This morning the New York Times Book Review released their 100 Notable Books of 2014 list. We are happy to announce that 14 Penguin books made the list! How many have you read?

BoySnowGirlIn Fiction & Poetry:

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

From the prizewinning author of Mr. Fox, the Snow White fairy tale brilliantly recast as a story of family secrets, race, beauty, and vanity. Dazzlingly inventive and powerfully moving, Boy, Snow, Bird is an astonishing and enchanting novel. With breathtaking feats of imagination, Helen Oyeyemi confirms her place as one of the most original and dynamic literary voices of our time.

ABriefHistoryofSevenKillings
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes one of the year’s most anticipated novels, a lyrical, masterfully written epic that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s. 

EverythingINeverToldYouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another. Start Reading

LenaFinkleLena Finkle’s Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich

Anya Ulinich turns her sharp eye toward the strange, often unmooring world of “grown-up” dating in this darkly comic graphic novel. After her fifteen-year marriage ends, Lena Finkle gets an eye-opening education in love, sex, and loss when she embarks on a string of online dates, all while raising her two teenage daughters.

TheMagician's Land
The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

An intricate thriller, a fantastical epic, and an epic of love and redemption that brings the Magicians trilogy to a magnificent conclusion, confirming it as one of the great achievements in modern fantasy. It’s the story of a boy becoming a man, an apprentice becoming a master, and a broken land finally becoming whole. Start Reading

MotherlandFatherlandMotherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood

Colloquial and incantatory, the poems in Patricia Lockwood’s second collection address the most urgent questions of our time, like: what if a deer did porn? Is America going down on Canada? What happens when Niagara Falls gets drunk at a wedding? The steep tilt of Lockwood’s lines sends the reader snowballing downhill, accumulating pieces of the scenery with every turn. This book is serious and funny at the same time, like a big grave with a clown lying in it.

PanicInASuitcasePanic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya

A dazzling debut novel about a Russian immigrant family living in Brooklyn and their struggle to learn the new rules of the American Dream. In striking, arresting prose loaded with fresh and inventive turns of phrase, Yelena Akhtiorskaya has written the first great novel of Brighton Beach: a searing portrait of hope and ambition, and a profound exploration of the power and limits of language itself, its ability to make connections across cultures and generations. Start Reading

ThePayingGuestThe Paying GuestS by Sarah Waters

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned; the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa—a large, silent house now bereft of brothers, husband, and even servants—life is about to be transformed as impoverished widow Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers. A love story, a tension-filled crime story, and a beautifully atmospheric portrait of a fascinating time and place, The Paying Guests is Sarah Waters’s finest achievement yet. Start Reading

Redeployment
Redeployment by Phil Klay

Phil Klay takes readers to the frontlines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking us to understand what happened there, and what happened to the soldiers who returned. Interwoven with themes of brutality and faith, guilt and fear, helplessness and survival, the characters in these stories struggle to make meaning out of chaos. Start Reading

 

In Non-Fiction:

EmbattledEmbattled Rebel by James M. McPherson

History has not been kind to Jefferson Davis. His cause went down in disastrous defeat and left the South impoverished for generations. If that cause had succeeded, it would have torn the United States in two and preserved the institution of slavery. Many Americans in Davis’s own time and in later generations considered him an incompetent leader, if not a traitor. Not so, argues James M. McPherson. From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom, a powerful new reckoning with Jefferson Davis as military commander of the Confederacy.

 

ForcingForcing the Spring by Jo Becker

A tour de force of groundbreaking reportage by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Jo Becker, Forcing the Springis the definitive account of five remarkable years in American civil rights history: when the United States experienced a tectonic shift on the issue of marriage equality. Beginning with the historical legal challenge of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Becker expands the scope to encompass all aspects of this momentous struggle, offering a gripping behind-the-scenes narrative told with the lightning pace of the greatest legal thrillers. Start Reading

Invisible
Invisible History of the Human Race by Christine Kenneally

We are doomed to repeat history if we fail to learn from it, but how are we affected by the forces that are invisible to us? In The Invisible History of the Human Race Christine Kenneally draws on cutting-edge research to reveal how both historical artifacts and DNA tell us where we come from and where we may be going. Start Reading

 

NapoleanNapoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts
An award-winning historian, Roberts traveled to fifty-three of Napoleon’s sixty battle sites, discovered crucial new documents in archives, and even made the long trip by boat to St. Helena. He is as acute in his understanding of politics as he is of military history. Here at last is a biography worthy of its subject: magisterial, insightful, beautifully written, by one of our foremost historians.

