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December 2012

Resolutions for Writers: 10 Ways to Hone Your Craft in 2013

WritersdontcryRachel E. MorrisLast year I came up with 52 writing exercises for writers. As I haven’t heard from anyone whose finished them all, I figured this year, instead of coming up with 52 more, I’d do something a bit more practical: a list of resolutions for writers, aimed at making writing as fluid as breathing. Now, you certainly don’t have to do them all! (Though you’d surely be some kind of Writing Superhuman if you did.) But picking even just one of these to commit to this year is a great way to improve both the quality and the quantity of your writing.

So, Happy Writing in 2013!

1. Make Writing a Habit
Oh, come on—you had to know this one was coming! It’s resolutions for writers, and what are burgeoning writers famously known for? (Hint: it’s not writing.) But despite the siren call of procrastination, writing really does get easier with practice--and the more you write, the better you’ll get. So try to make a habit of writing, and write for 30 minutes a day, five or more days a week. It doesn’t have to be good writing! We’re not talking publishable prose or polished poesy. Just write. Flash fiction, writing exercises, diary entries, or another chapter in the world’s greatest novel. It doesn’t matter. Anything will do. The whole idea is just to keep that writing muscle limber and maybe even beef it up a little bit, so that when you need it, it’s fit for action and ready to rumble.

2. Oh, and Make Reading a Habit, Too
Try to read at least 15 minutes of every day. Every day! (I know: that’s a lot of days.) But reading is way easy to slip into a day—especially a mere 15 minutes. You can read while eating breakfast, you can read in the bath, you can read before bedtime, and you can read on the bus, too. Or between meetings, or at lunch, or during coffee break. Really, books are so incredibly portable these days—with an increasing number of people reading on their phones—that you can read just about anywhere. And the benefits of reading? Reduced stress, a sharper mind, an enviable vocabulary, greater empathy, a steel-trappier memory, and a nimble learning capacity.

3. Keep an Idea Notebook
New York Times best-selling author Laini Taylor wrote an excellent piece for Figment the other day about keeping an idea notebook—a place for all the things that, as Taylor said, “set [your] mind on fire.” She credits her idea notebook with helping her find the story of The Daughter of Smoke and Bone--and then, to further back that up, she shows excerpts from her journal that uncannily spell out huge swathes of the story. And what a brilliant idea! Both the book, and the idea notebook. So resolve this year to write like Laini Taylor, and keep a journal filled with the things that inspire you and keep your fire burning--and see what ideas your brain has in store for you.

Continue reading "Resolutions for Writers: 10 Ways to Hone Your Craft in 2013" »

Upstairs, Downstairs, Downton Abbey, and Beyond (With Quiz)

Downton AbbeyRegardless of whether you're among the millions of Downton Abbey fans who have made the Bafta, Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning British TV drama a hit, there is no denying that the show has achieved phenomenon status here and abroad. Even if you haven't watched it, you've probably heard of it. And though it's difficult to describe the show compellingly to a non-viewer, one episode tends to be enough to hook a new devotee.

And here's a television program that doesn't distract or detract from reading, but rather encourages it. Downton has awakened in viewers a thirst for more and more stories of the era. It's a demand well-met by publishers, who offer not only historical nonfiction and show-specific companion books marketed for fans of the series, but a new breed of post-Edwardian novels, too.

Unlike the classic books of old England (I'm looking at you, Jane Austen), where the servants were incidental shadows of characters with largely unmemorable names and activities, many of these stories include and even focus on them. Our attention is now evenly divided between the nobility of the "Upstairs" and the staff of the "Downstairs," as the aristocracy and lower class are so often tactfully divided. In fact, Downton Abbey's two-class structure is reminiscent of the equally acclaimed 1970s British series "Upstairs Downstairs."

So, for fans who wait with bated breath for January 6 -- which marks the show's return to BBC America -- and anyone who's interested in learning more before committing, here's a way to narrow down your vast Downton-inspired reading choices.

If you were in the world of Downton Abbey, would you be a better fit Upstairs or Downstairs? Click the answers that best reflect your true self and then click the SUBMIT button to find out which books best suit you.

1. When it comes to money and happiness, I believe:
Whoever said "Money can't buy happiness" must not have had any.
A balance of the two is the true ideal.
I'd rather be rich with happiness than with money.

