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This week has been a little quiet – lots of people are out on vacation, reading their books on the beach or another idyllic location. Well, I may be in the office, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make it a beachy environment – with a little help from our stuffed penguin.

As you can see, work is very serious and buttoned-up and no fun at all.

 

 

 

 

Speaking of vacation, I got to interview the wonderful and hilarious Emma Straub for the Beaks and Geeks Podcast. We talked about road-trips, cold beaches, weird Americana … and even her novel.

I loved hearing about the different types of vacations families take – are you a road-trip, national-park-visiting, camping-and-hiking vacationer or a stay-in-a-hotel, relax-poolside, easy-breezy vacationer?

In other news, First to Read, which lets one read new Penguin books before they are released, just hit 20,000 members last week! It’s such a wonderful program, headed up by our very own John Mercun – who you may remember from his Staff Picks. If you’re not already signed up, hop to it! There are some exciting titles coming up.

Hope you have great weekends, readers!

-Amy



Laura

Laura Perciasepe is an Editor at Riverhead Books. She acquires and edits a wide range of literary fiction, narrative nonfiction, and works in translation. Originally from Baltimore, she now lives in Brooklyn.

 

 

 

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid

I cried at the end of this book so you know it’s good. This is Gatsby-ish in its scope; the tale of a young impoverished boy in an unnamed Asian city, on the rise, of course. There’s a love story, a story of success and failure, a family story, all bound up in this remarkable journey, both intimate and universal. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s short yet packs an unbelievable punch.

 

 

 

 

The Sound of Things Falling, by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

The Sound of Things Falling, by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

I know this word is over-used in describing good books, but this book is truly stunning. A work in translation that has won accolades across the globe, this novel begins with a hippo escaped from a Colombian drug lord’s derelict zoo and doesn’t let up from there. It’s a page turner, a monumental story of politics and family, love and violence.

 

 

 

 

Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby

Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby

I love all of Nick Hornby’s books but this recent one has a special place in my heart. It’s classic Hornby, full of complicated relationships, humor, sweetness and sadness, and music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Vacationers, by Emma Straub

The Vacationers, by Emma Straub

This is the book I’ll be recommending all summer and I only regret that I read it myself before beach season! Emma Straub takes us on a trip to Mallorjca with a New York family that feels very familiar in its dysfunctions and in its bonds. It’s a keenly observed story with heart (that also looks great on your Instagram with its vibrant cover).

 

 

 

 

Margot, by Jillian Cantor

Margot, by Jillian Cantor

This is a what-if story about Anne Frank’s sister Margot, if she had escaped the war and come to America, living here in the 1950s as her sister became a cultural icon of hope. A psychologically sophisticated novel about sisters, memory, and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive – this book became a house favorite at Penguin and it’s un-put-downable (that’s a real book publishing term, promise!).

 

 

 

 

The Solitude of Prime Numbers, by Paolo Giordano

The Solitude of Prime Numbers, by Paolo Giordano

This is another book in translation that I couldn’t recommend more – a completely unique voice and love story that transfixed me when I read it and has stayed with me long after. It’s about two Italian teenage misfits, the mathematics of humanity, recovery from trauma, and love.

 

 

 

 

 

Find more books on the Literary Fiction page!

See Staff Picks for all our categories! 


photo 2I don’t publish a lot of fiction, so when I do, I want it to be extraordinary: surprising,  engrossing, memorable – in short, a special book you’ll remember long after you’re doing reading it. Sundance by David Fuller is all of that – and much more.

Sundance is the story of Harry Longbaugh, a bank robber in the early 20th century better known to the world as the Sundance Kid. Legend has it that Sundance was killed with his partner in crime, Butch Cassidy, in a gun battle in Bolivia in 1908. Sundance imagines a different scenario. Instead of dying in South America, Harry was imprisoned in Wyoming under his real name and is released in 1913 with one goal in mind: To find his wife, Etta, who stopped visiting him in jail several years before.