 

WorldOrder

World Order by Henry Kissinger

Henry Kissinger offers a deep meditation on the roots of international harmony and global disorder. Drawing on his experience as one of the foremost statesmen of the modern era—advising presidents, traveling the world, observing and shaping the central foreign policy events of recent decades—Kissinger now reveals his analysis of the ultimate challenge for the twenty-first century: how to build a shared international order in a world of divergent historical perspectives, violent conflict, proliferating technology, and ideological extremism. Start Reading

 


From the office of the Riverhead Books publisher, Geoff Kloske:

Peter Matthiessen, award-winning author of more than thirty books, world-renowned naturalist, explorer, Buddhist teacher, and political activist, died at 5:15 PM on Saturday April 5, 2014 after an illness of some months. He was eighty-six years old.

Photo credit: Linda Girvin

Photo credit: Linda Girvin

Matthiessen is the only writer to win the National Book Award more than once – in fact three times, twice in two nonfiction categories for The Snow Leopard, published in 1978, and in fiction three decades later for Shadow Country. His final book, In Paradise,is scheduled to be published by Riverhead Books on April 8, 2014. A novel inspired by a profound experience Matthiessen underwent as a participant in a Zen meditation retreat at Auschwitz in the 1990s, In Paradise is a powerful and uncompromising exploration of the legacy of evil and our unquenchable, imperfect desire to wrest good from it. “We are deeply honored to be custodians of Peter’s final, characteristically bold work of art,” says Riverhead Books publisher Geoff Kloske, noting that the publication reunited Matthiessen with editorial director Rebecca Saletan, who had worked with him on several books since the early 1980s, initially under the auspices of Random House editorial director Jason Epstein. In a recent essay in The New York Review of Books, Tim Parks writes, “Matthiessen’s work has always carried a powerful moral message.… In Paradise is a logical conclusion to a long writing career.”

Matthiessen’s exceptional body of work, much of it about the planet’s remaining wild places and the people who inhabit them, was inspired by boundless curiosity and lifelong travels, most recently to Mongolia in the summer of 2012, when he was 85. It was also fueled by a disciplined work ethic. “Peter was a force of nature, relentlessly curious, persistent, demanding—of himself and others,” says his literary agent, Neil Olson. “But he was also funny, deeply wise and compassionate.” The resultant writing was largely nonfiction, published both as books and as journalism, including in The New Yorker under William Shawn. But Matthiessen’s first love was fiction. He sold a short story to the Atlantic while an undergraduate at Yale and became the first fiction editor of The Paris Review, which he cofounded with Doc Hume in 1953. He went on to publish four novels before he was forty, including At Play in the Fields of the Lord, which was nominated for a National Book Award and later made into a feature film. His travels fueled not only his nonfiction but his fiction, and he was as fearless in pushing the horizons on the page as in the physical world. His experience among Caribbean turtle fishermen resulted in Far Tortuga, written entirely not only in dialogue but in their Grand Cayman dialect.

A 1973 expedition to the Himalayas after the early death of his second wife resulted in The Snow Leopard, whose enduring success eclipsed his fiction for some years. But he always regarded himself primarily as a novelist, and he devoted more than twenty-five years to his masterwork, a historical epic about the Everglades sugar planter and outlaw Edgar Watson. When the project grew overlong in both time and volume, he allowed it to be published initially as a trilogy, Killing Mr. Watson, Lost Man’s River, and Bone by Bone. But he never stopped thinking of it as a single work, and after the final volume appeared in 1999, he devoted another eight years to cutting, restructuring, and revising it into a single novel, which was published as the National Book Award-winning Shadow Country in 2008. “In everything he wrote, Peter was always relentless in his quest to get it right, to drive the impression on the page ever closer to the vision in his imagination, through draft after draft,” says Saletan. ”Every galley page was a palimpsest, even on this final book.”

Matthiessen’s outspoken activism for environmental and social causes was also reflected in his books, including the 1983 In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, about the American Indian Movement, which resulted in libel suits again Matthiessen and his publisher, Viking Penguin, by a former governor of South Dakota and an FBI agent he wrote about; the suits were finally dismissed in 1990.

Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1974 and designated State Author of New York in 1995-97, Matthiessen was the recipient of the William Dean Howells Award, given by the Academy once every five years for fiction, for Shadow Country, and the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities, among many other honors. A longtime student of Zen Buddhism, Matthiessen eventually became a priest of the White Plum Asanga. Until the time of his death he lived for decades on the South Fork of Long Island, where he had worked as a commercial fisherman in his twenties. He is survived by his wife, the former Maria Eckhart; six children – a son, Lukas, and a daughter, Sara Carey, with his first wife, Patsy Southgate; a daughter, Rue, and a son, Alexander, with his second wife, Deborah Love; and two stepdaughters, Antonia and Sarah, from his third marriage—and six grandchildren.


Penguin’s list of Golden Globes nominees is below.

12 Years a Slave, Solomon Northup - Author; Henry Louis Gates - Editor; Ira Berlin - Introduction by; Steve McQueen - Foreword by Philomena,  Martin Sixsmith - Author; Judi Dench - Foreword by

BEST MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
12 YEARS A SLAVE
and
PHILOMENA

Winner: 12 YEARS A SLAVE

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
CHIWETEL EJIOFOR in 12 YEARS A SLAVE

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
JUDI DENCH in PHILOMENA

BEST DIRECTOR – MOTION PICTURE
STEVE MCQUEEN for 12 YEARS A SLAVE

BEST SCREENPLAY – MOTION PICTURE
JEFF POPE & STEVE COOGAN for PHILOMENA
and
JOHN RIDLEY for 12 YEARS A SLAVE

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – MOTION PICTURE
HANS ZIMMER for 12 YEARS A SLAVE

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MOTION PICTURE
LUPITA NYONG’O in 12 YEARS A SLAVE

We would also like to congratulate our friends at Random House for its The Wolf of Wall Street nominations: Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy and Leonardo DiCaprio as Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy.

You can get more great coverage of the Golden Globes at Word and Film

If you can’t get enough Downton Abbey, check out these books on our Pinterest board and on our website.

secret rooms

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camellia

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making

Flawed male protagonists are cropping up everywhere in film and TV. If you liked Breaking Bad or were a fan of the now late James Gandolfini, you should pick up Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad, by Brett Martin

Posted by: Amy Brinker, Online Content Coordinator


The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy, David Nasaw

American Experience JFK, Part 1 aired last Monday, November 11th, on PBS. This was the first of a two-part documentary honoring the life of John F. Kennedy, as we remember his life on the 50th anniversary of his assassination on Friday, November 22nd.

Historian David Nasaw is featured throughout the documentary as an expert on JFK’s life. Nasaw is also the author of The Patriarch: The Remarkable Live and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy, a “brilliant, compelling” (The New York Times Book Review) biography of Joseph P. Kennedy, selected by The New York Times as one of the Ten Best Books of the Year and a 2013 Pulitzer Prize Finalist in Biography.

PBS’s American Experience JFK, Part 2, continued November 12th on PBS, and can be viewed online. This section examines Kennedy’s inauguration For an in-depth look, we suggest Thurston Clarke’s Ask Not: The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Speech That Changed America. The documentary also talks a lot about Jacqueline Kennedy.  Acclaimed biographer Sarah Bradford explored the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the woman who has captivated the public for more than five decades in America’s Queen, now available with a new cover.

For more books about the life of JFK, take a look at:

JFK's Last Hundred Days: The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President, Thurston Clarke

Ask Not: The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Speech That Changed America, Thurston Clarke

If Kennedy Lived: The First and Second Terms of President John F. Kennedy: An Alternate History, Jeff Greenfield


A traveling art installation comprised of more than 250 pieces of Penguin Books and Penguin Classics cover art, curated by Penguin Art Director Paul Buckley and Mirko ilic, has been presented in six cities and countries across Europe to date, including Belgrade, Maribor, Ljubljana, Montenegro, Ireland and Sarajevo. As the show of these stunning artistic images.moves, it grows in size and popularity. Next stop: Hungary.

View the gallery:

image[12] image[11] image[10] image[9] image[8] image[7]  image[5] image[4] image[3] image[2] image[1] Penguin Covers On Tour Across Europe



“Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically.” This audacious declaration begins D. H. Lawrence’s once-banned Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Some influential novels do not declare their intentions to us from their first words. Take James Joyce’s opening on its own: “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.” Surely, Buck arrives into our lives with great pomp and humor, but these words alone cannot reveal the ever-broadening cultural, artistic, and legal impact that Ulysses would have. Lawrence, however, is not so timid at the starting line. He opens with a grandiose statement, the kind destined to be emblazoned on t-shirts and scribbled down in the notebooks of adoring readers for years to come. Lawrence was, of course, speaking about the aftermath of the Great War, but the continually tragic face of progress renders his overture endlessly present and universal.