2. My idea of "having dinner plans" is:
Going out to a nice restaurant and ordering my heart's desire.
Picking something up from the grocery store and maybe heating up a couple of sides or whipping up a dessert myself. Nothing too time-consuming, though.
Making a detailed shopping list of ingredients for the homecooked meal I'll be making.

3. If I were to describe my skills in one word, it would be:

4. True knowledge is attained through:
Voracious reading
Study and practice

5. At social gatherings, I am generally:
The life of the party. I'm a social butterfly and I enjoy giving and receiving attention.
Laid-back and friendly. I enjoy sharing good conversation with a small group.
A wallflower. The best part of a party is the people watching. /p>

Therapy in Reverse: An Interview with Barbara Kingsolver

FlightbehaviorBarbara Kingsolver is the award-winning author of 14 works of fiction and nonfiction, including Pulitzer Prize finalist The Poisonwood Bible. Her latest novel, Flight Behavior, was selected by Amazon's editors as a Best Book of the Month and one of our Best Books of the Year in 2012. We sat down in New York City to talk about Ms. Kingsolver's new book, the intersection of fiction and science, and why literature should be "mandate-free."

Mia Lipman: I have a friend, a high school teacher, who calls your books "faction"—a combination of fiction and fact—and says that he and his students learn from them. When you write novels, do you intend to educate? Or is that a bonus byproduct?

Barbara Kingsolver: I would say it's a byproduct. If someone does learn about the world from reading a novel of mine, that makes me very happy. It's probably not what brings me into the novel in the first place—I usually am pulled in by some big question about the world and human nature that I'm not going to resolve in the course of the novel. But I'm very devoted to getting my facts straight.

I didn't study writing in school, I studied biology as an undergraduate and graduate student. So I think that I write fiction in the scientific way. I love invention, obviously; I love creation of character. But I do feel very rooted in the real world, even in the way that I create characters. I begin with themes, I think about the plots that are going to reveal these themes as people address big questions…and then I think about character and psychology and kind of work as a therapist in reverse, because I have to back up and give these people whatever background—and even damage—will render them believable in the actions that they're taking. So I try to invent my people in a realistic and fact-based way.

If my setting is new to a reader, or the concerns of the novel are new, I hope they will learn something about the world. I would like to say that they can trust that what they do learn in the novel will be accurate, because I pay a lot of attention to facts. I do a lot of research to make sure that I'm not giving them, you know, blue moons of Jupiter. It's not science fiction.

Flight Behavior incorporates your well-known passions for environmentalism and sustainability—as you mentioned, you trained as a biologist. Is it a challenge to bring social responsibility into the worlds that you create, or does that happen organically?

I would say it's probably completely incidental. It's not what I'm setting out to do. I'm not trying to tell anyone how to think or, heaven forbid, how to behave—that's not the domain of fiction at all. In fact, one of the things that I really love about literary fiction is that it's one of the few kinds of writing that doesn't tell us what to think or what to buy or what to wear. We're surrounded by advertising—

By mandates—

Mandates! That's exactly the word I was looking for. We're surrounded by mandates, and I believe that literature should be mandate-free. I feel very strongly about that. However, because I write fiction that is based in the real world, it's going to lead people into some of the modern dilemmas and concerns and even catastrophes that they will think about in a new way…. I'm not going to tell them how to feel, I'm just going to tell them: Here we are in this particular pickle. That's the situation in this novel—it's leading the reader into some knowledge about the new world we live in, in which the climate has already changed.

So writing a contemporary novel requires some addressing of contemporary concerns.

That's right. But I'm never going to tell the reader what to believe; I'm going to examine these characters that believe different ways, and examine their motives. What are the motives that drive denial? Because we all have our favorite denials [laughing].

We certainly do.

It's a really important part of human life. And in some sense, it's how we all get through our days. I've kind of avoided talking about the plot so far, but in this novel, which is set in a rural place in Southern Appalachia, something happens—which I'm not going to describe—but something happens that looks very beautiful and miraculous, and it may also be catastrophic. And it attracts a lot of attention, but the rural people who live in the middle of this beautiful catastrophe have to figure out what to do with it. So that's the point of entry. It's about human psychology and it's also about the world, and there are scientists in this novel who are working out exactly what is happening.

When I think of your work, I think of strong women: Taylor in The Bean Trees, the Price women in The Poisonwood Bible. In the character of Dellarobia, you have another female protagonist with a very strong and very real voice. Do you shift your approach when you're writing from a male perspective, as you did in The Lacuna?

