How Books Save Me


I love books, always have. And by that I mean the physical object of a book itself: thick pages, crisp black type you can feel beneath your finger, that hard binding, that tough spine, how when you flip through the pages they fall in a cascading arc, blindingly quick, and the air fills with that smell—I like that. I like hardcovers when I borrow from a library, but my favorite book-object to read is a brand-new trade-size paperback. I am totally in love with french flaps.

I am so old-school that though I keep this blog—so clearly I do know there is such a thing as the internet—I’ve never sent my own writing to an online journal. I want to see it in print. I want it to exist as an object. It feels more real to me that way, undeniable. There are some great online journals out there, so I might change my mind about this soon, but I am very, very happy that book publishing still exists to make actual books. I would not want to own a book-size computer object with books stored inside like mp4s. I would not want to read in pixels, no matter how many books I could take with me to Hawaii. I’ll keep reading books until they’re obsolete.

Really, when I think about it, my whole life is about books. They are overflowing the apartment. They are my day job and my side job and my fantasy job. When I feel down, I go to a library. Then I feel better, simple as that. It is a rare day when I don’t have a book in my bag. If I’m not reading, there is something wrong. Books—and wanting to write them—saved me from trying dangerous things when I was young, I know this for a fact.

I might have hinted at how I’m having a hard time at work. But I’m trying to put all of that away because this is also the exciting part of the season when the novel manuscripts come in. This process is the best. I get two copies, this big stack of pages, one to send out to the freelancer to copyedit, one to route in house. Doing the first read is my favorite part. Sometimes the editor’s edits are on the page, which I find fascinating (as a writer), though I know I have to put aside the fact that I’m a writer. So I do what I can to make the book as clean as possible, to make the writer look as good as possible.

It doesn’t matter to me if a book is projected to sell just 3,000 copies and they’re printing it in paperback. The author spent time on this book. This book is the author’s baby, so, for the time I’m working on it, it’s also mine.

The copyedited manuscript is reviewed by me, sent to the editor, the author, back to me to finalize changes and make sure everything is clear, then on to be designed. When the 1st pass arrives, it begins to look like an actual book. What must a first-time author feel upon seeing this first set of pages?

I can picture it, maybe too much. I’ve seen the many manuscripts I’ve written under fake names become actual books, but they don’t feel like mine, not a one. It will be different, I think, when it’s my book in those 1st pass pages. I can’t wait to see how the chapter openers will be designed, the running heads, even the page numbers. How crazy is it to want to see your page numbers? But I want, one day soon, to see mine.

We went to my favorite bookstore in Manhattan last night, just to browse. This is St. Mark’s Bookshop, in the East Village. If you love literary fiction and poetry and covet hard-to-find books on art and photography and jazz and anarchism and philosophy and I could go on, and you haven’t been there, next time you’re in the neighborhood go check it out. They have a great section of literary journals, and they even sell zines in the back.

We stood before the section of New Fiction, just staring. “Someday,” I said. Then we left the store empty-handed but hopeful, and went home.

For me, books—past, present, and future—make everything worthwhile. So how do books save you?

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