Lawrence’s opening words make a fitting call to action for Banned Books Week. Books have been banned as long as there have been books: for violating taboos, for supposed libel, for encouraging new ways of thinking, for violating prevailing political and religious opinions, and sometimes for almost nothing at all. Black Beauty was once banned in South Africa simply for having the words “black” and “beauty” together in the title. And yet it would be mistaken, in our more enlightened age, to see recent advances for civil rights and a perpetually more open conversation about taboo issues in the media as reasons to suspect that book-banning is no longer a key issue. Like viewing a one-year rise in polar ice quantity as reason to deny global warming, this myopic viewpoint is harmful. Just weeks ago, rather than celebrating the fact that one of its native daughters is undoubtedly among our greatest living writers, an Ohio school board sought to ban Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. And all this means that Banned Books Week is as important as ever. Lawrence’s words continue to apply: “It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles.”

It’s no secret that at Penguin, we’re proud of our history with banned books. In 1960, Penguin was prosecuted for publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the famous trial, R v Penguin Books Ltd. Like United States v One Book Ulysses before it, which freely allowed the publication of Joyce’s novel in America, the Lawrence trial was a landmark event for the liberalization of publishing and an important step in fighting book banning. That fight continues, and Penguin is thrilled to be on its front lines. This year, three of the ten books listed as the most challenged books in 2012 are Penguin publications: Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, John Green’s Looking for Alaska, and Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. No one here is happy to see those books banned, but we are happy to continue supporting and promoting the valuable work of these authors. If you haven’t read them already, take a look at those books and see why it’s so important that students and library-goers retain access to them.

If you’re looking for something less modern, nowhere is the banner of Banned Books Week held higher than at Penguin Classics. The Classics library holds a cornucopia of banned literary treasures, as the Classics editorial team spotlighted last year on their Tumblr. This year, throughout the week that Tumblr will feature posts on banned writers, especially those outside of the Western canon like the great (and banned) Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

Read a banned book this week to celebrate your right to do so. It’s not the Great War, but it is a great war to be fighting. In the words of Lawrence, “We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.”

-Sam Raim, Editorial Assistant, Penguin Classics


The Emmys were given out last night, and we’re still buzzing from the television’s big night. Whether you’re entranced by the screen or the pages, writing culture is a part of our lives. And so, here’s our literary lineup with plenty of TV-related reading material. Click on the images to view their book pages

Slimed

SLIMED! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age tells the surprisingly complex, wonderfully nostalgic, and impressively compelling story of how Nickelodeon — the First Kids’ Network — began as a DIY startup in the late 70s, and forged ahead through the early eighties with a tiny band of young artists and filmmakers who would go on to change everything about cable television, television in general, animation, and children’s entertainment, proving just what can be done if the indie spirit is kept alive in the corporate world of contemporary media… All from those who made it happen!
(Publishes tomorrow, September 24th!)
MakingMasterpiece

 

The Emmy Award-winning producer of PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! reveals the secrets to Downton AbbeySherlock, and its other hit programs. For more than twenty-five years and counting, Rebecca Eaton has presided over PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre, the longest running weekly prime time drama series in American history. From the runaway hits Upstairs, Downstairs  and The Buccaneers, to the hugely popular Inspector MorsePrime Suspect, and PoirotMasterpiece Theatre and its sibling series Mystery! have been required viewing for fans of quality drama.
Rebecca Eaton reveals what makes a great adaptation at WordandFilm.com
(Publishes next month, October 29th!)

DifficultMen

A riveting and revealing look at the shows that helped cable television drama emerge as the signature art form of the twenty-first century.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the landscape of television began an unprecedented transformation. While the networks continued to chase the lowest common denominator, a wave of new shows, first on premium cable channels like HBO and then basic cable networks like FX and AMC, dramatically stretched television’s narrative inventiveness, emotional resonance, and artistic ambition. No longer necessarily concerned with creating always-likable characters, plots that wrapped up neatly every episode, or subjects that were deemed safe and appropriate, shows such as The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Deadwood, The Shield, and more tackled issues of life and death, love and sexuality, addiction, race, violence, and existential boredom.

