I used to regularly include updates of the books I’m reading on this blog, until I had some people complain that my personal reading habits weren’t that helpful to their writing careers. So I stopped doing it, and I’ve found I have missed talking about the various titles I’ve read, and being able to discuss books with readers books we liked or disliked. So when I received an email over the weekend that asked, “So what have you been reading lately?” I thought it was time to chat about some of the best and worst of the past few months. (Be warned: I’m a binge reader. I read a LOT in my job as a literary agent, and sometimes I’ll get on a roll and need to read several books on a topic. So maybe you won’t find all of this helpful, but at least you’ll know what an agent is reading — and I’ll encourage you to drop by the “comments” section at the bottom and tell me what YOU’VE been reading.)
-Over the past six months, I read a bunch of Malcolm Gladwell titles. I re-read Blink, Outliers, and The Tipping Point, then read David and Goliath. He’s one of those writers I always find interesting, and one of the few I feel I can go back and re-read without being bored. I learn a lot from Gladwell, and he causes me to think in new ways.
-In a flurry of reading on art forgery, I read several titles: Provenance, The Rescue Artist, The Art of the Con, Stealing Rembrandts, Caveat Emptor, Priceless, and Art of the Deal (the Horowitz version, not the Donald Trump version… though I suppose that book also touches on con men). I thought Priceless was great, Provenance was interesting, Caveat Emptor was awful, and the others fell somewhere in between. If you want to learn about a subject, reading a half-dozen books on the topic is a great start. And, um, I have a Picasso to sell you, if you’re interested.
-As usual, I loved reading memoir. I thought Patti Smith’s Just Kids was overrated, no matter how many times people in New York tell me she’s deep and Robert Mapplethorpe a misunderstood genius. Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me was cute but just okay, Amy Poehler’s Yes Please was entertaining, Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy was fabulous (she always makes me laugh out loud while reading in public), Jennifer Tress’ You’re Not Pretty Enough had the promise of greatness but never achieved it, and the Busby’s The Year we Disappeared was a total snoozer. I re-read Jennifer Lauck’s Blackbird and was reminded again what a great writer she is (and she lives here in Oregon). I got a kick out of Waylon: Tales of My Outlaw Dad and was deeply moved by Ruth Everhart’s Ruined, a couple titles I represented. Ruined is one of the best books I’ve read all year, and if you don’t know about it, you should check it out. Would love to know the best memoirs you’ve read and enjoyed.
-I also love narrative nonfiction, and found some interesting titles. The Other Wes Moore is the story of two guys who grew up blocks from each other, had the same name, and wound up with entirely different lives because of race and opportunity. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is essentially the same story, told by the main character’s college roommate, and with the twist of having the lead character rise from poverty to attend Yale before slipping back into his old neighborhood. Both books are interesting reading that offer some insight into race and privilege in American culture. I also read Marina Keegan’s The Opposite of Loneliness — good grief what a talent she was! It hurts me to think she died at 21; we lost a wonderful writer far too soon. I finally read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which had been sitting on my reading shelf for a couple years, and loved it. I also liked the Fainarus’ League of Denial, about the research into head injuries in the NFL, enjoyed Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief very much, but thought Daniel Poole’s What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew was pretty dull. As narrative goes, I thought the best book I’ve read in the genre this year was The Boys in the Boat, which sounds like it should be dull (“a bunch of college guys go out for crew at the University of Washington in the 1930’s”) but is a wonderful, insightful read.
-Yeah, I read some fiction. I thought both All the Light We Cannot See and The Book Thief were brilliant novels, but found Paula Hawkins’ million-selling The Girl on the Train pretty predictable, and thought the normally-wonderful Isabel Allende’s Ripper was, in a word, terrible. I went back to read Raymond Carver’s What we talk about when we talk about Love, and was glad I did — that man can tell a story. And I really enjoyed Mindy Clark and Leslie Gould’s My Brother’s Crown and Susan Meissner’s Secrets of a Charmed Life (and, to be fair, I should mention I represent those last two titles).
-Finally, in the “catch-all” column… I re-read Lawrence Ritter’s history of the early days of baseball, The Glory of their Times, and remembered how much I’d liked it when it first came out years ago. Read Henry Cloud’s Necessary Endings — one of those business books that has two chapters of really good material stretched out over twelve chapters of text. And finally got through Michael Regele’s fascinating story of discovering his daughter is gay, Science, Scripture, and Same-Sex Marriage. (You won’t agree with everything he says, and he could certainly have been more concise, but he makes some good arguments. And, for some odd reason, this book has been yanked, so it’s not available at all any more. No idea why.)
Of course, I read other things that were created by the authors I represent, and manuscripts they are turning in, but I don’t want to fill up my list with stuff that sounds like a commercial. (I realize I get a small piece of those books, so recommending too many of them would be self-serving. So I could recommend you check out books from Davis Bunn or Rachel Hauck or Vince Zandri or a couple dozen others, but I won’t…)
So that’s my list for 2016 so far. (Well… it includes the reading I did on Christmas break, after I had shoulder surgery and could just lay around and read.) Now here’s my question for you: What are you reading that you want to recommend to me? I’d love to know the best (and worst) books you’ve read this year. Thanks — and thanks to Dan for asking me that question in the first place!