Welcome to a new blog feature by Lynn Rosen. The Literary Life will appear on Qwerty Philly on the third Monday of the month.
Last week, I had one of those “let’s turn this into something constructive” parenting moments. The kids were cranky, dinner wasn’t for another hour, and I wanted to create some positive energy. “Let’s each name something we think we are good at,” I suggested. “Math,” said my older son. “Piano,” said the younger. “Fixing things,” my husband chimed in.
I said, “I’m good at reading books.”
They were silent for a moment. Then, “Reading books? That’s something you can be good at?” I stuck to my guns. “Yes,” I replied emphatically. “I am good at reading books.”
Where has this skill gotten me? Certainly not to the Olympic championships (although they do have Reading Olympics in my kids’ school). But by doggedly pursuing studies and professions related to reading, it has gotten me to a place where I happily lead a literary life.
I began my career as a book editor in New York and ran my own literary agency for many years. When I moved back to Philadelphia with my family fifteen years ago (I grew up and went to college here), I continued to work in book publishing as an editor and then I was the program director of the graduate publishing program at Rosemont College for three years. I wrote and published several books. And now I have come to the place where it seems I was heading all along: with my husband Evan, I run an independent bookstore in Elkins Park, the Open Book Bookstore.
As a bookstore owner, my tasks include choosing the books we sell, ordering, shelving and organizing these books (which entails carrying many heavy boxes!), and, most important, getting to know our customers and helping them discover new books to read. To stay on top of new books, I keep my networks in the publishing industry active. Among the perks of the job are getting pre-publication copies of new books, and having authors visit our store on a regular basis.
Over the past 15 years, since my return to Philly, I have been astounded and impressed by the breadth of our local literary community, and I am proud of what we have nurtured here. Part of our work as bookstore owners is supporting these authors, and we love having authors both local and out-of-town come through the store for readings and events.
In this blog, I look forward to sharing my literary experiences and encounters with you. In fact, I’ll share just a few right now from some recent author visits!
Recently we hosted Martha Cooley. I have long admired her fabulous novel, The Archivist (Read it!) and she has just published a memoir, Guesswork, about her time living in an ancient tiny town in Italy with her husband Antonio. She is on sabbatical from her teaching job, and has gone to Italy to recover from the grief of losing several friends. Cooley’s book is full of small, careful observations of both life in a small village and the internal life of a writer.
Then we had a visit from Hala Alyan, a Palestinian-American author of the debut novel Salt Houses. The 31-year old Alyan balances life as a therapist with being a poet and now a novelist, and it’s clear she doesn’t skimp on either job. She says she’s already at work on a new book. Back when Salt Houses sold to a publisher, a friend advised her to start a new project right away. That way, the friend told her, when this book is published, you won’t let the distraction of reviews and events give you writer’s block, because you’ll already be at work at something. Alyan says that strategy is working well for her.
We were also excited to host the novelist and short story writer Jennifer Haigh. Several of her books, including the newest, Heat & Light, take place in the fictional western Pennsylvania coal town of Bakerton. She freely shared stories and wisdom from her life as a writer. One thing that really stuck with me was her advice to a writer in the audience about beginning a novel. “The novel,” she said, “should start at the point after which nothing will ever be the same.”
Next up are visits from local authors with new books, Janet Benton and Liz Moore, as well as a visit from Matthew Quick, author of The Silver Linings Playbook, talking about his new novel.
Keep checking in here to read about my literary life in Philadelphia. I hope I can help all of you stay #Lit!
Lynn Rosen is owner of the Open Book Bookstore in Elkins Park, PA, and a long-time book publishing industry professional.