Linwood Barclay, NYT and #1 international bestselling author of BROKEN PROMISE (photo credit: Bill Taylor)

photo credit: Bill Taylor

Linwood Barclay, New York Times and #1 international bestselling author of Broken Promise shares his list of “Five Classic Thrillers” with the Penguin Hotline:

It’s occurred to me that whenever I’m asked to list my favourite thrillers, the titles that show up keep changing. There’s always one I think I should have mentioned, so the next time, I put it on the list, and one of the others falls off. Here are the books that come to mind today.

11/22/63, by Stephen King: Okay, time travel plays a big part in this 2011 novel about a man’s attempt to stop the assassination of President Kennedy, which puts it slightly into the sci-fi realm, but it’s a hell of a thriller, and shows that King has no intention of coasting in the later stages of  his career. It’s a huge, ambitious book, and in addition to the excitement that comes from trying to stop Lee Harvey Oswald, there’s a powerful love story at the novel’s core.

Marathon Man, by William Goldman: Before Goldman wrote the screenplay for the Dustin Hoffman thriller back in the 1970s, he wrote the novel. When I picked it up paperback as a teenager, I hardly knew what to make of it. The first several chapters appeared to have no connection to each other. First off, we’re witness to a bizarre traffic accident in Manhattan. Then we’re with Babe, the marathon-running student. Then we’re with Scylla, the assassin. As the threads start to come together, we’re mesmerized.

The First Deadly Sin, by Lawrence Sanders: Another book from the 1970s by the prolific writer of popular fiction (now no longer with us). Police detective Edward X. Delaney is on the trail of a serial killer who uses a strange weapon. This was the first big thriller I ever read. Delaney’s methodical, step-by-step approach to getting into the killer’s mind gives the book an epic feel.

A Judgment in Stone, by Ruth Rendell: In the very first paragraph, Rendell tells the reader who has been murdered, who the murderer is, and why the crime was committed. But the circumstances are so compelling, the reader has no choice to but to go on. You think you know it all, but you don’t.

The Cartel, by Don Winslow: Did I say Sanders’ book was epic? Well, Winslow’s most recent novel is EPIC. This ambitious book, about the Mexican drug cartels, is a followup to his earlier thriller, The Power of the Dog. If Tolkien had decided to write about the battles between drug lords, and their battles with government drug enforcement agents, instead of all that Middle Earth stuff, he might well have come with something like The Cartel. Not just a terrific read, but a deeply troubling work of fiction.

Thanks, Linwood Barclay! And the Penguin Hotline can’t help but recommend one of our favorite thrillers: Broken Promise!


Check out the Penguin Hotline for custom book recommendations!

Photo credit: Anna Pasquarella

Photo credit: Anna Pasquarella

J. Ryan Stradal, New York Times bestselling author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest recommends his “Five Favorite Books Set in the Midwest”:

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson — a collection of stories centered on addicts, criminals, layabouts, and drifters that’s absolutely gorgeous and filled to the rim with heart, sadness, and empathy.

The Fine Art of F***ing Up by Cate Dicharry – Iowa native and resident Dicharry’s humorous and surreal debut novel about the politics, desires, and acts of God that imperil an arts college in the upper Midwest.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace – while not all of Wallace’s essays in this volume are explicitly set in the Midwest, two of the best ones are, and this book is a wonderful introduction to the writing of one of the great literary minds of our time.

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley – King Lear set on an Iowa farm, Smiley nails Midwestern language, setting, and ethos in this beautiful, propulsive, and Pulitzer Prize-winning family drama.

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich – Erdrich’s poetic, captivating debut tells the stories of intertwined Native American families over generations, set in North Dakota.

Thanks, J. Ryan Stradal! And the Penguin Hotline can’t help but recommend one of our favorite books set in the Midwest: Kitchens of the Great Midwest!

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Check out the Penguin Hotline for custom book recommendations!

Photo credit: Robin V. Brown

Photo credit: Robin V. Brown

Daniel James Brown, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Boys in the Boat, recommends “Five Books That Take You Away”:

One of the things that I look for in a book is a story that will carry me away to a time or a place that I know I will never be able to visit myself. That applies to both fiction and nonfiction, but for me the draw is particularly powerful in the case of nonfiction, where I know that the world I am journeying into really does or really did exist. Here a few of my favorite armchair adventures.

