Our summer intern, Anna Ball, has headed back to the University of Maryland, where she is currently a junior. At PR, she did everything from researching magazines and other publications, to assisting with #55’s production, to helping organize our inventory of past issues and swag. Anna was responsible and more than competent.
As a parting gift to PR, she wrote the essay below about reading, writing and working at Politics and Prose, one of the key bookstore/coffee houses in the DC area.
As that iconic literary figure, Holden Caulfield, famously says, “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” Like many people who relate to this desire, especially those with an interest in writing something of their own, I’ve often put down a book with a million questions in mind. Where did that idea come from? Were the characters from the writer’s life? Did the writer go through something similar? What is the creator of this bound universe like? More than not, the access we have to writers is limited to what they put on the page for us, and while their ability to bear witness to the human condition is usually enough to satisfy our craving for connection, it can leave us wondering about the living person behind the words.
Before I started working in the coffee shop at Politics and Prose, DC’s favorite bookstore and literary hotspot, I didn’t have many opportunities to come face to face with established authors. The image of a successful writer as aloof or unapproachable had been planted in my younger mind and taken root (and I wouldn’t be surprised if the hand behind Holden was himself responsible). Since then, during my year and a half of supplying lattes to this thirsty community of readers, I’ve had my chance to brush shoulders with contemporary scribes (or at least to admire corners of their faces between the heads of all the fawning fans in front of me). And alas, let it be known: published authors are people, too! From the young debut novelist wiping his brow after his first reading, to the seasoned, celebrity columnist chatting softly with a friend over lunch, the writers I’ve observed from behind the counter have all been refreshingly human.
One auburn-haired woman in particular has made it clear to me just what lovely creatures auspicious authors can be. Her third novel, which came out last year, was well received, earning a Notable Book of 2013 title in the Washington Post and an interview on NPR. With her success, this bespectacled crafter of words remains grounded and startlingly normal. And let’s remember, the ultimate test of character can be found in the line at 8 AM for that first jolt of caffeine. Almost every weekday morning, after the initial rush of coffee-guzzlers, she appears calmly at the cash register for her usual drink. (Skim mocha, please!) Probably due to the razor sharp observational skills that she has transformed into a livelihood, she understands how hectic it can get behind the bar. She sets down her reusable mug and glows with patience. There is never a day when she doesn’t exude a positive energy; she always smiles warmly, looks me straight in the eye and asks me how I’m doing.
I have to admit, it took me months to figure out that this beaming regular customer was also the prized local novelist I had heard so much about. I guess it comes as no surprise—I was on the lookout for a grouch instead of an angel. I’m glad to know that one day, if I’m lucky, I can follow her example. So, now that I’ve fulfilled Holden’s dream and met the author, I’d better get to reading that book!