Get Excited: Laura Tisdel’s Debut Post

Ever since I received the exhilarating news that I got the job working as an editor with Reagan, Sarah, and Marlena over here in midtown, I’ve been worried about this blog.  You don’t know me, dear reader, but I am chatty.  I am gregarious.  My high school Geometry teacher used to do this turning-down-a-dial motion in the air that meant, Laura, BE QUIET.  And yet, imagining my first blog post was a bit terrifying.  Was I scared of starting at a new place, of the big responsibilities that come with a big promotion,  of impressing my boss?  No.  But the blog.  Oh, the wakeful nights spent worrying about the blog!  And I had a fair amount of time to pace around noodling my predicament: I managed to squeeze in a break between saying good-bye to lovely Penguin Books and starting here.  What did I do with that precious time, you ask?  Well, lucky for you, that’s what I’ve decided to blog about!  The thing I did for fun was, as we called it in elementary school, free read.  I read for pleasure.  I sat quietly on a Tuesday afternoon in an armchair with some celery sticks (or Cheetos, whatever) and read novels for hours at a time.  It was like Christmas every day.  Mind you, I did other things too—I moved apartments, I traveled home to Michigan, I played bridesmaid at my brother’s wedding in Colorado—but whenever there was a break in the action I could sink into that lovely space that so characterized my childhood and lose myself in a good book.  It was a treat.

And here’s what I devoured:

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

I should’ve read this one before.  Like, when it came out.  I may have even fibbed about reading it, nodding knowingly during some cocktail party convo.  I should’ve read it before I edited Lev Grossman’s brilliant novel The Magician King because I know that Lev adores this book and I know that Clarke’s achievements here pushed him to keep going down the rabbit hole into Quentin Coldwater’s world.  I should’ve read it because I love magic.  Because I read The Lives of Christopher Chant eleven times during my eleventh year because that somehow made sense to me in fifth grade.  But look people, I didn’t.  And boy was I missing out.  Clarke’s prose reads like found history—and it’s not just the footnotes!  There is a Nathaniel Hawthorne-like formality and scope to the terrain she covers.  Like Golden Compass meets Wolf Hall.  More British pomp or less quirk (it’s perfectly illustrated), and you’d feel like you’d seen the novel before.  But Clarke finds a masterful balance between all the elements at play and creates a deep, involving, utterly original novel that I treasure as I should have long ago.

Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin

This year, I have gotten caught up on this whole Emily Giffin business.  When she first began publishing books, I was just starting out in bookworld and couldn’t escape the slush pile to indulge myself.  The good friend who urged me to get on the band wagon told me she loved Heart of the Matter best, and so I’ve been saving it to read last.  And it was worth the wait.  Giffin’s books are a great way to lose track of the time—you wouldn’t go wrong taking this in your bag on a plane, to a doctor’s office, even to a boring dinner where there will be big, linen napkins under which a paperback could be artfully concealed.  I’ve heard Giffin called “this century’s Jane Austen” and I give that description two thumbs up!  Her characters feel real: not unrecognizably neurotic, and not complete confections either. Heart of the Matter pulls off the ambitious task of telling two sides of the same story in two alternating voices.  And the heroine here isn’t exactly the girl you think you’d root for.   These books go down easily because they are so perfectly executed.  Ms. Giffin, color me impressed.

The Jackson Brodie novels—Case Histories, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News, and Started Early, Took My Dog—by Kate Atkinson

I promised myself that during this break I wouldn’t reread anything.  Rereading books is a trap I fall into too often.  As my buddy Joe Queenan pointed out in a particularly memorable piece he did for the Times some years back, our time on earth is finite.  And thus our time to READ is finite.  I took this as a personal directive to STOP REREADING.  But I broke my own rule when it came to Kate Atkinson.  I really wanted to delve into Started Early, but I figured I should read When Will There Be Good News first since I hadn’t read that yet.  And by the time I did finish Started Early (I managed to stretch the read out over 48 hours—and that showed restraint, I swear!) I couldn’t really bear to let Jackson Brodie go so I threw caution to the wind and went back and reread Case Histories and One Good Turn again just for the hell of it.  I really let my hair down.  Atkinson is funny and astute; she’s the sort of writer I feel like I’m friends with just because I’ve read her work.  I have a habit of dog-earring pages with particularly good lines as I read and then, when I’m finished, copying those key lines down in a journal.  It took me FOREVER to get through copying down the lines from Started Early.  There are too many wonderful moments when Atkinson hits on just the right phrasing.  Today, as I type this, Started Early is my favorite.  Detective Jackson Brodie is ever delightful, and Tracy Waterhouse nearly matches him with her sardonic humor and pure moral compass.  She reminds me a bit of Olive Kitteridge.  Started Early also validates my long-held and oft trumpeted belief that malls are devoid of culture and spirit-draining.  I win again.

So, if you’ve got some free time I recommend tackling one of these puppies.  Me?  Well, my free-reading time is over for now.  I’m off to discover the next brilliant, engrossing thing that you’ll add to your list.

–Laura Tisdel


  1. Posted October 20, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Permalink | Reply

    oh little darling! love your first post……it ‘sounds’ just like you…….

  2. Posted October 20, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I really enjoyed your first post and hope you can find time to entertain us here as you discover the next great one!

  3. Karen Hoffman
    Posted October 20, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Oy. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell has been on my books-to-read shelf for ages, too! I’ll make sure to bump it up now that it’s received your glowing praise.

    Looking forward to reading more from you, lady!

    • Posted October 20, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Karen, shame on you! Go read it immediately! I commuted with that sucker in hardcover, that’s how good it is.

      And Laura, good to hear from you! I’ve had Case Histories on my to-read list for ages. It’s just moved up on the list.

  4. Colleen
    Posted October 21, 2011 at 12:18 am | Permalink | Reply

    Hi Laura,

    Congrats on the new job! I will definitely be tuning into your blog, as I am ALWAYS on the lookout for new books. Can’t wait to put some of these in my library cue…



  5. Em
    Posted October 21, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Just got Started Early,Took my Dog Thanks for the recommendation Laura

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