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July 15th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Publishing & Bookselling; Urban Life & New York City

Previewing Fall 2014 Books with NY State and NJ Booksellers


Audience at July 15 NAIBA eventHad a great time last night at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Soho, where a preview of two important Fall titles was put on by the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA). As soon as I arrived I saw Eileen Dengler, Executive Director of NAIBA, whom I’ve known since my days with Undercover Books in Cleveland. Among many booksellers on hand, I met Heidi Shira Tannenbaum, manager of the Housing Works store; Margot Sage-El, Watchung Booksellers, Montclair, NJ*; two female staff members from Word Bookstore‘s Jersey City location; Todd Dickinson, of Aaron’s Books in Lititz, PA; Ezra Goldstein of Community Bookstore in Brooklyn; Roy Solomon of Village Bookstore in Pleasantville, NY; and Bill Reilly of River’s End Bookstore in Oswego, NY, site of the US Army camp where during WWII nearly 1,000 refugees were brought for sanctuary by Ruth Gruber, then a member of the FDR administration. She chronicled this in her book HAVEN: The Dramatic Story of 1,000 WWII Refugees and How They Came to America (out first in 1985), which I republished in trade paper in 1999, when I was with Crown Publishing. Bill told me that HAVENwhich along with four other books by Gruber is now available from Open Road Media—is his store’s top-selling book of local history; indeed I found the Open Road edition featured on the left-hand rail of the store’s website. Though Bill’s store is in upstate NY, near Lake Ontario, he hadn’t even traveled the farthest to be at this gathering: that recognition went to a bookseller from Buffalo. I was also delighted to see longtime Random House sales rep Ruth Liebmann in the audience. A nicely stocked bar with appetizers was generously provided by book distributor Baker & Taylor.

The first writer to speak was Robert W. Snyder, Director of the American Studies Program at Rutgers. His forthcoming book is CROSSING BROADWAY: Washington Heights and the Promise of New York City, to be published in December by Cornell University Press. My first five years in NYC I lived in Washington Heights, on Bennett Avenue at 186th Street, on the west side of Broadway—still the defining artery of the neighborhood—so I very much enjoyed meeting Snyder, then hearing his presentation on the book. It chronicles the evolution of this northern Manhattan neighborhood over the past century, and how it stands todayas quite a stellar example of diverse urban populations living successfully side-by-side, even while it more and more faces the price of its own success, with gentrification, rising home prices, and distortions to the social weave that may already be diminishing its richness. I recall that when I lived up there my NY State Assemblyman was J. Brian Murtagh, a voluble Irish pol who was proud of saying that his constituents spoke some astonishing number of languages among themselves—more than fifty, I recall. The dominant groups had long been Irish, German-Jewish, and Dominican, but with many other nationalities, too. Separately, we spoke about upper Manhattan, which has been important in NY history since the Revolutionary War. I told him I cover it often here writing about the Little Red Lighthouse, underneath the eastern arch of the George Washington Bridge, aka the Great Gray Bridge, and High Bridge, where an original foot-bridge between Manhattan and the Bronx is being restored.

I appreciated that in introducing Snyder my longtime book biz friend, Christopher Kerr, who reps Cornell University Press, voiced a brief shout-out to me, evoking the years I lived in Washington Heights, when amid the ravages of the crack epidemic, the nabe was too often known most for its high crime rate. Actually, my part of the Heights had little crime, and I was able to pay less than $600 per month rent, in 1985, for a comfortable 2nd floor apartment in a 6-story building. I also had the good fortune to buy furniture and bookcases from the daughter of the German-Jewish woman who’d brought them from Germany decades earlier. I still have the bookcases today, though I moved to the upper west side of Manhattan in 1990.

The second author last night was Emily St. John Mandel, a novelist with Canadian roots, having grown up in western BC, who then lived in Montreal. I met her briefly during BEA in 2013, at a Greenwich Village reception sponsored by the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC). I recalled last night that she said then she was finishing a manuscript, now completed, titled Station Eleven. Each of her three previous novels has received great reviews, like this comment about her debut book, from an erudite bookseller/reader at Rainy Day Books, a top indie bookstore in Kansas City, KS.