In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides

What an epic journey! Transported back to 1879 you will travel deep into the Polar Regions on the U.S.S. Jeannette. You will soon find yourself struggling valiantly alongside Captain George Washington De Long as he confronts mounting and seemingly impossible obstacles in one of the harshest and most challenging environments on earth. Put out some snacks by your reading chair, because you’re going to get hungry before it’s all over.

The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko

This is one of those books that takes you not only into a spectacular physical environment—the Grand Canyon—but also into a culture that is nearly as exotic as the setting. Racing through the canyon on the Colorado River at crest of an epic flood, you will see it as you have never seen it before, and you will learn about the mindset of the extraordinary young people who live to master the river when it is at its most dangerous.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

By now Krakauer’s epic tale of life and death on Mount Everest is a classic of narrative nonfiction. But it’s a classic for good reason, and if you’ve somehow missed it, you should don a sub-zero parka, grab some supplemental oxygen, and strap on some crampons because you’re going to feel that you need them as you ascend the mountain with Krakauer on what turned out to be a tragic expedition in 1996.  Along the way, you are are going to journey deep into the souls of those who accompanied Krakauer, and the author himself.

Pilgrim’s Wilderness by Tom Kizzla

I suppose this is not so much a journey as a sudden and dramatic translocation. But you are likely to find the world in which Kinzzla sets you down—outside the tiny Alaskan outpost of McCarthy—as exotic and interesting as you could hope for. Aside from the vivid descriptions of the countryside itself, the book will introduce you to a memorable cast of eccentric characters, most particularly Papa Pilgrim, his wife, and their brood of fifteen children. The tale turns on the slow unraveling of Pilgrim’s carefully constructed and self-serving mythology about his life, and in so doing it brings you face to face with just how odd life in rural Alaska can be.

Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson

This is a book that takes you on two adventures at once. You will travel under the Caribbean with a pair of modern-day, high-tech treasure hunters. And at the same time you will travel back to the 1600s—the Golden Age of pirates—and voyage on the Golden Fleece with her rapacious captain, the infamous John Bannister. Both the modern day and the 17th century stories are first rate.


Thanks, Daniel James Brown! And the Penguin Hotline can’t help but recommend one book that takes us away: The Boys in the Boat! Start reading an excerpt here. And check out the Penguin Hotline for custom book recommendations!

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If you’re looking for graphic, gory movies like Saw, Scream, or something with Freddy Krueger, you’ll have to look elsewhere. I prefer spooky films, ghost stories, and movies that mix horror with humor. I assume everybody has seen Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, and the movie that inspired it, Bride of Frankenstein, so let’s pick up from there.

28 Days Later

28 Days Later (2002)

Danny Boyle’s movie about a fast-spreading virus is all too believable, which is why it’s so scary. It also predates the current zombie craze. Starring Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, and Brendan Gleeson.

The Babadook

The Babadook (2014)

A fragile, single mom can’t seem to stifle her young son’s wild imagination. He insists that there is a monster in their house, and it turns out he may be right. A genuinely frightening import from Australia written and directed by Jennifer Kent.

Innocent Blood

Innocent Blood (1992)

A sexy French vampire sinks her teeth into a mob boss and unleashes a brood of blood-sucking vampires!  A guilty-pleasure crossbreed of an urban action thriller and a vampire movie, directed by John Landis. With Anne Parillaud (star of La Femme Nikita), Anthony La Paglia, Robert Loggia, and Don Rickles—yes, that Don Rickles.

The Others

The Others (2001)

Nicole Kidman stars in this engrossing ghost story set on the Channel Islands in 1945. A troubled woman whose husband has never returned form the war tries to maintain her creepy old house while protecting—or is it overprotecting?—her young children. Written and directed by Alejandro Amenábar.


Cloverfield (2008)

A monster invades New York City and causes incredible havoc. An old B-movie premise is juiced up as a “found footage” movie shot by a video camera. It runs on pure adrenaline and never lets up. Lizzy Caplan and T.J. Miller head the cast; J.J. Abrams co-produced and Matt Reeves directed.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

This Oscar-winning film by Guillermo del Toro is a dark fairy tale set in Spain during World War II. A monstrous Fascist captain determines to flesh out soldiers of the resistance as his pregnant wife arrives at his countryside headquarters with her young daughter. She escapes the brutality of her new environment by drifting into a fantasy world. This unique fable, which blends fantasy and fearsome violence, invites repeated viewings.


