This is a transcript of Recommended Season 5 Episode 8.
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You’re listening to Recommended, where we talk to interesting people about their favorite books. From childhood favorites to classics, to new and forthcoming reads, you’ll hear how the people who make books happen have been influenced by the ones they’ve read.
Today, Sonali Dev chose Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn, and Maris Kreizman chose An Inconvenient Woman by Dominick Dunne.
USA Today Bestselling author Sonali Dev writes Bollywood-style love stories that let her explore issues faced by women around the world while still indulging her faith in a happily ever after.
Her books have been on NPR, Washington Post, Library Journal, and Kirkus Best Books of the year lists, but Sonali is most smug about Shelf Awareness calling her “Not only one of the best but also one of the bravest romance novelists working today.” Her latest novel, Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, is the first in a new series about the Rah-jays, an immigrant Indian family descended from royalty, who have built their lives in San Francisco.
Hi everyone. My name is Sonali Dev and today I’m going to recommend Kate Clayborn’s Love Lettering, which is this gorgeous, gorgeous romance. It’s this gorgeous romance with this fabulous sisterhood and friendship. It’s just such a great life story, so I’m excited to recommend that.
I believe it comes out January of 2020.
I have read some of Kate’s previous books and her writing is gorgeous and delightful. So when I was asked if I would like to read an arc, it was like, “Well, duh, yes. How soon can I get it?” I was on deadline and I had a whole lot of family stuff going on. I didn’t have a moment to breathe, but I just said, “Let me… ” when a book, arrives on my Kindle I have this thing where I need to actually that first paragraph. It’s just that hunger for a new book and you just have to kind of crack it open. So I thought to myself, very delusionally, I will read one paragraph of this book and put it away and get to work.
And of course I read the whole thing because it’s that kind of book where one line makes you hungry for the next, for the next, the whole book kind of makes this thing open up inside you. And the only thing, it’s not a book about food, but this hunger for emotion and just for these people’s lives just opens up inside you. You know what I’m saying? It’s that thing, some books have that magic where it’s just the words are going, they’re like an IV, they’re being fed straight into your heart, and you just have to follow them. So it’s one of those, it’s exquisitely written.
So, the premise is this… Meg, who is the protagonist, the female protagonist is an artist, but who is a lettering artist. So her art is to be able to trap emotion and feeling and mood in letters, which is alphabets, words and she has recently seen stardom in that niche. So she’s known as the, I think she’s known as the planner of Park Slope or something like that because she does custom planners, custom lettering for elite clientele in New York city. And she has recently done some high profile projects and become a kind of star.
So it’s not just something she does, but it’s almost all of herself is in that art. So she is so closely connected with the letters she creates that she can’t help herself. She has this thing where she puts in messages. So, if I’ve gone to her, with a project, she can’t help but code what she’s feeling about me and that project into those letters. And she does this secretly because she’s not really proud of it. It’s something almost she can’t help. So there’s this couple, this gorgeous, extremely successful, seemingly perfect couple that comes to her to do their wedding program. And she can’t help but code to message into their wedding program. And a year after that, this man, the groom, who she remembers very clearly because he’s unforgettable to her, comes to her and asks her why she left a message in that program.
And so he un-codes this thing. Nobody else is able to un-code in her words and he’s come back. And of course the marriage never-, I mean the wedding never happens and they don’t get married and he comes back looking for how she knew it was not going to happen. And it’s their stories. So it’s these two, and he of course is one of… he’s a mathematical genius and cracking codes is his thing. So she can’t help making codes and he can’t help cracking them. And this is beautiful, isn’t that just the most gorgeous thing? It’s this beautiful connection that happens between them.
So A, it’s the story of an artist who can’t separate herself from her art, which feels very, very deeply personal to me, and I think it will to anybody who loves something beyond reason, something that they do beyond reason, and she doesn’t… I think the best thing about this book for me was how vulnerable it is. So how you can just see too that there’s not a false note in the book, so you can completely, she cracks these characters open and they’re not your fierce characters in the way that we’re taught to see strength in society. They don’t see themselves as strong. They’re trying to be stronger than they are, which itself is incredibly strong. They have challenges.
They have natural challenges. They have challenges that come from their upbringing. They’re not completely socially confident. They have so many things standing in their way and yet they’re always trying to be the best versions of themselves. And the best versions of this art and love that they have and the both characters were incredibly connected to what they do. It’s not just a job, but it’s who they are on the inside. And I think that kind of made it very, very special to me.