Last Night in Montreal took me by surprise in the most wonderful ways….From the very first chapter, I was drawn in to her provocative, delicately grim world full of wanderlust, betrayal, and the quest for answers. Each of [Mandel's] deliciously real characters are searching for answers to the questions of their lives, compelled to hunt them out no matter how shocking or painful those answers may be. Mandel’s novel, though relatively short, amazed me with its intricacies and complexities. As days go by, I find myself thinking of more and more reasons I so loved [it].”—Elizabeth Lewis, Rainy Day Books

St. John Mandel’s new novel will be published September 9 by Knopf in the US, then separately in North America by Harper Canada, and Picador in the UK.  I’d expect there will also be foreign language editions. It’s a very impressive book, and she spoke about it beautifully. St. John Mandel began by explaining that she’s always loved reading post-apocalyptic fiction, like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and she wrote her new novel as a kind of love letter to the present, a meditation on what we would miss most if all that we’re used to went away, and what we would long for most keenly. In literature, she imagined that the sudden subtraction from our midst of the works of Shakespeare would be one of our greatest losses, so she conceived a traveling theater troupe who continue performing Shakespeare’s plays, even while the world around them is withering away. She had me at theatre troupe, as I quickly remembered novels I’ve enjoyed, like Robertson Davies’ early book Tempest-Tost, about a community group putting on “The Tempest,” and the funny, ribald, and wrenching Canadian TV series Slings & Arrows, which features recurring characters in a theater company staging “Hamlet,” “Macbeth,” and “King Lear” over three seasons. For the apocalyptic part, on the subway downtown, I’d been reading a battered copy of Nevil Shute’s post-nuclear classic, On the Beach, so you can imagine I was immediately eager to begin Emily’s book, leaving Shute’s book in my knapsack on the ride home. Station Eleven was a Buzz Book at BEA in May but I had missed the presentation given about it then by her Knopf editor, Jennifer Jackson, who introduced her author last night and has written an eloquent ode to the book for booksellers that’s printed in the ARC. On the subway I found myself immediately captured by the wistful voice and St. John Mandel’s exquisite sentence-making, where prop snowflakes stand in for the creeping coldness falling all around us.

Here are pictures from last night’s enjoyable reception, with thanks to all the booksellers, publishers, reps, sponsors, hosts, and authors.

* I was excited to discover on the Wachtung Booksellers’ website that NY Times reporter Harvey Araton—whose novel Cold Type I picked up at BEA, and which I loved reading, making it my #FridayReads on June 14—will be at the store in Montclair for a signing on July 23. I hear Montclair is a great town for books and reading.

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July 8th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels; Publishing & Bookselling

Remembering Earl I. Turner, February 7, 1918-July 8, 1992

Earl I. Turner, Moraigne Lake, Canadian Rockies, July 1982My father Earl I. Turner, about whom I’ve previously written on this blog, died twenty-two years ago today. Recently, my sister Pamela Turner found a letter Earl gave to his three children when we as a family (Pamela; our brother Joel; Earl, mom, Sylvia; and myself) began operating Undercover Books, on May 4, 1978. His letter is kind of an ethical will, full of wisdom, and I invite you to read it for yourself.

Earl Turner letter, May 8, 1978

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June 15th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Philip Turner Book Productions; Publishing & Bookselling

One More BEA in the Books—2014 Edition

I’ve noticed we live now in an age of reunions, with various landmarks in our lives regularly memorialized. There are invitations to school reunions, throw-back Thursdays in our social networks (aka #tbt), and much (re)greeting and (re-)meeting at occasions related to our professions. Most recent among these for me was Book Expo America (BEA), held in NYC May 28-31 at the Javits Center.

I’ve been attending the annual book convention most years since 1978, when I got started in the book business with Undercover Books, the bookstore chain I ran with my siblings and our parents until 1985, when I came to NY and began working in publishing. Over the past ten years BEA has almost always been held in NY, though in earlier decades the book industry held its trade show in Chicago, New Orleans, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Dallas, Anaheim, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. For a long time the event was called ABA, until the American Booksellers Association, the trade group of indie booksellers that ran it, sold the show to Reed Exhibitions, a corporation that runs such conventions. The regular meetings with many of the same people over many years accounts in part for the warmth and chumminess that makes the book business such a special field to work in.

A hunger for human connections, for friends new and old, in business and in our lives, has long been part of human nature, and I believe it’s increasing. Our society is in the third decade of the Internet, with more and more virtuality in our lives all the time, so true human contact is welcomed, especially with the economic stresses so many live with, leading us to crave actually seeing old friends and establish new relationships, giving us a chance to speak of our latest enterprises and tell our personal stories, while listening to those of our friends and counterparts. I think this appetite for the actual is also responsible for the growth I’ve noticed in the field of educational conferences—public events that have thematic programming, and often quite interesting public speakers, who may speak on their own, often with projected slides, or as part of panels with multiple speakers in conversation.