Mirrormask (2005)

A teenage girl who feels alienated from her parents expresses her frustrations by drawing and goes into a dream state inspired by her artwork—and into an odyssey to save the world from dark forces. Neil Gaiman conceived this story with his longtime artistic collaborator, David McKean, who directed this unappreciated film.

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

This ingenious British horror-comedy put its star, Simon Pegg, and writer-director Edgar Wright, on the map, and for good reason. It’s a very amusing riff on zombie movies, as our slacker-hero slowly catches on that London has been invaded by zombies.

An American Werewolf in London

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Not a spoof but a full-blooded horror film that happens to have a sense of humor. David Naughton and Griffin Dunne star in this tale of an American who’s bitten by a wolf on the British moors, with terrifying results. Written and directed by John Landis. Rick Baker’s amazing makeup effects won an Oscar.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

The bombastic comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello costar with classic movie monsters (Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Lon Chaney, Jr. as The Wolf Man, Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s monster) in this merry mashup. The monsters all play it straight and the film has the look and feel of a vintage Universal horror movie, which is why it works so well.



Leonard is an authority on movies. His latest books Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide is the definitive guide to classic films from one of America’s most trusted film critics.

Thanks to Netflix and cable television, classic films are more accessible than ever. Now co-branded with Turner Classic Movies, Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide covers films from Hollywood and around the world, from the silent era through 1965, and from The Maltese Falcon to Singin’ in the Rain and Godzilla, King of the Monsters!


Thirty-two years ago, when baseball was still inarguably the national pastime, the New York Yankees hosted the Boston Red Sox at old Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The temperature soared into the 90s. Neither team was headed to the playoffs. Yet 41,077 fans found their way there, by foot or subway or car or bus, into the park just over the Harlem River from Manhattan. It was the Fourth of July.

The Yankees pitcher that day was a 24-year-old left-hander named Dave Righetti, born in California, drafted by Texas, traded to New York. Righetti was coming off a shutout of the Baltimore Orioles in his previous start. His season was off to a fine start. What might happen that day?

The beauty of baseball – one of the beauties, anyway – is in the heat of July, with half the season gone and half the season ahead, no one game is more important than the next. Baseball is not an event as much as a lifestyle. Sure, there are marquee pitching matchups and series between first-place teams. Lose that one game? Get swept in that key series? There’s another one on the way, new hope each morning.

The Fourth of July kind of tips that balance. Baseball fits the Rockwellian version of Independence Day. Toss it in with all the clichés, with the backyard barbecues and the parades and the fireworks. No ballpark with any degree of pride will host a July 4 game and not dust off the red-white-and-blue bunting.

So people go. Want to feel American? Hop in your Chevy on the Fourth of July and drive to a baseball game. Last year, major league games averaged just more than 30,000 fans over the course of a season that runs from the beginning of spring to the edge of autumn. On the Fourth of July 2014, more than 540,000 people – an average of 38,602 – attended the 14 big league games in parks from Washington to Detroit to Minneapolis to Atlanta to St. Louis to Cincinnati to Denver to Anaheim, where crowds were all over 40,000. (The game in Boston was rained out.)

Tee up the memories, then. On Independence Day in 1939, an ailing Lou Gehrig stepped to the microphone at Yankee Stadium less than a month after his diagnosis with a disease that came to be named for him. He told the crowd that he considered himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

On the July 4, 1980, the great Nolan Ryan recorded the 3,000th strikeout of his career. On July 4, four years later, knuckleballer Phil Niekro – the anti-Ryan in style, if not results – notched his 3,000th “K.” On the night of Independence Day in 1985, the Braves hosted the Mets in Atlanta, with fireworks scheduled for after the game. Problem: the game lasted 19 innings before the Mets won – at 4 a.m. It would have been somehow un-American to cancel the fireworks, so the Braves unleashed them anyway, though it was the morning of July 5.

This year, 15 games are again scheduled for the Fourth of July – starting with an 11:05 a.m. first pitch in Washington, a rare morning game scheduled so fans can take in the Nationals and San Francisco Giants, then make their way over to the National Mall, less than a mile-and-a-half north of Nationals Park, for the fireworks over the Washington Monument.

