I first got to know Dave Barry about twenty years ago. By that time, he’d already won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary and had more bestsellers than half the publishing houses I know, but he’d never tried fiction.
Then the Miami Herald approached him and several other South Florida writers, including Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard, to write a serial novel; I bought the book rights; and I loved his chapter so much, I asked if he wanted to write a whole novel. He said, sure, great idea! It wasn’t until he signed the contracts that he realized that meant he actually had to write a novel, with characters and plot and, you know, a lot of words. It was a brutal awakening. I’m not sure he’s ever completely forgiven me….
But I digress. Since then, we’ve done many books together, both fiction and nonfiction, but I have to say I think his new one may be my favorite: Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster): Life Lessons and Other Ravings from Dave Barry.
It’s a collection of all-new essays about what one generation can teach to another – or not. Two of the centerpieces are letters to his brand-new grandson and to his daughter Sophie, who will be getting her Florida learner’s permit this year (“So you’re about to start driving! How exciting! I’m going to kill myself.”). Another explores the hometown of his youth, where the grownups were supposed to be uptight Fifties conformists, but seemed to be having a lot of un-Mad Men-like fun – unlike Dave’s own Baby Boomer generation, which was supposed to be wild and crazy, but somehow turned into neurotic hover-parents. Yet another conjures the loneliness of high school nerds (“You will never hear a high-school girl say about a boy, in a dreamy voice, ‘He’s so sarcastic!’”).
All of them are extremely funny, but they also have the essence of humor: real heart. They make you not only laugh (a lot), but think and feel, and I promise you will be reading a lot of it aloud to people you love, and even to random strangers. Perhaps over a beer. Here’s to you, Dave.
I grew up on ten acres in a quiet bush town called Bellbrae. It was pretty idyllic: the air smelled of eucalyptus, we were friends with all our neighbours, and we had the space and time to play and imagine and create. My mum was always a great reader, and my dad became one when he had kids. I have lovely flashes of book-related memories that I sometimes catch as they float by: being read to by my parents, reading on long car trips and trying not to give into car sickness, being told off by Mum for reading in the dark, the treat of visiting a bookshop, reading well-loved books over and over. I was so proud to own books and would always ‘borrow’ my mum’s and put them on my bookshelf. She’d take them back without telling me, and I’d do the same. It became this silent, funny, ping-pong kind of game that we had with each other and didn’t acknowledge.
I look at all my childhood books now and I can feel the magic of that time, the feeling they gave me. I can’t remember not feeling like books were important. I don’t think this is something I could have explained as a kid—now I can attach language to the feeling, and suggest that perhaps it was something to do with the way reading tapped into my imagination and my love of learning and the need I might have felt to develop an understanding for the way people are. But as a kid, it felt natural and I loved it and I didn’t know why. It was just something I thought everyone did, like the way we all did colouring-in, and played the recorder, and dressed up in Mum’s old bridesmaid dress and glittery shoes. It was all play to me.
Roald Dahl was my all-time favourite, and still is. His stories were funny, imaginative, rude, and pretty violent, in a cartoonish way, and it seemed like my parents shouldn’t be encouraging me to read them. I didn’t feel like I was being patronised when I read Roald Dahl. I also loved Judy Blume, Robin Klein, John Marsden, Emily Rodda, Katherine Paterson and L.M. Montgomery. Their writing felt honest and real—even when it was wildly imaginative. I was also really taken with Tim Winton’s ‘Lochie Leonard’ books—he captured the sound of the Australian accent so beautifully and I hadn’t realised you could do that in writing, that you could give a character the sound of your own voice.
I’ve kept journals since I was quite young, and there’s a line in one when I was eight years-old that says, pretty precociously, ‘I’m determined to become a writer.’ And then, when I was nine or ten, I wrote this nonsense poem in the style of Roald Dahl in primary school about my little brother called The Pest. My teacher asked me to read it out loud in front of the class—my classmates laughed in all the right spots, and I was urged to do a sequel. The sequel was terrible and didn’t have the same impact, but I remembered the feeling of my writing giving people pleasure. I wanted more of that feeling.
Tim Dowling, author of How to be a Husband shares his suggestions on what Husbands should be reading this Valentine’s Day!
For the most part my experience of being a husband cycles around repeated failures to measure up, followed by sincere attempts to address these failings and to fail better next time, starting with my whole approach to recently used towels. The secret of being a good husband, I find, is taking the time to point out to one’s wife that she could, in fact, do a whole lot worse. That, in part, is what the following books can do for you. Read them first to make sure you are actually a better husband than the ones featured, and discard from the pile as necessary.
Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
I was first made to read this in high school, at a time when this savage portrait of the morally bankrupt of George F. Babbit, family man and establishment stooge, didn’t mean much to me. Obviously I get it now. And how.
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
As bleak a portrayal of married existence as you’re likely to encounter, although when I saw the movie I came over all nostalgic because they’d so faithfully recreated the suburban Connecticut of my childhood. I kept wanting to shout, “It doesn’t have to be this way! Get some ice cream! Play some tennis!” I had a similar problem with The Ice Storm.
Abbott Awaits by Chris Bachelder
An extraordinary book: funny, dark, often transcendent. It charts tiny, in-between moments – through a series of very short chapters – in the life of Abbott, a college teacher with a small child, a pregnant wife and a tenuous grip on the point of it all. If you’re married with kids he will remind you, often painfully, of you. Fortunately this sort of book isn’t my wife’s cup of tea at all.
The Wife by Meg Wollitzer
A look at marriage from the other perspective, that of the long-suffering wife of a celebrated author. It’s not a happy prospect – she’s planning to leave him on page 1 – but how it makes you feel about your own record as a husband will probably depend on your personality. I was heartened and chilled by turns.
The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith
Charles Pooter, the suburban householder diarist of the title, is such a byword for a certain kind of unknowing self-importance that in Britain he’s an adjective: pooterish. Although it was written in the late 19th century, this comic masterpiece remains a great key to understanding the English, their humour and their preoccupations. I re-read it often, and each time it makes a little more sense.
Mr Bridge, by Evan S. Connell.
This chronicle of a distant, repressed husband living between the wars in Kansas City came out a full 10 years after Connell’s debut novel, Mrs Bridge, which covers the same ground but with the wife as the protagonist. The two books were later amalgamated and adapted for the screen as Mr and Mrs Bridge. They’re both great, but if you’re a husband this is the one that will keep you up nights.
Denise Roy is a Senior Editor at Dutton, focusing on fiction. Each April, she rereads Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder.
Some of the greatest love stories in American history feature a chapter at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In 1844, the shy Missouri belle Julia Dent met Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant, a brilliant horseman and reluctant soldier. The two fell deeply in love, but four years passed before Julia’s father permitted them to wed. The groom’s abolitionist family refused to attend the ceremony. Though Julia had the company of Jule–her namesake slave who served as her vision (Mrs. Grant was nearly blind) and her confidante until she emancipated herself in 1863–she and her husband, the great general of the Union Army, endured years of separation and the privations of the Civil War until they were finally brought together as President and First Lady. New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini reveals the details of this great American love story—never before told in fictional form.
In the wilderness, the concept of survival is clear-cut. Simple. In the real world, it’s anything but. “What if the most devastating moment of your life was also the beginning of something beautiful?” New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult praises Claire Kells’ debut novel Girl Underwater, “a compelling coming-of-age love story that will have you rooting for its teen narrator, a girl who survives a disaster, and finds herself trapped between a traumatic past and a fragile future. Trust me–dive in!” If that’s not enough to convince you, “Kells expertly ratchets up the tension in her thrilling debut novel . . . With its subzero temperatures that will make you reach for a blanket and a wounded but never weakened heroine, Kells’ assured debut is a winner.” (Kirkus) Read one page of Girl Underwater, and you’ll be hooked, instantly.
Jess Dunne is third-generation Hollywood, but her star on the boulevard has yet to materialize. Sure, she’s got a Santa Monica address and a working actress roommate, but with her nowhere barista job in a town that acknowledges zeroes only as a dress size, she’s a dead girl walking. Enter Jess’s mother—a failed actress who puts the strange in estrangement. She dives headlong into her daughter’s downward spiral, forcing Jess to muster all her spite and self-preservation. Oh! You Pretty Things is a family love story and an ode to the city that has inspired endless fantasies. There is also a botanical stylist named Kirk who really fills out a T-shirt. Welcome to Hollywood.
It’s hard to say “I’m sorry,” but Lori Nelson Spielman, #1 international bestselling author of The Life List and master of high-concept fiction, has invented an ingenious method. In her new novel, Sweet Forgiveness, the urge for atonement is sweeping the nation in the form of a phenomenon called the “Forgiveness Stones.” Nelson Spielman has a flair for dropping her characters into highly relatable situations that will have readers thinking, feeling, and rooting for wrongs to be righted. After you read Sweet Forgiveness, you’ll never again be tempted to give up on someone you love.
