Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Literary Agent Book Club

In lieu of a coherent blog post (seriously, you've come to the wrong place), I thought I would tell you about a few books I've read recently that I really, really liked.

First up is newly minted National Book Award Winner Sherman Alexie! Mr. Alexie wrote a fantastic YA novel called THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN, which is about the travails and adventures of a Native American high schooler as he goes to school at a distant, whiter, richer school. It's seriously funny, touching, amazing, etc., but what I think is most impressive about the book is the voice. The voice just literally crackles and jumps off the page -- it's so unique and interesting, providing a great sense of character while sounding like the voice of a teenager.

I highly recommend it (and so do the people who decide who gets National Book Awards).

The second novel that I would like to rave about is Hugo award winner Robert Charles Wilson's Science Fiction novel SPIN. SPIN starts with the stars and moon disappearing from the sky (but not, oddly and importantly, the sun) and proceeds to spin (pun intended) an epic tale of Earth coming to terms and fighting against its mortality, centered around three riveting characters.

This book BLEW. MY. MIND.

This is one of those novels where you are reading it and don't even believe it's possible that there are people smart enough in the world to write books like this. I mean, Robert Charles Wilson has to be at least Einstein level to pull off this book off, and he can write the dickens out of a scene too.

So you know when you were a teenager and you're lying out under the stars and you say to your friend, "We don't even, like, know why we're HERE, man! You know? I mean, look at the stars man. The STARS. We're just like dust, man." (maybe I'm confessing a little too much). Anyway, this book invokes that somewhat creepy/wondrous amazement about life, the universe and everything. Seriously awesome.

And the last (but definitely not least) book in the spontaneous Nathan Bransford book club is one of my favorite books of all time, which I recently re-read, and which is the perfect capper to this e-mail because it's YA and Science Fiction and a National Book Award winner: Nancy Farmer's THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION, which is about a young clone who may or may not be the heir to a somewhat evil feudal drug lord.

It just gets more awesome from there.

This is another book that challenges you to think about what it means to be human and what makes people good and bad, but all of those hard philosophical questions are submerged in a wholly unique world that is just so compelling and lush and which is populated by compelling characters. Truly one of the best books I've read.

Anyway, that concludes the Nathan Bransford book club. Now, in true book club fashion, let's all enjoy our cucumber sandwiches and gossip about the people who aren't here!!


Isak said...

Thanks for the recommendation of SPIN, Nathan. From the synopsis on Amazon it sounds like an incredible book that I must have.

original bran fan said...

Don't sell yourself short, Nathan. For some of us, this actually is a useful blog post.

I was just commenting to another writer friend that I haven't really lost myself in a novel in a long, long time. It's the great irony of our profession: the more we write the less we like what we read. I imagine that agents have a similar problem.

Therefore, if anyone in "the biz" is reading for fun, and starts evangelizing about what he's reading, he has my full attention.

All three novels are now on the must-read list. Thanks for the recommendations.

David said...

original bran fan, that's unfortunately true for most of us, I think. I write mostly sf, and I find it difficult to enjoy sf nowadays. Mostly I end up reading non-fiction.

I hesitated to include this, but what the hell. For a novel about what happens when the sun disappears but the stars remain, there's this one.

green ray said...

Thanks, Nathan. I haven't read anything good lately, so I've reserved all three at the library. Looking forward to reading them!

Heidi the Hick said...

Let's talk about the guy who writes 101 REASONS TO STOP WRITING.

You know how he always tells us that we will never be this good?


Pass me a cucumber sandwich, please!

Anonymous said...

I saw The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian at my local children's bookstore and picked it up. It had a funny blurb on the back by Amy Sedaris, so I bought it for my son. What a great book, though perhaps I will wait a little while before I give it to my son (I'm not sure he's ready for the Happy Happy Joy Joy equation).

Karen Duvall said...

I agree with original bran fan. I have a lot of trouble enjoying reading any more. I try to read in my genre, and I've been seriously unhappy with some of what's out there (urban fantasy). So I need to pull away and read something more nutritious for my creative brain. Thanks for the recommendations, Nathan. And what about the adult fiction award winner? Something about smoke? Is that one any good?

Nathan Bransford said...


I haven't read Denis Johnson's novel yet, but it's on my to-read list!

Linnea said...

Groan. Would you cut that out, Nathan! Now I've got three more books I have to read and I'm supposed to be WRITING!

Tom Burchfield said...

"House of the Scorpion" is very much a "read-me" title!

Tammie said...