Yankee Stadium, albeit a newer, fancier version, will again host a baseball game this Independence Day. And no doubt some of those fans who make their way to the Bronx will think about that summer of 1983, when Dave Righetti slung baseballs at the Red Sox. With two outs in the ninth inning, Righetti still hadn’t given up a hit, and he faced Boston third baseman Wade Boggs, one of the best hitters of his generation, a Hall of Famer to be.

With the count at two balls and two strikes, Boggs fouled off a Righetti pitch and stepped back into the batter’s box. This time, Righetti got him to swing through a breaking ball. Strike three. Ballgame. A no-hitter in New York on the Fourth of July. Now what’s more American than that?


The Grind


What’s it like to live through sports’ longest season, the 162-game Major League Baseball schedule? The Grind captures the frustration, impermanence, and glory felt by the players, the staff, and their families from the start of spring training to the final game of the year; classy baseball writing in the Roger Angell or Tom Boswell tradition. 

Start Reading an Excerpt!

Susan Loomis_credit Francis Hammond

All of the sudden, it’s summer. That’s northern France for you.  Wind whistles, grass is covered with frost, flowers have that slightly frozen etch around their petals until very late in the spring then BAM! The sun is out, the air is a warm caress, and rose is in the fridge, chilling for supper.

Tomorrow is the farmers’ market in my town of Louviers, and I’m so eager to see what’s there that I can hardly wait.  You wouldn’t think much would change from one week to the next, but it does. We’ve been through asparagus season, the very early harbinger of spring, but it’s taken an age for anything else to come along.  Now, though, with this burst of warmth which has summer woven all through it, there is likely to be shiny zucchini ready to steam and cover with minced garlic and parsley, and melons will finally send their alluring aroma through the air, begging for a squeeze of lime juice and a sprinkling of peppers and diced shallot, for a pre-meal salad. There may be a few early tomatoes, and strawberries will at long last lend their warm, almost syrupy flavor to a tart, a fruit salad, or a glass of red wine.

As for seafood, well, the sardines are jumping into the fishers’ nets, and I will dredge some in flour, cover them with minced sage and garlic, and bathe them in olive oil and vinegar for a summery escabeche.  I’m doing a big dinner and skate wing, straight from the English Channel, is on the menu.  I will serve it with a capery sauce atop crushed new potatoes that I’ve sprinkled with tiny strips of fresh basil and dabbed with fresh farm butter.  For a real nod to summer, I’ll add a mound of freshly boiled peas that are so sweet they belie their vegetable status and almost taste like dessert.

market picnic

Tomorrow I just know I will also find bunches of new onions, tiny beets, blushing young shallots, juicy cloves of new garlic, and carrots as thin as a pinky.  Anticipating this, I’ve made aioli to serve alongside this summer wealth, for a market picnic. I’ll follow with the sardines and a crisp baguette (for sopping up the sauce). Dessert?  A bowl of cherries in ice water.

For dinner, we’ll have the skate wing with potatoes and peas, a big crisp salad in a delicate vinaigrette, and a chocolate tart covered with sliced strawberries and dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

Oh summer, how happy we are that you are here!

in-a-french-kitchen-by-susan-herrmann-loomis 2


Explore Susan Herrmann Loomis’ new book In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France for everyday tips, secrets, and eighty-five recipes that allow you to turn every meal into a sumptuous occasion.

In a French Kitchen by Susan Herrmann Loomis is a delightful celebration of French life and the cooks who turn even the simplest meals into an occasion.

Start Reading an Excerpt!



Penguin Online photo Yafa

Anyone who’s seen Jennifer Lawrence or Charlize Theron on screen knows that both of the Oscar winners for Best Actress are the real thing. It’s not surprising, at least to me, that they have no patience for phony celebs or “pretend” foods. Theron won’t go near anything gluten-free: “It tastes like cardboard!” she exclaimed in a talk-show appearance. Lawrence told Vanity Fair that gluten-free diets are “the new, cool eating disorder.”

Real foods, to both women, do not perform bait-and-switch tricks like substituting tapioca for whole wheat flour in baked goods. Real foods contain whole grains that may or may not be fashionable at the moment, but still deliver proven value.  I’m reminded that our palate and digestive system subscribe to no dietary trends, and never have.  Our bodies dwell in a microbial universe where nutritive usefulness trumps the latest fad; muscles and ligaments along with the liver and every other internal organ thrive on minerals and vitamins, healthful bacteria, fiber and phytochemicals. They’re sublimely oblivious to pop culture’s demands for the newest, coolest, latest diet.

