An inside look at my blissful reading nook + how to make your own (free art print!)

Avoid these 3 common reading nook mistakes when styling a blissful and cozy DIY reading nook for adults.


Here’s how Monday used to look for me when I was an editor at a NYC publisher: sit at a cubicle, wheel my chair into the corner, put my head down, and try to edit a manuscript while my cubemate played music, a publicist pitched on the phone, a TV blared Good Morning America, and editors chitchatted at each other’s doors a whole three inches from me.

Sounds stressful, right?

Well, here’s how Monday looks for me now that I’m a literary agent: wake up, make coffee, settle into my reading armchair, expertly arrange pillows and blankets, and edit a proposal, respond to emails, or do whatever else is on the docket for that day.

Ahhh. Blissful. Just thinking about it makes me breathe deep. It is SO much more peaceful and productive.

reading nook mistakes

Of course, that’s not every Monday. A lot of the time I’m in New York, working in a busy, open-concept office, or I’m booked with calls and working at my desk, or I’m working from Swing’s, the best coffee shop on the planet. (Hot take, I know.)

Maybe you’re lucky enough to work from home on occasion. Or maybe you come home craving peace and quiet to read or write. Either way, you know what a huge difference it makes to have a reading nook that’s blissful. Blissful the way a great yoga class can be—you breathe deeper in it; you sink into it; you feel that you’re in the universe of a single task.

But, here’s the thing: it’s not easy to create a blissful reading nook. Trust me, I’ve made every mistake and failed at styling many of the reading nooks I’ve had. I’ve gone through 7 iterations of a reading nook over the past 7 years, and it wasn’t until the past year that my reading nook started to feel just right.

So I know all the common mistakes people make when styling reading nooks, because I learned them the hard way. And since I don’t want you to have to learn the hard way, here are the mistakes you should watch for when styling your reading nook:

The 3 most common mistakes in reading nooks:

1. There are too many books in your reading nook.

I know, I know. You want to hit me for saying this. But seriously: a reading nook is for reading, not for being stared down by all the books you haven’t read yet. I’ve tried reading nooks packed with bookshelves and reading nooks with no books, and I’ve finally settled on a happy in-between.

To me, I want a reading nook to feel blissful and serene above all, so only a few books within reach is perfect. You can either spaciously arrange books on a small bookshelf along with other decorative items, or lean a few books on a ledge, or even stack them on a side table in your reading nook.

The rest of your books can live happily in larger bookshelves throughout the house (we keep ours near the front door), but now your reading nook will always be the one corner of your house that feels peaceful and calm.

2. You don’t have a comfortable enough spot to sit in your reading nook.

I could probably write 1,000 words right now about my feelings on armchairs but because that is painfully boring and I wouldn’t even want to read it, I’ll tell you this: you need an armchair that, above all, can hold you comfortably, in various stretched-out positions for oh, 8-hour, reading sessions.

A reading nook is not the place for high-backed armchairs. A reading nook is not the place for cushioned benches with no back support. (I know, I love these closets-turned-reading-nooks, too, but how comfortable do they really look?)

When it comes to reading nook couches and armchairs, the deeper, plusher, and larger, the better. And if you really want to give yourself space to stretch out with a book, add an ottoman to your reading nook. Now we’re entering chaise lounge territory but without the need to commit to always putting your legs up. Bliss.

3. Your reading nook has too much clutter.

Have you heard that people are anti-clutter these days? (Ha ha.) I represented this decluttering book and this organizing book, and they have made a world of difference in my life. I used to have no darn idea how people made the houses in magazines look so good, but now I get it: they have less stuff, and what they have is artfully tucked away.

Decluttering is the hardest thing to do when we have books, posters, tctochkes, and other literary ephemera that completely fit the reading nook theme. But experiment a little: if you take away 3 things from your reading nook, does it feel calmer and quieter?

After all, we’re in our reading nook to read or write, not stare at our Fahrenheit 451 posters and collection of bookstore totes. Think of it like creating a blank canvas, where your mind can wander and daydream. A reading nook should be one of the few places in the world where you’re not assaulted by stimulus from every direction and where you can actually breathe deeply, think clearly, and focus on just one thing at a time.

Do you have other advice on styling a reading nook I might have forgotten? I’d love to hear it in the comments!