Not really. I don't begin with gender, by any means. I begin with character. I knew that for this story, I needed two important characters: one who was smart but very naïve, very unworldly, and who had had a very narrow life. So I thought that it made sense for her to be a young farm wife who got trapped, who had to give up her own plans when she became pregnant and got married at 17. She's never been off the farm—she's been in this pretty stultifying life with in-laws who don't like her, don't ever approve of her, and economically they're really struggling. So she's a person who started out with big dreams, but she's never seen the world. And I thought that she was a perfect kind of character [to bring readers] into this story, to let them see the world through her eyes, and then explode her life outward. Chapter by chapter, her very restricted life opens. First she becomes an important player in her family, then in her church, then in her community and in her state—and then, of course, it goes viral. So in the course of just a few months, [Dellarobia] has to deal with a lot of new information and new kinds of people. Having you see this all through her eyes was a very handy device.

And the other important character is kind of her opposite. This scientist, Ovid Byron, has seen the world. He's traveled, he knows a lot about what is going on—but there's a lot he doesn't understand about not just the local culture and the local people, but about what it is like to be a person of limited means. And so putting those two characters together and creating this chemistry was really fun.

In addition to novels, you write essays, poetry, and nonfiction. Are you drawn toward a given medium based on what's happening in your own life, or are there outside forces at play?

Once I heard the great poet Lucille Clifton give a reading. And someone in the audience asked, "Why are your poems always so short? They're never more than about 14 or 16 lines long." And she said, "I raised six children, and that's how many lines I could hold in my head through the whole day. I was waiting to sit down at my desk and write." So I can relate to that, because at the time I heard her say it, I had a small child. I had a baby that I left with a babysitter for one hour so I could go hear Lucille Clifton. So undoubtedly for all authors, and certainly for authors who are women raising children, there are constraints on our lives that will affect the shape of our work. And I'm no exception, but I've been very lucky to have a very cooperative family that allows me to write whole novels, usually with a few interruptions. [Laughs.] But I also feel that having a family life…has enriched my life immensely and given me any wisdom that I have.

Speaking of wisdom: In 1999, you established the Bellwether Prize for writers who've never published a major novel. When new writers seek out your advice, which I imagine they often do, what's the first thing you tell them?

Quit smoking. [Mia laughs.] Because I think that when people read fiction, they're really reading for wisdom. I am. That's what most of us really love. If we read a novel that rocks our world, it's because there's something in it that we didn't know already. Not just information but really wisdom—sort of what to do with our information. And wisdom comes from experience, so…

So you want them to live a long time.

Exactly. The longer you live, the more likely you are to have something to say.

“Listening for Madeleine”: An Interview with Leonard S. Marcus about L’Engle


Madeleine L'Engle is perhaps best recognized as the author of A Wrinkle in Time, the enduring milestone work of fantasy fiction that won the 1963 John Newbery Medal for excellence in children's literature and has enthralled millions of readers for the past fifty years. But to those who knew her well, L'Engle was much more besides: a larger-than-life persona, an inspiring mentor, a strong-willed matriarch, a spiritual guide, and a rare friend. In Listening for Madeleine, the renowned biographer Leonard S. Marcus reveals Madeleine L'Engle in all her complexity, through a series of incisive interviews with the people who knew her most intimately. Vivid reminiscences of family members, colleagues, and friends create a kaleidoscope of keen insights and snapshot moments that help readers to understand the many sides of this singularly fascinating woman.

Omnivoracious recently interviewed Marcus about L’Engle and the book. We think fans of this iconic writer will be fascinated by his answers… What were some of the surprises in compiling this book?

Leonard S. Marcus: Going in, I knew about the Madeleine L’Engle who was a gallant public presence: the eloquent, funny, fluid conference speaker; the Buddha-like wise woman to whom young people in particular turned for spiritual guidance; the fearless champion of First Amendment rights. But before her friends and family spoke about it with me, I had not guessed the extent to which she was also a shy in some ways deeply needy person. It was only then that I realized what a pivotal experience L’Engle’s time as an actress must have been for her. Acting gave her the emotional equipment with which to reach beyond her misunderstood, neglected Meg-like childhood self, and to re-imagine herself as someone bigger, stronger, and less afraid. Acting—and her talent for storytelling—were the tools with which she reinvented herself as a loved and loving person capable of writing her books and connecting with everyone.