This debut novel that combines spy thriller, historical romance, science fiction, and fantasy reads like “the love child of Jane Austen and Dr. Who” (Eloisa James). Named a “Best of the Year” with “the feel of an instant classic, along the lines of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” by The Washington Post, this “thrill ride” (Vanity Fair), time-bending chronicle of lovers separated by centuries, dares the reader to sample John Donne’s poetry without blushing.
Find more books on the Romance page.
Amy talks with Jojo Moyes about her new novel, ONE PLUS ONE.
Read an excerpt and learn more about the book here:
Marissa Grossman is an Editorial Assistant at Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group. Like any self-respecting pop culture addict, she watches far too much television and loves all things social media. You can find her on Twitter @marissagrossman.
I might be cheating a little, since this book won’t be available until 2015, but I can’t imagine leaving it off my list. The Law of Loving Others tells the story of Emma, who returns home from boarding school to find that her mother is in the middle of a schizophrenic break. Debut author Kate Axelrod’s stunning, emotional novel takes us inside Emma’s mind as she struggles with the shocking news of her mother’s condition and the questions it raises about her own mental health. Are Emma’s moments of anxiety and distant feelings toward her boyfriend a normal reaction to something so stressful, or could they be a precursor to her own battle with schizophrenia? Can she handle such upheaval in her family, or is she just too fragile? Even if you’ve never had to deal with mental illness in your own life, you’ll definitely relate to Emma’s heart-wrenching journey as she learns what it means to love others–and herself–unconditionally.
Somehow, this South African import has remained a mostly undiscovered gem. Sharing Catcher in the Rye’s wit and prep-school setting, Spud is a rollicking update on Salinger’s classic. The novel takes place in 1990 South Africa, just as Nelson Mandela is being released from prison and the country is beginning its march toward the end of apartheid. It’s a seminal moment in South Africa’s–and the world’s–history, but it’s seen through the eyes of 13-year-old John “Spud” Milton, who’s just trying to get through his first year at boarding school. Though the novel’s setting may be specific, the coming-of-age themes are universal. Spud deals with mischievous roommates, a hilariously eccentric family, his first crush, feelings of alienation, and even death. This novel is filled with moments of intense heartbreak and unbridled joy; it’s cathartic, relatable, and uplifting. If you’re a fan of grounded YA, this one’s for you.
So here’s the thing: if you had seen my three-year-old cousin dressed up as Ladybug Girl for Halloween, you’d adore this series too. Lulu/Ladybug Girl is spunky, fearless, and imaginative. She’s basically everything you could ask for in a children’s book character. And the fact that she has a basset hound named Bingo? Well that’s just icing on the cake.
Ok, this is another one that isn’t available quite yet, but I promise it’s worth the wait. Do you love astrology? Great! Do you know little-to-nothing about astrology? Same here! While Zodiac’s premise may revolve around the astrological signs, it’s really the perfect novel for anyone who loves thrilling adventures, epic worlds, and compelling characters. Romina Russell’s world-building is magnificent, reimagining the Zodiac as 12 different solar systems, each populated with characters who personify the traits of their respective signs. The protagonist, Rho, is a sci-fi Katniss Everdeen: a badass leader with just the right mix of snark and empathy. You’ll fall in love with Rho, a protective and loving Cancer, and you’ll definitely have trouble deciding which of the men in her life you like best: the brooding, sensitive Mathias (a Cancer like Rho), or Hysan, the charming, confident Libra. No matter which sign you are, you’ll adore this jaw-dropping blockbuster of a book.
Find more books on the Young Readers page!
I LOVE Summer and I like to think I’m really good at it (if one can be “good” at a season). There’s nothing more enjoyable than the sun, a beach, waves (of the pool or ocean variety), and a novel that matches your outfit. So here are my literary fiction selections to take you from the sand to al fresco dining.
This book is the clear beach choice, and what I will be reading in my American flag swimsuit over the 4th of July. The Post family travels from NYC to the beautiful island of Mallorca, but can’t escape their problems. Emma paints a beautiful portrait of a family experiencing change, and this will likely make you laugh as well as cry.
This rainbow book selection will brighten any day! Meg’s novel follows a group of friends from summer camp all the way through middle age, and touches on the questions we all have at one time or another. It’s introspective as well as enlightening, and will make you think fondly of your childhood friends, and maybe try to reconnect over a beach bonfire.
