by Laurel Myers
I love books. This phrase is typical of an English major—so hello, that’s me, guilty as charged. I learned to read when I was three and have always lived within a block of the public library in my town. My mom would call the librarians when I was big enough to walk across streets by myself and let them know I was on my way. I always ended up walking home with a stack almost as high as me with a book propped open on the top so I could read on the way back. When I woke up, I would read until the smell of bacon cooking wafted up the stairs. When I was going to sleep, I read until I came to a good stopping point (sometimes) or I finished the book (more likely) or I fell asleep (okay, this one happened the most). I took books with me in the car, even if we were just going to the grocery store; I took books to school and read when I should have been working on homework or talking to friends; I took a book with me… I think you get the point. I was never without a book, as if the pages were an additional appendage. My punishment when I was a kid? Having my books taken away.
Little kids are always asked what they want to do when they grow up, and my list leaned towards the sciences: marine biologist was up there for a while, followed by zoologist, and joining Doctors Without Borders was a possibility until I was told that wasn’t really a “job job.” Then, bioengineering somehow became the major I was looking at for college. After an internship in a pulmonary-cardiovascular research lab, I realized a career spent in a lab was not for me and that my aversion to math might be a slight problem. Although I felt like I had wasted a summer, this experience actually saved me from wasting even more time and money going to college for a career I would not ultimately enjoy. (I would like to emphasize career, as science is a compelling subject that I find fascinating). Because of that summer, I was forced to reevaluate what I could see myself studying for four years and then dedicating my life to.
Which brings us back to the “I love books” statement. I found myself wondering if I could be paid for reading for all day, because who wouldn’t love that? I had been training my whole life! I was practically a professional already.
I happen to also watch a copious amount of Netflix, which is how I came across two movies that presented an answer to me: Not Another Happy Ending and Genius. These films follow the relationships between a publisher and an author, along with the arduous process of developing a book. In Not Another Happy Ending, an author with a best-selling book is not able to write the sequel because she is too happy, so her publisher attempts to remedy her writer’s block by making her miserable. Genius tells the story of Tom Wolfe (a Washington and Lee alum and past editor of Shenandoah) and his publisher Maxwell Perkins’ friendship developing as they work on manuscripts together through the tumultuous changes of life. While they are most certainly different in genre and tone, there is a striking similarity between the two: the passion and drive to create good books.
I have always been a consumer of books and love the worlds they took me to, but I had never thought about how they were produced. The world of publishing that exists behind all of these stories is one I want to venture into and figure out how all of the gears and mechanics work together to create such mesmerizing works. Once I wrapped my head around the fact that there was indeed a job where I could read manuscripts and converse with the creators of fantastical journeys, I declared an English major and looked for a way to begin introducing myself to this profession.
Interning at Shenandoah is a direct connection to publishing and all of the nuances and skills needed. Looking at the inundation of submissions to the magazine highlights the importance of having a concrete list of what makes a good story, which means you actually have to work through and know what belongs on the list. Working with R.T. Smith is to be working with a prolific and successful writer who has an incredible knowledge of the literary sphere. Writing these blogs and finding poems of the week forces me to put my own work and interests out into the public eye, which is oftentimes a terrifying thought. Spearheading the Greybeal-Gowen Prize for Poetry reveals the range of authors and their determination to have people other than themselves read their work. Shenandoah also encourages my interest in simply reading, as there are wonderful stories and poems in this literary magazine that I would not have otherwise found.
I am also fortunate enough to have friends trust my editing skills and my honesty when reading through their work. I edited a short story for a friend trying to publish it in a literary magazine, and was astounded by how some simple questions and critiques transformed the writing into a driven, focused, and astonishing piece. I fell in love with the process of give and take between writer and editor, and I am happy to be working with another friend on a novel, which I am learning is an entirely different beast.
Apparently, my passion has always been right there in my hands.
Here’s to the love of books.