72 Books

Today, because it was Friday and things were slow at the office, I compiled a list of all of the books I have edited over the 8+ years of my publishing career. It was relatively simple to do given the fact that I have spent my entire career at one company and that company (Penguin Random House) has great systems that are easy to use. Several of the books are now out of print and therefore weren't in the regular management system, but I did some digging through old files and lists and came up with what should be a comprehensive list.

I have edited 72 books.

That is an average of just under 9 per year. This is not a terribly unusual number for an in-house editor; a typical number for someone who works in the categories I do is about 8-12 depending on the imprint. And, for some of these, I didn't edit the entire manuscript. In a few cases I may have offered feedback on early chapters before the book was transitioned to a different editor for some reason (for instance, when I left my first imprint). I only counted books under these circumstances if I felt my edits had a significant impact on shaping the book as a whole. If my feedback was nothing more than "This looks good! Keep going," I didn't consider it an edit.

Any editor knows that some books have a bigger impact on your career than others. Perhaps the book did extremely well and helped you make a name for yourself. Or perhaps it was your first book in a new category and thus helped you expand your repertoire. Perhaps you developed a special rapport with the author and went on to maintain a relationship with them long after the book was published. Perhaps the author was a nightmare who made you rethink your entire career choice but also taught you important lessons about professionalism and dealing with adversity.

In my own case, the thing that strikes me most about these 72 books is not the number but the diversity they represent. The first book I acquired was an account of the Bernie Madoff scandal. My most successful book (in terms of sales) was a collection of Christmas stories by former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee (say what you will about the man or his politics, but that book made me cry on more than one occasion because it was so affecting). The first book I acquired when I switched imprints was a memoir by a Dutch veterinarian who is also the star of his own TV show. The last book I edited was about GMOs and the American food system.

I realized I wanted to be a book editor when I was a freshman in college. If you had asked me then how I envisioned my career, I would have told you I wanted to edit the next Great American Novel. I was always a huge reader, but apart from books I read for school, I exclusively read fiction, except for an occasional memoir. I would never have touched a business book or a book by a conservative politician (or, for that matter, any politician). I took my first job because it was the first one offered to me, and I figured it would be a great foot in the door to what I really wanted to do. But I stayed for five years. And I loved it. And I changed.

I love non-fiction now--all kinds of non-fiction (except sports and military history, though I did read Moneyball, but that's also kind of a business book). Today I tell people I only want to work on non-fiction. Even stranger? I prefer practical non-fiction--self-help, business, lifestyle...My mother once tried to get me to read Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey, and I flat out refused. Now personal finance is one of my favorite categories to work on, and three of the authors with whom I have maintained relationships over the years, have written personal finance books.

A few years ago, I spoke at a panel for my alma mater. I graduated from a journalism school where I majored in magazine journalism. The panel was part of a trip the magazine department organizes every year where they take some seniors in the department to New York for a few days to meet with alumni and pick their brains about how to get a job. This was 2009, so the job prospects for these students was bleak.

Joining me on the panel were two other magazine grads who, like me, had ended up landing jobs with a business focus. One worked at Forbes, the other was at CNNMoney.com, and then there was me. None of us had sought careers with a business-focus. We knew nothing about business or finance when we entered these jobs, but we all ended up loving what we did. At one point, one of the seniors asked us about this choice and said, "Don't you need to love the work in order to enjoy your job? Shouldn't we be looking for jobs that align with our interests."

I wanted to tell her, "Honey, you're graduating at the bottom of one of the worst recessions in history with a degree in magazines...take any job you can get." Instead I told her that how much you enjoyed your job depended less on the work and more on the work environment. If you hate your coworkers or have a tyrannical boss, you could be working at your favorite publication and be miserable.

I still agree with this and have offered the advice since then. But in thinking about these 72 books and how I've changed in the past 8 years, I also realize that the problem with seeking a job that aligns with your "interests" as opposed to your "skills" is that, when you're 22, you really don't know who you are. Your options have been limited. And studying a subject for a couple hours a week or pursuing a hobby in your free time is very different from working at it 40+  hours a week. I knew I was a good editor, but I had no idea I'd be able to edit 72 books about so many different topics--and edit them well.

There's a bit of a misconception that editors are failed writers--that if they were really talented, their names would be on the front of the book, not tucked away on the acknowledgements page. But I don't know a single editor for whom this is the case. I certainly know some who also write, but good editors love editing. Some people might find the prospect of reading, let alone editing, 72 books books to be a nightmare. Meanwhile, I can't wait to see just how high that number can get.

My 2015 Reading List

I realize that most "Let's Reflect on Last Year" post are supposed to come much earlier than twenty-four days into the new year, but, what can I say?