I think this also helps explain why a company for which I consult, ExpertFile.com has made a good business for itself the past few years. I began working with them after I met CEO Peter Evans at Digital Book World in 2011, when they were known as SpeakerFile. One of the areas in which they’d established themselves was to help meeting planners connect with the right speakers for each event, sort of like an eHarmony for the conference industry. In their name change ExpertFile identifies the gaining of expertise as a great need of modern professionals. They still work in the conference area, but now concentrate on helping organizations amplify and promote their in-house talent through online expert centers created with ExpertFile’s unique software, enabling members of the media, businesspeople, and conference organizers to discover these uniquely talented people. During BEA, I was tweeting tech stories from the floor that I found compelling, like this one.

I note that during the recession, while so many industries floundered or sunk, conferences (like Aspen Institute, TED, TEDx, and Digital Book World flourished). Though O’Reilly and F&W Media shuttered Tools of Change after 2013, they still run a bunch of other conferences. By contrast, it must be said that the convention business—with events like BEA, where attendees still stroll aisles of booths set up by exhibitors—is relatively weak. BEA is trying to affiliate itself with more programmed events, but at its core it’s still been a trade show with floor exhibits mounted mostly by, in our case, publishers. Significantly, in 2013, and again this year, BEA has on its last day opened the show to the reading and bookbuying public—fans of authors—an inevitable evolution that I endorse. This latter part of BEA is now called BookCon, and Shelf Awareness reports that next year Reed will extend the the convention by a day, into Sunday with a second day of BookCon. This move, mixing an industry show with a consumer show, echoes ComicCon, a very successful show in Reed’s line-up. This year BookCon seemed to go very well, with more than 10,000 members of the reading public buying tickets and attending, as you’ll see from some photos below.

I’m going to reserve my book and publisher commentary for the captions accompanying the pictures below, most of them taken by Kyle Gallup, my wife, a painter, and Managing Editor of Philip Turner Book Productions.

Before that, I’ll say I’ve already read and enjoyed one book I got at Book Expo, Harvey Araton’s newspaper novel, Cold Type, which I made my #FridayReads this past weekend. I also want to add an observation that despite the continuing struggles of book publishing, it was actually quite an upbeat convention. Business has stabilized since the depths of the recession, and people are tired of feeling lousy, and talking as if the earth’s going to swallow us all. And, business has definitely gotten better in some areas. Also, many bookpeople I know were heartened this year by the fact that Amazon is taking it on the chin in many quarters of the press and in public opinion for their quarrel with Hachette over wholesale discount policies that the Seattle company is reportedly trying to dictate to the publisher. I don’t know when or how the standoff will end, but it makes many bookpeople, including me, feel good, or a bit better, to see the shine on Amazon’s reputation get tarnished a bit. With that, I’ll say I enjoyed I seeing many old friends, and making new ones at this year’s BEA. If you there were, dear reader, and we somehow didn’t bump in to each other, I hope you had a good convention, and I hope to see you next year. Here are many of the pictures Kyle and I took:

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June 14th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Publishing & Bookselling

#FridayReads, Harvey Araton’s Newspaper Novel, COLD TYPE

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#FridayReads, Harvey Araton’s newspaper novel, COLD TYPE, being published July 2014.

Memorable and likable characters dominate this realistic and very enjoyable novel by longtime New York Times sports reporter Araton, who also spent years at the NY Daily News. The progtagonist is Jamie Kramer, son of Morris, a longtime printer and union member at a NY paper called the Sun, which has recently been acquired by a marauding Anglo-Irish press baron, Leland Brady. Jamie works at the paper, too, though his one big story, on covert policies in his native Brooklyn that limit the sale of real estate to white people, a well-reported expose, earned him nothing but trouble. He hasn’t received the laurels bestowed on his hotshot cousin, Steven, a heroic columnist, at least in his own eyes. The book is set during a newspaper strike, apparently resembling in some respects a strike that occurred at the Daily News in the early 1990s. Araton makes entirely believeable the tension among the eight different unions striking the paper, triggered by the intemperate drivers.

