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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Books for a Long Plane Ride

An old friend texted me out of the blue a few weeks ago. We live in different cities, so we don’t see each other often, but last summer we were both in New York for several months, and I lent her some of my favorite recent reads. A month ago, she was traveling and had several long plane rides. She liked my recommendations last summer, did I have any more for her?

I tried to keep my reads within the last year (with an exception for a series). And two books that I recently read and wanted to recommend aren’t yet out, but are listed below.

EDUCATED by Tara Westover- This memoir had been on my radar for a while before it was released in February, and I’d heard from a number of readers I trust that it was a gripping read. The general premise is almost hard to believe–a young woman from a survivalist family in Idaho, whose homeschooled education has been largely ignored, teaches herself enough math, science, and English to take the SAT and get into BYU. From there, she goes on to get graduate degrees from Harvard and Cambridge while struggling to reconcile her new intellectual life with her upbringing. I found the latter half–her (fraught) assimilation into higher education–most interesting, but Westover’s writing about the rural landscape around her and the complicated dynamics of her family is worth the read alone.

THE IMMORTALISTS by Chloe Benjamin- I read this over my holiday break–another book that had been on my radar for a long time. Another startling premise (this one fictional): four siblings visit a fortune teller on the Lower East Side and learn the dates they will die, with huge implications for how they live their lives. I fell hard for the Golds. Simon and Klara, the youngest siblings, move to San Francisco in the ’80s and find work as a dancer and magician, respectively. The elder two siblings, Daniel and Varya, finds respectable jobs in science. I was most drawn to Simon and Klara, younger and more vivid in the novel itself, but I wonder if that’s more a symptom of my age and experience than anything else. This is a spellbinding novel about fate, purpose, and how to live a meaningful, engaged life, whether or not you know exactly how much time you have.

ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman- The joy in this novel is in how it all unfolds for the reader. I have to confess to have mixed feelings about this one; I loved it all the way until the end, when one twist made me throw the book across the room. But the read was good enough to make it on here. It’s hard to talk about this book without giving much away; Eleanor Oliphant lives a very ordinary, solitary life (with the exception of phone calls from her “mummy”), that is never better than “fine,” until she falls in love with a musician who doesn’t know she exists and meets a new friend from IT. The plot doesn’t sound like a page-turner until you realize that the real story is Eleanor’s mysterious past. I had some doubts until I got about 40 pages in, and it slowly dawned on me–oh, this is going to be messed* up.

*Fine, I used a different term, but my parents read this blog

CRAZY RICH ASIANS Series by Kevin Kwan- My CRAZY RICH ASIANS (and CHINA RICH GIRLFRIEND and RICH PEOPLE PROBLEMS) obsession has been well documented on this blog. These books are perfect plane fare: funny, smart, jet-setting. They’re not slim tomes, so one volume might last you one cross-country flight, but if you’re headed to Asia, I’d go ahead and bring the whole set.

BONUS: The two books I wanted to recommend but are not yet out:

THE LOST QUEEN by Signe Pike (pub date: Sept. 4, 2018): Full disclosure, I work on this one, and when I describe it to people I always start out the same way: Did you know that Merlin of Arthurian legend had a twin sister? This is historical fiction set in sixth century Scotland–I time I’ll admit I’m not particularly passionate about, except here–about Languoreth, the twin sister of the man who served as the historical inspiration for Merlin. The children of a powerful chieftain, Languoreth went on to become a powerful queen in her own life, but has gone mostly unnoticed in history.

SOCIAL CREATURE by Tara Isabella Burton (pub date: June 5, 2018): I’ve been recommending this book to almost everyone in New York. Pitched as a Mr. Ripley for the digital age, it delivers exactly that. It’s effervescent, beguiling, almost aspirational until it isn’t. The New York references (some lightly disguised) make you feel like you’re in on some inside joke. It’s unlike anything else I’ve read recently.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

I’ve been in something of a reading slump this fall, and I was counting on my winter vacation to pull me out of it. The last novel I read I had loved–until I got to the last five pages, when a late (unnecessary) plot twist had me ranting for days. But that’s a different book.

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The Immortalists at The Magic Castle

The Immortalists had been sitting on my shelf since BEA way back in June, and by the time I reached the end, I wondered why I waited so long. (But a note of warning: reading on an airplane while trying not to cry is perhaps not the best place.)

The setup requires you to suspend disbelief for a while, but it’s simple enough. Four siblings, ranging from ages 7 to 13, visit a fortune teller and learn the day that each will die. From there the story spins off into four parts, following each of the Gold siblings as their lives diverge and intersect in places you might not have expected. The narrative runs chronologically from 1978 to the present day, but so much of it feels timeless. But the big questions always have a way of feeling present, don’t they? This is a novel about how we live our lives in the face of inevitable loss; about how we tether ourselves to our families; and how we grapple with knowledge we’d rather just forget.

I was most drawn in by Simon and Klara, the two youngest siblings, who narrate the first half of the novel. Creative, unconventional free spirits, I thought they made for the most intriguing characters. Once I finished, though, I wondered if I might identify more with Daniel or Varya if I read this at a different point in my life. That’s some of the magic of this novel.

And speaking of magic–as a longtime lover of magic, having spent many evenings at The Magic Castle–I’m a sucker for a novel about magicians. Klara begins as a close up and parlor magician, but makes her name as a mentalist, specializing in a trick called Second Sight (which I’ve seen done at The Magic Castle), which she and her partner perform by using synchronized counting. Her narrative offers some of my favorite passages in the book, including this one:

“Most adults claim not to believe in magic, but Klara knows better. Why else would anyone play at permanence–fall in love, have children, buy a house–the the face of all evidence there’s no such thing? The trick is not to convert them. The trick is to get them to admit it.”

But the magic in this book, like so many books I love, is in the telling. It’s perfect for those who love a family saga, nuanced characters, and an elegant structure. It’s the “what if” that matters here–what if the psychic was right?