Tag Archives: Books

A Love Letter to Literature from Guernsey

They say a good book changes you, and I am not the same after reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This wonderfully lyrical book captures the essence of life and love in the most delightfully refreshing format–old-fashioned, hand-written letters. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows crafted a stunningly beautiful love letter to literature and the power of books to feed the human spirit.

As a lover of historical fiction, this book was immediately dear to me. I have a distinct nostalgia for historical fiction, particularly that which is set in England. I suppose this has a lot to do with the fact that I am a hopeless Anglophile. I was prepared to enjoy the book, but what I was not prepared for was to be so captivated and enchanted with the characters to the point that I truly felt they were dear friends of mine. I found myself laughing out loud at their witty exchanges (followed by smirks from my boyfriend), crying along with them at their heartaches, and sighing with satisfaction at their triumphs.

This was my first experience reading a book in letters (which I have recently learned is called an epistolary novel) and now I am desperate to find another one. The honesty and informality of that type of exchange brought to life the exquisiteness of human relationships. I was charmed by the budding relationships between the heroine, Juliet, and each of the members of the literary society. I too felt as though I was forming new bonds with strangers who would become friends. As I discovered the stories of each of these Guernsey residents, I felt them becoming more endeared to me with each letter.

I felt myself discovering the beautiful isle of Guernsey with my witty and instantly lovable tour guide–Juliet, the vibrantly charismatic heroine of the story. The sand squidged between my toes, the cool salty water lapped around my ankles, and the gusty wind billowed through my hair as I explored Guernsey with Juliet. I was delighted as each of  Juliet’s (and my) budding friendships bloomed like the verdant, supple shoots of spring. I was hopelessly won over by the precocious Kit, desperately intrigued by the mysterious Elizabeth, wonderfully charmed by the eccentric Isola, and stubbornly resistant, yet deliciously tempted by the rising inkling of romance with the stoic Dawsey.

My eyes were also opened to a rich history that I had previously not known about–the German occupation of Guernsey. But the presentation of the humanity of that time is something not to be found in a textbook. This exquisite little book shares the impact of war on the human spirit, and the resilience of a community that banded together and clung on to their fragile happiness, faith, and hope by the threads of great literature. Words. Words had the power to sustain them. In the midst of the darkest of times–when their bodies were malnourished, their eyes bearing witness to horrors, their minds filled with worry and dread–their souls were well fed. All due to the inexplicable power of beautiful words.

Books were the only things that gave the society members something to live for, something to find happiness and joy in, something to block out the dark inhumanity that surrounded them. During those unthinkable times when enemy forces pervaded, food was rapidly dwindling, children were sent away from their parents, and the imminent sense of despair hung over the island like a dark cloud–books were the things that they cleaved to to lift their sprits, to remind them of  better times, of light and airiness, of hope. This intricate little society, haphazardly formed, blossomed into the most beautiful family. The bonds of literature that they shared developed into the bonds of friendship and powerful, true, and abiding love for one another.

Literature that can transport you to another time and place accomplishes a stunning feat. For words written on a page to have the power to blur the lines of reality surrounding you and make the fictional world more real to you is what every writer hopes for and what every reader craves. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society unquestionably replaced my living room with the salty smell of sea air, the wartime uncertainty of an occupied island, and the faces of the literary society members valiantly clinging to one another and to the beauty of life within the pages of books. To breathe life into characters and settings so that they leap off the pages at readers is not a simple task, but one that Schaffer and Barrows masterfully achieved. A magnificent book for lovers of literature and of life.

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World Book Night–Igniting the Love of Reading

World Book Night

April 23, 2014 marked the 450th Anniversary of the birth of the immortal bard, William Shakespeare. In celebration and honor of this historic day, volunteers across the globe, myself included, handed out free books to light and non-readers. World Book Night, the organization behind the book giving, is founded on a mission to “spread the love of reading, person to person.” The goal is that each year, on the night of the birth of the most prolific and celebrated writer in the English language, the passion for reading is shared.

As an avid reader and lover of literature, I felt compelled to be a part of this incredible evening. It all began when Carl Lennertz, Executive Director of World Book Night, came to speak at one of my NYU lectures. As soon as he had spoken of the premise of World Book Night I was hooked. I knew instantly that I had to be a part of this movement to inspire others to discover the joy of literature.

I listened with rapt attention and glistening eyes as Carl spoke of an elderly recipient who had never owned a book prior to her World Book Night book. I couldn’t imagine never having owned a book. It was as if someone had knocked the wind out of me when I heard him say that. I was overwhelmed with emotion and with the conviction to be a giver. Hot tears streamed down my face, and I brushed them away as I walked up to meet the man behind the magical night. I gushed about how touched I was by his speech and about how ardently I hoped to be a giver in 2014.