For most of her life, L’Engle did seem to know everybody. She met Betty Freidan, for instance, as a schoolmate at Smith College. Both went on to play major roles in redefining women’s roles in the workplace and home—but in distinctly different ways. (L’Engle abhorred movements and labels and refused to call herself a feminist.) Years later, when the director of the Authors Guild, bogged down in a Capitol Hill lobbying effort, needed to speak with the White House ophthalmologist in a hurry, L’Engle knew him, too. Did your own perception of L’Engle change as a result?

Leonard S. Marcus: I was touched to realize the extreme effort required of her to be the Madeleine L’Engle everyone knew. You decided to organize the book to present views of L’Engle as a writer, friend, icon, etc. How did you come to that decision, and were there other approaches you discarded?

Leonard S. Marcus: At first, I thought of editing the book like a documentary film, with a lot of crosscutting to juxtapose one person’s view of a particular topic with that of others. This could have worked but would have been much more challenging—and possibly frustrating—for the reader, too much like the chore of keeping track of who’s who in a Russian novel. So, I opted for simplicity. The “categories” in which I grouped the interviews presented themselves almost immediately as markers for the areas of her life that clearly mattered the most to her. I would have liked to have had a separate section devoted to the theater people in her life but sadly not enough of them were still alive or well enough to speak from memory. In compiling the interviews for publication, how did you decide on whether similarities created mere repetition as opposed to resonance?

Leonard S. Marcus: You are right to ask that question. It was a constant concern. By way of illustrating my approach: everyone who knew him at all wanted to talk about L’Engle’s close friend and spiritual adviser Canon Edward West, the man in charge of ritual observance at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where L’Engle was the librarian and had the office next to his. In reality, her position at the Cathedral was closer to that of “writer in residence”—there’s no evidence that the Dewey Decimal System interested her! Canon West was a colorful, larger-than-life character who dressed in nineteenth-century cassock and swirling capes and spoke with a vaguely British stage accent. He was an easy person to caricature. Yet he clearly had a huge impact on L’Engle and it felt essential to find out why. With this in mind, I kept the stories told by the people who knew him well, and discarded all but a few of the others (the caricature was a part of the story, too, after all). My main goal was to give a fully rounded portrait of him and to suggest why he meant so much to L’Engle. After a while, I realized that Canon West’s wild embrace of idiosyncrasy must have appealed deeply to her; also the shrewdness with which he navigated Cathedral politics and his quest for an intimate, fad-free spiritual life. L’Engle had fun writing him into four of her novels as Canon Tallis, even imagining a cloak-and-dagger role for him as a secret agent for Interpol. The great thing was that Canon West’s personal assistant was able to explain the private joke behind this last reference. The Canon, who was the world’s reigning authority on Anglican liturgical matters, also had a fine ear for gossip. As Don Lundquist told me: “People would sometimes wonder out loud just where he had gotten this or that tidbit of information. Canon West never divulged his sources! He would only say, ‘My spies report to me. . .’” How heavily did you edit the interviews for the book?

Leonard S. Marcus: Some interviews called for more editing than others. Because people don’t always speak in consecutive thoughts, I see it is as fair game at times to re-order material with the goal of having a story told or a thought expressed in the clearest possible way. This kind of editing has to be done with an absolute commitment to fidelity both to the spirit and letter of what was said. For me, doing it well is the art-part of editing an interview.

As I worked on the book, I remembered Edwin Arlington Robinson’s classic poetry collection, Spoon River Anthology, in which, one by one, the late inhabitants of a certain town testify from the grave about their lives. The fifty-one people I interviewed for Listening for Madeleine were in a sense all testifying about Madeleine L’Engle, telling me what she was like, what she had meant to them, how she had changed their lives. So I began looking for chances to edit myself out of the interviews altogether, and create a continuous monologue. I didn’t edit all the interviews that way, but I did do this in several instances, and I find the effect to be quite powerful. What do you think was the most compelling part of L’Engle’s imagination for readers?

Leonard S. Marcus: What I find most compelling is her ability, as in A Wrinkle in Time, to tell an intimate coming-of-age story that also has an epic dimension. L’Engle makes her young readers feel understood, and therefore less alone in the universe. And she says, in effect: Don’t just hide in a corner somewhere. Go out and experience the bigness of life. It’s an exhilarating message. This same theme carries over into her memoirs—those four books, starting with A Circle of Quiet—that have meant so much to adult readers, and really into all her books. Do you have a favorite observation about L’Engle by one of the contributors?