After I spent the past 7 years styling, restyling, making mistakes, starting over, and hauling my reading nook through many moves, I’ve finally gotten it to look like the blissful reading nook of my dreams.

So what does my reading nook look like?

When we first moved in to our apartment, I immediately knew I’d put my reading armchair under the big windows in the living room. But it took me a few months of mistakes and false starts to get the other pieces of furniture right.

I started by digging through my Dream Home board on Pinterest (you can follow me here, by the way!) and trying to pick out the common elements in the reading nooks I liked. Here are some of the inspiration images I used:

reading nook mistakes

reading nook mistakes reading nook mistakes

From those, I figured out a few things I like in a reading nook:

  1. white couches
  2. soft textures
  3. plants
  4. lots of light
  5. botanical prints
  6. reading lamps

I had a few of those things already, so when we moved in, I pulled them together in the most light-filled corner of our living room and ended up with this reading nook:

reading nook mistakes

IMG_3057

IMG_3056 IMG_3055

Yes, half of the plants are fake and half are real. I do what I can do, you know?

reading nook mistakes

Excuse me, that is MY reading nook. Get out of there, Jarrett.

My reading nook is now my favorite corner of our apartment, and it’s where I spend most of my time. It’s my style, exactly, and even though some of my friends laugh at me for loving neutrals and whites so much, it’s what feels blissful and clean and happy to me.

Here’s a breakdown of how the look came together along with similar sources you might like to try for your own reading nook:

Reading-nook-mistake-mood-board

1. bookshelf | 2. rug | 3. mug | 4. plants | 5. blanket | 6. side table | 7. botanical print | 8. reading lamp | 9. armchair | 10. pillow | 11. ottoman | 12. galvanized plant pot

I did a lot of the shopping for this reading nook mood board on Arhaus—one of Jarrett’s cousins was a design consultant there for years, which is how I discovered their stuff. Maybe I’m late to the game on this, but I didn’t realize until a few years ago that Arhaus is one of the few furniture companies that doesn’t use endangered wood from rain forests. That makes me happy, since (thanks to The Joy of Less), I do worry about how sustainable the furniture we buy is.

But even though I’m picky, I’m not precious, and I want reading nook furniture that works hard for me. So I totally and completely love that this chair and ottoman are slipcovered (mine are similar to this ottoman and this armchair from Arhaus, which are both on sale!). And yes, I’ve spilled coffee on them. So many times. And I didn’t stress it one bit, because I knew the fabric was just one wash away from looking brand new again. But if you’re less willing to live fast and loose with white couches like I am, there are so many pretty and colorful living room pieces on the Arhaus site. I’m still thinking about this armchair. Isn’t there something cozy and literary about it?

I had so much fun creating this mood board that I realized: hey, it’d make a cute art print, too! So I turned all my favorite reading nook pieces into illustrations and created a free printable art print, which you can frame and hang in your own reading nook.

reading nook mistakes printable

Click here to download this free printable
reading nook art print!

You can use this print to pull together these same reading nook elements in your own style, or check out the links above if you want some of the same pieces I have! Either way, I hope it helps you create a reading nook that’s a tad better than a cubicle in a noisy office. 🙂

And I’d love to hear: What does your reading nook look like? Are there certain essentials I’m missing?

Get one email per week with publishing advice + book printables delivered to your inbox!


What I’m Reading This Week

Moonshine Makes A Comeback in Virginia. And This Time, It’s Legal (C. Jarrett Dieterle for NPR’s The Salt): Brag alert! Jarrett wrote this excellent piece on Virginia moonshine for NPR, and I got to go stage mom on him and tag along as we visited distilleries, tasted moonshine, and edited the piece. Now Jarrett’s working on a post on the behind-the-scenes of the article, including what it’s like to be edited me (oh god, please let it be nice), so watch for that in the next few weeks.

10 Rules for Book Editors (Jonathan Karp, President of Simon & Schuster on Publisher’s Weekly): If you want to understand how to write a book, you need to understand what editor’s look for, and who better to give you that insight than a veteran book editor and the President of the Simon & Schuster imprint? And to continue your self-education, pick up the whole book where this excerpt was taken from: What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, and Business of Book Editing.

15 Riveting Books with Unreliable Narrators and Ambiguous Endings (Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy): If you love books that make you sort out what’s what the whole way through, get thee over to this list!