Nothing. I honestly have nothing to say. Actually, I have one thing to say: it's my blog and I can do what I want, damnit!

There, now that that is over...

In 2015, I kept a list of all of the books I read. This is, perhaps surprisingly, the first time I've ever done so, but I decided it was a worthwhile use of (very little of) my time for a few reasons: 1) I constantly forget what books I've read, including ones I've read recently, 2) I was curious about how many books I actually read in a given year. (The average American reads something like seven; I knew I read more than that. But HOW MANY MORE?) 3) My boyfriend has been keeping track of his for a while and I thought it would be fun to see which one of us was the more avid reader. (We both work in publishing, so this is our idea of heated competition).

Here's my list. In no particular order.


  1. Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
  2. A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin (Book Five of the Song of Ice and Fire series)
  3. Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
  4. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (Book One in the Neapolitan Novels series)
  5. The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante (Book Two in the Neapolitan Novels series)
  6. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante (Book Three in the Neapolitan Novels series)
  7. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  8. The Martian by Andy Weir
  9. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  10. Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (Book One of the Southern Reach trilogy)
  11. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (Book One of the His Dark Materials trilogy)
  12. The Rocks by Peter Nichols
  13. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  14. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling (Book One of the Harry Potter series)
  15. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
  16. The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo
  17. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
  18. Daredevils by Shawn Vestal
  19. Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (Book One of the All Souls trilogy)
  20. Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness (Book Two of the All Souls trilogy)


  1. The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal
  2. Bettyville by George Hodgman
  3. H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
  4. Complications by Atul Gawande
  5. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
  6. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
  7. The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonnette
  8. Smashed by Koren Zalickas
  9. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
  10. I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam
  11. Works Well with Others by Ross McCammon
  12. Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast
  13. The Boys in the Boat by Dan Brown
  14. Stir by Jessica Fechtor
  15. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
  16. Naked by David Sedaris
  17. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  18. Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan
  19. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
  20. Originals by Adam Grant
  21. The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt

That's forty-one books total. I'd hoped to make it to fifty, but I guess I can try again this year. I only counted books that I read for fun (meaning I didn't count manuscripts I had to read for work) and that I read all the way through (if I started but didn't finish, it didn't make the list). I also didn't count a book that I read twice within the same year (see below), though I did count books that I had read during a previous year but re-read in 2015 (e.g. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and The Golden Compass). 

Among these, my favorite book this year was, by far, Kitchens of the Great Midwest. This is a debut novel that my boyfriend actually recommended to me. He and I don't always enjoy the same things, but I trusted him on this one--and I was right. In fact, I loved this book so much that I read it twice--once in January and once over the Summer after I recommended it to my book club and decided to refresh myself on the finer plot points. I rarely, if ever, re-read books. And I never (before now) have re-read a book within only a few months of reading it the first time. But it was that good. The novel follows the story of a young woman named Eva who, in her early 20s, becomes a world-famous chef. It's an nontraditional narrative in that only one chapter is actually told from the perspective of the main character. The rest are told from the point of view of other characters, each of whom shares some connection to Eva. I couldn't get over (especially when reading it for the second time) how well written this book is. In fact, it's so well written you don't even pay attention to how good the writing is. Highly recommended.

In 2015, I also discovered the fabulous Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. If you follow the literary scene at all, you're no doubt familiar with these books because the fourth and final book in the series, The Story of the Lost Child (which I happen to be reading at the moment), came out this year and created quite a stir. Ferrante, an Italian author who writes under a pen name and whose real identity remains a mystery, has been around for years, but, for most people, this series of four novels has been their first introduction. The series follows the lives of two women, Elena, the narrator, and Lila, her oldest and closest friend. But these ain't your typical books about female friendship. Elena and Lila's relationship is nothing if not complicated, and the book reads like a series of diary entries rather than a traditional novel with a beginning, middle, and end. If you need a lot of plot to stay engaged, this book is not for you. But if, like me, you prefer honest portrayals of rich characters whose actions reflect those of real people facing real situations, then these are a must read. 

On the non-fiction side, my favorite book of the year was probably Brain on Fire, with Modern Romance being a close runner-up. I was actually a few years late to the party on Brain on Fire, which was originally published in 2012, but it lived up to the hype. The author recounts the harrowing story of the mysterious infection that caused her to become psychotic for a month. If it hadn't been for the tireless work of her doctors, she could have died. Luckily, that didn't happen, and in telling her story, she was able to raise awareness of the extremely rare condition that afflicted her so that other people, and their families, might be able to benefit. 