Leonard S. Marcus: I found Madeleine L’Engle’s oldest living relative in Jacksonville, Florida, where, going back to the late nineteenth century, her mother’s father’s family, the Barnetts, owned the largest bank. Mary L’Engle Avent, known to all as “Sister,” was 92 when I spoke with her.  Sister told me: “There is a saying in the L’Engle family that refers to the fact that we’re all stubborn and that we have all got our own ways. You might say to one of your relatives: ‘You have certainly inherited a lot of the Engle-arities!’ Madeleine had all of the L’Engle-arities. The Barnetts were pretty strong themselves, so you can imagine what that added up to.”

2012 Best Books of the Year: Recommendations by Authors (Part Two)

Last week, we posted 2012 book recommendations from popular authors. Since we've received recommendations from so many authors, we decided to do a two-part post. If you'd like to see what the Amazon editors' favorites of the year were, check out the 2012 Best Books of the Year store.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Gillian Flynn:


Best book you read that was published in 2012?

    "Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Mantel’s brilliant fictional account of the deadly war of wills between Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn is so present, so precise that she actually tricks you into thinking you don’t know the ending.”

Two other great books you read this year?

    Gods of Gotham by Lyndsey Faye. One of the most unnerving, entertaining, involving period mysteries I’ve read in years (and I read a lot of period mysteries)."

    "Losing Clementine by Ashley Ream. Ream’s novel—about a manic-depressive artist who is planning her own suicide—is poignant and insightful and also surprisingly funny, thanks to its nasty, charming narrator.”

Stephen King:


Best book you read that was published in 2012?

    Say You're Sorry by Michael Robotham. 'The Bingham Girls' disappeared three years ago, but their story is far from over. Their fate is gruesome, their courage ennobling. Never-lets-up suspense and beautiful writing."

Two other great books you read this year?

    And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman. Heloise Lane is a single suburban mother who also happens to run a high-priced escort service. When the barrier between her two lives starts to crumble, the results are mesmerizing. Lippman writes with clarity and power.”

    The Good Son by Michael Gruber. Sonia Bailey is part of a 'peace symposium' that is taken prisoner by Muslim extremists in Pakistan. This is a thriller, but also a novel of the mind--I learned more about the radical mindset in these 320 pages than in all the political punditry I've read or watched in the last five years. Highly recommended.”

Mollie Ringwald:


Best book you read that was published in 2012?

    The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg. The Middlesteins evokes Leo Tolstoy’s first line of Anna Karenina: 'Every family is unhappy in its own way.' Jami Attenberg's portrait of a family whose matriarch struggles with food addiction is as original as it is heartfelt and accessible. Attenberg’s characters are richly drawn, full of love and despair at the helplessness of keeping a family together when one of their own chooses to literally eat herself to death. The author takes no prisoners and yet she also wisely portrays no villains. These characters stay with you for a long time. I was so enamored with this book, I chose to lend my voice to the audio version.”

Two other great books you read this year?

    "Arcadia by Lauren Groff. Lauren Groff’s sumptuous novel chronicles the life of Bit, a boy raised in a commune who witnesses the disintegration of his parents’ generation's utopian dreams. As we follow Bit into adulthood, we experience the extraordinary gifts and scars that such an unconventional childhood leaves. I was so taken with Groff’s extraordinary eye for detail into this strange and dreamy world that I was sure that the author was raised in a commune herself; Turns out she just writes great fiction!."

    "Just My Type by Simon Garfield. I have often wondered about the geniuses behind the iconic fonts that the majority of the world takes for granted. Simon Garfield brilliantly anthropomorphizes the fonts and gives us a glimpse into the lives of the artists who created them. My unadulterated fascination with this book is sure to out me as a nerd. I’m okay with that."

John Green:


Best book you read that was published in 2012?

    "The best book I read this year published this year was Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, the story of several families in a Mumbai slum. It’s a thrilling page-turner that also captures the complex results of globalization and the spread of industrial capitalism."

Two other great books you read this year?

Cameron Diaz:

(Note: Cameron Diaz will be publishing a book in late 2013. It is not yet available on Amazon for preorders.)


Best book you read that was published in 2012?

    "We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy by Yael Kohen. This anecdotal history of the women who crack us up and push boundaries is told by the trailblazers themselves as well as TV execs, comedy club owners and everyone who continues that tradition today. You'll learn as much as you laugh."

