I have been lucky enough to take my passion for reading and turn it into a lifetime pursuit, a career. Having been in publishing as a copy editor, managing editor, editor in chief, editor, president and publisher, I have been there for the flash in the pan, the little known discovery, the book that never dies, and the good read and the great story. The perfect writer and the sensual artist. And the just plain entertainment. I lived through "commercial" vs. "literary"; don't get me started on that debate.
My only regret sometimes is that I read so many unpublished works that are submitted to me as an editor, that I don't have time to read all the published books that interest me. But I try, how I try...
I read the books on the best seller lists; I read books that my friends and colleagues send me from other publishers, I read books that I find browsing in the stores, and every year at Christmas I promise myself that I will only read published books between covers and I get a list from my good friend Jill Lamar, who manages the Discover program at B & N. She sends me a list of books that I might not have heard of that she thinks are wonderful... and that is how I have read so many delicious gems over the years, including Zoe Heller's Notes of a Scandal, before the title was changed and it was made into a movie.
Every year there are a few books that I wished I had published, because they are so unique, the stories are mesmerizing, the characters unforgettable. I stay up all night reading; I can't wait to get back to the book if I am interrupted. And I tell my family, lunch dates, publishing and writer friends, strangers I talk to on the bus: "READ THIS BOOK."
One year it was The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid. Last year it was The Help by Kathryn Stockett and the year before it was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. What's fun about what I do for a living is that I get to read the books early and then I can form my own opinion and talk to everyone I meet about the book. Then maybe I just may have had a little to do with getting the word out. What a joy.
At this moment I just finished John Grisham's new book Ford Country. A departure for him: short stories that take place in the same county as A Time to Kill. (I published the paperback at Dell.) The stories are so so good. They remind me of Irwin Shaw's short stories; remember The Girls in Their Summer Dresses? I am telling everyone I know to read Ford Country when it comes out in November. I also loved John Irving's new book Last Night in Twisted River (I once published him in paperback). South of Broad by Pat Conroy kept me up all night reading. (I never published him in paperback.) And I still can't stop talking about Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly. (I never even met him.)
My job as an editor/publisher is to be a matchmaker between the writer and the reader. And as I said, I love recommending books to people. So, when I can actually be involved in introducing a first novelist to the world, it is one of my great thrills. This year I worked with, edited and Knopf published The Invisible Mountain by Carolina De Robertis. She is an extraordinary writer. She writes from the heart and from the knowledge of her family's history. She tells the story of three generations making their way against Uruguayan history during the twentieth century. Parajita as a young woman in Montevideo begins a lineage of fiercely independent women; her daughter Eva a fragile but stubborn beauty is intent on becoming a poet but must overcome a shattering betrayal in her childhood; and Salome, principled and fearless, jeopardizes her family by becoming involved in the politics of the time.
It is a great story of family that takes place in a country I never knew much about. Did you know that woman in Uruguay were given the right to vote shortly after the women in the U.S. and that it was one of the first countries in South America to grant the right? Did you know that Uruguay is considered the Switzerland of Latin America? I love to learn about new places in a novel. Often, I can learn more that way than reading a history book.
Enough from me.
So many people who read The Invisible Mountain fell in love with the writer. The reviews have called it "Enchanting, fun, and heartbreaking" (Publishers Weekly) and "... her use of language makes this literary debut so exceptional" (Kirkus). Sara Nelson in the Daily Beast called it "the brainiest dynastic novel in years. A high-end story full of sex, politics, and family." The Daily News chose it as one of the books to read this fall and it made the San Francisco Chronicle best seller list.
The problem we have in getting more readers for new writers is trying to being heard in the loud chatter about so very many good books to choose from. So, I am thrilled to be able to call attention to Carolina in this note to you all. And some of you might want to check out her appearances at the Boston Book Festival (10/24) where she will be on a panel with Anita Shreve and Anita Diamant; the Texas Book Fair (10/30-11/1) where she will be introduced by Sandra Cisneros at the The Twig Bookstore in San Antonio; and then the Miami Book Fair (11/14 - 11/17). And of course she has her Facebook account and her website: www.carolinaderobertis.com if you want to know more about her.
Oh, one more thing: I forgot to mention the "civilian" (the person not connected to publishing) who invariably asks: "How many books do you read a week?" And she (or he) has a very sympathetic look on her (or his) face, worried that I may be burdened... When the curious asked JP Morgan how much it cost to maintain his yacht, the alleged answer was: "If you have to ask , you can't afford it." My answer then to the question, "how many books?" is "not enough, not enough."
How many books do you read in a week?
Follow Carole Baron on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ccbaron