Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What Not To Read on Your Caribbean Vacation

When writing my last entry, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Picture Books,” I believed I was resurrecting an already laid to rest discussion about the New York Times’ obituary for the picture book. My post was uploaded on December 14th. The day AFTER Publishers Weekly’s cover asked “Did the New York Times get it wrong?”

What timing.

Grace can attest to the fact that I actually wrote my entry weeks prior. It was one of the last things I checked off of my “to-do” list before I went here:

Me & My Sister, Rachel and a boat of Epic proportions

Yes, for the first time in my tenure as an agent I took an honest-to-goodness, no access to email vacation.

And what does, a literary agent do during an honest-to-goodness vacation?

A little of this…

A bit of that…

(My mother, sister, and I in front of an Ice Bar does denote a bit of drinking)

A whole lot of this…

It was a cruise. There was a lot of eating. Just after the picture was taken, I probably dove for that dinner roll.

And a good dose of this…

A new Hunger Games reader is born, while I remain puzzled about my choice of reading material.

Yes, on a vacation, a literary agent reads. For eight whole days I would not read emails or manuscripts. I loaded my kindle with published, adult books. On deck chairs, on beaches, on a balcony off of a very small room I shared with my mother and sister, and on an elliptical machine overlooking the ocean we were moving through on a very large ship, I read…

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and Little Bee by Chris Cleave

What is wrong with me?

Just to be clear. Both books were wonderful, and I would recommend them for sure…but they are not the kind of book that you read on a beach or on a cruise. I think I would have liked each so much more if I had read them on a cold New York day like today. I must admit that I have a tendency to read books in inappropriate places. I once read Lolita on a car trip and as a (slightly?) pretentious teen I tried to read Joyce at overnight camp. You would think I would have learned my lesson by now.

Of course, there are books that I have read in just the right place, in just the right time of my life. In my eyes, part of being a literary agent representing children’s books is championing work that is pivotal in a child’s development, and that they will remember well into their adulthood. I know that middle grade and YA fiction can be read by a pre-teen or teen at the very moment when they need it, when it can open their eyes, show them a place they never knew possible, change their perspective, or affirm what they are feeling inside. So much of children’s and young adult literature succeeds because it reaches a child or teen at the most fitting moment of their lives.

While Freedom and Little Bee both had an impact on me; I can’t help but feel my reading of them was somewhat skewed by the setting I was in. I would love to hear about books that you read in both the wrong and right places in time. (I’m a new blogger. I thrive on comments!)

I now realize that I should have been reading a book like this on my most recent vacation:

Pointing to a book by my colleague, Merrilee Heieftz’s bestselling author, Laurell K. Hamilton.

I have learned my lesson and given the opportunity (read: I don’t think I should wait another 9-years to take a manuscript and email free vacation), I promise to do better. Well, at least I can look at the glass half full…after Little Bee, at least I was smart enough not to read the next book on my kindle… Room by Emma Donoghue.

Wishing you all Happy Holiday reading!


Michelle Kollar said...

Thanks for the suggestions. I'm going to go for Room by Emma Donoghue during the holidays.

Abigail said...

I found myself reading all the wrong things while I was breastfeeding my baby 2 years ago. I was frequently up in the middle of the night feeding him and weeping over books where horrible things happened to babies and children -- somehow I was magnetically drawn to such books. They don't warn you about these pivotal scenes on the jacket flap!

Foundation for Children's Books said...

I think about this all the time when I travel! I once stayed in a chateau in the Loire Valley and instead of reading some great biography of Marie Antoinette or some other fabulous French person, I brought a book about a totally dysfunctional New England family in the 80's. Ugh! It's such an important choice when packing--what books to bring--but it often gets left for last. Must be time for me to get an e-reader!

Libby Koponen said...

Great question, Rebecca!

On a cross-country train trip with my grandparents when I was 10 or 11, I read GONE WITH THE WIND for the first time. This was not planned: they had a copy and I started reading it and WOULD NOT STOP. "Glacier National Park!" they would cry. "Look -- " but I would not, could not. I literally could not stop reading. I do remember glancing out the window at the mountains in Glacier Park, though (and then immediately going on with the story).

Surprisingly, my grandmother wasn't mad....and years later, after she was dead, I figured out why - a clipping in a scrapbook, from the society column of a St. Paul newspaper said:
"Mrs. WE Rumble took to her bed with GONE WITH THE WIND and did not emerge for ____ days." (Can't remember the number.)

Another bad choice: when I visited my then-husband's parents for the first time after our marraige, I was also reading KRISTIN LAVRANSDATTER for the first time. Luckily, my (French) mother-in-law had also read and loved the book.

"Libby's lost in a Nordic dream," she would sigh as efforts to involve me in conversation failed.

I hope my friends can attest to the fact that I'm not usually such a brat. It was just those books!

Courtney Pippin-Mathur said...

I have read more in the last year than the previous three. It started as a way to keep me from falling asleep while nursing twins. I returned to old school favorites Stephen King and Dean Koontz but realized pretty quickly that these were not wise choices for a sleep derived mother making frequent trips to dark rooms. Now, I'm all about the fluff. Illona Andrews is my current favorite with a few YA and MG titles rounding out the bunch.