6 books to read if you’re obsessed with ‘Hamilton’

 Do you read the same things as your husband or wife? Jarrett and I can both get into old classics like E.B. White, but most of the time, we’re reading on different ends of the nonfiction spectrum.

Jarrett reads what I call doorstoppers–1,000+ page books on historical figures and events. I can’t even find a comfortable way to position myself on the couch with one of those books. (On your back with the book resting on your chest? Leaning it against your legs? Asking Pepper to hold it for you?) It’s just too heavy, and it’s not all that interesting to me, either.

Instead, right now I’m dipping in and out of How to Relax by Thich Nhat Hanh, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly. Every last one of those is light-as-a-feather and perfect for hammock reading over the long Fourth of July weekend.

But if you’re looking for something a little more appropriate for Fourth of July, and you’re less of a wimp than I am, I’ll point you over to Jarrett, who has 6 of the best books to read if you’re obsessed with Hamilton and still can’t get Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics out of your head, no matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen the musical.

Even if you haven’t seen Hamilton, these are still some great patriotic books to read for the 4th of July, as well as some of the best books about America’s founding fathers. And I don’t say that lightly–Jarrett does a lot of research before choosing which biography to read about each of America’s founding fathers, and he always picks one that’s widely considered both the best work and a single-volume, yet comprehensive, treatment of that founding father.

But enough from me. Here’s Jarrett with 6 patriotic books to read this 4th of July if you’re obsessed with Hamilton.

Best books if you love Hamilton

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How a book taught me how to travel better

We’re baaack! After two whole weeks in Greece–completely disconnected, fully honeymooning, and gloriously eating–we’re back to our daily routines and our screens. It’s a little weird to go from full days of being out in “the real world” (aka, not online) to spending 8+ hours a day staring at these little boxes we call computers, but it has also felt so, so good to be productive and have a sense of purpose again. Turns out, I’m one of those travelers that needs some useful work to do in between the gyro-inhaling and beach-sprawling.

I don’t know how I got so lucky, but it turned out that my author Jaime Kurtz’s book, The Happy Traveler: Unpacking the Secrets of Better Vacations, published just in time for this big, glorious, and very long vacation we had planned for ourselves. So even though I was thousands of miles away, I got to spend long hours on the beach listening to her wise voice tell me exactly how I could squeeze every last drop of goodness out of our honeymoon.

secrets to better travel

As I wrote about here, Jaime pitched me her book idea at the Writer’s Digest Conference, and I immediately said, “I NEED that book!” That’s the same reaction I got from every editor I later pitched the idea to, and the same reaction I get from nearly every person I tell about it. I honestly don’t know how I spent my whole life traveling without this book!

To give you a sense of how the pitching process works, here’s an excerpt from the pitch letter I sent, along with the proposal, to editors:

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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!

 

The only new year’s resolution writers should make

Jarrett and I had the most fantastic staycation between Christmas and the new year. It felt so, so good to relax and get a few long-standing projects done around the house. The week was full of crazy exciting things like gift-wrapping and Costco shopping and house cleaning. We’re a wild bunch here.

There was also, of course, a lot of reading. I’m reading about four books at the same time right now, and while I’m not quite sure how I get myself into this love rectangle, it’s been magical.

Once again, one of my new year’s resolutions this year is to read more. To read well. To read where my interests lead me and explore new kinds of relationships with new kinds of books and new ways of thinking.

I will always believe that reading well is the single most important commitment any writer, creative, or curious person can make.

new years resolution for writers to get published

Here’s why:

When I started out in publishing I had a sort of weird job: I was the editorial assistant for both a nonfiction imprint and a genre romance imprint. It was incredible—one minute I’d be writing a tipsheet for a bestselling author’s next cookbook and the next I’d be editing racy copy for a romance novel. My desk was equal parts “Lose 20 pounds in 20 days!” and “Has the billionaire cowboy finally met his match”? It was fun.

Working on series romance was a huge stroke of luck since it meant I got to edit manuscripts and build my own author list right away. I will never forget the day a Senior Editor handed me a manuscript and asked if I wanted to take a crack at editing a book. I ran back to my desk, grabbed a red pen, and started reading—I had officially made it! I was editing A BOOK. A real book. People were going to read this book I was editing. I would edit it until it was the best book that had ever existed. My comments would be profound yet kind. My edits would be impeccable.