Other characters include Jamie’s wife, Karyn, from whom he’s separated; their son, two-year old Aaron; and Jamie’s Latina colleague Carla, a savvy ally in the newsroom, and a sympathetic soul who knows Jamie’s secrets, even while she has many of her own. One subplot concerns Karyn, who’s in the midst of being recruited by a talkative entrepreneur in Seattle who’s starting a new business selling books on the Internet, still so new at this point in the ’90s. He even wants to recruit Jamie, who wants desperately to maintain a connection to Aaron, and so flirts with the idea of moving across the country. Araton never gives this Jeff-Bezos avatar a name but he hardly needed to do so. One irony that Araton doesn’t seem to have anticipated for his novel is that Bezos is now himself a newspaper owner, of the Washington Post, an inheritor of the world that Jamie Kramer and his father inhabit.

I will say very little about the ending, except that it’s a treat, as just desserts are served all ’round. This is a really enjoyable, sort of old-fashioned novel, offering a social portrait and a really rich story. Kudos to Mr Araton and Cinco Puntos Press, of El Paso, Texas, for writing and publishing this worthy novel. Thanks to Bobby Byrd of Cinco Puntos, who at BEA gave me the autographed copy I finished reading today. I’m going to be recommending COLD TYPE for weeks.

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April 23rd, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; News, Politics & History; Publishing & Bookselling

Neal Gabler’s Reporting for the NY Times Lends Credence to Ben Urwand’s “The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact w/Hitler”

Collaboration coverFirst, a refresher for readers who may not have seen several posts I wrote last fall I wrote about the revelatory book The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler by Ben Urwand, Junior Fellow of Harvard’s Society of Fellows, published by Harvard University Press:

In one of those posts I had questioned what I saw as biased commentary on, unfair reviews of, and some weird carping about Urwand’s thorough, careful, and unsensational book about the failure of Hollywood moguls, most of them Jewish, to do much of anything to save Jews in Europe during WWII.

David Denby in The New Yorker had a shockingly censorious piece urging that the book be taken out of circulation until Urwand had revised it. Were such steps ever taken it would be an appalling abuse of free speech, violating the moral right of authors writing history to follow documentary evidence and publish their interpretation of events as they’ve come to understand them. The jaded Denby also claimed that much of what’s in the book was already known, but this missed the point: even if Denby’s post was accurate, can there no new or alternative interpretations of previously examined events, even plural interpretations, arrived at in good faith.  Moreover, though, Urwand’s sources included archives and business records that no English-speaking historian had ever worked with, so how could the book have failed to contain new material? Denby never addressed those points, as I read him.

The push-back against Urwand’s book included attacks on him by Alicia Mayer, grand-niece of mogul Louis B. Mayer, who wrote on her website: “I need your help. Imagine for a moment that your family has been accused of collaborating with Hitler and the Nazis.” I urged media outlets to cover her accusations skeptically, taking into account her obvious personal stake in seeing that her great-uncle remain untainted by a critical historian. Another blogger critical of Urwand thought it somehow relevant to question his degree of observance as a Jew because it had been reported he ate a (non-kosher) lobster salad during an interview with a journalist.

Following my posts about Urwand and his book, his publicity tour brought him to the Museum of Tolerance in NYC on October 17, where I went to hear him lecture and meet him in person. The mid-30s Australian scholar’s talk was particularly illuminating, and personal. He began by explaining that he had actually been working on an academic thesis, about Hitler’s taste in movies, information that’s accessible because of Nazi records stating what he showed for himself, and guests, in frequent screenings he held.

Working on his paper, Urwand found records showing that, even before Hitler came to power—because of protests and agitation by Nazis with the weak Weimar regime—the German government lodged protests in Hollywood about “All Quiet on the Western Front,” produced by Jewish film executive Carl Laemmle, head of Universal Studios. He was a German-born Jew, by then living in the US. The movie, based on novelist Erich Maria Remarque’s global bestseller, depicted pacifism on the part of German soldiers’ in the WWI drama, inimical to the emerging nationalism and militarism in Germany. This sort of influence, flowing from Germany toward Hollywood—often including successful attempts at meddling in the actual scripting and editing of films—continued during the pre-war years, and then once the war began.

Thanks to the slides Urwand showed, he was able to illustrate the documentary trail of evidence he had followed in his research. A handful of those images may be viewed by clicking here.

