The great English transition


I didn’t start out as an English major.

Wanting to follow in my dad’s footsteps, I started college planning to go into journalism — be a reporter, work at a newspaper, become as intrepid and adventurous as he is. I spent my first year in community college wading through the prerequisites before transferring to the University of Maryland in the fall of 2004, where I learned I’d have to apply to the College of Journalism.

And then I kind of panicked.

When I imagined my lofty journalistic goals, they had nothing to do with . . . well . . . real journalism. In my daydreams, I imagined myself typing self-righteously on a keyboard in a busy newsroom, covering some explosive local news event. I saw myself at the end: polished, professional, well-respected. I visualized all the sparkly, exciting parts without any sense of reality. I never thought about the hard work. I didn’t think about muddling through the middle, working hard to rise to the top.

Isn’t that how it always goes?

Between my sophomore and junior years of college, I actually interned for our local newspaper’s community section. I answered phone calls and emails, tried my hand at laying out pages and wrote a few features on local folks doing good in Southern Maryland. I’ll never forget seeing my name in print for the first time: the extreme thrill, the pride and awe. I still remember my first article on a local theatre director and his immense collection of costumes. I remember my lead, too.

By the time I started schlepping up to College Park every day that fall, I was a little burnt out on the newsroom. I love to write, of course — I’ve always loved to write — but I had an immediate, sinking suspicion that reporting wasn’t going to be my bag. I bonded more with the copy editors and editors themselves: those who craft their own sentences from time to time, yes, but mostly tinker with others’ words.

I like tinkering.

But reporting? I’m not a reporter. I lack the edge, the finesse, the dedication of a real journalist. Between my summer at the local paper and the following year’s internship at a D.C. daily, I accepted something I might have known all along: I’m better behind the scenes. My favorite week at the Examiner came when I left the Washington office to proofread pages in Virginia. I’m just better at tinkering.

My journey into the wide world of English came when I was finally honest about that. Though I was nervous to tell my dad I wasn’t planning to get into the newspaper biz, my parents were very supportive as I changed my plan. The same sunny afternoon I called with my idea about switching to a Bachelor of Arts, I marched over to the English building and declared a new major. It was the first time I felt really excited — and not anxious — about the future. I never looked back.

That was the first of many “adult” decisions I made in school: these little transitions that put me on a different path than the one I’d first started marching down. It was a scary moment to veer off a course I felt had been laid for a long time, but I’m proud of having made the decision — especially because it was the right one for me.

Of course, ironically, I did still go into journalism . . . though not as a reporter. I was hired as an assistant editor in 2007 and have spent all of my young career here. In 2009, I was tapped to write a local personal column that has evolved into more than I could have ever expected — and despite veering into English rather than journalism, I’m still living the dream I had as a kid: writing. Writing for a living.

So life takes us where we need to be, I’d say.

Linking up with Blogtember today on a time my life took a turn.

Post’s stand-alone Book World to fold

book_world_logoSadly but unsurprisingly, the Washington Post announced today that they’re folding their weekly Book World special section and incorporating their book reviews into the Style section of the paper (see “The Washington Post Is Dropping Stand-Alone Section“). This ties definitely ties in with today’s Booking Through Thursday discussion topic! I’ve yet to weigh in there — the very thought of books as tangible objects disappearing makes my whole body feel tired and achy — but as a newspaper staffer myself, I’m pretty disappointed to know Book World will cease to exist in the form we’ve all come to know and love.

When I worked at the bookstore, customers would pour in almost daily asking about this title or that title, raving to me about the review given in Book World and hoping they could put their hands on it. The Post’s recommendations would often result in sell-outs of those titles at our local branch — and more than a few annoyed folks when we didn’t have the latest hot book recommended in the section! Yes, Book World will continue to live online — reviews and literary events will be posted on the paper’s Web site as well as in the Style section. But Book World itself will disappear.

I think this says more about the fate of the newspaper and publishing industry than it does the way book information is distributed . . . although, since I’m writing on a bookish blog and spend most of my time reading book blogs for book information, the relevance of sections like Book World is . . . questionable. After all, we live in a digital world. Tangible, hard-copy newspapers may be relics of a forgotten age in ten, twenty or thirty years.

Or sooner, the way the economy is going.