Two other great books you read this year?

    "Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. What an amazing gift Jobs gave the world when he allowed Walter Isaacson to tell the story of his life. This book could almost serve as an instruction manual on how to change the world."

    "Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. Only through Cormac McCarthy's staggering words can you truly understand the importance of knowing the savageness that man is capable of."

Chad Harbach:

(Note: The Amazon editors selected Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding as the 2011 Best Book of the Year.)


Best book you read that was published in 2012?

    "The best book I read this year was Marco Roth's The Scientists, a riveting, soul-baring memoir about the author's relationship with his father, who died of AIDS in the early '90s. It's part mystery, part tragedy, part spiritual and intellectual autobiography. It's beautifully written and as honest as a book can be."

Two other great books you read this year?

Why Side Characters Steal the Spotlight (and How to Steal Some Back)


Hero_bigMain characters, as we all know, are golden gods of absolute awesomeness, with sharp intellects, shiny biceps, and sparkling personalities that make fair folk of all genders faint out of sheer want—both in and outside of the novel. Okay, that’s not really true (we all know biceps can’t really shine: they glisten). But even so, it can feel like it when we think about the huge amount of pressure that rests on the glistening deltoids of any main character: the direction of the action, the flavor of the narration, and most importantly, addiction of the readership. (No pressure.)

So, given all that (and how very much time you can spend on your main character as a result), it’s amazing how some random, throwaway character, who was only supposed to have maybe ten seconds of fame--max--can suddenly steal all the spotlight and demand your readership’s full attention (not to mention the author’s). Somehow, what your imagination coughed up in a moment of thoughtless need ends up being more gripping than the most carefully crafted character, in whom you’ve invested every hope and expectation!

But what makes these seemingly accidents of ink, these minor--yet somehow spectacular--characters so enthralling? It has, I think, something to do with those very pressures and expectations that make a main character so important to begin with. Here are a few different reasons that side characters can outshine main characters, along with a few suggestions as to how your main character can get her sparkle back.

Mary Sues Always Lose

Remember all that pressure we talked about? It weighs a character down, and forces them into a tiny little box where their every personality trait is measured for its heroic quotient before being allowed out to play. And there’s a good reason that! I mean think about it: generally speaking, no one wants a hero who is unlikable, foolish, incapable, or, worst of all, boring (unless, of course, it’s a “thing”). So it follows that heroes tend to be likable, smart, and capable of extraordinary things--as well as anything else the author believes befitting of a hero.* For example, if an author admires those who can operate coolly and logically under pressure, then his main character will likely do the same.

Continue reading "Why Side Characters Steal the Spotlight (and How to Steal Some Back)" »

An Amazing Book Trailer for Andrew Solomon's "Far from the Tree"

SolomonNational Book Award-winner Andrew Solomon's Far From The Tree--an Amazon Best Book of the Month (December) and Best Book of the Year--is a fascinating, groundbreaking look at exceptional families and their acceptance of children with severe disabilities or lifestyle differences.

Over the course of ten years, Solomon interviewed hundreds of ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges, a few of whom are featured in this heartbreaking, heartwarming video. Says one parent, whose daughter was born with Down Syndrome: "You sort of get what you get, and you go from there."  

>See all of Andrew Solomon's books.

2012 Best Books of the Year: Recommendations by Authors

As the winter and holiday seasons hit their respective strides, the Amazon editors begin to get more requests from friends, family, and customers about what books to read. All the editors have their favorites—you can find them in the 2012 Best Books of the Year store—but we thought it might be interesting to ask some authors what they read and liked this year. After all, wouldn’t it be interesting to know what your favorite author is reading? So in no particular order, here’s a survey from some pretty well-known writers.

George RR Martin:


Best book you read that was published in 2012?

    "The Black Count by Tom Reiss. I never knew anything about Dumas' father before reading this book. His astonishing adventure-filled life became the inspiration for many of his son Alexander's novels, including a prison stay that inspired The Count of Monte Cristo.”

Two other great books you read this year?

Rick Riordan:

51F6JTb0xfL._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Best book you read that was published in 2012?

    ”So many great books in 2012, but I think my favorite is Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone. This debut has such broad appeal it could be enjoyed by middle graders, YA readers and adults alike. Set in an alternative Tsarist Russia where magic and technology clash, an orphaned girl Alina discovers she may hold the key to saving or destroying her country. With great use of Russian mythology, Bardugo crafts a first-rate adventure, a poignant romance and an intriguing mystery all in one book! Fortunately, this is the first of a trilogy."

