What kind of work do you do at Penguin? Do you have a crowning achievement, or memorable experience from your time here?
I’m a lawyer, with a job that is the envy of all other lawyers. Like all the lawyers here I have a few imprints that I primarily advise. I follow the books from acquisition through publication and beyond, responding to all sorts of issues that may arise in the full life of the book. A big part of my job is reading many of our books before they are published, to make sure there are no legal risks in them. This means I also get to talk to our authors, and many times I’m the first person other than their editor and close friends to read the book. There’s nothing better than being the first person to tell an author you love their book. I’m very lucky to advise Blue Rider Press, which publishes some of the greatest rock musician memoirs around. So in addition to reading great books I’ve had the good fortune to meet Neil Young, Rick Ocasek, Jewel and Elvis Costello. I also advise some of the corporate areas of the company, including Human Resources.
When you aren’t busy at work with books, do you have a hobby? Do you have any book recommendations related to this hobby?
When I’m not busy with books I spend a lot of time running—I’ve run 5 marathons, and will soon be training for another. Several years ago I worked on the book Running on Empty, by Marshall Ulrich, and that as much as anything made me want to become a long distance runner. Marshall ran across the entire country, and while I was reading I was thinking, “he’s crazy.” But I also was thinking, “I really want to do that.” Dean Karnazes’s Ultramarathon Man is also great. For running history I love Kings of the Road, by Cameron Stracher. And of course the modern classic for all runners is Born To Run, by Christopher McDougall.
Which books are you most excited about gifting this year?
My absolute favorite nonfiction book of 2015 is M Train, by Patti Smith. My favorite novel of the year is The Story of the Lost Child, by Elena Ferrante. Together, Patti Smith and Elena Greco are the most fascinating women–and people–I’ve read about in ages. This year I also want to give people beautiful print books, ones that they will want to hold and peruse, like Thunder and Lightning, by Lauren Redniss, and Notorious RBG, The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik. As I was filling out this questionnaire my 15-year-old son sent me a photo of the cover of my copy of Notorious RBG with the text, “It’s the greatest book cover I’ve ever seen.” Long live the print book!
What is your favorite holiday read of all time?
I can’t say I have a particular favorite holiday read–like Patti Smith I spend a lot of time thinking about the books I want to take away with me on Christmas vacation every year, and also like Patti, this year at her “recommendation” (meaning she wrote about it in M Train) I’m planning on taking The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami (incidentally also the author of another favorite running book: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running). I’m going to Iceland, so I’ll have two long flights and a lot of semi-darkness when there’s nothing to do but read.
What’s your favorite part of working the Penguin Hotline?
I love working the Hotline because it gives me a chance to use books to solve people’s problems. Seriously, people reveal a lot about their relationships when they describe the person they are shopping for. I love the idea that we can make people happy and feel understood by each other just by helping them choose the right books.
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