9780399170676The problem with GMOs and their accompanying pesticides, as I explain in my new book, Modified, is that they are invisible. Borrowing language from my five-year-old son, I call them “Invisible Monsters.”

I write, “After all, we are creating, growing, and eating things to which we’ve given characteristics that are undetectable to our naked eyes and discerning noses—and for that matter, to the eyes and noses of birds, deer, butterflies, and raccoons, too.” (While researching this book, I learned that butterflies can smell, too!)

With all of the news of various invisible monsters lurking in our food containers, water supplies and air, weeding out the various toxins can feel overwhelming to any mother, any parent, any person, honestly. My friend Jodi tells me she feels like she’s on a hamster wheel all the time, always learning new information that undoes something she learned previously.

However, in my time researching Modified and talking to scientists, farmers, pediatricians, allergists and general practitioners, I did learn a few things you can do to keep your family clean from GMOs—which inherently carry their own pesticide inside them—and the pesticides they are laden with—many of which are proven to be cancer causing and endocrine disruptors, causing anything from asthma to learning disabilities to obesity.

  1. Eat organic. Studies have shown that just eating organic for two to three weeks can significantly reduce the amount of dangerous pesticides found in urine samples. Many people worry that eating organic is cost-prohibitive and selective. It’s true; organic just simply costs more, which is a shame and should be changed in this country. That said, in our family we’ve found ways to cut costs by buying large quantities of bulk organic beans, or buying boxes of “tomato seconds” from our friends Chris and Gallit to make sauce that we can for the winter, or sharing a local, grass fed beef cow, butchered locally. When you’re first starting out, these can seem like huge changes to your life. But, oddly, as you go along, there’s nothing more soul satisfying than having a freezer full of meat and a pantry full of canned goods that taste every bit of summer.
  2. Stop eating corn: Sorry. It’s true. Most corn is contaminated either from pollination or just human error at the Co-op and grain bin level. Popcorn, though, if you can find it organic—because non-GMO does not mean it hasn’t been sprayed with the dangerous, endocrine disrupting herbicide atrazine– is the least likely to be GMO and sprayed.
  3. Make your own jams: Most jams and preserves and jellies contain citric acid, which is made most often from GMO corn,  “natural flavors” made from GMO soy or corn and sugar made from GMO sugar beets. Homemade jams made from local berries, apples, grapes, pears, peaches, oranges etc, are the perfect winter store and need not have anything more than sugar, fruit and maybe a little lemon juice. And you will save money making your own, especially if you ask your local farmers for their “seconds” of fruit which may have small bruises or cracks you can cut off and use perfectly well in a jam. (You can freeze jams in ball jars, leaving 2 inches of space at the top of the jar or can them to keep longer. My mother’s friend Paula makes a frozen strawberry jam every winter that she purees with very little sugar and lemon juice then freezes in ball jars.)
  4. Salt your food wisely: Most iodized salt contains dextrose, a sugar made from GMO corn, used as a “free-flowing” agent. I choose a local sea salt for my family these days. It’s funny, but ever since our diet has become intently based on local vegetables and meats, I have become a salt snob! I can actually taste the difference between more metallic and processed salt which has been mined, from the briny, layered flavors of fleur de sel crystals from France or deep flavors of  the gray Celtic salts or bright, clean taste of white Maine sea salts. The way I cook these days, there’s nothing better than simple cooking with olive oil and good quality sea salt (I even bring my own when traveling!)
  5. Switch to organic sugar: Inorganic sugar is made these days, most often, with GMO sugar beets, which are sprayed heavily with Round-Up or glyphosate, as well as carrying their own internal pesticide. Even non-organic sugar cane sugars are sprayed with cancer causing glyphosate, often right before harvest. By unhooking from this system you will be doing not only your body good, but helping to prevent the incredible contamination of the waters off the coast of Florida which have been disastrously affected by the run-off from sugar cane farms, as well as helping the sugar cane workers in central and south America who are contracting liver disease, which many researchers believe is from the glyphosate that is sprayed and then burned on sugar cane farms.
  6. Eschew pre-mixed baking powders: Most baking powders have cornstarch in them, made from GMO corn. Instead mix two teaspoons of cream of tartar with one teaspoon of baking soda and use in your recipe. I think this mixture leavens recipes better than pre-mixed; so much better that when I found a baking powder that used potato starch instead of corn, I went back to mixing my own because it works and tastes better!
  7. Buy local, grass fed organic dairy from a farmer you trust—and, to get away from plastics, which contain phtlalates and BPAs, ask them if they will bottle your milk for you in a glass jar you provide, or put your cheese in your own container each week! (I also buy cheese from Rumiano, a northern California based company that makes the first GMO-free, organic and grass fed dairy cheeses that are simply delicious—I love their creamy mozzarella and sharp cheddar.)
  8. Find a local chicken farmer you trust. Chickens are raised to get fat fast on corn and their meat imparts corn protein when we eat it, if you can believe it. But there are many farmers out there who are raising their chickens on oats, barley, compost, bugs, and organic grain mixes. Find someone whom you trust to raise your chickens and eggs humanely and organically, and who is thinking outside the GMO-corn box.
  9. Drink organic wine. I learned while researching and writing Modified that not only are most conventional grapes soaked with pesticides, but also in the US we use a kind of yeast in the fermenting process, which is actually a GMO. These days, though, there’re lots of organic choices out there. One of our favorites is a 2014 montepulciano from Italy with a lady bug on the label, made a by a vineyard called Francesco Cirelli, after its young and intrepid owner.
  10. All honey is not equal: Try to buy local honey that comes from farms that are organic and are well buffered from conventional farms. Bees pick up GMO pollens and pesticides and bring them back to their hives; researchers are finding that in honey samples the world over, most contain pesticides and GMO pollen.

