Sag Harbor: An Introduction

Hi, fellow readers:

My name is Janet, and I’m a copy editor at Real Simple. What copyediting entails is reading every story in each issue at least twice (usually thrice) and making sure every word and/or sentence adheres to the rules of grammar, spelling, punctuation, sense, and style. (I hope you have not come across many mistakes in the magazine. We are a punctilious team in the copyediting department and hate to disappoint.)

A common misconception about copy editors (and perhaps even about those who work at Real Simple in general) is that we are natural organizers with immaculate desks and a distaste for clutter. Not me. I am not neat. I make piles. Lots of piles. My apartment looks like the junkyard Earth tidied by Wall-E but in small scale. The mail collects until the one day each month when I locate the letter opener and bushwhack my way through the jumble.

The primary constituents of these piles are books. Books, books, and more books. Virtually all fiction, with some literary criticism and a number of plays and poems and the occasional nonfiction book that I feel obliged to own. I am a fiction reader, believing the made-up has more to tell us about the world, the universe, humanity, ourselves, than anything that purports itself to be real. As resolution or any form of takeaway is often intentionally ambiguous, fiction, in my humble opinion, lets us come to our own conclusions.

Like everyone reading this post, I do love to read. I also love to watch movies and television, brood or seethe along to music, eat, drink, sleep, and vegetate (among other things). So it’s often hard to fit reading in. Plus, I’m a pretty slow reader. Nonetheless, reading is my favorite pastime, one that I make time for and one that dates back to probably my late high school years. I read as a small kid, but I wasn’t one of those kids reading under the covers with a flashlight. (I was probably sleeping; my love of sleeping definitely originates in childhood.)

I guess reading is an obvious hobby for a lot of moping, socially awkward high schoolers. Back then, fiction provided some sort of catharsis. The way an author described a character’s world helped me to better understand my own. I like to think (and am even pretty sure) that I am far more well-adjusted now. Still, it doesn’t hurt to revisit these variably painful moments, even if just to see how far we have come or have yet to go. So that’s why I was trying to will Sag Harbor, by Colson Whitehead, into winning the July poll.

For each poll a Real Simple staffer picks four books she (or he, but so far she) would like to discuss. The common thread of adolescent boyhood between my four choices was an intentional one. I thought it might be a nice change of pace from some of the previous book-club choices. And while the other three novels (Flight, by Sherman Alexie; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz; and Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie) promise to be equally exciting, they are for now added to my list of things to read, a list that grows ever longer as my days number fewer (that’s supposed to be humorous).

Being a short novel that takes place in the summer, Sag Harbor is perfect for the month of July. Set in 1985, it’s the coming-of-age story of Benji Cooper, one of the two black kids (the other being his younger brother) at an aristocratic New York City prep school, and the mostly unsupervised summer he spends at his family’s beach house in Sag Harbor, on Long Island. As a fellow Star Wars and Smiths fan, I look forward to Benji figuring himself out and negotiating between his various spheres of influence.

So with that in mind, let’s read the first two chapters by Friday, July 10. Any and all comments or thoughts are welcome!

Till then,

P.S. Full disclosure: I am a big fan of Colson Whitehead, so I hope you will find his writing as charming as I do. If you’re interested, here are two great pieces he wrote for the Times.

“I Write in Brooklyn. Get Over It”
“Visible Man”

I also recommend his debut, The Intuitionist, a noirish novel that takes place in an alternate New York City where elevator inspectors belong to one of two rival schools of elevator theory: the Empiricists, who use tools to evaluate an elevator, and the Intuitionists, who ride an elevator and focus on the colors and shapes that form in their minds and the vibrations that massage their backs. The plot begins when an elevator that the first female black elevator inspector, Lila Mae, has examined goes into complete free fall. Having a clean record, Lila Mae suspects foul play, due to her race and the upcoming election for the chair of the Elevator Inspectors Guild. Think about it for another time!