Sarah McCoy is author of the international bestseller and 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee The Baker’s Daughter. Her first novel is The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico. Sarah’s work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, and other publications. She has taught English and writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband, an Army physician, and dog, Gilbert, in El Paso, Texas. She is working on her third novel for Crown/Random House. Find out more about her books at her website or reach her on Twitter and Facebook.
This summer has been unique in that my Books by the Bed stack has been notably smaller than years past. I have two main book piles in my home. The first is atop my office desk. That currently includes a tower of Civil War nonfiction Post-It-noted like a piñata—research for the novel I’m finishing up. On my desk, I also keep galleys graciously sent from publishers and authors releasing books in upcoming months. With my laptop sandwiched between these paper obelisks, it’s a kind of book altar where work and passion engage in a sacrificial dance of sweat, tears and supplication.
The second pile is literally on my bedside table. I’ve come to be a notorious insomniac over the years, a common trait among writerly types, like cramped fingers and Vitamin D deficiencies. Last month, in an online chat with author Ian McEwan, I bemoaned my “wolf hours” as he coined them, and he assured me they are the sign of good health… at least when it comes to authors. No doubt he was stroking a relatively (ahem) young novelist’s neurosis but hey, I’ll take it. It’s McEwan.
During these insomnia bouts, if I dare turn on the television, I’m condemned to not sleeping a wink. The punch-pow colors and sounds too jarring for my mind. Reading is my only salvation. Thus, my treasured Books by the Bed. Vastly different from the desk altar assortment, these are books of pure pleasure. Books to whisk me away from the bleary, sleepless nights to a fictional landscape, new friends and lovely adventures. Novels to help me turn off my writer brain and ease into dreaming.
This particular summer there’s been a “campiness” on the literary scene. By that I mean brilliant novels with woodsy summer camp settings: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani, The Last Summer of the Camperdowns by Elizabeth Kelly, The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, to name a few. Budding young characters living out secrets in pitched teepees and pine cabins, forming campfire romances amid the sing-alongs and daily group activities.
As a young girl, I was a summer camper at a sleep-away on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay. I vividly remember the glee and fear of being “on my own” away from my parents during those weeks of horseback riding, canoeing and sleeping half a dozen to our Pocahontas Cabin. I was a huge fan of Hayley Mills (still am) and was thrilled that my camp setting exactly mirrored The Parent Trap (1961). Not so thrilling was the buzz of skeeters coming in and out of our screened cabin to feast all night. The smell of camphor and Avon’s Skin-So-Soft gives me nostalgic heebie-jeebies to this day. All this to say that I was primed to pick up one of these books.
Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings is my current Book by the Bed, and I’m gobbling every glorious page. The writing is radiant, mesmerizing and warm as a campfire. It’s so much more than a nostalgic story of lifelong friendships forged at a summer powwow. Wolitzer poignantly weaves time and personal conflict into a masterful narrative that shoots an arrow straight through the reader’s heart. I’m shot and aching with empathy for the characters as they seek to find their ultimate life purposes. It strikes a human chord in us all. I love a book that isn’t just about what it says it’s about. Summer camp escapades, yes, but layers and layers of so much more… interestings.
Queued up next is Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth. The man, the myth, the legend sent me a signed copy after our chat. Being first and foremost a reader, I’m waylaid by author star-struck phenomena like any other. Ian touched these pages = I Must Read Every Single Word. It may just be me, but I always feel there’s a magic bestowed on a signed book. As if the author’s handwriting gives it a sudden steroid shot of Velveteen Rabbit. It becomes this living, breathing, calling thing. And I am a foregone loss to that beckoning voice.
Who’s your red carpet writer whose inscription and autograph would incite immediate reading and intoxication?