This month in City of Readers we're featuring author escort Deborah Flynn-Hanrahan.
Describe your occupation.
Author escort. I know — the job title “escort” is highly problematic. I infinitely preferred “literary attaché,” but “author escort” is how the publishing industry knows and refers to people who do what I do: assist authors on national book tours with their local media appointments, school visits, and events at bookstores, clubs, and universities. We act as publicists-in-place, concierges, drivers, and tour guides. In the 15 years I’ve been involved in this arcane work, I’ve also made it my mission to compel visitors to fall in love with eccentric, irresistible Portland. That part is never difficult.
Where are you from originally?
I was born in New Haven, CT, to a pair of college students. When my father subsequently joined the Navy, our family began a nomadic trek up and down the eastern seaboard for the balance of my childhood and adolescence, during which I attended seven schools in nine years. The constant uprooting and resettling in new communities (where the military presence was an economic boon but was not necessarily viewed as a social asset — and where I was always the new kid) contributed to my becoming a voracious reader. Books offered compelling, exotic, alternate views of the world to the one I was presently inhabiting (including futuristic, fantastic ones) and mapped out intriguing other lives to be lived.
Last book you loved:
The Book Thief
by Marcus Zusak is a miraculous creation: its unsentimental but tender and ironic omniscient narrator, who is also synesthetic, is immediately revealed to be Death; the extraordinary story structure somehow duplicates the slow, inexorable progression of evil, dehumanization, and war; it contains scenes of unbearable suffering that the reader can’t turn away from — I don’t know how the author pulls off these feats, but he does!
Describe your first memorable reading experience.
Books offered compelling, exotic, alternate views of the world to the one I was presently inhabiting...and mapped out intriguing other lives to be lived.
I was looking at books that captivated me long before I learned to read. Details from the illustrations of classics like Rabbit Hill
by Robert Lawson, The Sea Is All Around
by Elizabeth Enright, M. Sasek’s vivid, collage-like images of great cities in his This Is…
series, and Garth Williams
’s furry, friendly, colored pencil drawings are treasured memories. At about the age of 7, I was so smitten with a color illustration of Hans Christian Andersen
’s “The Wild Swans” that I “eased” the tipped-in plate out of my family’s volume of fairytales. (Eventually, the connoisseurship — and thievery — of images led to my first career as an art director of children’s books for Houghton Mifflin.)
Were there any books you hid from your parents?
My childhood homes had floor-to-ceiling shelves stuffed with books, and new titles arrived steadily from Time Inc.'s Book-of-the-Month Club. My parents and I had a tacit understanding that nothing on those shelves was off-limits so I sampled our home library at will, including some wildly inappropriate books before I was 12 — for example, James Michener’s Hawaii
and Three Came Home
by Agnes Newton Keith (a WWII prison camp memoir) — but there was no harm in exploring adult worlds and trying to wring some meaning out of material I wasn’t yet equipped to understand.
Do you collect any particular types of books?
Hmm… now that you mention it, I do seem to have quite a lot of children’s picture books. In part, because every time I think that there can’t be anything fresh and original under the sun in that category, a picture book author/illustrator upends my assumptions. It doesn’t hurt that there is such a vibrant local community of children’s author/illustrators like Kate Berube
and Carson Ellis
producing books I simply have to own and look at often.
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
I initially resisted The God of Small Things
by Arundhati Roy. There was something slightly twee and self-conscious about the invented children’s language in the early chapters, but before I knew what was happening, the grandeur of the story revealed itself — a tale being told simultaneously on personal, familial, village, regional, and cultural platforms — and I was hooked. In fact, I was so unwilling to leave the world that Ms. Roy had opened up to me that I reread the final chapter as soon as I finished the book. I couldn’t leave it.