Modern Romance is very different. I have to admit, I was a little skeptical about this one. I like Aziz Ansari well enough, but did I really care about what he had to say about dating and romance in the digital age? Plus, a few years ago, I edited a book on this subject and felt he couldn't tell me anything I didn't already know. Well, he didn't really tell me anything I didn't know, but that wasn't really the point. The point was to force all of us to consider how we interact with one another, secure attachments, and achieve intimacy in a world where there's seemingly no privacy but it's somehow more difficult to get close to someone than ever before. Plus, Ansari actually references the book I edited, Love in the Time of Algorithms (retitled as A Million First Dates in paperback) by Dan Slater. Fun fact, after Slater's book came out, Ansari actually referred to it in an interview. So Slater, being a resourceful author, reached out to him. At some point, the two actually met up in New York and chatted about the dating scene. I wasn't invited, but I still think that's pretty cool.

Biggest disappointments? Honestly, I wasn't a fan of The Girl on the Train, but, then again, I'm not a big fan of thrillers in general. I always find that they end the same way, with the killer confessing in some completely unrealistic way. Spoiler alert: this happens in The Girl on the Train. Of course, I also read The Silence of the Lambs this year and LOVED IT! Though, to be fair, this isn't really a mystery since the reader knows who the guilty party is. The best thing about this book though was that the characters--all of the characters--were believable, meaning they did things that made sense given who they were and the situations in which they found themselves (i.e. they didn't just disclose all of their secrets the moment someone confronted them).

Another disappointment? I might be forced out of publishing for saying this, but I was underwhelmed by All the Light We Cannot See. I know that people love this book, and I know it won  the Pulitzer, but, after reading all 544 pages, I didn't know what to make of it. I don't mean that it was confusing--it wasn't. I just mean that I couldn't understand what larger story or what universal truth the author was trying to communicate. That being said, the writing was beautiful. Totally beautiful. 

Finally, I didn't add this to the list, but I know you're curious so I'll tell you: yes, I did buy an adult coloring book this year. And, no, I don't color in it nearly as much as I assumed I would when I bought it. Yes, I do think coloring is fun, but, in general, I'd rather be reading.

What was your favorite book of 2015? What do you hope to read in 2016? Any books you're anticipating? Any books you've been meaning to read for years and have resolved to finally finish (or at least start) this year?


New Year, New Tattoo!

I got a tattoo! Okay, that's not actually that exciting because I already had two tattoos, but this one is special because 1) I've been wanting to get it for a long time 2) it's the first one that I can actually see without a mirror or craning my neck (the other two are on my back) and 3) it's the first one that is visible most of the time.

Here it is.


Ain't it pretty? I think so.

For added clarity, here's what it says:

Appreciative love gazes and holds its breath and is silent...

Beautiful, no? I think so. Unfortunately, I can't take credit for it.

The quote comes from The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis (that's my copy in the background). Lewis, as I'm sure you know, is most famous for The Chronicles of Narnia series, but he was also a prolific writer of non-fiction, specifically theological books that tackled big questions about God, faith, and Christianity. I am not a religious person, but I was a semi-religious person in a previous life (read: the part of my life during which I lived in the South). And during that period, I read quite a few of Lewis's books. The Four Loves was the first and my favorite.

The book is about, well, love. Lewis posits that there are (surprise!) four types of love: Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Charity. Affection is the type of love you feel for your dog or your child or your parents (I know it's weird that these are the same, but he got these ideas from the Greeks, so blame them). Friendship is what it sounds like: the particular love you feel for someone with whom you share a special and entirely non-biological (in fact entirely unnecessary) bond. Lewis's description of friendship is probably my second favorite passage from the book:

Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”

Is that not perfect? Moving on...

The third type of love is Eros, or romantic love. The last, Charity, is the purest form of love and it is what God feels for us--an entirely unselfish, benevolent love for His children.

The quote that I ink-scribed on my forearm comes from an earlier passage in the book where Lewis is describing three additional forms love can take: Need-love, Gift-love, and Appreciative love. He describes them as such:

Need-love says of a woman “I cannot life without her”; Gift-love longs to give her happiness, comfort, protection, if possible, wealth; Appreciative love gazes and holds its breath and is silent, rejoices that such a wonder should exist even if not for him, will not be wholly dejected by losing her, would rather have it so than never to have seen her at all.

Girly confession time: I encountered this quote for the first time before I actually read the book. My first boyfriend, whom I dated for I think two months my senior year of high school, was a pretty religious guy (at the time, he wanted to become a pastor; that's not what he became) and loved C.S. Lewis. Being 17 and in love, I was interested in absolutely everything he liked. That didn't mean I liked everything he liked; I was just interested in it.

One night, as we were talking on AOL Instant Messenger (because in 2002 teenagers only communicated via AOL Instant Messenger), he told me he was reading The Four Loves and came across a passage that reminded him of me. "Do tell!" I said. And then he sent me that quote.