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Harry’s search for Etta leads him from the stark emptiness of the Old West to the bustling chaos of New York City at a time when cultures and classes were clashing. From suffragette protests to the rise of the Black Hand to the digging of the New York City subway system, New York was a place of dizzying change – and unexpected danger.

Sundance is equal parts historical novel, literary thriller, and rollicking adventure story, and it calls to mind books as varied as The AlienistThe Death Instinct, and the novels of C.J. Box and Larry McMurtry.  The author, David Fuller, is both a talented writer and a wonderful storyteller, and he brings his characters to vivid life in the pages of this terrific novel.

Start Reading and excerpt from Sundance.

Read Sundance author David Fuller’s essay on the wife of “The Sundance Kid” and discover more new westerns.


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Welcome to Penguin This is my desk.

Welcome to 375 Hudson Street!

With the warm weather approaching, things are getting busier and busier here as we gear up for our summer season. Next week Penguin heads to Book Expo America (BEA), the industry book and author conference in New York City, which we are all very excited for. (Stop by the Penguin Booth and say hi if you are attending this year!) We have a lot of great authors going and it should be a lot of fun—look for our BEA wrap-up post coming soon where Amy, Lindsay, and I will all share our BEA 2014 photos and stories!

There is always something going on in our offices and this week (for me at least) it has been a busy one, but let’s focus on the fun bits from the last few days!

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This Wednesday, the Penguin Twitter Book Club held its second May #ReadPenguin chat with Jolie Kerr, author of My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag…And Other Things You Can’t Tell Martha—my favorite question from the chat was “How do you clean a lasagna spill off the street?” If you are not already joining our Book Club chats you should, because we get to talk about fun things like lasagna (and books too, of course!) Next month we are chatting with Yours for Eternity authors Damien Echols and Lorri Davis.

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Beartiz Williams signing her new book THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLET GRANT

 

On Thursday, New York Times bestselling A Hundred Summers author Beatriz Williams stopped by to say hello and sign copies of her new book The Secret Life of Violet Grant, which comes out next week on Tuesday, May 27th and which I am very excited to read. Amy and I went up to say hello and grab a picture. See you next week at BEA, Beatriz!

Today, Friday, we have a half-day to kick off Memorial Day weekend.

Just your typical week at the office…and now I am off to sunny (fingers crossed) Long Island to sit outside and enjoy the weekend. What are your Memorial Day plans?

Until next time,

Shelby


Good_Morning,_Mr._MandelaAs an editor, I am drawn to books that recreate a time and a turning point in history, and especially to witnesses that take us deep inside the moment. The world watched – and changed — when Nelson Mandela walked out of prison, and Zelda la Grange takes us back to that turbulent time in South Africa, and helps us understand how it looked from inside a frightened white community. “I was fearful of so much twenty years ago—of  life, of black people, of this black man and the future of South Africa-and I now was no longer persuaded or influenced by mainstream fears. He not only liberated the black man but the white  man too…“Prior to the elections we expected black people to take over the country. We expected revenge. But we all woke up the next morning, went back to work and the normal way of life. Nothing was there to indicate that soon the very foundations of my life, my ignorance, my beliefs, my values were to be shaken up and tested. Little did I know that I would emerge from that paranoid, white cocoon of fear and denial and that the man who would lead me out of that – gently holding my hand – would be Nelson Mandela.”

There is probably no one figure on the global scene in the last twenty years who was more admired, more treasured, and more recognizable than Nelson Mandela. And yet for all the thousands of pages that have been published about him, very few who have written about him were personally close to the great man, or can testify to what he was like off stage, when the cameras were turned off. Zelda la Grange is that witness for us; she was his personal assistant and aide-de-camp for almost two decades. She traveled with him, managed his office after he stepped down from the presidency, and came to regard him as family.

But what is startling about this story, and one of the things that drew us at Viking to take on this book, is that Zelda herself is a white Afrikaner, who grew up in a conservative family in South Africa and who was taught as a child to think of Mandela as the enemy. Her journey from prejudice to acceptance, from fear to love, makes her new book, Good Morning, Mr. Mandela, both unexpected and moving.