Madmen

By turns fun, sophisticated, and celebratory, this is an eye-popping and inventive companion to the hit show Mad Men, as well as a salute to the era of cocktails and Camelot. Inspired by the artistic styles that defined 1960s advertising, Dyna Moe creates a candy-colored record of the time, exploring such topics as:

• The office culture, including secretary etiquette and hangover workarounds
• The cocktail craze, with Sally Draper’s cocktail menu
• Pastimes and fads, such as Pete and Trudy’s dancing lessons and Bert Cooper’s art
• ’60s icons from Jackie to Marilyn
• Boardroom and bedroom shenanigans
• The burgeoning suburban lifestyle
• Fabulous fashion, including hairstyle how-tos and bonus paper dolls of Joan

insidetheroom

What does it take to go from being a TV fan to a professional TV writer? Television writers whose many produced credits include The Simpsons; Mad Men; Frasier; X-Files; Battlestar Gallactica; CSI: Miami; Law and Order; and House, M.D.; take aspiring writers through the process of writing their first spec script for an on-air series, creating one-hour drama and sitcom pilots that break out from the pack, and revising their scripts to meet pro standards. They also learn how to launch and sustain a writing career and get a rare look inside the process of creating, selling, and getting a TV show made. Edited by Linda Venis, Director of the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, Inside the Room is an unmatched resource for everything readers need to know to write their way into the Writers Guild of America.

Linda Venis gives readers the run down on this year’s Emmy nods at WordandFilm.com

 

Posted by: Lindsay Jacobsen, Online Content Coordinator


When I told a friend of mine recently that I was really looking forward to working San Diego Comic-Con for Penguin this year, she was surprised. She asked, “Why would a book publisher have a booth at a comic book convention?”

Ten years ago, some of my snootier colleagues at various publishing houses might have asked the same question. My answer has always been the same: Why would a book publisher not want to promote their products to 150,000 rabid pop culture fans with disposable income, all of whom love to read? Especially a publisher with a list as strong in science fiction, fantasy, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, crime fiction and young adult fiction as Penguin’s?

Large pop culture conventions like New York Comic Con (125,000 attendees) and San Diego Comic-Con (150,000 attendees) long ago moved past the “comic book convention” label and have now become an extraordinary way for content creators across all mediums – film, television, digital, gaming, comics and books – to engage fans and promote new products. In the United States, all of the Big Six publishers and dozens of smaller ones now routinely run booths, host book and swag giveaways, and set up author signings and panels at major pop culture conventions, all in an effort to connect directly with our most valued asset: our readers.

dark_lycanThis week, Penguin’s adult marketing and publicity folk will once again team up with their geeky counterparts from Penguin’s Young Readers division to host one giant booth at San Diego Comic-Con. We’ll be giving away thousands of books, advance reading copies, postcards, buttons, posters, masks, and tote bags. And, over the course of the con, Penguin authors and staff will speak on 19 panels, and Penguin authors will meet fans at 43 separate post-panel and in-booth autographings. We’re also beyond thrilled that two of our authors are also Special Guests of Honor this year: New York marblesTimes bestselling paranormal fantasy author Christine Feehan (Dark Lycan)  and critically-acclaimed graphic novelist Ellen Forney, whose latest book Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me  is up for an Eisner Award!

So if you’re coming to San Diego Comic-Con this week, be sure to swing by the Penguin booth (#1028/1030) and say hello to our staff, meet our great authors, and pick up a LOT of free books! For a full list of all the Penguin panels and autographings, head over to www.penguin.com/comiccon. (And be sure to follow the hashtag #PenguinCon for SDCC updates at the con!)

See you in San Diego!

- Colleen Lindsay


This July Fourth my family traveled to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina for a vacation. Getting there was no easy trip. We traveled during the astrological period called Mercury Retrograde: a thrice-yearly phase when the planet Mercury appears to move backwards – and travel, communication, and commerce (all things associated with the ancient god Mercury) are thought to go awry. And so they did. But there were deeper lessons in store.

We began our travels just a few days after the current cycle began on June 26 (it ends July 20). As astrological tradition holds, it is an especially ill-fated time for travel. True to lore, my wife and our sons, ages 6 and 9, discovered that our outbound flight from New York was severely delayed, causing us to miss our connection in D.C. and leaving us stranded overnight. For added measure, our luggage got lost in transfer limbo.

“Now do you believe in Mercury Retrograde?” I asked my wife. She fixed me with a don’t-even-ask look.

