• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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If I Can’t HAve You I Don’t Want Nobody Baby

While I was in graduate school, I worked part-time at a literary agency. My primary job was read the slush. After a few months, I turned to the senior agent with whom I shared an office and said, “It would be nice to find something good once in a while.” She laughed the dry laugh of the knowing, “tell me about it.” Her all knowingness was coupled with a weariness, squared with disgust and finished with a demi-glaze of contempt.  Someone once asked me how I know if something’ s good. It bites me in the ass. Have you ever missed anything? Does turning down The Liar’s Club count? Are you afraid of missing something that could be huge? No. That’s the way the crumble cookies. If you don’t see it, you can’t sell it. Every work that surfaces did so because it was believed in. You can’t get it all.  That said, if I turned my adorable nose up at anything that went on to become a “franchise” like Fifty Shades or  Twilight or The Tipping Point, yeah I would want to die. At the very least turn in my agenting badge.

What books out there would you have missed had they crossed your desk?

45 Responses

  1. I’m listening to LIT on audio. For probably the 10th time. Dog-walking-book-on-tape. When there is an especially perfect turn of phrase, I’m reminded of your saying, “I just didn’t believe her.”

    And then I read Lidia Yuknavitch’s essay today on The Rumpus and thought, just fucking wow.

  2. I am in agreement with many (for a change) that Cloudstreet, written by Tim Winton, is the great Australian novel. And I certainly wouldn’t have missed that. It’s so much more than amazing.
    And I’ve read a lot of Tim Winton’s writing, and loved it all.
    Then last week I read his first novel, An Open Swimmer. I didn’t enjoy it at all.
    I shudder to think that other morons like me would have passed on it, and he’d not have had the career he has, and that Cloudstreet might never have been.
    From my guilty place, I urge all lovers of words to read Cloudstreet.

  3. most of them

  4. Definitely would have passed on Shades and Twilight. They sucked worse in their original form. Picking them was prescience, not taste. Maybe waiting for a bite in the ass you miss a couple of sweet little pats or pinches. Just sayin’.

  5. I was just thinking this today. I’m reading Iris Murdoch’s The Sea,The Sea and I got through ten pages the first time I checked it out of the library.
    As if my TBR pile isn’t big enough, I couldn’t let the book go although nothing, and I mean nothing grabbed me. I checked the book out again and it is brilliant. It’s a how-to course on first person POV amazingness, and I would have missed it because it had a slow start for me. The nutter narrator reminds me of a combination of Raskolnikov and Humbert Humbert. I can’t believe I would never have known that.

    • One of my favorite books.

      (Maybe it’s all about whether we’ve had a bowel movement on a given day? Sorry — it’s five a.m. and I can’t sleep.)

  6. Infinite Jest, Gilead, Everything Is Illuminated and the rest of the post-Portnoy Jewy ethno-kitch.

  7. White Teeth, Love in the Time of Cholera, Hemingway.

    • OMG, I was going to say “White Teeth!”

      (My daughter loved it, of course.)

      There’s no telling.

    • Whew! thanks for including WT – despite many friends raving about this book, I couldn’t buy into that world and felt like a moron for not “getting it”. Now, I’ll just focus on the 999,999 other things that fill me with guilt.

    • Hemingway wrote for men. While the English-speaking world these days is overrun with boys of all ages, there are very few men to be found; certainly not enough to make a market.

  8. Anything with vampires, hobbits, lords, rings, a Finkler or an old man and a sea.

  9. 50 Shades of Grey.
    One look at the title and I would have thought it was a memoir about an old lady who owned a lighting store. But then again I might have thought it was about the life and times of a Florida ‘Villages’ hair stylist or that it was a diatribe about Long Term Life care facilities.

    Nah…it would have flown right off my radar with that book about a little kid who lived under his aunt and uncle’s stairs and the one about that bunch of teenagers that were into really rare meat.

    • The book woulld have been so much more interesting if it was about a Villages hair dresser! Conversation last weekend between myself and Brother-in-law’s girlfriend.