She then gives us a wonderfully rich and warm portrait of the man she came to call “Khulu” – grandfather. He is wise, moral, and direct, but with a teasing sense of humor and personal quirks – in other words, an actual human being.

Penguin imprints around the world are going to be publishing this book all together at the end of June, and it’s exciting to be involved in such a special global project together.


JoGrapeshn Steinbeck was born and raised in Salinas, a small city in the central coast of California known as the Salad Bowl of the World.  In the midst of the incredible natural beauty of the Salinas Valley, there were incredible stories of struggle and resilience that were to inspire his best work.  Nearly one hundred years later, it was through Steinbeck’s characters that I first glimpsed into the lives of the field workers that I saw everyday working in the fields from sun up to sun down in my hometown of Salinas.  It was through Ma Joad that I learned to recognize stoicism in the eyes of a mother who stood in line at the grocery store, with children clinging to her skirt while she counted her money, hoping it was enough to buy the small number of items in her basket.  Through Tom I understood the quiet rage of the young men who challenged one another with hand gestures on the downtown streets.  Because of The Grapes of Wrath I developed empathy for the people I lived among but hardly knew.  And so many years later, John Steinbeck’s work inspires me still.  My life’s work is now to advance John Steinbeck’s legacy, and to champion the causes he championed in his time.  Today, the National Steinbeck Center celebrates our common humanity by giving voice to the stories of Steinbeck’s people through the work of contemporary artists, writers and, social change agents.

Colleen Bailey
Executive Director
The National Steinbeck Center


Women have done amazing things for literature and have been instrumental in shaping the literature of today. In honor of National Women’s History Month, we wanted to recognize these impressive women for all that they have done and will continue to do.

There are too many amazing women, inspiring female characters, and wonderful authors to name. So instead, I am going to discuss the ten books that have most inspired and/or deeply affected me in the last ten months. As a happy coincidence, ALL of these books were written by women. Today however you only get the first five. Check back on Thursday, March 20th for the second half of this list.

 

All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry

All the Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry

No matter how old I get, I will never give up reading Young Adult books. The main reason being that these books tackle issues that are often left to fall to the background in adult novels. All The Truth That’s in Me is an intriguing take on a number of these timeless and important issues.

This book captivated me with its characters, its plot, and most strongly by means of its literary themes and implications. Judith Finch, disappears as a young girl. She is not seen for years until one day, now in her teens, she returns, mute. The reason for her disappearance and sudden return are shrouded in dark secrecy. Judith is ostracized by her community. She becomes the lowest of creatures in her town due to the question of her “purity.” I will not give anything else away, but I would strongly encourage this book to readers of all ages, Young Readers, Mature Readers, and all those in between.

 

Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro

Dear Life, by Alice MunroLiving in NYC, the subway is a major component of my daily routine. Working in publishing, reading also makes up a significant portion of my day. It’s only natural that I would combine the two. Having finished my previous book that morning, I chose a book at random off my work shelf. This book happened to be Dear Life. Knowing nothing about Alice Munro or the book itself I got on the subway that evening, opened to page one, and began. I was so engrossed in this book, its dozens of characters, and its plethora of stories that I got on the wrong connection home and again the following day. If that doesn’t signify a good book I don’t know what does!

In a collection of short stories, Alice Munro looks at the moment in a person’s life that changes it forever. This is a fascinating read that speaks to the human condition, the ways in which we interact with one another, and the choices that forever alter our futures.

 

Just One Day & Just One Year by Gayle Forman

Just One Day, by Gayle FormanJust One Year, by Gayle Forman

Two for the price of one! What was the last book that stood up and smacked you across the face? For me, both Just One Day and its sequel Just One Year did exactly that. Now, I will admit that these books are not ground breaking in their originality of plot, but they are beautifully unique in their format. Told from opposite view points, Just One Day tells the story of Allyson Healey, and the twenty-four hours that transform her life. Just One Year, the second in the series, tells of Williem and the year that follows that life altering day.