As the author of Grain of Truth—The Real Case For and Against Wheat and Gluten I set out to discover for myself, as an investigative journalist, just how seriously I should take the campaign against gluten. Was this protein complex found in wheat, barley and rye, as William Davis claims in Wheat Belly, so injurious to our well-being that it has killed more people than all wars combined? Or were we yet again being subjected to unsubstantiated hyperbole—this time delivered by medical professionals, among others?

The gluten-free craze arrived in a thundercloud of hyperbole, like Moses delivering the Ten Commandments and warning if you fail to honor them, well, we’ll see you in hell. That’s the emotional foundation of screeds like Wheat Belly and Grain Brain. Like scripture, they are unconditional—they don’t deal with shades of gray, so we don’t have to, either. It’s all fire and brimstone. Eat wheat and grow fat, while you rot your brain. Other diet fads—Zone, South Beach, Atkins, generally call for more protein and fewer carbs, and more thought.  Gluten-free is a one-stop one-shop silver bullet.

Reliable clinical studies indicate that only .63 to 6 percent of us suffer from definable symptoms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and 1 in 133 from celiac disease. The vast majority of men and women who think they’re reacting to gluten— about 30 percent of the general population—fall into neither category.

A recent study at the University of Florida set out to probe people’s misconceptions about gluten. It followed 97 participants who tasted two food choices, one labeled “gluten-free” and one labeled “gluten.” The majority decided the non-gluten food was healthier, even though neither food actually contained gluten. As many as 32 percent of the study subjects thought eating gluten-free would bring about weight loss. Not true. It’s the elimination of junk food, the researchers point out, that makes all the difference.

grain-of-truth-by-stephen-yafa 2I discovered too that long fermentation, as in sourdough, is nature’s way of reducing the toxicity of gluten molecules while increasing its nutritive value and edible enjoyment. A surprise to me, and proof again that the best part of authoring a book is to learn what you didn’t know when you began.


Read more about Grain of Truth—The Real Case For and Against Wheat and Gluten by Stepehn Yafa!

patricia-morrisroeHow do you choose what to write about?

I’ve written a biography of the controversial biography Robert Mapplethorpe, a book on sleep, and now a memoir about shoes.  On the surface, they would seem to have nothing in common, but each subject was very topical.  Mapplethorpe would soon become notorious as the man whose work resulted in the famous censorship trial in Cincinnati – the first time a gallery in the United States faced prosecution for the art it displayed.  From that standpoint alone, it was an important story, but Mapplethorpe’s life, from his early beginnings as a Catholic schoolboy in Floral Park, Queens, to reaching the top of the art world as he was dying of AIDS, was a powerful narrative.

I decided to write about sleep because I’ve long suffered from insomnia, and after spending a crazy night in a sleep clinic, I thought, “This is too good to waste.” At the time, there was a lot about sleep in the news, focusing on the bizarre side-effects of sleeping pills, such as “sleep eating, sleep driving,” etc.  So again, it was a topical subject that in this case touched me personally.

9 ½ Narrow: My Life In Shoes came out of a conversation I had with an editor who wanted to see if I was interested in doing a book on Alexander McQueen.  When you write about someone’s life, you really have to be willing to walk in his or her shoes, and among the last shoes McQueen designed were his 12-inch crustacean-clawed Armadillo booties.  They were terrifying, but it started me thinking about women and shoes, and how they provided a marker for the important events in our lives.


What does a typical writing day look for you?

 I’m a very regimented person, so after drinking a cup of tea, eating Greek yogurt with fruit, and reading the New York Times on my iPad, I usually start to work around 9:30 am.  I take a break around 1pm to pick up something for dinner and my all-important latte, and then I’m back writing around 2:15 or so.  I usually work until about 5:30.  I’m someone who can’t write after dinner because if I did my head would be spinning all night long, which it often does anyway, but then I’d never fall asleep, and since I’ve already written that book, it wouldn’t be productive.


You’ve also written for New York magazine and Vogue.  How does writing a book differ from journalism?