Learn more about Modified by Caitlin Shetterly!

Summer is nearly over (cue all the tears) and we still have what feels like a million books to get to! Need help planning your next few reads? Check out these titles that you’ve been meaning to read:

The Assistants by Camille Perri


The debut novel that J. Courtney Sullivan calls “addictive, hilarious, and smart. It’s “9 to 5 for the student loan generation” and Publishers Weekly describes as “if the characters from HBO’s Girls were capable of larceny and blackmail.”

Find Her by Lisa Gardner


New York Times bestselling author Lisa Gardner delivers her most intense thrill ride yet while answering the question: victim or vigilante?

I Let You Go by Clare MACKIntosh


The next blockbuster thriller for those who loved The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl... “a finely crafted novel with a killer twist.” (Paula Hawkins, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Girl on the Train)

Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton


A collection of autobiographical sketches that explore the worlds of competitive and recreational swimming. From her training for the Olympic trials as a teenager, to meditative swims in pools and oceans as an adult, Leanne Shapton contemplates the sport that has shaped her life.

The After Party by Anton DiSclafani


A thrilling glimpse into the sphere of the rich and beautiful at a memorable moment in history, The After Party unfurls a story of friendship as obsessive, euphoric, consuming, and complicated as any romance.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli


This playful, entertaining, and mind-bending introduction to modern physics briskly explains Einstein’s general relativity, quantum mechanics, elementary particles, gravity, black holes, the complex architecture of the universe, and the role humans play in this weird and wonderful world.

Love and Lemons by Jeanine Donofrio


Sometimes all you need is a little spark of inspiration to change up your regular cooking routine. The Love & Lemons Cookbook features more than one hundred simple recipes that help you turn your farmers market finds into delicious meals.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow


Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Chernow presents a landmark biography of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who galvanized, inspired, scandalized, and shaped the newborn nation.

Perfect Days by Raphael Montes

9781594206405-2A twisted young medical student kidnaps the girl of his dreams and embarks on a dark and delirious road trip across Brazil in the English-language debut of Brazil’s most celebrated young crime writer.

The Rose and the Dagger by Renée Ahdieh


The much anticipated sequel to the breathtaking The Wrath and the Dawn, lauded by Publishers Weekly as “a potent page-turner of intrigue and romance.”