This is one of those love stories that shatters your heart before slowly piecing it back together. This book had me rushing to the next page, dreaming (literally) about what might happen next, crying in public places, and has me still thinking about it eight months later. This is not just the love story of two people, but a love story between the individual and the world. These books follow two teenagers as they fall in love with the world.

This is a perfect book for spring and will stir up extreme feelings of wanderlust. Consider yourself warned! Clear your calendar, pick a beautiful day, gather your supplies (chocolate and tissues are a must), find a comfy patch of grass, spread your blanket, and prepare for an emotional journey that will take you to all the corners of the Earth!

 

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson

Let's Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson

Never underestimate a good laugh! This book is hilarious; there simply is no other word. This book has a Taxidermy Shakespearian mouse on the cover . . . it was predestined to be a book of genius and I loved EVERY. SINGLE. PAGE.

For those people out there who are like me you have spent the last several months reading Memoir after Memoir. No, that’s not how you spent your winter? Regardless, my advice to you at this moment is to a.) Go get this book and b.) Be very content with your life. Prepare to be stared at in public for uncontrollable fits of laughter.

 


The Grapes of Wrath 75th Anniversary Edition, by John Steinbeck

Today, 27 February, is the 112th birthday of the great American writer John Steinbeck. Over the course of his long career, Steinbeck won the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes and wrote some of the country’s most essential works taught in schools and read by millions.

April 2014 marks the 75th anniversary of the first Viking hardcover publication of Steinbeck’s crowning literary achievement. First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize–winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s, telling the story of the Joads, an Oklahoma farm family driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California.

 

 

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Elda Rotor, Editorial Director for Penguin Classics, on THE GRAPES OF WRATH:

“There are five layers in this book, a reader will find as many as he can and he won’t find more than he has in himself.” This is how Steinbeck described his novel, a blunt challenge to the reader, and it’s a line that I think about often when it comes to how we encounter classics such as The Grapes of Wrath. Those layers are both very personal and yet universal, and in my experience, when the intersections and the layers become clear, for instance, in scenes of Ma fighting to maintain her family’s dignity as their welfare worsens, and in her exchanges with her daughter Rose of Sharon, it shakes you to your foundation. The Grapes of Wrath demands your slow and thoughtful read and you’ll be grateful for discovering those layers and what Steinbeck’s tremendous work provides.

WORKING DAYS by John Steinbeck

The journal, like the novel it chronicles, tells a tale of dramatic proportions—of dogged determination and inspiration, yet also of paranoia, self-doubt, and obstacles. It records in intimate detail the conception and genesis of The Grapes of Wrath and its huge though controversial success. It is a unique and penetrating portrait of an emblematic American writer creating an essential American masterpiece.

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck

Ryan Murphy, Marketing Assistant for Penguin Books, on EAST OF EDEN:

To me there is no more enduring scene in John Steinbeck’s work than that of East of Eden’s Sam, Adam and Lee discussing, with sincerity and gravity, the meaning of the Cain and Abel story. Deep in this incredibly rich novel, the simplest of elements—a single Hebrew word, timshel, “thou mayest”—becomes the pivot upon which the ethical heart of the narrative turns. In the context of Steinbeck’s messy and brutal world, such humble concepts or acts—like Rose of Sharon’s selfless offering at the close of The Grapes of Wrath or the quiet small-town war resistance of The Moon Is Down—often have the deepest repercussions. (include book cover)

 

THE WAYWARD BUS by John Steinbeck

In his first novel to follow the publication of his enormous success, The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck’s vision comes wonderfully to life in this imaginative and unsentimental chronicle of a bus traveling California’s back roads, transporting the lost and the lonely, the good and the greedy, the stupid and the scheming, the beautiful and the vicious away from their shattered dreams and, possibly, toward the promise of the future.