Two other great books you read this year?

    ”Only a writer of China Mièville's prodigiously twisted talent could pull off a book like Railsea, a hilarious take on Moby Dick. Imagine a world where islands of solid ground are surrounded by seas of shifting dirt, crisscrossed by a mysterious system of rails. Our hero, Sham ap Soorap, signs aboard the moler train Medes, but soon learns that the captain is obsessed with finding and killing a giant ivory-colored mole Mocker-Jack, who took her arm years before. Things just get stranger and more fun from there. Great adventure for any readers middle grade and up, whether or not you have endured reading Moby Dick!”

    “Another brilliant middle grade debut, Geoff Rodkey's Deadweather and Sunrise reads like Pirates of the Caribbean as written by Lemony Snicket. Our young hero Egg Masterson lives a miserable life on an 'ugly fruit' plantation until his father finds a mysterious parchment, which leads Egg on a dangerous quest with plenty of pirates, battles at sea, tricky twists of fate, and a beautiful plucky heroine named Millicent. A great mix of dry humor and good old-fashioned derring-do.”

Salman Rushdie:

51wsprLEO0L._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Best book you read that was published in 2012?

    Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. The harsh life of a Bombay slum vividly recreated on the page in unusually beautiful prose. Her characters are irresistibly alive. No slumdogs or millionaires here. Just the truth.”

Two other great books you read this year?

Nancy Pearl:

41vy9vvCjjL._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Best book you read that was published in 2012?

Two other great books you read this year?

Karin Slaughter:

51Gu70Xae5L._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Best book you read that was published in 2012?

Two other great books you read this year?

    "Where Did You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple--a whimsical and funny read. Semple knows how to make her research sound fascinating."

    "A Wanted Man by Lee Child--Not much to say other than 'the latest Jack Reacher.' Mr. Child never disappoints."

Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

51X+xlJQtkL._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Best book you read that was published in 2012?

    "The Social Conquest of Earth by Edward O. Wilson. The author presents a powerful theory, and one with a strong mathematical backing, namely that we are not single selfish units interested in our genes, rather that we are the products of groups."

Two other great books you read this year?

    "Philip Mansel's Levant: Spendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean. This is the best book I read this year. It discusses the city states of the Levant (Alexandria, Beirut, Smyrna) with a life of their own, belonging to the Mediterranean not the hinterland."

    "Le Rivage des Syrtes by Julien Gracq. A poignant novel, with humans in the grip of expectation, living in the antichamber of hope."


More author recommendations next week.

YA Wednesday: Reaching out to Ally Condie

Reached Utah has great skiing, a fascinating history, and an abundance of marquee YA authors including Stephenie Meyer, James Dashner, Shannon Hale, and Ally Condie. 

Condie's amazing Matched trilogy wrapped up recently with Reached--one of our Best YA books of the year and also a customer favorite for 2012.  The series is smart and exciting, the romance feels authentic and each book adds another layer and voice.  In Reached we finally get to see inside the heads of all three members of the love triangle, and things really heat up.  Forget Peeta and Gale, the question these days is will Cassia choose Ky or Xander??

In this video interview, Condie talked to Amazon's Mari Malcolm about the inspiration for the series (I'll just say her husband provided the light bulb), the YA writers community in Utah, and what she reads while writing her own novels (love her taste in books!).

If you need a good book to start over the holidays and haven't read Reached or maybe are new to this series, Condie's world goes great with a warm living room, a comfy couch, and a few hours to lose yourself.

Get to Know the 2012 TIME Person of the Year

This morning, TIME revealed its Person of the Year for 2012, and the winner is... President Barack Obama. As the TIME staff explains on the website:

We are in the midst of historic cultural and demographic changes, and Barack Obama is both the symbol and in some ways the architect of this new America. In 2012, he found and forged a new majority, turned weakness into opportunity and sought, amid great adversity, to create a more perfect union.

Congratulations to President Obama, who was contending with 8 other "short-list" candidates, including Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, both Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.

If you're interested in learning more about President Obama, here are seven books to get you started:

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance Change We Can Believe In: Barack Obama's Plan to Renew America's Promise

Inaugural Presidential Address - Official Transcript The American Journey of Barack Obama The Obamas