This kind of travel snafu is considered typical during Mercury Retrograde. But an interesting wrinkle occurred – the type of thing that gets overlooked when people speak with trepidation of Mercury Retrograde. When we returned to New York, upon deplaning we re-encountered the same (very humorous) gate attendant who had seen us off at the start of our trip. He not only remembered us but resumed a joke with our youngest son, Tobias, which he had made at the start of our trip days earlier. This minor light on our journey points toward an under-appreciated facet of Mercury Retrograde: We get the chance to repeat things. People can surprisingly re-merge from our past. Old projects can get revived. Relationships and endeavors we were certain we had left behind, or lost items (and not just lost luggage), can reappear.

Mercury Retrograde cycles last about three to four weeks and occur when the planet Mercury traverses furthest from the sun in its highly elliptical orbit. At its point of curvature Mercury visually appears to be moving backwards when viewed from Earth. Optically this is somewhat like when you’re on a train and another train on a parallel track slows, but does not stop, and from your seat appears to be reversing.

Everything has its hour and Mercury Retrograde is not just a cycle of missed flights and botched transit: it can also become a time of revisiting, revising, and reconsidering. During this year’s first Mercury Retrograde cycle early in 2013 I heard from a network television executive who had been discussing a show with me the previous year, but talks had dropped off. Now she wanted to talk anew.

Signing contracts and selling homes is considered a big no-no during Mercury Retrograde. But even in this area interesting developments can occur. About six years ago, my wife and I reluctantly committed to selling a lake house we own in upstate New York. We were uncertain it was the right move. But we went ahead and signed a deal with a local real-estate agent. I knew that signing deals was considered verboten during Mercury Retrograde, but the agent was understandably eager – and I didn’t feel that I could tell him: “Well, you see Mike, in about four weeks the god Mercury will be more inclined to shine favorably upon our undertaking, so…” One weekend we went to prepare the house for sale and unexpectedly found that our three-year-old son was enchanted with the place. Seeing his newfound excitement, we reversed our decision and decided to keep the house – later to our great relief. This was a decision that had needed reconsidering. Enter Mercury Retrograde.

Western astrology has ancient roots extending to the Babylonian and Hellenic civilizations. Yet in its contemporary practice, astrology (as with many aspects of modern life) takes on forms that are actually more recent than we realize. The earliest references to Mercury Retrograde as an astrological phenomenon began in the mid-1700s in British agricultural almanacs read by farmers who believed that the motions of the stars affected planting seasons. “Mercury is turn’d retrograde in Sagittarius, which brings him back to meet the Sun in Conjunction,” went a reading for December 9, 1754 in Vox Stellarum: Or, a Loyal Alamack. In the twentieth century, Franklin Roosevelt’s agricultural secretary and second vice president, Henry A. Wallace, himself a farmer and almanac publisher, felt that the study of zodiacal cycles could aid scientific agriculture. Even today zodiacal charts remain a regular feature of planting almanacs.

Mercury Retrograde has currency among many people who don’t follow astrology. Although you won’t find Mercury’s cycles tacked up on the bulletin boards of air-traffic control centers or search-engine offices, lots of people in those fields and others talk or (often uneasily) joke about it. Anecdotally, Mercury Retrograde is considered prime time for internet crashes and travel mishaps, or even disasters.

But we cannot sit things out during Mercury Retrograde. Contemporary life is fast moving, and certain things, including signing contracts and taking trips, cannot be placed on hold during Mercury’s thrice-yearly visual reversal. My advice is: Don’t even attempt to hunker down during its cycle. Depending on your outlook, you might have to brace for a few reversals and snafus. But there is another dimension to the matter. You might also find that Mercury Retrograde – contrary to the apprehension it stirs online and in coffee-break rooms – is a period of revisiting or happily reversing situations that you had once imagined set in stone. Mercury Retrograde may place a speed bump into your plans, but it can also loosen things up and unwind knots. So sit back for the ride. It will be an unexpected one.

# # #

 

Mitch Grand Central Web ResMitch Horowitz is vice-president and editor-in-chief at Tarcher/Penguin. He is the author of Occult America (Bantam), which received the 2010 PEN Oakland/ Josephine Miles Award for literary excellence. His new book, One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life, is forthcoming from Crown in January 2014. Horowitz frequently writes about and discusses alternative spirituality in the national media, including CBS Sunday Morning, Dateline NBC, All Things Considered, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and CNN.com. He is online at: www.MitchHorowitz.com.