One of the first books I read as an early manuscript when I started at Penguin five years ago, the story of Kimberly Chang has stayed with me. We can all relate to feeling like an outsider, and Jean Kwok’s lyrical tale of ambition, family expectations, and forbidden love should not be missed.
I admit I love World War II novels, and this one is my favorite. This incredibly written novel follows Sigrid Schröder of Berlin, who appears to be the perfect soldier’s wife, until she meets a Jewish man that changes her entire world.
The perfect green-grass picnic read, this novel introduces three sisters who have returned to the home in which they grew up. I think we can all relate to the feeling of coming home, and Eleanor captures it beautifully, and intersperses words from Shakespeare that add to the delight.
Wear a headscarf and get a convertible – this book is the perfect summertime romp back to New York City in 1937, and all that entails. You’ll meet Katey and Eve and Tinker, and you won’t soon forget them.
Find more books on the Literary Fiction page!
Anne Kosmoski is the Assistant Publicity Director for Gotham and Avery. She has books her in blood … and all over her apt, which makes choosing the right one at bedtime easier for her two daughters. Books, daughters, mom and dad all live in Brooklyn.
To be honest, I am more of a Tuesday – crossword gal than a Sunday. But Alan Connor’s book about the history and secret lives of crosswords, made me feel like a Crossword Queen. Spies, secret codes, upside down words – it’s all in there and more. Everything you need to know about a subject you didn’t know you were fascinated by. This is my kind of beach reading!
It’s summer which means school is out and the playgrounds and backyard projects are in. Our family loves Ken Denmead’s Geek Dad. It is a treasure trove of crazy experiments (exploding soda) and fun projects (the Best Slip-n-Slide ever). And he has clear cut, easy to follow instructions for those who aspire to be geeks but wouldn’t know binary if this was written in it.
Aah, summer. It is not often that we entertain, but when we do I love a themed cocktail. This book looks like a classy party with beautiful people and witty repartee. One or two vespers and your party will look that way too.
I am an evangelist for this book. First, I love the title and I love watching people react when I give it to them. Second, it’s just a great read. A M Homes take on modern living is sarcastic, deadpan, and brilliant.
Even a mom needs some downtime and I am lucky enough to get in a yoga class here and there. One teacher began a class with a quote from this book and I haven’t looked back since. As the book says, a beautiful mix of enlightenment and entertainment. It keeps me grounded, makes me laugh, and reminds me to step back and just take it all in. The dude abides.
I couldn’t help it. This is a current family favorite (and even the one year old reads along). If you have young children and have not ventured into the world of Llama Llama, you should.
To find Health & Self-Improvement books, click here.
1. Bath Time is Awesome.
From the early days of washing them in the sink (or bucket or whatever other vessel is at hand) to experiencing their joyous splashing in the tub, nothing is more fun than bath time, and nothing in the world smells more heavenly than a freshly clean baby. Even the parts after bath are awesome—wrapping them up in a cuddly towel like a big burrito, smelling their hair as you comb through it, and getting those adorably cute pajamas on for bedtime are all sensory gold. In fact, the only time bath time is not awesome is when it’s been 2 hours and the kid still doesn’t want to get out of the tub.
2. The only thing routine about bedtime routine is that it’s never routine.
Bedtime is an emotional roller coaster. The first 15-20 minutes, when you’re tucking in, cuddling, reading stories, singing silly songs, are everything that is good about being a parent. But beware—these calm moments will lull you into a false sense of security, multiplying your pain a thousand fold for the next one to three hours while your demon spawn is suddenly “NOT TIRED!” and demanding treats, water, 75 more stories—basically anything to keep them from getting the sleep you know they so desperately need.
3. Privacy is a thing of the past.
Curiosity and a complete lack of any sort of sense of boundaries means that you are going to be seeing a LOT more of your toddler (and vice versa) than you probably ever anticipated.
4. The house will get trashed and your favorite things will be destroyed.
And this is ok. Material possessions become less important when compared to the sheer joy of watching your child develop, and a great anecdote is always more valuable than a new coat of paint.
5. Tea parties can actually be fun.
As can Legos, fire trucks, dollhouses, digging for worms, and eating imaginary food for the millionth time. Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that your opponent is ALWAYS going to cheat at Chutes n Ladders or that the tea party you’re currently attending is going to keep you from checking your email for the next 3 hours, it’s fun to just let go and enjoy these moments that will all too soon be nothing more than fond memories.
Dave Engledow is the author of Confessions of the World’s Best Father, a hilarious pictorial parody of a clueless father and his adorable daughter.
Happy Fathers Day!