So, first and foremost, when I say it’s beautiful writing, it is the kind of sentences that you want to stop and kind of go back and read and wrap around yourself. Just the placement of her words and how she does prose is really beautiful. But I think what she wants to say is even more beautiful. So she’s actually talking about about these flawed characters who very badly don’t want to be flawed and who very badly want to take each other’s pain away. The kind of romance that I love to read is this journey romance? And I do believe that’s the essence of romance is where you take these people who feel unlovable or have reasons to feel unlovable and you make that journey from them feeling that way to them being at a place where they believe themselves worthy of love.
And what’s also beautiful, I think with this book, I have to talk about it, she sets up this world of secondary characters. She sets up this world of sisterhood. And for me as an immigrant, creating home away from home is also something that touches me and means something to me very deeply.
And so it’s this beautiful friendship story also because her best friend is also an artist, and there’s this lovely secondary plot between the two of them where there are two artists and one sees success and the other sees struggle and how as friends do we deal with that because we see this all the time. We have to often deal with our own success when our friends are struggling and the opposite of it. When we’re struggling, we see our friends succeed. And dealing with that, I think that’s a very universal experience and these two women are going through that through this book and the way they deal with it is with so much sensitivity and yet not in such a real way because it may always be sensitive but it’s often how we are in these situations, which is we’re just selfish and unkind to ourselves and all of that.
I think that was one of my favorite takeaways from this book is she has this theme of learning to fight. How you fight makes you the person you are. And so she learns to fight in a way that doesn’t take things she wants away from her because when we run away, we’ve lost the thing before we fought for it. So she learns to fight the good fight and that’s her journey. And that’s beautiful to take that story and then to tell it in this sensitive and tender way is where the beautiful writing comes in. So she’s not described just describing sunsets, but she’s describing that sunset in her soul to be very or why it’s relevant to her. And it’s just beautiful how she does it.
I want to talk about him, about Reed, because I didn’t say anything at all about him, but what I do want to say about him is we tend to do, and I think this is changing, but traditionally we’ve tended to idolize a certain kind of man. That whole alpha, I shouldn’t even say that word, that whole alpha male thing in romance, which I’m not a fan of. I’ll just go ahead and say it. And I also am not a fan of dividing human beings into the whole alpha beta labels. But I think that this is a man of so much brilliance and so much strength and so much nobility, but who is also extremely vulnerable and extremely aware of his faults and deals with illnesses.
Life is not easy for him. And I think that to see that in a man is just very, very beautiful.
That was Sonali Dev, recommending Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn. Her novel Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, published by William Morrow, is available wherever books are sold. You can follow her on Twitter at Sonali_Dev, that’s S o n a l i underscore D e v.
Maris Kreizman is the host of The Maris Review, a literary podcast from LitHub, in which she talks to authors you should know about their own books and the books they love, the shows and films they’ve watched, the music they’ve listened to, and the links they’ve clicked. She’s the creator of Slaughterhouse 90210, a blog and book (published by Flatiron Books) that celebrates the intersection of literature and pop culture. She’s also an essayist and critic whose work has appeared in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, BuzzFeed, The Hairpin, OUT Magazine, and more.
My name is Maris Kreizman,and my recommendation is “An Inconvenient Woman” by Dominick Dunne.
It’s a hard book to summarize because there are so many different little subplots and so many little, different things that all end up coming together at the end. But basically there’s a murder in Hollywood and we find out later that a very powerful man, who’s too fancy for Hollywood, is involved in this murder. And we meet the inconvenient woman of the title is his mistress.
So he, he meets this waitress in West Hollywood and he grooms her for his fancy life as if she were Eliza Doolittle.
When I was a kid, my mom used to summarize the plots of books that I was too young to read, but that she was reading. And so I remember all of these different stories that were fascinating to me and made no sense. I remember hearing about Lestat and like the entire Anne Rice world. And then I remember her talking about People Like Us, which is another Dominick Dunne book, and it was only later that I realized that “Oh rich people and vampires, they have a lot in common.” So “An Inconvenient Woman” was one of the first adult books that I was able to read on my own without my mom having to summarize.
I think I was 11, the book came out in 1990, so it just depends on if I was 11 or 12.