      Me: I just read Maeve Binchy for the first time, lots of characters, fun read.
      Her: Never read her. But have you read Shades of Grey?? It’s brilliant.
      Me: (Staring slack-jawed, willing myself to blink)
      Her: You have to read it. Sooooo good. She’s like the next…next…I don’t know. Probably because she’s her own deal. She writes the way people don’t dare to write.
      Me: I’ve heard that…

      • I left a comment on FB about finding Shades of Grey in English on the end display at the local bookstore. In Finland. After a few quick yeehaws I didn’t have the heart to admit I was being a jerk. I really thought there’d be at least a a couple of like minded souls, but looking at the sales figures we’re obviously in the minority. What do you say Lyra? A bottle of something (strong), a copy of the book to read passages from to rip apart and laugh over, and a match to burn it page by page? Cause I think that’s the only way I would read it.

      • Even the mention of those books makes me want to slit my wrists. I have a little mental tally of everyone I know who has read it and liked it and they are on about 1000 less respect points than everyone else.

  10. As a writer, my brain never goes in this direction. It must be tough to be an agent, what with all this second guessing and market confusion. No wonder we clash.

  11. Dan Brown—our imaginations seem to work on different wavelengths.

    Actually, if I was an agent or an editor, I’m not sure which genres I would be best at handling . . .

  12. Moby Dick. I’ve started it numerous times and always end with a screw it, life’s too short.

    • Ha, Deb! I woke up in the middle of the night and thought Moby-Dick! I finished it a few years ago, but only because I had to for a class. I have to admit, it was worth it, but I would have never plowed through without the constant group discussion. And fear of the professor.

  13. Except for ghosts, I’m not into the supernatural, so I would have missed all the vampire/zombie stuff, but I don’t care.

    However, this morning I read a long excerpt from Jeanette Winterson’s latest. I already forget the title, but it’s about witches, another thing I’m not into, BUT this excerpt totally grabbed me and I’ve made a note to look for the book when it comes out, and her other books in the meantime. I’d hate to have passed this one up if I were reading a slush pile.

    Also, thanks for the encouragement to keep sending stuff over the transom. It’s a time-honored way to get discovered and probably my best chance.

  14. Just about every book I see on supermarket/megastore shelves; I’d be a terrible agent, my badge made of tinfoil, my office shared with the custodian and complete with a computer from 1999.

  15. The Artist’s Way. I hate that book. It seems to me that when you write a How To book on creativity, your main creative claim to fame has to be more than being Martin Scorcese’s ex-wife.

    • I hated that, too. Maybe that’s too strong. I abandoned it when I felt I was far more enlightened than the target audience.

  16. A Visit From the Terminally Clever Sqad

  17. Escape From New York – was given this book in the early 1980s by one of my now ex-husband’s students. He insisted it was a great action story. I laughed through the entire read and assured a friend it was The Worst Book Ever. Then, it became a movie franchise…

  18. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. ho hum. kinda plodding. too long. a couple chapters that needed to be eliminated.

    mind you, i prefer shorter books.

  19. Maybe I’m being a bit of a contrarian, but I seem to dig everything with a bit of vampire teeth, elves, zombie action, magic, witches, warlocks, whackjobs, aliens. The Passage, The Name of the Wind, The Witch’s Daughter, Discovery of Witches, Harry Potter, Warm Bodies, and yes, those Twilight books.

    I probably would’ve passed on White Teeth, too. I couldn’t get through it, but at the urging of my super-reader friends, I’m going to try again in a few years. At least that’s what I’m telling them so they’ll leave me alone about it.

    (And I’m not about to tell you what I thought of Fifty Shades of Grey.)

  20. The Bridges of Madison County…..Blech.

  21. Eat, Pray, Love. A Confederacy of Dunces. The Adventures of Augie March.

  22. Oh that Dan Brown. My son gave it to me when I was jet-lagged and I thought I was nauseous as well. And Angels and Demons – I couldn’t finish it! I’m sure I would be a snobby poor agent.

  23. The Help. I would have sent that back without a second thought. Gah.

  24. Angela’s Ashes. I know we’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but the book’s still alive so I get to trash it all I want. Actually, if the book had come out only in audio with McCourt reading, it would have been much more palatable. An Irish brogue covers a multitude of sins.

  25. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I read three pages and threw it across the room. That said, I saw the movie (original, not the Hollywood version) and loved it. Maybe all the great stuff got lost in the translation.

  26. Cosmopolis. I think I’ve said this before here, but when I read it (about eight years ago) I effectively chucked it across the room upon completion. Never had done that before and haven’t ever since.

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