What To Read With Your Kids and Teens When the World is Terrible (Kristy Pasquariello for BookRiot): “When the world feels like a terrible place (and let’s face it, it’s pretty freaking terrible right now), I sometimes struggle to maintain perspective and positivity. …it got me thinking about how I could and should use children’s books to work through some of the many emotions evoked by the news.”

These three cookbooks went viral before the Internet existed — and they still hold up today (Charlotte Druckman for The Washington Post): Do you have one of these classic cookbooks?


What We’re Eating This Week

Yippee: plenty of things to cook and even a smidge of energy to do it. (Famous last words.)

Monday: Chicken Cordon Bleu Soup—a blinding desire to turn Chicken Cordon Bleu into soup hit me last week even though I haven’t had CCB in, oh, 10 years? The stomach wants what it wants.

Tuesday: Peanut Chicken and Cucumber Salad in Lettuce Wraps, loosely based off the recipe in this book. I will be carefully julienning my cucumber because I just do not believe in spiralizers. (Unpopular Opinions by Maria Ribas: A New Series.)

Wednesday: Spaghetti Carbonara with Garlicky Roast Cauliflower and Artichokes. I live and die by Mario Batali’s Carbonara recipe. Back away from me, you creamy carbonaras.

Thursday: Another utterly absurd craving: I spotted a bowl of simple Franks and Beans in someone’s else’s fridge last week and was filled with an unstoppable urge to make Elevated Franks and Beans” (Jarrett has already laughed at me for calling anything I make “Elevated,” and I have no defense.) So, yes, black beans with kielbasa will be happening, and we can call it Elevated Franks and Beans or Lazy Person’s Feijoada or A Very Cheap Dinner or just eat it and stop stressin’ about the title.

Friday: We’re off to a Halloween party, so candy for dinner! Or, you know, hot dogs. We’re wearing this embarrassing hot dog couple’s costume, and I desperately want to get this one for Pepper and then go out to eat at Haute Dogs because then how could they not give us free hot dogs for life?

Cheers!

Read More

The 3 most common mistakes on book covers

I know it sounds harsh, but there are a few mistakes on book covers that drive me up the wall. I adore book covers and never get tired of admiring them (and reaching out to feel the paper…) in bookstores, but every once in a while, I see a cover gone wrong.

So today let’s also talk about the ways book cover design can go awry, because I think we always have to edit out the bad before we can get to the good. (Can I get an amen from every writer who’s ever edited that terrible first draft?)

common mistakes on book covers

It’s a cold, hard truth of publishing that people judge a book by its cover. This is engraved on a tablet on a mountaintop somewhere in midtown Manhattan, where the other strictures of publishing are recorded, like, Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s advance, and Thou shalt not order anything but a salad at an editor lunch, unless the other person does first, or you’re just really, really hungry and don’t care anymore. But yes, the cover is the first thing a reader will see of your work; it’s how they’ll judge your book; and it’s your most important marketing tool.

Read More

10 book art prints to inspire you to read more

Jarrett and I watched The Little Prince last week, and I am smitten. Why had no one told me how cute this movie was when it first came out?!

I loved every bit of it: the gorgeous paper cut-out animation, the thoughtfully done adaptation and expansion of the storyline, the themes of finding adventure and wonder in books. The movie did a great job of keeping the ethereal and delicate tone of the book yet overlaying the struggles of modern life: how the cult of productivity and busyness has made for less spontaneous and unscheduled childhoods (and adulthoods!).

It made me feel like a little kid again–it’s that same happy, giddy feeling you get when you read a great book. So, in honor of The Little Prince, the start of spring, and the very cutest Google doodle (did you catch it on Monday?), I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite reading illustrations and art prints.

Reading and book art prints

I have a whole board of reading and book art prints on Pinterest, and sometimes I just open them up to smile and remember what it is that I love so much in books. (Follow me there, if you want more!)