The obvious answer is that writing a book takes much longer and represents a huge emotional investment.  There isn’t the immediate gratification of seeing your name in print and getting quick feedback from editors and readers.  With a book, you have to be sure that you’re fascinated enough in the subject that it will keep you going for at least several years.  With magazines, even if you’re not completely in love with the topic, you know it’s not forever, and with some books, it can seem like forever.  But of course in the end, you have a book.  They may not be forever, but they’re usually around longer than a magazine piece.


What surprised you most about writing 9 ½ Narrow?

My mother died two months before I signed the book contract, and my father died two months before my publication date.  They acted as bookends, as it were.  I’d started out writing a humorous memoir about shoes.  I knew it wouldn’t be without its poignant parts.  Friends died along the way, but I wasn’t fully prepared for the death of a parent.  Throughout the book, my mother acts as my sparring partner and foil.  She’s both hilarious and frustrating, but her voice helped move the book along.  Shoes, as everyone who’s ever read a fairy tale knows, provide the perfect metaphor for life’s journey.  I didn’t know where 9 ½ Narrow would take me, or how I’d end it, but my mother got me there, and in doing so, provided the book with an added depth, for which I am grateful.


What do you hope readers will gain from the book?

I hope they will laugh and cry and recognize a little bit of themselves in my story.  For me, writing this book was enormously fun and at times very sad.  Some weeks I’d find myself smiling, other weeks, I’d be writing with tears rolling down my cheeks.  In a way, this book saved me during a difficult time in my life.  So I’d love for readers to enjoy the full scope of my story, and then, with my blessing, go out and celebrate their own lives with a new pair of shoes.


What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Don’t do it unless you really love it, because it’s a difficult profession, and getting more difficult.  I could say don’t get discouraged by rejections, but everyone gets discouraged.  Moving on after the rejections is the important thing.  Set up a schedule and stick to it.  I once interviewed Raymond Carver and I remember him telling me that he used to get up early in the morning to write in his car.  Don’t try to mimic another writer’s voice.  Find your own.  It will take time, but once you do, you’ll realize it was there all along.   Pay attention to the way you talk and bring that distinct rhythm into your writing.  And, as clichéd as it sounds, it’s really all about the pleasure of the process.



A funny, poignant coming-of-age memoir told through the shoes that she wore.

Morrisroe’s “coming-of-age” is, at its heart, the story of a generation of women who’ve enjoyed a world of freedom and opportunity that was unthinkable to their mothers. Spanning five decades and countless footwear trends, 9 ½ Narrow is, like Love, Loss and What I Wore, about how we remember important events through a coat, or a dress, or in this case, a Beatle boot or Confirmation “wedgie.” 


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Simon MajumdarI was genuinely delighted when Penguin Random House agreed to publish my latest food and travel adventure, Fed, White, and Blue.  Not just because they are, of course, one of the finest publishers in the world, but also because it felt very much like I was coming home.

A little under thirty years ago, after the good Lord and I both decided that a life in the Episcopalian clergy was not for me, my first “proper” place of employment was as a sales associate in a small, short lived chain of bookshops owned by Penguin Books.  It began a happy ten year association with the publisher that saw me move up through the ranks until I had gained the heady title of “Special Sales Manager,” a position which earned me my own little office, with its own coveted little window, in their London headquarters.

The majority of my time during that decade, however, was spent out on the road, as a sales representative for the Penguin Paperback list. It was a period which, even given some of the extraordinary adventures I have experienced in the last few years of travel around the world, still remains one of the most enjoyable of my career, and I still retain the fondest memories of my years servicing a select group of large bookstores in central London.

It was a job which not only tested my ability to consume gallons of tea (or “English Penicillin” as we call it back in Blighty) every day as I met with the managers of the book stores, but also gave me a true insight into the sharp end of the book business, which I think has served me well in my second life as an author.

As a sales person for Penguin, the notion of “author care” was drummed into me from the very beginning. My list of new books to sell each month was sizeable, but I was always well aware that every title I offered up to my customers represented the heart and soul of the author, and often years of hard work to bring the book to fruition. It was a mindset that I never forgot, whether I was selling a new title from a blockbuster author or a niche work from a specialist that would find its home in our midlist. I can promise that I always gave every effort to sell every book, and it is a mindset that I am delighted to say seems to be very much at the heart of the Penguin Random House philosophy today.