Ladies, I'm sure you can all agree: that is one smooth move. If a guy said this to me now, I'd be slayed, but when I was 17 and dating my first boyfriend, I was done for. I memorized the quote immediately and have not forgotten it since.

Over time, the significance of the quote changed, of course. That boyfriend broke up with me a few weeks later, I cried a lot, but eventually moved on, and I haven't laid eyes on him since we graduated. Yet I still love the essence of this quote, this idea that one can love something just for itself, just for the sheer pleasure of loving it. And it's not only something we feel toward our lovers; it's the feeling we get when we feel the first summer breeze or smell a rose or see a painting or hear our favorite song. It's the love that tells us that there is beauty in the world. It's the love that makes us human. It is the love that gives life meaning. 

I have wanted to get this tattoo for several (something like 6) years. Originally, I thought I'd get the entire last line tattooed on my ribs, which is precisely why I never got it--because that would have hurt like hell. When I got my first tattoo, I saw another girl in the parlor getting a huge (and, frankly, hideous) tattoo on one side of her abdomen. When I saw her, the tattoo was near completion, and she was bright red, in tears, writhing in pain on the chair while doing everything she could to not move. It was an image that stuck in my psyche.

But a few weeks ago I realized that a shorter version of the quote in a less sensitive place would probably be more prudent (also cheaper). Plus, I've always admired elegant forearm tattoos on women. I just think they're classy (especially quotes). I also decided that if I wanted this tattoo, I should just fucking get it. Do the thing I said I was going to do. Be the type of person that follows through. It was not just about the words or the design; it was about the act of getting it, too.

I got it on December 30, 2015--not an insignificant date. I spent the next evening at a New Year's Eve party explaining it to a bunch of people I'd never met while they complimented me on it (maybe they were being nice, but still). Perhaps it wasn't the craziest or most rebellious or most inspiring thing I could do to kick off 2016, but it was something. And every time I look at it, I'm proud.

Up until I was in college, I never wanted tattoos. "They don't bother me on other people," I said, as if other people gave a shit what I thought. "But I just don't want one myself."

Then, in college, I met David, who quickly became and remains one of my closest friends. David had a tattoo on his upper arm. He always kept it covered in public (a T-shirt would do the trick), so in order to see it, he had to show it to you. It was a picture of a Japanese warrior and the symbol from the martial arts school he attended for several years back home in Pennsylvania. (David, if you're reading this, forgive me for forgetting what type of warrior and martial arts and what the phrase actually said. Leave a comment and I'll amend this post.) This was not a tattoo I would ever get, but after listening to David explain its significance to me and several others, I became fascinated. Tattoos were one of the ultimate forms of expression. What says more about you than the images you choose to put on your body permanently? What a great way to remind yourself of who you are, where you've been, and where you want to go.

Okay, I realize many people get tattoos that do not carry such meaning, but I was thinking of the potential. Sophomore year I decided that I wanted a tattoo. But, being the risk-averse, conscientious person that I am, I told myself I had to wait a year. I also didn't know what I wanted. 

A few months later, I was reading Dante's Paradiso for a class I was taking and found what I wanted. It was a quote in Canto 1 in which Dante is explaining to his reader that what he is about to describe--his journey through Heaven--is indescribable, but he hopes that by giving his humble account he will inspire some greater poet later on to do a better job. Poca favilla gran fiamma seconda, he says. "Great fire follows a small spark."

That was March 2005. In the Fall of 2005, I would decide to write a thesis on The Divine Comedy. In the Spring of 2006, I would study abroad in Florence, the city where Dante was born, and visit his tomb (where I actually cried a little) in Ravenna. In August of 2006, I got that tattoo in a circle surrounding a small flame on my lower right hip. If I'm honest, it's not a great tattoo in terms of execution (the lettering, especially at the bottom is terrible) but I still love it because it still has meaning. (Also, frankly, I don't have to look at it all that often). 

They say once you get your first tattoo, you become addicted. I wouldn't go so far as to call myself an addict, but I will say that, once you get one, the stakes for getting another go WAY down. I mean, you already have some permanent ink on your body. What's a little more? In September of 2008, I got my second tattoo, a fleur de lis on my upper right shoulder. I got it because it's the symbol of Florence (there, it is called il giglio) and it was pretty :) Again, see, low stakes. 

I'm probably done with tattoos for a while, but I wouldn't rule another one out somewhere down the line. Tell me, do you have any? Or have you ever thought about getting one? Is there something you'd get if you weren't so afraid of needles or averse to the idea of marring your perfect body? Is there something you've been talking about doing for a long time but have finally decided to follow through on this year? I'd love to hear about it.