I got my wish, and was selected as a giver for this year’s historic World Book Night. I anxiously awaited April 23rd, carefully planned where I would distribute my books, and reflected on what I would say to the recipients. Yesterday, I printed flyers, recipient letters, bookmarks, and my name tag to designate me as an official book giver. I chose Front Steps Homeless Shelter to give out copies of the legendary Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral.

I spoke passionately to the residents of the mission of World Book Night, of the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, and of the book I was sharing with them. I listened as they shared their thoughts on Agatha Christie and their excitement about reading her book. Willie is one of the residents that I had the pleasure of meeting and sharing After the Funeral with. He is part of Front Steps’ GED program and is their most enthusiastic student. Willie accepted his book with eyes alight, and an eagerness that was almost tangible. I knew that I was sharing one of my favorite authors with a budding reader who would soon come to love her and many more authors with the earnest passion of a book lover.

Books have the incredible ability to nurture the human spirit. It is my hope that Willie and everyone that I shared books with, who are currently enduring such hardships, will get lost in the pages of Christie’s fiction, be captivated by her charismatic characters, and get wrapped up in the weave of her mystery. As I handed out books, I beamed with joy at the knowledge that I was a part of facilitating Willie’s and the other recipients’ reading journey and hopefully sparking an inextinguishable and lifelong passion for reading.

Willie and I

To be able to share the gift of reading with others is an earnest desire of mine as both a reader and a publishing professional. World Book Night gives volunteers across the world an avenue to channel their passion for books to inspire a new generation of readers. To the authors who waive their royalties, the publishers who fund the printing of special World Book Night editions of the books, the bookstores and libraries that volunteer to host givers, and to the staff at World Book Night–thank you for this glorious opportunity to bring books into the lives of those who have yet to discover how important they will become to them.

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Patterson’s Promise to Champion Books Comes Full Circle

In my very first blog post, Chasing the Dream, I wrote about James Patterson’s earnest ad in Publishers Weekly calling attention to the decline of books. “Who will save our books? Our bookstores? Our libraries?” he charged readers to harken. I was warmed by the thought that a bestselling author of Patterson’s stature was raising his voice to champion books and the brick-and-mortar locations in which readers access them. Despite the convenience and success of online retailers and e-books, there is something unmistakably exquisite about the experience of walking into a bookstore or library and walking out with a printed book that cannot be replicated. This experience is something that should not fade into the past, and that is what Patterson is fighting against.

For the publishing industry to truly thrive, I think that the relationships between all parties involved must become reciprocal. Patterson is working towards that reciprocity and has made good on his promise to be a voice for books and bookstores. In 2014, he has pledged to give away $1 million in grants to independent bookstores in his $1 Million Indie Bookstore Campaign. Patterson has seen much success in the industry, and now he is giving back to the stores that were a part of making that success possible.

In speaking about his generous grants, Patterson says, “It’s as easy as putting on half a page of paper what you need to do. It’s not like applying to Harvard. It’s not difficult, and there’s no catch. We want to be inundated.” Patterson’s words speak of an advocate for books and reading that we are in desperate need of. In the first round of grants, Patterson gave out more than $267,000 to 55 indie bookstores across the U.S. These bookstores were chosen based on their reputation for making a difference in their local communities and for the merit of their ideas that will positively impact their readers. This effort is motivated by Patterson’s desire to pave the path for the next generation of readers. These grants will aid indie bookstores to make improvements and implement programs that will ultimately promote the revitalization of bookstore traffic and avid readership that begins in childhood.

BookPeople in Austin, Texas, my local independent bookstore, is one of the 55 indies that was selected and I couldn’t be more happy or proud. They will be using their grant to fund their book-based curriculum enhancement program in partnership with local authors and Austin Independent School District. As a loyal customer of Book People, and frequent attendant at their author talks, I am so pleased to know that Mr. Patterson selected them as a recipient. They truly are a beacon for literature in my local community and this grant will allow them to provide even more wonderful programs for children.

I too am holding fast to my promise to be a voice for books that refuses to be quelled. Later this month, on  April 23rd–in celebration of the birthday of the most eloquent, lasting, prolific, and valiant champion of the written word, the Great William Shakespeare–I will join thousands of other volunteers around the globe in World Book Night’s effort to spread the love of reading, person to person.

When World Book Night’s Executive Director, Carl Lennertz, came to speak at an NYU seminar I was spellbound. He spoke so passionately of the program’s efforts to get books into the hands of light and non-readers across the world. I was moved to tears when I heard the story of elderly people who had never owned a book prior to the book that a World Book Night volunteer gave them. The thought of never holding a book in my hands, lovingly caressing the spine, thumbing though the pages, breathing in that glorious inky scent, and knowing that the author’s world that lay within was mine to be enveloped in nearly broke my heart. It was in that moment that I knew that I had to be a book giver, and it is with delighted anticipation that I await the day that I too will be able to give the incomparable gift of books and inspire a love of reading in others.