Okay not to get us off track but - and I say this scrunching my shoulders awaiting the attack - I've not read any SF - really nothing.

What would you recommend for someone dipping in their toe?

Nathan Bransford said...


HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY is a good place to start, IMO. I'm sure others will have some great suggestions.

Sophie W. said...

I've only heard good things about House of Scorpion.

Spin sounds intriguing. Is it bad that the first thing I thought of when you mentioned the stars and moon disappearing from the sky was Katamari Damacy?

Tom Burchfield said...

Don't feel bad, Tammie. I've not read all that much myself and I consider a major fan of genre fiction . . except for SF. I've often caught myself saying they're both the "the smartest and the *worst* writers in the world."

I went on a campaign to teach myself science fiction some years back and threw my hands in the air after about a dozen of "the classics." Only one struck me as a really good book: "A Canticle for Leibowitz" by Walter Miller. "Flowers for Algernon" was another from my high school years.

As for the rest, I was entertained by some (like the late Andre Norton) most of the time I found myself saying "Yikes!" and "Gee, this would have made a much better essay."

Janet said...

Spin is on my short list of books that have blown me away over the last year or so too. I've put it on my wish list of books I really want to have on my shelf.

The most recent has been Madman by Tracy Groot. That woman writes some incredibly satisfying prose, smooth and rich like a fine wine or coffee.

I'll stop now, while I'm still in control.

Heather B. Moore said...

I'll have to check out SPIN. I'm not a huge SF or Fantasy fan, but that's slowly changing as I get more brave.

Kylie said...


An off-topic question, but I was wondering, when writing credentials for a query letter or something, is there any particular college or university from which we get a creative writing degree that you think is that best? I'm considering taking up a creative writing degree/course and I wasn't sure what college/university would be best, in your opinion.

Tammie said...


Thanks Nathan!

mkcbunny said...

The secret to fantastic cucumber sandwiches is threefold:

1) Real mayo. Not the "lite" or healthy kind. Full-fat Best Foods is perfect (or Hellman's for you east coast folk.)

2) White bread. It can be tempting to use something earthy, seedy, or "more distinct." Forget it. White bread pairs with heart-stopping mayo like Bogey and Bacall. OK, without the snappy repartee and guns, but perfect and tasty.

3) Thin-sliced cukes. Shave them and layer evenly.

And a final word of advice: Let them rest. Spread the bread, layer the cucumbers, wrap them up, stick them in the fridge, and make yourself a side car. You deserve it.

Before your guests arrive, unwrap the sandwiches, slice off the crusts, cut them into quarters (square, please, no fancy triangles), and lay them onto a wide platter.

Make another side car, taste your delicious creations, and sit back like you made no effort at all.

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm not totally up on the best creative writing schools, and I'm much more interested in the particular project than the school people went to. But generally as far as I know the top grad schools are Iowa, Johns Hopkins, Columbia and UVA.

Rose Green said...

I LOVE House of the Scorpion, for all the reasons you listed. Awesome book. (In fact, I accosted a total stranger in the bookstore the other day--in Germany--who was glancing through it like she was debating whether or not to buy it. She was, in fact, and it ended up as a gift for her daughter.)

original bran fan said...

Tammie, another "just getting started in SF" book I often recommend to people is The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. It is a first-contact story (human beings' first contact with aliens). But most importantly, it is a human story. The characters are so real you will wish you could live next door and go to all their dinner parties. It is also more literary than most SF, and also doesn't take for granted that the reader will have a science background. All that makes it really accessible. Plus, it is just freaking amazing.

Josephine Damian said...

OBF, that "Sparrow" book is quite popular with book clubs, not just the SF crowd. For that reason it's on my TBR list.

Nathan, a suggestion?

If you're following Agent Jessica's pitch critiques, you'll know she's gotten overwhelmed and burned out at this point, and just when she was about to get to Precie's pitch! Uff da!

What if you started a thread where we could post our pitches, and one day a week you can pick 3-5, in order of posting, and comment on them. It could become a weekly feature, and with your short comments on our short pitches, it doesn't look like it will be particularly time consuming (easy for me to say, lol), but it will be that one day a week you won't have to figure out what to blog about (ok, two if you include your weekly "This week in publishing" feature).

Nathan Bransford said...


Sorry, Jessica has been doing a better job and has more energy for the pitch critiques than I'd be able to do. That's why it's good there are multiple agent blogs -- we cover different bases.

Josephine Damian said...

Ok, I'm just bummed that Jessica seems to have stopped just as she got to Precie's pitch.

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