Danish writer Karen Blixen aka Isak Dinesen, author of Out of Africa (1937) and Shadows on the Grass (1961) was born today in 1885.

 Danish writer Karen Blixen aka Isak Dinesen, author of Out of Africa (1937) and Shadows on the Grass (1961) was born today in 1885.

“Perhaps he knew, as I did not, that the Earth was made round so that we would not see too far down the road.”
― Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa

WORD on the street (NYC: on the W between Queensboro Plaza and Lexington Ave.)

Joanna, reading A Spot of Bother

1. Why did you choose this book?

I really liked Mark Haddon’s other book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Then a friend recommended this one to me when we were discussing books with gay characters.

2. Do you like it?

I like it. In the first 40 pages or so, I wasn’t sure that it was going to catch my interest, but then it picked up and I suddenly felt invested in the story. It sometimes makes me cringe, kind of like a TV drama, when the characters aren’t understanding each other and conflicts are piling up. But the relationships are more realistic than in a TV drama, so that’s a relief!

3. What are your favorite books?

Life of Pi (Yann Martel), Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri), Zeitoun (Dave Eggers), Native Speaker (Chang-rae Lee), The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath)….

4. Do you judge books by their covers?

Not usually, because I find out about them online, and can only see a little thumbnail image of the cover anyway.

5. What did you have for breakfast?

Cereal—three types mixed together. I still haven’t found one cereal that I like on its own.



WORD on the street, Monday 4/12 (NYC: on the W between Broadway and 39th Ave.)

 Randy, reading The Age of Wonder

1. Why did you choose this book?

I read a review somewhere, maybe Salon.

2. Do you like it?

Very much.

3. What are your favorite books?

Do you want types of books or titles? That would take a long time.

Either is great.

Mostly straight literature. But lately I’ve been getting into nonfiction, like this one, historical science. But Russian lit was always my biggest thing.

Ok now a title.

Since I read it when I was 16, and I read it again all the time, Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoevsky).

4. Do you judge books by their covers?

I try not to but I definitely do, even it’s subconsciously. Especially if I know nothing about it, then the cover can make a big difference.

5. What did you have for breakfast?

Pop-tarts. Why, are you finding a correlation between breakfast and reading habits?

Not really. What kind of pop-tarts?

Brown sugar cinnamon. Pop-tarts and coffee.

WORD on the Street, Thursday (NYC: on the W between 5th Ave. and 57th St.)

Mavis, reading Never Let Me Go

1. Why did you choose this book? 

I chose it because I’ve heard a lot about the author, and wanted to read something he’d written. I also wanted to read a book with a setting outside of the US, and thought the UK would be a good place to start.

2. Do you like it?

I do like it. It started off a little bit slow (first 30 pages), and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue reading, but I gave it a chance and now I’m really into it. It’s definitely an interesting book with some very thought-provoking concepts. I also really like the sci-fi aspect of it, which is surprising because I generally don’t like sci-fi novels. 

3. What are your favorite books?

My favorite books are Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, The Book of Night Women by Marlon James, Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres, In the Name of Salome by Julia Alvarez and The Local News by Miriam Gershow.

4. Do you judge books by their covers?

Generally, I don’t. I look at the title first, and then read the blurb.

5. What did you have for breakfast?

Today I had a slice of whole wheat toast and some juice. I’m not really that hungry in the mornings.

WORD on the street, Tuesday 3/23 (NYC : on the N between 39th Ave. and Queensboro Plaza)

Heather, also reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

1. Why did you chose this book?

My roommate gave it to me.

2. Do you like it?


3. What are your favorite books?

Currently The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

4. Do you judge books by their covers?


5. What did you have for breakfast?

I haven’t had breakfast.

Ask a Vintage Expert: Editor Zack Wagman talks editing

Introducing a new, semi-regular series in which we interview writers and editors about what goes on behind the scenes.

First up, Vintage Editor Zack Wagman.

How long have you been an editor? What made you want to become an editor?
I’ve been an editor for 6 years now, though some of that was as an assistant.  Actually, I originally wanted to work in the film business (I’m a huge movie nerd), in “development,” though I don’t think I really understood what that meant.  All I knew was that I was an avid reader and preferred working behind the scenes.  The summer I graduated from college, I was working as a freelancer for a professor of mine who was publishing a book with Random House.  As I got to know more about the editorial process and the publishing world, I realized that in publishing, I’d be able to work in pop culture and help develop projects that I believed in.  Eventually, I got hired at Knopf and I’ve been here ever since.

What are the most important qualities in an editor as you see it?
Patience is a virtue!  You’ll need patience to read through the countless bad manuscripts to find that hidden gem; to problem-solve with an author to get the manuscript to where it needs to be; and to be an enthusiastic cheerleader for the book at the company.    I would also say an open mind, courage to take a risk, and a sense of fun.