10 Reading Art Prints to Remind You to Believe in Books

Reading and book art prints

(Source: Simini Blocker)

Reading and book art prints 7

(Source: Doodlemum)

Reading and book art prints

(Source: unknown)

Reading and book art prints

(Source: unknown)

Reading and book art prints

(Source: part of a WPA series)

Reading and book art prints

(Source: Monica Castanys)

   Reading and book art prints 5

(Source: Book/Shop)

Reading and book art prints

(Source: Book Geek Confessions)

Reading and book art prints

(Source: Sarah Wilkins)

Reading and book art prints

(Source: unknown)


What I’m Reading This Week

Stop Focusing on Follower Count: 5 Better Approaches for Improving Social Media Use (Andrea Dunlop on JaneFriedman.com): This is such great advice–I see follower count trip up so many authors, yet it just isn’t an accurate predictor of the success of your book. Instead, focus on these 5 goals to stay motivated as you grow your author platform.

Writing the review in advance (Seth Godin): “The last click someone clicks before they buy something isn’t the moment they made up their mind. … We lay clues. That’s what it takes to change the culture and to cause action. The thing we make matters (a lot). But the breadcrumbs leading up to that thing, the conversations we hear, the experiences that are shared, the shadow we cast–we start doing that days, months and years before.”

The business of posting recipes online (Dreena Burton of Plant-Powered Kitchen): There isn’t a blogger out there who hasn’t had to work through this same emotional mire of seeing their work copied without credit, so it’s great to see a blogger discuss this so openly and yet so positively.

5 Scientifically Verified Reasons You’ll Hate Yourself if You Stop Writing (Chad Allen): “So much of winning at the writing game can be summarized succinctly in the immemorial words of Dory in Finding Nemo: Just keep swimming.”

How I Won 12 Book Awards for My Memoir (Judith Newton on Dianne Jacob’s blog):  Memoir can be a tough category to break-out in, so start here if you’re looking for ways to build buzz for your work!

10 Empowering Writer’s Retreats for Women (Ellen Turner on The Write Life): Feeling a little blah or overwhelmed in your writing life? Sounds like you need a retreat!


What We’re Eating This Week

What’s for dinner? Why, I thought you’d never ask!

Monday: Grilled shrimp greek salads, because Monday.

Tuesday: Chicken fajitas, made with a recipe by my author Robyn of Add a Pinch (Have you preordered her gorgeous book yet? It’s a weeknight lifesaver!)

Wednesday: Spaghetti with salumi and endives, adapted from Back Pocket Pasta by Colu Henry. Lordy, I love that book.

Thursday: The notes in my phone say: “Asian slow-cooked beef and mushrooms with rice and broccoli and snow peas.” AKA throw everything in the fridge in a pot, cover in sauce, cook, and serve over rice. #fancy

Friday: Last weekend Jarrett and I went to this fabulous event at the Museum of American History about the women behind America’s first cookbooks, and they demoed chicken croquettes and tomato butter sauce from The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph. All I had to hear was “add a stick of butter to the tomato sauce” and, boom, it was added to the meal plan. I’m powerful like that. (But actually, please say a little prayer for me in executing these–I’m cooking them as a birthday dinner for my mother-in-law and want them not to be, as Mary Randolph would put it, intolerable.)

Cheers!

 

7 Tips for Getting More Use Out of Your Cookbooks

Here it is, one month later, and I’ve been itching with excitement to get back to you all! Like I talked about here, if you’re feeling creatively burned out (or, you know, just worn out from life) then taking a mini-sabbatical may be just what you need.

Even Penguin Random House, the largest U.S. publisher, gets that creative minds need to recharge a little now and then. Their sabbatical program is legendary for offering paid time off to pursue personal interests, and I know the editors there, especially, love hitting that 10 year mark and taking a month off to travel, volunteer, or even just staycation in blissful peace.

And just because writers, bloggers, and other creative kinds work for themselves doesn’t mean they shouldn’t give themselves the same benefits an employer would offer. As Ayn Rand would say:

 

ayn rand quote art print

 

Meanwhile, the wonderful folks over at The Kitchn were kind enough to have me on their site this month, sharing some of my ideas for getting more use out of cookbooks. And the conversations that sparked from that article were incredible! I was so touched to see dozens of readers leaving memories and tips about their favorite cookbooks and how they like to use them. There are so many touching personal reflections in that comment thread, and it honestly made me a little teary to think about how important and heartening our cookbooks can be to us.

As one commenter wrote:

“My mother passed away in April and I can’t seem to move on from her passing. Opening her cookbooks and seeing her notes, especially her hilarious reviews of recipes that weren’t so successful, brings her back to me. Cooking these recipes helps me keep her close to me even though she is gone. So, write in your cookbooks! Your daughters will thank you one day.”