It’s funny because in so much of ‘An Inconvenient Woman” so many of the characters look down on Hollywood, that it was my first experience even being aware that it wasn’t all glamorous and these people weren’t gods like that. There were people above the gods who were more powerful and wealthier and meaner and that’s something I didn’t know. I didn’t know that there was a society in Los Angeles that had nothing to do with Hollywood.
When I first started reading “adult books” I read all of Dominick Dunne, all of him. Went back and read “The Two Mrs. Grenville” and “People Like Us.” So like there’s something wealth porny about that I suppose.
Dominick Dunne was the ultimate kind of first writer to become obsessed with because his books are so readable and in “An Inconvenient Woman” is like 450 pages, but it just flies. Helping to develop that love of reading is definitely something that he in this book did for me.
I always thought I was just going to be a reader, and I don’t know, I’m trying to imagine what at 11 I wanted to be, I think I still want it to be a Broadway star at the time. You know, who just read backstage during her breaks. But it’s very funny now how people talk about how many particularly women in my age range and social situation have a hero worship relationship with Joan Didion, and I never did. I mean I love her. I love everything I’ve read by her, but it’s never been like “I want to hang her photo on the wall and look dreamily at it. But Dominick Dunne was her brother in law and I was obsessed with him. I was a real fan girl at age 11 or 12 and I stick by that a lot. I think he was a good person to be obsessed with.
I think that he for me and for so many Vanity Fair readers, I think, exposed a world that I had never spent much time in. And of course there was a lot of darkness and evil and abusive power and misogyny and homophobia and racism and any kind of ism you can ever imagine. But there was also…. It felt like he was giving you a sneak peek into this world you’d never be invited in to on your own. And most of his books I think, are about these special social situations that very few rarely get to take part in. I don’t know if it’s real or not. I want to believe it’s real. I know that all of his books are based on real stories, real crimes and real scandals, and so when he tells me the kind of glass that the scotch was poured into or what brand the carpet was, I just believe him because I have no idea. And I think it was my first exposure to the idea that there are things that you will not get to experience in the world, but you can always read about them.
Once I knew was picking this book, I figured I should give it another read and see how it holds up. And I was worried. I was, I was very worried going into it. But for the most part it really does. It’s a little ahead of its time even in terms of questioning power structures and bringing some humanity towards the outsiders.
Certainly it’s not not problematic because I feel anything you’re going to write about rich people in the eighties and nineties is going to be problematic in some way. But I think there is a certain moral compass there and what most impressed me was how Dominick Dunne structured the story. It’s actually quite intricate. We meet so many different characters and I was thinking back to when I was 11 like I don’t remember having trouble telling anybody apart or remembering who was who. And I think that’s a huge feat in and of itself.
On rereading I was able to see how all of the different pieces of the plot came together, and it was really masterful.
From a writer perspective on my reread, I was amazed by how readable this book was, even though it had a zillion things going on. And I could only hope that I could do such a thing one day. And yeah, he’s so good at putting a big beautiful backdrop on a big scene that’s going to move the plot in ninety different ways.
My pitch is usually…- You know, I am asked for book recommendations a lot, and I find that one category of book that people always want to know more about, wanting to have more options on, is something that I can get lost in. And his books are so good at that because you really do feel like you’re in another world. I find I can become a snob by default.
I was watching “Succession” recently and there’s a scene where an actress is introduced to this Playboy billionaire father, and she keeps saying, “Awesome, this is awesome.” And that kind of thing is the kind of thing that would stick out for me on Dominick Dunne book, like “Ooh, don’t do that.” Even though I would probably do that, like, “Ooh, we’re all better than this. Let’s be better than this.”
It’s like a completely different mindset and it really just kind of sweeps you away, and it’s plot, which is amazing.
When I was even thinking about “Is this the book that I would want to recommend on your podcast” I was thinking, “I don’t know how other listeners feel, but certainly my class rage has gotten fiercer and stronger over the years and certainly this “wealth porn” might not be for everyone and that’s entirely understandable. But again, I just feel it’s…the secret corners of that world that are so intriguing to me.
That was Maris Kreizman, recommending An Inconvenient Woman by Dominick Dunne. You can listen to her podcast, The Maris Review, wherever you listen to podcasts, and you can follow her on Twitter at mariskreizman, that’s m a r i s k r e i z m a n.
Many thanks to Sonali Dev and Maris Kreizman for joining us and sharing some favorite reads.
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