What you have here is a debut novel that is the work of the first new writer I have taken on in a decade. To say I am excited about the novel and the writer is an understatement. Lili Wright is a mature woman who has travelled, lived, and thought a great deal about the worlds she has moved through. It shows in the power of her themes, in her sensitive understanding of her seriously flawed characters, and in her extraordinary grasp of the contradictions embedded in the Mexican culture.  She is that rare American who has thrown off her carapace of privilege to understand Mexico, whose deeply fatalistic people must manage to survive amid the ferocious drug wars and top-down corruption that are corroding the heart and soul of this bedeviled country. “Poor Mexico, so near Los Estados Unidos, so far from God.”

9780399175176Lili Wright has crafted a literary thriller: A novel of propulsive power, it is told in short chapters and many voices. At the center of the plot is the attempt to recover an artifact purported to be the death mask of Montezuma. It has been found by a looter, a meth-addicted American in the employ of a ruthless narco drug lord who wants that mask for his own collection.  But so do many others, including an expat American collector, a former Oaxacan museum director who now makes money providing (false) provenances for looted artifacts, the addled grave-robber himself,  and Anna Ramsay, a young American who knows that getting hold of the mask will save her father’s reputation as an expert, a reputation that has just been savaged in a report claiming  many of the masks in his collection are forgeries. The setting is ripe for multiple double-crosses. Even the secondary characters have secret agendas and how these play out is complex and unpredictable.

But what gives this novel its psychological power is its multifaceted exploration of how we hide ourselves in plain sight. The front we present to the world is just another mask.

As Reyes, the drug lord, says, “Everyone loves masks. Because everyone has something to hide.”  Indeed, he himself is such a master of disguise that no one can describe him. He is a shape shifter of outlandish proportions and would be a character in an opera buffa were he not a coldblooded killer. Just as chilling is the expat collector, Thomas Malone. “A man in a mask,” he says, “is above the law. He makes his own rules, his own moral code.” Wright is masterful in the way she slowly builds his psychopathology.

Anna herself says, “I’ve worn a mask most of my life. For years I thought wearing a mask was a way to start over, become someone new. Now I know better.”  Anna is a very wounded woman, but there is not an ounce of self-pity in her and it is Lili Wright’s extraordinary craft that makes us sympathetic to her even as we wait to find out the source of her emotional scarring. She is a heroine for the moment—think “Orange is the New Black,” think the female version of “Breaking Bad.”

Dancing with the Tiger is filled with a large and richly conceived cast, a mix of expats and Mexicans from all social strata. None of them are mere walk-ons, all are brought movingly to life in Wright’s talented hands. It is a highly sensual novel and also an erotic novel in the worst way, and it is sprinkled with very quotable one-liners and acid observations: black humor at its finest. (Anna thinks: “chastity, like abstinence, was a virtue best begun tomorrow.”) This is grown-up fiction: Always gripping, often frightening, yet oddly touching. You care about these people.

The debut writer I took on ten years ago was Olga Grushin, author of The Dream Life of Sukhanov, which earned her a place on Granta’s  Best Young American Novelists (2) in 2007, won her the NYPL Young Lion’s prize that same year, brought her a nomination for the LATimes First Novel award and made her one of three finalists for England’s Orange Prize. The thrill I felt on first reading that novel was just what happened when I read Dancing with the Tiger. I’m really excited about Lili and ready to run with the novel.

Marian Wood

Read More about DANCING WITH THE TIGER by Lili Wright!

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If you are a book lover, you probably love everything about the reading process: buying your next favorite book after hours of scoping out the latest selection at your local bookstore, hugging said book to your chest for a solid hour before finally diving in.

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A note from Meg Leder, editor of THE WANDER SOCIETY by Keri Smith

In 2006, I had one of the most fortuitous lunches of my editing career with Faith Hamlin, an agent at Sanford Greenburger. We sat at the now-closed Steak Frites in Union Square and near the end of the lunch, she handed me a project in a manila envelope, telling me I should take a look at it when I was back at my desk.

That project was a one-of-a-kind Moleskine mockup of Keri Smith’s Wreck This Journal, a magnificently and quietly subversive little book that we bought three days later, and that went on to sell several million copies worldwide, leading to eight subsequent books and legions of devoted Keri Smith fans.

In the ten years since, I’ve shared with Keri ideas and prompts for dream projects. However, in true subversive fashion, Keri always politely acknowledges them, then sends back completely different ideas that are more genuine and amazing than anything I could come up with on my own.