If you also want to turn your cookbooks into well-used, well-loved family heirlooms, here’s the rest of the article!

7 Insider Tips For Getting More Out of Your Cookbooks

how to use cookbooks more to cook

Confession time: I make cookbooks for a living, but I don’t treat them nicely.

I treat my authors nicely — I love being their literary agent; it’s an honor — and I love the cookbooks we’ve made together (I hold them tight and sing them to sleep and feel all sorts of joy-sparks when I look at them). But let’s not be precious about it:

Cookbooks exist to help us cook.

They work for us, not the other way around. Cookbooks want more than anything to help you cook, and to cook damn amazing food — and sometimes better food than you could cook if left to your own panic-fueled decision-making. Cookbooks want to lure you away from that moment when you’re staring blankly into the fridge, fathoming the meaninglessness of dinner, and wondering why on earth you didn’t just plan something, like you swore you would.

Cookbooks will find you in that moment, wipe away your tears, and gently whisper, “It’s okay … I have an idea.”

So if you’re drowning in cookbooks but still parched for practical ways to get dinner done, you might need to reassess your relationship. Here are seven ways to make your cookbooks work for you like they mean it. They helped reform me from a hapless daydreamer to that stubborn soul that cooks a brand new recipe even though it’s 8 p.m. on a Wednesday, the fridge is empty, and the dog is on fire.

Click here to keep reading this article on The Kitchn!


And because I wasn’t lying when I said I’d been giddily squirreling treats away for you all, here’s a free download of that pretty watercolor kitchen pattern you see in my main graphic!

watercolor kitchen pattern utensils

Go ahead and use it wherever you’d like—on your blog, on Instagram, as a desktop background, or just print it out, fold it in half, and scribble a grocery list on it. I hope it’ll make some little corner of your life a bit cuter!

Click here to download this watercolor kitchen pattern.


What I’ve Been Reading

Big Magic (Elizabeth Gilbert): My goodness am I glad that I gave in to the hype and read this. I was worried it wouldn’t live up to expectations after all I’ve heard about it, but it really was much different than I expected and the perfect read for anyone taking a creative sabbatical (or feeling like they need to). The main gist of the book? Lighten up and play with your work. Never forget that you do this because you love it, and it’s okay to delight yourself, rather than torture yourself, with your creative work.

This Time Lapse Of 52,000 Books Being Shelved Is A Bibliophile’s Dream (Maddie Crum for The Huffington Post): This video hit me right in my weak spot. I could watch it for days and sigh happily at all the beautiful books and the beautiful home for books that the New York Public Library is. Sigh. (See?)

John Green on Failure (John Green via GalleyCat): In this video, John Green talks candidly about struggling with writing after The Fault in Our Stars became a massive success. This is a great tie-in to Big Magic, where Elizabeth Gilbert also reveals what’s on the other side of mega bestsellerdom. (Hint: It doesn’t get easier, but you can choose whether you’ll let the weight of expectations crush you or not.)

The Economics of Dining as a Couple (Megan McArdle for Bloomberg View): We’re big fans of McArdle’s book The Upside of Down, and this hilarious piece is worth reading with your other half before you head out on your next dinner date. As McArdle says, “A communist economy is a terrible idea. A communist dinner table, on the other hand, truly is a bounteous paradise.” (Hail to the fork and sickle!)

Publishing a Cookbook: How Do You Develop Recipes? (aka: How Destroyed Is Your Kitchen?) (Thriving Home): My lovely authors, Polly and Rachel, continue their behind-the-scenes series as they work on their first cookbook. We’re planning their recipe and lifestyle shoots for this fall, and the design inspiration they’ve been collecting is gorgeous. I can’t wait to share this book with you all!

7 Must-Haves to Make Your Home Cozy for Fall Reading (A.J. O’Connell for Book Riot): Blankets! Socks! Stretchy pants! I hope you’re as excited as I am to get extremely cozy with a book this fall.

Why Do Books Publish on Tuesdays? (Laurie Hertzel for Star Tribune): In case you’ve been wondering. 🙂

What have you been reading to kick off the fall? I’m in search of my next book, so I’d love to hear what you’ve been enjoying!