Jamie Cox Robertson is a southerner, an editor, an author, and the founder of the Southern Literary Review. After the release of her first book, A Literary Paris, she spoke with me about the core elements of a good book and why she opted to publish a literary travel book.
Hi Jamie. It’s good to talk with you again. Always fun to catch up.
For those who haven’t seen your book, A Literary Paris, can you tell us a little about the book?
Sure. A Literary Paris is a compilation of novel excerpts, each one set in Paris depicting a character’s thoughts and experiences as an outsider in the City of Light.
Where did you get the idea for A Literary Paris?
I love to read and I love to travel, but since reading is more affordable, and children sometimes cause traveling to take a backseat, I find myself reading great books set in places I would like to visit, or at least in the case of Paris, visit more often. Any of the authors in A Literary Paris is going to truly transport you to Paris and give you an authentic feel for the city.
I think it can be hard for readers to find writers that can do this and so a lot of bad books are bought based on the pretty cover or the blurb on the back that promises far more than it can deliver. I wanted to put together an anthology that could deliver for any reader.
You chose such a wide range of authors across very different times and writing styles. Was that intentional?
Absolutely. I wanted readers, no matter who they are, to be able to pick up A Literary Paris and find at least one story that resonated with them and made them want to go buy that book or check it out of the library and read it cover to cover.
Well then, what do you recommend readers look for in a book that will truly transport them as you say?
You know I list on my website what I call “ingredients” for selecting a book that will transport you.
First, you need a main character that is either someone you find remarkably interesting or someone you can relate to—befriend. That’s why I think Eat Pray Love did so well. The narrator was very relatable and likeable. But if not those things, than simply intriguing, interesting. I don’ t think I would have really wanted to wander around Paris with Jack Kerouac while he searched for his ancestors as is the case in Satori in Paris, but I really enjoyed being in his head listening to his thoughts and I really felt I had made that journey with him. Even if only as a fly on the wall.
The second thing you need is for the narration to have key details that reveal the essence of a place without bogging you down with a bunch of unnecessary information. Some authors are thoughtful with every word their reader is going to read. Some authors are not. The more you read the good ones, the less patience you have for the ones who fill up a page with mindless stuff that doesn’t move the story forward.
The third thing you need is a book filled with emotional highs and lows–the kind of feelings that a stranger in a strange land is likely to experience.
And finally, you need a book that will make the place real. The excerpts I chose for A Literary Paris are not always flattering, but if you want it to experience Paris as it is with its good and its bad, look for a book that doesn’t romanticize the story and doesn’t give such a narrow view of the culture.
So those are the things you should look for. Good characters, good smart details, authentic emotion, and a real look at the place.
Read more of Jamie’s interview tomorrow on SLR.