BOMBS AWAY by John Steinbeck

A magnificent volume of short novels and an essential World War II report from one of America’s great twentieth-century writers. “This book is dedicated . . . to the men who have gone through the hard and rigid training of members of a bomber crew and who have gone away to defend the nation.” –John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men and The Moon Is Down, by John Steinbeck

OF MICE AND MEN AND THE MOON IS DOWN by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men represents an experiment in form, as Steinbeck put it, “a kind of playable novel, written in novel form but so scened and set that it can be played as it stands.” The Moon Is Down uncovers profound, often unsettling truths about war and human nature. It tells the story of a peaceable town taken by enemy troops, and had an extraordinary impact as Allied propaganda in Nazi-occupied Europe. (include book cover)

 

 

 

More Books from Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck include:

THE PASTURES OF HEAVEN

THE LONG VALLEY

TORTILLA FLAT

IN DUBIOUS BATTLE


I was very excited to be asked to be a guest blogger for Penguin because for years I have been working on a plot to infiltrate the system and inject it with my subversive ideas.

You represent stage 3 in my plan.

Wreck This Journal, by Keri SmithWorld domination aside, what I really wanted to share with you is a bit about how I was formed as a human being.  My story begins like this…

I did not do very well in school.  I think my attendance may have had something to do with it.

Wreck this Journal, by Keri Smith(The only other person who was absent more than me had cancer.)

At a very young age I realized that school was not very fun and

Wreck This Journal, by Keri SmithI began to see that my perception of the world was different than the other kids, and that school was largely about making the teacher happy, and had little to do with actual learning.  One of my early school memories is me at the age of six noticing that the other kids were getting attention from the teacher because they were struggling with reading.  I had learned to read at age four and found all the reading material too easy.  Feeling left out I decided to choose a random word and go up to the teacher and ask the pronunciation just so I could have her notice me.  The word was “sandwich”.  The teacher looked surprised at my asking.

In the book How Children Fail, John Holt states:

When children are very young, they have natural curiosities about the world and explore them, trying diligently to figure out what is real. As they become “producers,” rather than “thinkers,” they fall away from exploration and start fishing for the right answers with little thought. They believe they must always be right, so they quickly forget mistakes and how these mistakes were made. They believe that the only good response from the teacher is “yes,” and that a “no” is defeat.

At this point I became very creative.  I found as many inventive ways as I could to stay home from school.

Wreck This Journal, by Keri SmithLuckily my parents were a bit distracted with work and I was mostly free to stay home, watch tv, and make stuff.

I worked with every medium I could find.  I transformed egg cartons into dragons, grey bits of plastercine (stolen from school in small increments) into never-ending labyrinthine houses full of secret rooms and tiny furniture. Bags of wool scraps became fodder for dozens of projects, anything from weaving to doll hair; fabric scraps were sewn into a variety of shapes and characters, paper plates into masks worn with fervor.

Every day brought forth unlimited potential for creation.

And then I would have to go back to school again and I would feel suffocated and bored.

I was caught between two conflicting worlds.

Wreck This Journal, by Keri SmithWhen I was in kindergarten my parents were called in by the teacher for a “meeting.”  She had a bucket full of rolled up drawings done by me.  She pulled them out and unrolled them one by one.  Each page had a drawing of a square house with three windows and a door, an apple tree, and a few clouds scattered about.  They were all identical.  The teacher expressed concern at my lack of originality.

Looking back now I think my drawing rut reflected my mental state at being forced to go to school.  I did what I felt was expected of me.  Every day, the same thing.  Ad nauseum.  I had taken on their perception of me.

But in my private life I became invincible.  My imagination ruled.

As I grew I became a seasoned “clock watcher”…

Wreck This Journal, by Keri Smith…counting the minutes until the bell.  I did the bare minimum of work necessary not to fail.  No one asked for anything more from me.  And I didn’t offer.  It was the same for middle school and into high school.

As I struggled with family conflicts, my mother’s diagnosis with a terminal illness, and adolescence I became disconnected from my imagination.  I felt completely lost.  I rebelled against everything and everyone.

