A Week in Culture: Sarah Burnes, Literary Agent, Part 2


The Culture Diaries

This is the second installment of Burnes’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.


7:40 A.M. A little tired and wobbly this morning. Get up late …

8:20 A.M. … but this is OK. Littlest is in a great mood as we head out. We get the good bus that takes us just two blocks from school.

8:50 A.M. Perusing the paper when I finally get a seat on the subway. Lydia Peelle won a Whiting! She is so good. This is my favorite story.

10:40 A.M. Listen to a CD of a public-radio program, as its producer wants to do a big multimedia project, which sounds compelling. I think I may refer him to Kickstarter.

12:13 P.M. Off to lunch to meet my agents group, as Brian said—anyone who missed it this time needed a doctor’s note. Betsy isn’t there, though; I commend her blog to anyone interested in the writing life.

12:40 P.M. We talk about VAT, Amazon, backlist, and contract boilerplates. Not culture, exactly, but necessary for its dissemination. It makes my head hurt just the littlest bit.

5:10 P.M. Ah! It’s a beautiful evening, and David has decided that we should have drinks on the terrace. This is not culture, exactly, either, but is (right!) necessary for its dissemination. It also makes my head hurt.

6:29 P.M. I head to Housing Works for the Harper’s Magazine reading, starring Téa Obreht, Christine Schutt, and Wells Tower. Scrabble on the way down; the computer is still cheating.

7:02 P.M. While those writers are great (funny, profane, and funny and profane, in that order), the youngsters steal the show: An intern and then an assistant editor get up and read hilariously scary snippets from the Harper’s archives.

8:15 P.M. Off to Savoy with Sebastian for a rare dinner alone.


9:15 A.M. Though I usually work from home on Fridays, I come into the office for a few phone calls and to finish up the historical novel.

12:05 P.M. Dig up Zoë Heller’s excellent piece on the new Roald Dahl biography and send to Kidlit. Heller notes, “When Martin Amis was asked if he would ever consider writing a children’s book, he allowed that he might, if he were to find himself severely brain-damaged.”

12:30 P.M. My Sex in the City lunch with friends from college. A banker, a forester, a writer, and an agent, we’ve been getting together in one form or another for twenty years. I’m Miranda: a little too cranky and outspoken for my own good.

4:30 P.M. Read Bill McKibben writing on public radio on the way home on the subway. It’s a good piece, but it’s just not right to say that public radio is “nonpartisan.”

7:45 P.M. In the car, on the way out to the North Fork for the weekend. We’ve been listening to Jim Dale’s brilliant rendition of the Harry Potter series since last April, and have made it though four and a half books. It’s getting very scary and complex, and we are all transfixed—except the Littlest, who wants to go to sleep. We let him, then turn the CD back on.


9:30 A.M. I light a fire, and we putter and read all morning. The Middlest is writing his own story about Sinbad, and the Eldest is reading I Capture the Castle. (Another generation hooked!) I am reading a utopian submission with a very cool premise but still-shaky world-building. It’ll get there, but isn’t quite yet.

12:30 P.M. I make chicken-noodle soup for the boys (the Eldest has skived off to a friend’s house) and turn the leftover Sahni chicken into pilaf. I have week-old cranberry beans and we all shell them, and then I make them into this, which I think I will put on toast.

2:36 P.M. Our friends arrive, and the house explodes. Halloween costumes are planned and donned, and the kids head down the street for a party at the village hall. The Eldest is Girl Power, the Middlest a Clown, and the Littlest an X-wing fighter. (Not Luke, though.) Their friends are Thing #2 and Hermes.

4:15 P.M. The kids come back, and we carve pumpkins. I have little ones for each, which seems like a good idea until the sides start to crack. No matter; they still look ghoulish. I wash the pumpkin seeds and roast them in salt and butter and, boy, is that delicious.

5:30 P.M. I drop the kids at one end of the village for dinner and trick-or-treating back. They return home at a dead run with a pack of Iron Men and fairies.

6:30 P.M. Dinner up the block, the kids in front of Batman while the parents drink wine and eat Bolognese with ricotta. Nothing could be better.

8:30 P.M. Home. Is it too early to go to bed?


9:30 A.M. Everyone sleeps in, and I stay in bed even longer and finish Salvation City. What a beautiful, interesting book. Nunez breaks Chekhov’s rule: There’s a gun, and (spoiler alert!) it doesn’t go off. Later, I think about The Catcher in the Rye, not so much because of the teenage protagonist (they’re not at all similar in character) but because they both want to help people.

10:30 A.M. A child runs to the store to get the paper—my goodness, they are getting so useful. I read about the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” and wish we had been able to go, even though it seems like another rally for a group of like-minded people. The signs crack me up. I am like-minded.

11:00 A.M. The neighborhood kids arrive to play baseball. It’s almost too cold, but not quite.

12:45 P.M. Head back into the city for Halloween, part 2. The Eldest hands the Littlest her iPod so we can listen to Harry Potter. Snape is training Harry in occlumency, to guard his mind against the Dark Lord. The metaphor of this for a teenager—hey, for us all—is pretty potent.

4:00 P.M. The Eldest’s friends arrive to dress up: They are the sun, the moon, and the stars. They wanted the Littlest to be Pluto with a sign saying “I am a planet!” but he is still an X-wing fighter. The kids wanted Sebastian to dress as me and for me to dress as him, but I am what I am every year: a harried working mother.

5:00 P.M. The neighborhood is flooded as friends arrive and the kids head out. There is still a preponderance of Iron Men, but there is also a very clever and very small mummy, and a teenager dressed as “dirt.” (I had asked if she was a drop cloth.)

7:00 P.M. The girls head off to a party, and the littlest boys come home to count their candy and negotiate over how much of it they can eat.

7:45 P.M. The adults sit down to dinner (Sahni’s pilaf is amazing) and the kids trade their candy around. Our friends leave and the kids bounce around the house on a collective sugar high. There’s no more culture to be had; I’m asleep before the children are. The Eldest comes and gives me a kiss on the forehead before she goes to bed, and I think, That’s my job.