What was the best advice you got at the beginning of your career?

My first boss in publishing, Vicky Wilson, told me to always trust my instincts.  I would have put that in my answer above, but I didn’t want to steal her line.  But it’s true!  I’ve read manuscripts that aren’t necessarily a natural fit for the Knopf Group, but I made a stink about anyway because either I couldn’t stop turning pages or it stuck with me well after I finished reading.

What’s the biggest cringe-worthy moment you’ve had in your career so far?
A few years ago, after corresponding with an LA-based author for months, I finally met her in person.  She made a strange comment when she first saw me: “Huh.  I always pictured you as a blonde.”  I was sort of caught off-guard and tried to recover with a joke: “Oh, because of Zack Morris?”  She just stared at me in total confusion for what felt like five full minutes and then walked away.  It was a meaningless moment and didn’t affect our working relationship at all, but it was damn awkward.

What advice would you give the Future Publishers of America?
Read what’s on the New York Times bestseller lists!  I’ve interviewed job applicants before—many of them right out of college.  And here’s a piece of advice: as much as we all love and respect Tolstoy, Dickens, and James Joyce, citing them as what you’ve read recently doesn’t do much for me.  I’d much rather hear your opinions on Dan Brown, Stieg Larsson, or Malcolm Gladwell.

Who are your greatest influences?
Pixar, comic books, my parents, Michael Chabon, Billy Wilder.  Not necessarily in that order.

Complete this sentence: if it weren’t for _____ I never would have gotten my foot in the door.
If it weren’t for persistence, I never would have gotten my foot in the door.  I sent my resume to Random House for about 6 months before anyone called me back!

How much do you read?
I typically read about 2-3 books a week.  Sometimes more, sometimes less.  I’m always reading on the train—usually work stuff in the morning and something lighter in the evening.  I read at my desk when I can, but I’m usually dealing with emails, factsheets, catalog and cover copy, reader reports, etc. so it’s not that often.  I read a lot of newsy/politics/pop culture blogs in the morning and at night.  And I try and read for pleasure so I can remember why I got into this business in the first place!

What surprised you most about the getting published process?
How hard it is!  Even if you know tons of people in the industry and have written a great book, there’s no guarantee.  It’s so subjective that you really need to get the book into the hands of the right reader, otherwise you’ll be told “It’s not right for me.”  That’s why I always tell aspiring writers to get an agent!  They know the landscape and will get the book into the right hands.

What is paperback editorial like? How does it differ from hard cover editorial?
The cool thing about paperbacks is that we have a precedent to work from.  At Vintage, when we prepare to publish a paperback, we look at how the hardcover did.  Sometimes it was such a success that we just keep the cover, plaster the back with tons of great quotes, and publish as is.  But a lot of times, something didn’t quite click in hardcover – timing, package, etc. and we need to rethink it.  And that’s the fun part.  We get a new cover, find some positive quotes, get a new afterword if appropriate, put it out in the summer instead of the fall, and try something new.  It doesn’t always work, but the new energy and creativity is invigorating.

Think the Super Bowl is just about football? Think again.

Allen St. John reveals how America’s biggest sporting event is more than just a couple hours on a Sunday: it’s a high stakes, real-life dramatic story, with millions of participants all hoping for the same thing—the greatest game ever.

Did you know…

  • More Americans watch the Super Bowl than vote in presidential elections.
  • The week before the Super Bowl, Americans purchase 1.5 million large-screen TVs.
  • Each year there are upwards of 7.5 million parties to celebrate the event.
  • The amount of food consumed in the USA on Super Bowl Sunday is second only to the amount eaten on Thanksgiving  (and according to the California Avocado Commission, Americans consume more than eight million pounds of guacamole on this single day).
  • Super Bowl host cities win the privilege four years in advance, after an elaborate competitive bidding process and a secret vote by the other NFL team owners.
  • For more, read his recent column in The Wall Street Journal, “A Cold Spell for the Big Game” 

What’s your favorite Super Bowl trivia? Tell us all about it and the top three comments will get a *free* copy.

Monitor Books podcast featuring National Book Award Finalist Jayne Anne Phillips

The Christian Science Monitor‘s most recent weekly books podcast features one of our own, author of National Book Award Finalist LARK & TERMITE, Jayne Anne Phillips.

Here’s a small preview, where Phillips discusses the origins of LARK & TERMITE:

“This book actually began over thirty years ago, when I was visiting my hometown and was standing at the window of a girlfriend’s apartment, and looked out over a kind of grass alley, which fronted several small houses. Sitting directly across from us was a boy of about eight or nine.  He was clearly disabled in some way, and he was holding up to his forehead a kind of long strip of blue plastic—like a dry cleaning bag.  He was blowing on it, and looking through it, in a way that was so… it kind of made an indelible image, I think, in my mind…”

Click here to check out the whole podcast.