So it should have come as no surprise to me that when I asked Keri to consider writing a creativity manifesto—a way to share the integrity that drives her work—she came back to me with a manifesto actually written by someone else: a secret group called The Wander Society.

But it did surprise me, and in the most delightful ways imaginable. Because after signing up the book, I started receiving mysterious letters in the mail—strange musings typed on a real typewriter, an envelope of maple tree seeds, a small, badge with hand-embroidered with a lightning bolt.

The Wander Society was reaching out to me, inviting me to join—the lines between reader and editor and author and member starting to blur.

And so this summer I found myself on the shore of Lake Michigan, tying a small Wander Station filled with the society’s pamphlets around a tree. This fall, on my sabbatical in Paris and London, I left behind stickers of Walt Whitman, the patron saint of the Wander Society. A few weeks ago, I spent the afternoon wandering through the Lower East Side, ambling down streets I’d never explored before.

I don’t know who exactly The Wander Society is, but I know that Keri’s a member now, and I am too. I know that the regular practice of wandering has opened me up to the possibility of surprise, newness, and the joy that come from discovering new places.

Turns out, I really like the freedom of not knowing exactly where we’re going next—whether it’s a literal journey or a publishing one.

Find out more about THE WANDER SOCIETY by Keri Smith here.

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Instagram: @PenguinBooks @WanderSpotters #TheWanderSociety

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Ashley McClay is marketing director for Putnam. She lives in Jackson Heights with her husband and a tiny, very loud black cat who is constantly trying to gnaw her way-too-large home library to shreds.

Okay, I’m starting off my list with a few geopolitical thrillers. When I was younger, I wanted to be a spy–and while for some reason that never really came to fruition, it totally informs my reading tastes now. (Message to the CIA: if you do happen to be looking for publishing industry professionals with so-so schoolgirl French and the ability to run a mile in ten minutes or sometimes very slightly less, I am available on nights and weekends.)


Todd Moss, formerly the deputy assistant secretary of state, now the COO at the Center for Global Development, has all of the real-life experience needed to make his novels completely gripping, and, at the same time, totally realistic. His latest, Minute Zero, follows Judd Ryker, former professor and now state department advisor, as he tries to take advantage of a brief moment of chaos to change the course of world events. It’s smart, fast-paced, and totally impossible to put down. And the end left me pacing through the office, counting down the moments until the next book to arrives.


Next up: another thriller in a very similar vein. If you’re into shows like Homeland (and if you, like me, are kind of suffering from Homeland-withdrawal at the moment), you will love Matthew Palmer’s books, guaranteed. I’m kind of cheating here, because this one isn’t actually out for a little while. But trust me when I say that you should be lining up at your local bookstore for The Wolf of Sarajevo on May 24th, because this book is that good. Set mainly in the Balkans, Palmer — another author with diplomatic chops (25 year veteran of the foreign service and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations)–takes the reader on a whirlwind tour through the labyrinthine politics of the Balkans. I was half reading, half shielding my eyes through some of the most tense scenes. If you like twists that come out of nowhere (and what suspense reader doesn’t?), get on board.


Now for a totally different kind of mystery – M. J. Carter’s The Strangler Vine. Set in colonial 19th century India, following the sometimes bumbling but always good-hearted Avery, and his very begrudging “partner” (and I use that term quite loosely), master-of-disguise Blake, this is a tour-de-force. The historical Indian setting is captivating by itself; combined with Blake and Avery’s investigation into the elusive Thugee cult, and the profound British corruption sweeping across the continent, it’s completely impossible to put down. And if you start reading now, you won’t have too long to wait for more: Carter’s sequel, The Infidel Stain, is out in March.


Last, but not least, Tana French’s In the Woods. Again, a completely different sort of book from the last three, but one of my all-time favorites. If you wrote in to the Penguin hotline looking for suspense this year and got me, I am sure I recommended this to you. French’s lyrical writing grabbed me from the very first few pages, and the mystery of what happened to three children deep in the woods of Ireland one night in the 1980s kept me riveted all the way through. Rob and Cassie, two detectives working a present-day murder in those same woods, are both wonderfully drawn characters, and the nuanced story of their relationship is every bit as absorbing as the mystery plot.