Two paragraphs into the manuscript, I hated my life. The book was awful. It was boring, clunky, empty words, one after the other after the other. Words plodding along for two hundred tiresome pages. I began to fantasize about quitting. It seemed the only humane thing to do, for the author and for myself. I would write a brilliantly worded resignation letter, and it would show them my true genius and talent. Genius and talent that shouldn’t be wasted on this drivel.

Instead, I gave myself a mental slapping around, pointed out to myself that there isn’t a speck of genius or talent to be found on me, and kept reading. I edited one such manuscript every month for the next nearly 3 years, and I learned something very important:

The mere act of writing will never make you a better writer.

Not ever.

You can pound away at the keyboard for the next infinity years and never have output that’s any good.

Because to output good writing you need to input good writing. It’s that simple.

If you don’t read outside of the echo chamber of your genre or category, it won’t matter how disciplined you are about sticking to a write-every-day resolution. You won’t one day emit good writing just because you’ve hit some imaginary threshold of word count or books completed. Good is honed, and to hone a precision edge you need to scuff up against something that’s stronger than you.

You need to read good writing.

That’s the first thing I tell every aspiring writer who asks me for advice on getting published. And it’s the first thing every writer—no matter where they are in their career—should put at the top of their resolution list. It’s non-negotiable.

Read The New Yorker; read books on the New York Times bestseller list; read critically acclaimed books in your genre; read The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times; read Pulitzer winners and the best books of the year. Just read good writing.

And don’t ever read bad writing.

The process of reading is the process of listening, and developing an ear for fluid prose is how you learn to write fluid prose. Every input you give your brain adds another data point for the rhythms and sounds of written language. Essentially, what you put in is what you get out.

So don’t put bad writing into your brain. Just like eating low-quality food is bad for your health, consuming low-quality writing is bad for your writer’s ear. The clichés, the lazy phrasing, the pompous reaching, the empty fluff will vibrate in your writer’s ear just as much as a perfectly turned sentence. Curate your inputs, and your mind will become attuned to the rhythms of good writing.

Once the sound of good writing is lodged inside you, then you can tackle all the other resolutions that have to come next: sticking to a writing schedule; connecting with readers; networking with other writers; learning how to market your work.

But start with reading. Each and every year.

This post was originally published one year ago, on January 5, 2016.


What I’m Reading

What Writers Know About Paying Attention (Stephanie Smith): I recently stumbled across the Slant Letter newsletter from Stephanie Smith, an editor at Zondervan, and I loved what she had to say this week about reading well: “Every novel, every narrative, every thesis or thinkpiece, all of these churn together like coffee grounds and kitchen scraps in the same compost pile. And slowly, with patient turning and over time, a nutrient-rich soil is created. If your sources are good, your soil will be good, and any seeds that are planted in it will absorb their richness and health. The reverse is also true: if your sources are lacking or anemic, chances are you won’t germinate that brilliant idea you were hoping to hatch.”

The 24 Best Longform Food Stories of 2016 (Eater): Well, look-ee here. Some great writing to read!

The Sixteen Most-Read New Yorker Stories of 2016 (The New Yorker): And some more.

The Most Popular Food News of 2016 (The New York Times): One last serving of good reads. (That Per Se review really was killer.)

A Literary Agent’s Guide to Publishing Terms Authors Should Know (Mark Gottlieb for The Write Life): If you’ve ever wondered what “D&A” means, this is the year to get your publishing jargon down pat.


What We’re Eating

We had good intentions. Good resolutions. Good plans. In fact, my health resolution this year was to cook vegetables in bulk and cram myself right full of them. But then we got home late from the cabin we rented for New Year’s, and our Peapod order was delayed, and we had nothing fresh in the fridge. Here is a true accounting of what happened from there:

Monday: Leftovers

Tuesday: Leftovers

Wednesday: Takeout, wine, friends at our house

Thursday: Finally back on track! A shrimp greek salad. Dinner of the resolution gods.

Friday: White Chicken Chili. I became obsessed with white chicken chili after having a dynamite bowl of it last week at a volunteer event. Luckily, my authors have a few knockout recipes: I’m trying Robyn’s white chicken chili recipe this week and Jenn’s recipe after that. 2017: the year of bathing in white chicken chili.

Cheers!

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