I think the thing I might love as much as Julie Sarkissian's new novel Dear Lucy, is this essay about it. And speaking of her novel, Joyce Carol Oates calls it "boldly lyrical." Ron Rash says it's "startlingly original." And I say this novel, about a farm, a pregnant teenager and a vanished baby, "marks your heart." Julie won the Francis Leon Page Award for creative writing and she's an instructor at the Sackett Street Writer's Workshop. Thank you so much, Julie for writing such a wonderful book--and such a wonderful essay for the blog.
In Good Company
By Julie Sarkissian
I buy a good deal of used books. I am lucky enough to live one block from a fantastic thrift store called Housing Works. Actually, I buy more than just books there; I credit Housing Works with providing a majority of my wardrobe and furniture. My finds are a constant source of jealousy among my friends. “You always find the best stuff there,” they tell me. And I do.
Especially books. I don’t know how the quality of the books at Housing Works is controlled, but the selection is well curated as the shelves of any indie bookstore, and as a novelist and unabashed book snob that is not praise I give freely. Along with bulking up my classics collection, I have discovered new contemporary favorites at Housing Works; books I had never heard of and now revere; “Mating,” by Normal Rush, “The Book of Ruth,” by Jane Alexander,” “Oranges are not the Only Fruit,” by Jeanette Winterson. Intimate, affordable and an endless source of inspiration, Housing Works is one of my favorite places in all of Brooklyn.
Until I saw my own recently published debut novel on its shelves. I was drawn to the cheery orange spine before I realized I was staring at my own book. Dear Lucy, by Julie Sarkissian. I went cold, then broke out in a full body flush. Someone had – gasp – given my book away. Someone had deemed Dear Lucy – my baby, my life’s work, the very essence of my existence – was not even worth re-gifting to a friend. I looked around to make sure nobody had seen the look on my face and immediately pegged me as an author whose book someone did not want to keep. I grabbed my book, rushed to the counter and didn’t wait for my change.
Then I got home and had to find a place to put my 51th copy of Dear Lucy. I have stacks of Dear Lucy on chairs, the floor, on my dresser. I have piles of Dear Lucy manuscripts in my basements. What good could come of bringing another copy of Dear Lucy in my tiny apartment? Here the most excitement that book would see would be when it was shuffled from a chair to the floor to make room for someone to sit. Maybe I wasn’t saving the book from being orphaned as much as getting in the way of its being adopted.
Like any author, I wanted my book to find readers. But to do that I had to accept the book’s journey into the hearts of appreciative readers would be paved with people that didn’t care for it, that actively disliked it, that would give it away – maybe even throw it away. There was no way I would be able to snatch the book back from people who didn’t like it, but I could hope that it might find its way to people that did. And where better for that to happen than Housing Works, a beloved place where I had discovered so many gems?
The next day I took the copy back to Housing Works. The price tag – two dollars – was still on the back. I slipped the book back on the shelf, in between Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson and Dubliners by James Joyce. Dear Lucy was in good company. Maybe here she could find a good reader as well.