I can also say that my time on the road has definitely helped me become a more involved author.  Each new book I write is like my new baby, and I, of course, want everybody to admire it and for it to reach the widest audience possible. However, having spent so much time on the front line of book sales, I am also aware what a tough battleground it can be and that there are thousands of new books each month are fighting for the attention of customers.

fed-white-and-blue-by-simon-majumdar 2I also know, after spending nearly twenty years of my life in the business, just how much the publishing landscape has changed. Now, more than ever, making a book a success depends on a joint effort between the authors, editorial, marketing, publicity and the sales teams. It takes, as they say “a village” to produce a good book, and I am thrilled that, with the publication of Fed, White, and Blue I am allowed to be a resident of one of the best villages in the business.

Like I said, it feels like coming home.

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credit Fiona Saunders

Seventeen years ago, right out of college and the Radcliffe Publishing Course, I moved to New York and went to work for the charismatic group of editors who founded Riverhead Books. Over the next four years, as an editorial assistant, I would answer phones, make photocopies, mail books and schedule lunch dates in exchange for a master class in the art of being an editor.

I had always wanted to be an editor. I imagined being left alone in a spacious office with a lot of books and papers. It didn’t take a week to realize that the reality of being an editor was very different—and much more exciting—than my fantasy. What I could not have anticipated before witnessing the chaos, the constant interruptions, the endless phone calls and multi-hour meetings around which those editors’ work days revolved, was how captivating the authors would be. I was star-struck by some of them, a little bit in love with others, and scared to death of one or two. But they were never, ever boring, and no two hours, let alone days, with them were alike. I was forced to overcome my natural introversion again and again to find ways to help, to please, to cajole and to befriend these enigmatic creatures.

When I became an editor myself, I realized just how intense and emotional these relationships could be. The authors I chose to work with changed my life. I helped them to make the most of their work, promoted their books both inside and outside the company, and faded into the background when it was their time to shine. I learned a lot by watching them, but I never wished to be one of them. They spent years writing books in private that would become suddenly public, up for judgment. It was exhilarating but terrifying. They nurtured their hopes, but they couldn’t know what publication day would bring.

While I delivered more than my share of good news over the years—got to tell some authors that their books had made the New York Times bestseller list, to enthuse over publicity coups and take them out for celebratory dinners after their Manhattan readings—I felt their disappointment acutely when things didn’t go so well: a bad review, a too-quiet launch, missed flights and poorly attended readings on tour. I loved being their behind-the-scenes support from the relative safety of my office at 375 Hudson Street, where my good friends and I gossiped and celebrated one another’s birthdays with conference room cupcakes.

A writing life would have seemed too messy and risky to the person I was then. I used to tell friends and family who aspired to write books that it was a terrible way to make a living, that if they could imagine doing anything else—ANYTHING—they should go and do that instead. I stand by that advice, and yet my book, That’s Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us, is about to be published by Gotham.

After I‘d been working for Penguin for ten years, my husband and I had the opportunity to reinvent our lives in London—an offer too exciting to pass up. We started a family. I did some freelance editing and ghost-wrote a couple of books. Then I started looking around for a new challenge… and let’s face it, there’s nothing like a couple of little kids to help you get used to mess and risk. When one of my former authors (none other than the brilliant Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves) gave me the idea to write a book about the differences between English and American culture through the lens of language, I really wanted to try it.

I spent months doing research and digging up intriguing little stories and bizarre bits of history. It was enormous fun finding my own voice after channeling other voices for so long, but the best part was imagining readers having the same thrill of discovery that I’d felt while working on the book. There are a lot of people out there who love to travel, explore other cultures, and talk about language—this book is for them. It is also for American and English expatriates going through the tortuous process of partial assimilation that I went through (and am still going through). Writing That’s Not English helped me find the humor in this experience.

I could never have imagined how satisfying work could be on the other side of the desk. There are things I miss about being an editor, though—like my colleagues. I want to say that I missed those smart and funny Penguins so much, I just had to work with them again. But the truth is, they rarely call me. Most days I am left alone in the library with a lot of books and papers, nurturing my hopes and wondering what publication day will bring.




American by birth, Erin Moore is a former book editor who specialized in spotting British books—including Eats, Shoots & Leaves—for the US market. She’s spent the last seven years living in England with her Anglo American husband and a small daughter with an English accent.

That’s Not English is the perfect companion for modern Anglophiles and the ten million British and American travelers who visit one another’s countries each year.