Publishers, authors, bookstores–chains and indies alike–and even readers themselves must all work to support one another in order to achieve their shared goal of getting books into the hands of as many people as possible. The written word and its power to shape the minds and lives of readers is the thread of connectivity that binds each member of the publishing wheel. If each could keep that thought as the driving force behind all their actions, then they would be more likely to work in harmonious synchronicity towards a world where the status of books never wavers and readers’ love for them never falters.

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The Future of Publishing

The publishing industry is one that is constantly changing and evolving, in many cases within the briefest span of time. Industry professionals just get acquainted with one new digital introduction only to be presented with another. This fast-paced industry is now dictated by the alacrity of technological developments and the demands that creates from readers.

As a marketing professional in book publishing it is crucial that I remain on top of all the changes occurring in the space in order to best equip my authors with new and innovative ways to engage with readers. The digital impact on book publishing is an exciting challenge that keeps us all on our toes, working to connect authors with readers in the new and shifting ways they want to be connected with.

At the Fifth Annual Digital Book World conference, the transformation of the industry and the shift of power to one dominant agent in the marketplace was a hot topic of conversation according to Publishers Weekly. Digital media, self-publishing, Print On Demand, and the outcome of the Apple DOJ case were all sited as major shifts within the industry. These factors have all drastically changed the publishing landscape and impacted the ongoing redefinition of the book. Publishers are carefully contemplating dipping their toes into the waters of new digital changes, such as bundling packages and subscription services. There is also a new trend towards publishers taking a page from Amazon’s direct to consumer e-commerce book.

Though many are still carefully weighing taking part in these emerging digital trends, early adopters are seeing great returns. Publishers must band together to keep our voice a present, fresh, and valuable asset to authors in a constantly shifting industry. We must make changes to evolve with our readers and let go of the mantle of the past. This is the only way to compete with a force that has a monopoly in the market.

Technological innovations can at times seem a thorn in the side of publishers, but I look at them as a catalyst that ups the ante on the services we can bring to authors. They do not have to be seen as factors that make publishers antiquarian or even obsolete. Instead, we simply must change our tactics to keep pace and illustrate that though the face of the industry is changing, publishers are still an essential component to both the publication of books and the fostering of connections between authors and readers. After all, we are part of an industry founded on creativity and imagination so it is only fitting that we as publishing professionals are being charged to put ours to the test.

In this dizzying whirlwind of technological change, there is one thing that has always and will always remain a constant–the readers. The future of publishing may have many twists and turns, up and downs, but what will never change is that it will always lie in the hands of the readers. As publishers it is our job to ensure that we continue to connect with them, to reach them on that very personal level, and to foster their love of the written word–whatever form it may come in.

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Building a Generation of Book Lovers

I have been thinking a lot about children’s literature lately. As I prepare to begin my journey into a career in publishing I have been contemplating the critical role that children play in the future of publishing.

Playstations. Xboxes. Game Cubes. Tablets. Smart Phones. With the abundance of digital game centers kids are becoming increasingly less apt to choose a book over a game. The simple pleasure of discovering the twists and turns of the plot, befriending the characters, and getting lost in a new and exciting world seems to be foreign to many children.

A recent study by commissioned by the National Reading Campaign in Canada, authored by Sharon Murphy, indicated that choice was a “key factor in instilling a love of reading.” The report’s primary aim was to uncover the factors that promote a nation of people who love to read as opposed to simply a literate nation.

The research touched on numerous telling aspects about children’s engagement in reading and the effect of gender, age, choice of content, and reading environment on the amount of pleasure derived from reading. The most compelling finding was that even those children who identified themselves as frequent readers would not read texts other than those that were assigned to them. This indicates that the way in which reading is being taught in schools is actually stifling children’s enjoyment of reading.

If given the choice of the types of book they would like to read, children will be much more receptive to reading as an act of pleasure as opposed to a mandatory chore. Children in the study also positively responded to a change in environment. When taken out of the formal setting of the classroom and put into a more “comfy” setting the children became much more social, comfortable, and confident in themselves and in the opinions about what they had read.

I was read to as a child and know the importance that foundation in reading has played in my life as both an avid reader and writer. Fostering the love of books in children is something that I believe is critical, especially now that our world is becoming so increasingly focused on the digital sphere. In order to get children to become active and engaged readers, we must carefully nurture the love of reading from an early age. I believe that the future of publishing is strongly dependent upon instilling our children with a love of reading that will carry through into adulthood. Empower your children–give them the wonderful gift of the joy of reading.

Check out the full details of the study on Publishers Weekly.

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