In my mind the world was very dark so I wore only black. It was at this point that I began to believe that my failure in high school was due to a deficiency of some kind.  Some unavoidable lack of intelligence.  I was the stereotype of the white-faced goth kid in the back of the classroom just putting in time until the bell rang so I could go out for a smoke.

Wreck This Journal, by Keri SmithI knew I could see things in the world that others could not–to me the world could be much more alive and animated.  Objects turned into characters before my very eyes, little messages appeared just for me, I saw what ‘could’ exist, magical things.  But I pushed these thoughts aside because the world told me they were crazy.

Wreck This Journal, by Keri SmithMy silenced imagination left me feeling sad and hopeless about the world.  In 1986, a break-up with a boyfriend resulted in my isolation from friends and family.  To ease the pain, I took an overdose of pills and put myself in the hospital.  After that, in an attempt to heal myself I began what I call “my research.”  I was on a quest to find meaning, an explanation of what it means to be human.

I began to read.

Not the books that were assigned in school.  I found respite in authors who didn’t just live in their imagination but somehow ‘became’ it.  Madeline L’Engle, C.S. Lewis, John Wyndam, Asimov, Rober Pirsig.  These led me to others, and thus I began my lifelong journey as an autodidact.  After not graduating from high school, I got the only job I was qualified to do: working full time in a bookstore [1].

Because I couldn’t get into university, I acquired a reading list from a friend for her English Literature 101 class.  I actually believed that due to my lack of intelligence I might not be able to get through these novels.  On the list were the Brontes, Austen, Thackeray, Hemingway.  After finishing each one I found myself amazed.  Not only could I understand it, I reveled in it.  I became insatiable. I tore through Dostoevsky and Turnev, and Tolstoy.  Flung myself into Orwell, Huxley, and Vonnegut.  Then onto Salinger, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner.  Nothing was out of my reach.

And then I had a thought (a few thoughts actually)…

What if everything I had been taught about myself in school was wrong?

What if the opposite of everything was true?

What if I had the power to create anything that I conceived of?

What if the world was magic and I was able to see things that others could not for a reason?


[1] One of the skills I learned while working in the bookstore was an ability to distinguish publishers by the smell of the ink.  Penguin Classics was one that I always got right.  In those days the printing smells were a lot more distinctive than they are today.

Wreck This Journal, by Keri Smith[2]

I found out about a loophole in the Canadian school system where I could apply to college as a “mature student” after being out of school for a few years, and they wouldn’t look at my marks.  I applied to art school and got in.  There I was exposed to a whole new world, one where I was at the helm and completely in charge of my own life/research.  My life became my research project. I was determined to mine my teachers and the books for the answers to everything.


[2] My dad worked for IBM in the education dept. where they taught this on a regular basis.

Wreck This Journal, by Keri SmithI loved this new life of research.  I had thoughts and ideas and opinions and it was glorious.  When my classes finished, I found myself literally running to the nearest bookstore to get more information.

Very slowly I began to experiment with my ideas.  Instead of listening to the fears I had developed over fourteen years of schooling, I began to question everything.  The rebel in me moved to the forefront.  I found other rebels to serve as role models.  What if we ‘did’ the opposite of what we were taught?  What would happen?

Some of my responses came out in book form:

Wreck This Journal, by Keri SmithThe books mimic my own process.  Part deconstruction, part re-enchantment of everyday life.  Break things down, tear them apart, then shape them into something.  I try to see what it is like to be free from convention, and how it feels to go to the limits of your imagination.  I want to enter fully into an experiment, that place of being open to the unknown.  The realm of uncertainty.  The leaping off point.

“Since we can’t know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned.” —John Holt

 One thing I have learned from my life so far is that creative thought gives individuals a sense of ownership over their world.  And this is what I aim to share with others.  I do not see myself as any kind of expert on anything; what I have to offer is an intense passion for learning.  As I found with the greatest teachers I have had over the years, this passion is infectious.

To this effect I leave you with a few thoughts:

Wreck This Journal, by Keri Smith