Yes, summer is drawing to a close. As in all times of transition, I am driven to reflect on what these past few months have meant. What have I learned, what of value will I carry out with me?
To begin with, my internship with Beaufort has been a pleasant, informative foray into the world of publishing – for which I am very appreciative. I can predict now what the day to day in a publishing company might bring: the variety of tasks, the encounters with authors, the publicity ups and downs, the mailings, and then again, the mailings… The life of a small, independent publisher is, of course, different from what I would encounter at a larger, departmentalized publishing house – and better, I think, as an introduction to the field; I feel as though I have gotten the broader lay of the land.
My literary summer has been informative in other ways. My past few summer reads have drawn my attention to something interesting: an author’s ability to write a story that is uncannily pre-cognizant of real-world events. I first had this thought after reading David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. Several years into the future, a foreign correspondent named Ed Brubeck reports from Iraq on the increasing sectarian division and violence that has beset the country. In one fell swoop, Brubeck sums up the chain of events that has led to this: the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the withdrawal of American troops, the reemergence and rise of the radical Sunni minority. Back in the real world, several weeks pass and I begin to read stories in the paper about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Indeed, it is precisely what Mitchell (via Brubeck) predicted.
Another example: Susan Minot’s Thirty Girls. The book begins with the kidnapping and subjugation of thirty young girls from a boarding school in rural Uganda, at the hands of Joseph Kony’s rebel army. Sister Guilia, the leader of the boarding school, determinably sets out to find her girls and bring them home. She will get no help from local authorities, and is accompanied only by a fellow math teacher. The book is based on the real wave of abductions perpetrated by Kony’s army in the early 2000s, and yet it is also eerily pre-cognizant of what soon came to pass in Nigeria, with Boko Haram. Again I had a moment of intense deja vú: “Nigeria’s Stolen Girls,” reads the title of a recent New Yorker article; had I not just read this exact same story?
These prophetic moments arise, not as a result of authors’ sixth sense when it comes to foreign affairs, but rather as a result of their ability to view events within the wider scope of human history – to take a step back and see a particular moment in time as part of a larger story. No matter how many articles I have read about Iraq, I will now always remember the conflict in the words of Ed Brubeck, and that is because his explanation was woven into a larger story about the cyclicality of violence.
Brubeck’s words will also stay with me because I was invested in him as a character. It is easy to become hardened to the wave of news updates from Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine – there is so much of it, and so much of it is bad. Occasionally long-form journalism can break through the buzz, and hit you with a strong character driven piece that reminds you why you should care. Most often, though, it is a book like The Bone Clocks or Thirty Girls that does the trick.
All this to say that this summer has been a literary education on two fronts: a glance at the behind-the-scenes sweat that gets books published in the first place, and a reminder of what books can do once they are out there.
Yours truly, SWS