Monday, June 2, 2014

Behind the list

As many of you know, for the past couple of years I have been fortunate enough to be tapped by the books editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Laurie Hertzel, to write up the must-read summer fiction list for the Summer Books special. Every time she asks I am both honored and terrified.

Honored for obvious reasons, terrified because...oh my God...the pressure! So, I  thought I would take a moment to write about the process.

First, when the snow is still falling, Laurie asks if I would be interested and outlines how she envisions the piece. Then the games begin! I consult one of my many running book lists. I browse through twitter to see what the buzz is about. I electronically page through catalog after catalog, first checking my favorite publishing houses, including the smaller houses as well. In the meantime, Laurie is composing her own list and pulling titles from the infamous "book room" at the Star Tribune where all of the advance copies are kept.

Then, the emails start flying. Lists are exchanged, title trading happens. Books are subtracted, added in, and then subtracted again. Some titles won't make the list because they are slated for full reviews later in the summer. Nothing is set in stone, everything is fluid, and even up until my deadline date we never know if a dark horse might take the lead.

My top summer pick for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Then comes the time for commitment, not my strongest trait. My husband tolerates stacks and stacks of galleys on our coffee tables, put into very specific piles: in and out, liked and LOVED.  (DON'T TOUCH! I warn him...) I write as I read so that I don't lose that feeling of intimacy you have when you finish a book, when the characters are fresh and the story hovers around you like a fog. I revise again and again, worried that I may repeat an adjective one too many times.

And then that fateful moment comes: it is time to push the "send' button with my final draft, I hesitate. Is this it? Have I done all I can do? Authors spend years pushing these babies out into the world, I want to make sure that my reviews and capsules serve writers and readers alike. The casual reader may think I am being overly dramatic, but I hope that fellow writers and the readers can appreciate what I am talking about.

Whoosh, it's gone.

But it doesn't end there, the reading continues. Here is a list of fiction titles that for whatever reason may not have made the Star Tribune list (and may be slated for a future review), but should still be on your summer shelf.

  • Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia
  • The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
  • The Vacationers by Emma Straub
  • The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman
  • Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
  • An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
  • The Fever by Megan Abbott
Also, some recent titles that are now in paperback:
  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
  • Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel
  • The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman
  • The Movement of Stars by Amy Brill
  • Paris Was the Place by Susan Conley

(Shameless plug: The Minneapolis Star Tribune has one of the best books section running, with Laurie putting her heart and soul into it, an amazing group of reviewers, and a commitment to small and large presses alike. Like them on Facebook, follow Laurie on twitter, and keeping visiting the Books section for recommendations all summer long.)


laurie said...

Hey! I like this! it's all true except you forgot to mention how I can never remember what the right word count is for the piece.

Meganne Fabrega said...

That's where the word "fluid" comes in...ha ha!

Nina Badzin said...

I love The Storied Life of AJ Fikry. Felt really original. Such a cool gig you have with The Star Trib! I would LOVE anything even resembling that assignment. :)

Meganne Fabrega said...

Thanks Nina! It really is one of my favorite assignments. I saw your reading list yesterday and we have some crossover in our tastes (for example, Ann Patchett's collection). Happy summer reading!