The agent’s journey involves a kind of love-hate relationship with the written word. With much of our time devoted to evaluating work that is often *not* all that great--as well as living with the heavy mental burden of an unending reading surplus—books tend to lose their once-held magical appeal. Instead, reading becomes an onerous experience much akin to schoolwork or exam studies or some other duty-bogged mental task. I recently read my friend Jennifer Jackson’s remarks on this matter at http://www.romancingtheblog.com/, and felt encouraged to hear another agent voice an experience so similar to my own.
As if it weren’t bad enough to fall out of love with books, there is a fate equally horrifying (perhaps I overstate the case? I’ll let you decide.) Imagine constantly attending parties or social functions where you’re expected to be the singularly most well-read individual in the room—only to consistently disappoint, almost like a magician incapable of the parlor tricks of his trade.
“You haven’t read THAT?” a friend will cry. “But you’re an AGENT!” (“That” book typically equals something like THE DAVINCI CODE or THE LOVELY BONES or any other buzz book that Every Other Person on the Planet Seems to be Reading.)
You shift your eyes, looking for the flashing exit sign, and admit, “Uh, no, I haven’t actually had a chance to read MAMMOTH BESTSELLER OF THE YEAR, no.”
“But, but,” the friend stammers, unable to compute this strange illogical slip in the data, until finally they arrive at, “Wow. I’m so surprised.” Disappointed. Disillusioned. Unimpressed. I have just been struck down to mere-mortal proportions among my bookish set of friends.
“Uh, but I did read five books last week!” I might offer helpfully.
Friend turns back, ready for deep talk. “Really? Anything I might like?”
“Well,” I have to admit, “nothing that’s published” (Translation: nothing I can really even discuss right now.)
And so it goes. The agent’s life is a constant state of readerly doom—condemning us to either mediocre (or bad!) books, or to devouring fabulous books that no one else besides the author has yet read! Talk about isolation. Part of readership’s thrill is the act of communion—one reason why agenting is also such an ecstatic pleasure on occasion. To discover a first time author or an unpublished book, then find another living individual—the editor—who appreciates it with equal measure is beyond sublime.
So you muck along, wondering what happened to your simple pleasure as a reader, those days when you nestled on the sofa and nobody could talk to you until you reached a story’s end. But then after a time something transcendental eventually occurs in your journey as “mere reader.” One day, when you almost think all your old bookish passions have been sapped out of you completely, something causes you to pick up a magic book, one that so inspires you, so ignites you, that your old passion is rekindled.
And when the love returns, it seems to return with greater burn. For me, the past year has been a year of falling in love with books all over again. I’m not sure I can point to *the* single novel that led me back into the fold; it was a series of wonderful books: THE TRUE AND OUTSTANDING ADVENTURES OF THE HUNT SISTERS, THE SECOND ASSISTANT, ANGEL FALLS, and then, the life-changing, mystical and amazing… THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE. Let me tell you, if you’ve not read this last one, you should *rush* to beg, borrow or buy it. I read and re-read it. I wandered about my house in a Marsha Brady-esque fugue state, placing milk in the pantry, coffee in front of my three year old… well, not that bad (thank goodness!) But I did quite literally move about with half my mind perpetually engaged in the world Audrey Niffenegger had created. Even now, months after finishing the second reading I can re-engage with her characters, question their choices, wonder about their “endings.” That is the mark of a mesmerizing book. Read it. Trust me.
And so I believe I can thank Audrey N for my current euphoric reading state. She then led me to Carol Berg, a marvelous fantasy writer whose every book I’ve now devoured—again, you MUST try her TRANSFORMATION. From there, your Carol Berg journey will have begun, and like me, you’ll be destined to keep on going!
All of this leads me to the best news of all. I have discovered that with my reignited pleasure in reading, another pleasure has also returned: excitement about reading submissions. And so it has come full circle. I’m happy agent girl, awaiting Amazon shipments with breathless anticipation, and opening each submission with that dewy promise of *possibility*. If only it could always stay this way…