I forget to jot down. And then I’m always surprised that it’s been so long.

Instead of New Year’s resolutions, I come up with birthday resolutions. I’m on my (gulp) 26 at 26. And one of the major items on that list is to come up with a more consistent posting strategy for this blog. So hopefully you’ll see me hanging out here a bit more.

I’m working my way through two books right now (see above). Bleaker House is mostly a memoir of a young woman who spends several months on Bleaker Island in the Falklands to work on a novel. The memoir is interspersed with short stories and excerpts from the aforementioned novel, which I really enjoy in context. A coworker and I had both received books in the mail on Wednesday and swapped. At first I was a little miffed because Bleaker Island is about 700 miles from Antarctica, and I have a longstanding semi-joke that I’m going to find a publisher for a memoir about moving to a French base in Antarctica (to be funded with the advance). But the writing is beautiful and the characters are vivid, and now I just want to go visit the Falklands.

I first read part of The Guineveres on submission, and I’m excited to read the full novel in its final form. The book follows four girls named Guinevere at a convent. I’m not far into it, but it’s drawn comparisons The Virgin Suicides (one of my favorite books), and the cover is gorgeous. You can’t tell here, but the strands of hair are embossed, and I keep running my fingers over the jacket.

Happy Sunday!

 

The Joys of a Bookstore

New year, new posts!

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The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles

After a rather lackluster few months, I’m back. And excited to share what I’ve been reading.

I’ve been in a bit of a book slump. Nothing was holding my attention. It’s not that I wasn’t reading– I was doing plenty of that for work– it’s that I couldn’t work up the enthusiasm I usually have for recreational reading.

Because I believe very strongly in recreational reading. I chose to work in publishing because I love to read and share books. If I’m not doing that, then what’s the point? (Because the pay certainly isn’t.)

In early December, I was rooting around for some comp titles for an acquisition, and I kept coming back to two books: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. I hadn’t read either, but after scouring online descriptions, reviews, and those first chapter previews on Amazon, they seemed like the right fit. So I added them to the list. On a trip to L.A.’s The Last Bookstore the next week, I spotted both on the shelves and purchased them.

Turns out, they were just what I needed.

I’m going to be writing about both novels later, but the two books have reminded me of the joy of bookstores and the power of finding exactly the right book at the right time. I know that serendipity has changed my life. The influence of the right book at the right time remains a constant for me, but as I’ve noticed over the past few years, bookstores have changed for me.

I have loved bookstores all my life. Hours spent at Bookstar in Studio City, at Vroman’s in Pasadena, at the late Portrait of a Bookstore tucked into Aroma, at Bart’s Books in Ojai. Lately, it’s been McNally Jackson, Shakespeare & Company, and The Last Bookstore.

Bookstores represented the thrill of discovery. I will never forget waiting in line for the next Harry Potter book, wondering what would happen next. I still remember exactly where I was standing when I picked up Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian (the Barnes & Noble at San Francisco’s Union Square). I can still tell you about the shelf talkers at Vroman’s.

I love bookstores for the opportunity to discover something new. But lately, that something new has become more elusive. I work with books every day, I flip through Publishers Weekly every Monday, I read Shelf Awareness on an almost daily basis. As a result, I know of most books– especially the books most likely to capture my attention– before they even come out. When I go to a bookstore, I see the same books that have been circling my mind for months.

There are some bookstores that reliably turn up something novel (pun intended). McNally Jackson does an exquisite job of mixing popular reads with gems from smaller presses. I remain impressed by their fiction organization by country and region, which gives greater voice to underrepresented works in translation. I know I won’t see the same 50 books face-out that I always do there.

I get my thrill of discovery these days somewhere else: my inbox. It’s hard to begrudge that. Nothing makes me happier than reading a submission and getting that feeling– a flutter in my chest, a tapping in my feet. I call it “getting hoppy.” I get so excited I (literally) bounce through the office, and I pop into people’s offices because I just have to tell someone about what I’m reading.

And sometimes, if I’m lucky, I get to see finished copies in a bookstore– the kind where I did and still do browse. Because even in a digital world, bookstores are still magic. The right ones lead you to the right book; sometimes one you didn’t know you needed.

And in 2017, we need that more than ever.

Two Great Books, One Bad Reading Month

The Disappearing Spoon and Attachments

I managed to read two recreational books in October. Which is both tough to admit and deserving of some slack. Ask me how many pages I read for work in that same period! It was a lot.

In short, The Disappearing Spoon took me about three weeks to finish. Attachments took me one day. Welcome to my reading life.

The books couldn’t be more different.

I read Sam Kean’s excellent The Violinist’s Thumb a few years ago. Genetics is a pet interest of mine, and I found the book delightful and engaging. It took me a couple years to get to The Disappearing Spoon. I had a bad experience with chemistry in high school, which squelched any possible affinity for the subject. But The Disappearing Spoon made chemistry interesting. Kean has a great way of drawing out personalities and making them fit together into a coherent narrative. The book is full of surprising anecdotes, and he explains science in a way that makes it accessible to the layperson (i.e., me). I’m by no means an expert, but I feel like I’ve made up at least a little of my embarrassing lack of chemistry knowledge.

A couple weeks ago, I was hanging out in a coworker’s office on a Friday afternoon and spotted a copy of Attachments on her shelf. I asked if I could borrow it. I’ve read most of Rainbow Rowell’s books– Eleanor & Park, Fangirl, and Landline— but I hadn’t yet made it to her debut adult novel, Attachments.

I read it in one gulp on Saturday. A lot of novels dealing with multiple forms of media and formal techniques (in this case, emails) get bogged down in replicating the exact format. (To; From; Time Sent; Subject; from latest to first message) Attachments did away with that. In fact, the conversations appeared more like instant messages more than emails. Despite taking place around Y2K, it feels remarkably fresh.

The story revolves around Lincoln, the IT guy assigned to read the emails of reporters at a local newspaper. Beth, a movie critic, and Jennifer, a copyeditor, send a lot of personal emails to one another, which get caught in the company filters. Lincoln is supposed to send them a warning, but he doesn’t. Instead, he finds himself looking forward to reading their notes to one another and realizes he’s developing feelings for Beth.

My dad once asked me what the equivalent of a “rom-com” was in books; well, this is it. I loved every second of it.

At times, Lincoln seems a little too good to be true; but so do all of Rainbow Rowell’s male leads. But if you follow her on Twitter (which I recommend) and have seen the incredible creations (culinary, craft, horological) of her husband, can you really blame her?