For years, Julie Metz thought she lived the perfect life – the perfect marriage, perfect brownstone, perfect career, perfect family. She tells her story of betrayal and renewal in her New York Times best-selling memoir Perfection.
Where some people would cower to tell the story, Julie mustered both the courage and the art to shape a story that has touched tens of thousands of women and men.
Julie’s eye for detail also translates to her first career – as graphic designer and book designer. She’s the artistic mind behind the covers of books such as Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, Charlie Baxter’s Burning Down the House, and even her own book’s, well, perfect cover.
She works with authors, both veteran and new, traditionally published and self-published, who know that, in fact, people do judge a book by its cover.
I had the honor to work with Julie in the early days of her writing life to shape the story and proposal that would become Perfection, and I’m delighted to share with you today this book-lover’s reflections on Books That Matter.
What one book most took off the top of your head (Dickinson on poetry) or was “the axe for the frozen sea within” you (Kafka) or otherwise just changed something profound within you? What did it do for you? Maybe a book that lit you up as a child or that turned you on as a young adult or last week that salved some pain or turned your thinking upside-down.
I remember when I stumbled upon James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man at a local bookstore on Broadway. I think I was about 16. That book spoke to the confusion I felt about my family and history and every other source of angst a teenager could have, as well as the yearning to make some kind of difference with my life. I still have my original copy. I re-read it recently and it still blows me away.
A book I imagined living inside of was Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle. Because who doesn’t want to grow up inside a crumbling mess of an old castle? When I read the book now, I acknowledge a deep appreciation for the comforts of central heating and decent plumbing.
The one book I have most often re-read is Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
A fossilized English teacher nearly ruined Jane Austen for me in high school (we had to diagram her sentences!), but I rediscovered her on a family vacation when I’d forgotten Kurt Vonnegut at home. There is something deeply comforting and hopeful in this love story of second chances, not to mention the beautiful writing itself. When I’m feeling especially gloomy I might reach for Pride and Prejudice instead — more laughs there. When I’ve re-read all of Jane Austen, I quickly move on to E.M. Forster.
Lately I am seeking books that are something out of my usual zone. I read mostly fiction, but recently I read The Emperor of All Maladies, about the history of cancer, a biography, as the author subtitles it. Not a topic you think you want to read about, but I found the book riveting. It’s the kind of book that makes you feel smarter when you are done, but it also happens to be a surprising page-turner.
The books that irritate me are pretentious or manipulative.
I hate feeling like a toy in the hand of an author who is advertising how much smarter he is than his readers. I hate feeling like a toy in general. That will happen anyway, but I want that process to be smooth and unseen. If I feel it coming, the pleasure of reading is lost. There are a few books I’ve actually hurled across the room after forty pages.
I will read anything written by Alice Munro or Jhumpa Lahiri. I buy their books in hardcover because I can’t wait a year for the paperbacks.
Roughly what per cent of books do you read digitally versus in paper? (What’s your preferred reader?)
I read 100% paper books. I do not own a reader. But judging from my own casual survey on the subway, I see that folks love their Kindles and iPads. I like books. I like the feel of paper, the smell of ink, the crinkle of pages as I turn them. I spend too much of my day in front of a screen. I don’t want to curl up in bed with another one, however cool. And I worry that we are damaging our eyes and brains with so much screen time. But I know that I represent an ever-shrinking population.
In a sentence or two, what’s your forecast for the future of publishing?
Eventually most everyone will read digitally until paper books become nearly extinct, a quaint artifact. Perhaps there will be isolated communities of holdouts who keep guard over their paper book libraries. Until some terrible calamity occurs, such as a global power disaster. Then everyone will dig around for some paper books to read, so they don’t go crazy with boredom and screen withdrawal. People with secret stashes of books will open shops called bookstores. Sounds like the plot of a science fiction story I should write.
I hope readers discover from my book Perfection that it is possible to reinvent your life no matter your age or circumstances.
It will not be easy and the path will not be straight, but you can make something positive from challenging times.
If you had five days off to read books next week, which books would you at last read?
I’d start with Ulysses, all the way through. I think that would keep me busy for at least a week. I am now into Chapter Four…after which I always seem to get stuck, or distracted by laundry. But this time I am determined.
The book I am most embarrassed to say I’ve never read is…see above.
I am embarrassed to admit that I have read the first Twilight book.
My then tweenaged daughter was reading it when it first appeared and I thought I’d better see what all the fuss was about. She described it perfectly as a junk food read, like eating a bag of yummy/greasy/appalling French fries. As promised, it kept me up all night. But I’ve had my fill and I’m all done with sparkly vampires.
To find out more about Julie’s writing life, visit: juliemetz.com
To find out more about Julie’s graphic design services for authors, visit her book cover portfolio at: metzdesign.com
Julie Metz is the author of the memoir Perfection, a New York Times bestseller and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection. Her story “Instruction” appeared in the anthology The Moment, edited by Six-Word Memoir creator Larry Smith. The recipient of a MacDowell Fellowship, her work has appeared in publications including The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Publishers Weekly, Glamour, Redbook, Coastal Living, and the story site mrbellersneighborhood.com.
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