After a flurry of coverage last fall about Urwand’s important book, The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitlerthings had quieted down until earlier this month when a lengthy article by film historian Neal Gabler, author of An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood, was published in the New York Times. “Laemmle’s List: A Mogul’s Heroism” reported on the strenuous and often productive efforts of Laemmle to rescue imperiled Jews from Germany.

Though far as I know Gabler holds no special brief for Urwand, his article lends significant support to the thesis of The Collaboration.

For in his piece, Gabler writes,

“It may seem strange that Laemmle alone among the Hollywood chieftains—a group that included Adolph Zukor of Paramount, William Fox, Louis B. Mayer of MGM, Harry Cohn of Columbia and the Warner Brothers—sought to save Jews, since all of those studio heads were Jews themselves and nearly all of them had emigrated from Eastern Europe, over which Hitler was casting his ominous shadow. But almost from the inception of the American film industry, the Hollywood Jews were dedicated to assimilation, not religious celebration. They had come to America to escape their roots, not embrace them.”

It’s a pity that Carl Laemmle died so early in the war, 1939, or I bet he’d have saved yet many more German and European Jews. He was a good-hearted and generous man whose worries about the fate of many of his co-religionists consumed him to the point that his studio work was set aside while he lobbied Hollywood colleagues and such hard-hearted, anti-semitic officials in the US government as Secretary of State Cordell Hull.

I’m hopeful that the appearance of Gabler’s article will move some of Urwand’s critics to reconsider what I view as their reflexive and unreasonable opposition to his book. Watch this blog for further developments.

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April 12th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Publishing & Bookselling

#FridayReads, April 11-Stefan Zweig’s “Letter from an Unknown Woman”

The title story in this collection of four tales of psychological disturbance is built around a mysterious epistle an unnamed author receives, announcing a distant lover’s passion for him that due to his own myopia of many years he learns about, for only the first time. Zweig (1881-1942) was born in Vienna and among many works of short fiction wrote the stories that inspired filmmaker Wes Anderson to make the recently released “Grand Budapest Hotel.” Another collection of Zweig’s work has been selected by Anderson, titled The Society of the Crossed Keys, also translated by Anthea Bell. These books are brought out by Pushkin Press, a London publisher of literature in translation and belles lettres, with newly translated works by writers like Zweig, Alexander Pushkin, Antal Szerb, and many other writers, such as the Catalan author Marc Pastor, whose crime novel Barcelona Shadows I look forward to reading soon. While choosing and translating the books very thoughtfully, they also design very handsome editions, as you can see on this page at their website. Pushkin PressBarcelona Shadows

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April 10th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; News, Politics & History; Publishing & Bookselling

Fearing Lawsuit, Cambridge University Press Pre-emptively Quashes Investigative Book on Vladimir Putin

Out of fear of libel action in the UK, Cambridge University Press has declined to publish a new book by Karen Dawisha, Professor of Political Science at Miami University who had earlier published seven well-regarded books with the scholarly press. As first reported in the Economist, Cambridge judged the book—reportedly chronicling Vladimir Putin’s ties to organized crime—likely to draw a lawsuit by Putin and/or the oligarchs covered in the book. Britain’s libel laws have long been regarded as a friendly haven for claimants crying “libel,” and even after a recent improvement to these laws, Cambridge declined to proceed with the book. In an exchange of emails with the press published by the Economist, Dawisha laments,

“One is left to conclude that the main lesson to prospective authors is not to publish in the UK anything that might be seen as libelous. Leaving aside the amusing thought that using the standards of ‘comfort’ set out in the letter–deftly written, one assumes, by your legal department–even the King James’ Version should probably also have been published outside the UK, I do think the field of political science and Russian studies (but also Middle East studies as evidenced by CUP’s pulping of Alms for Jihad) needs to come to terms with the difficult situation that no empirical work on corruption (and probably many other topics) should be published with a British publisher. Last week the EU and the US Government issued a visa ban and asset freeze on the very inner core that is the subject of my book. Many works will now come out on the makeup of the list and why each individual was placed on it. The answers to these questions are in my book. Isn’t it a pity that the UK is a ‘no-fly’ zone for publishing the truth about this group? These Kremlin-connected oligarchs feel free to buy Belgravia, kill dissidents in Piccadilly with Polonium 210, fight each other in the High Court, and hide their children in British boarding schools. And as a result of their growing knowledge about and influence in the UK, even the most significant British institutions (and I think we can agree that CUP, with its royal charter, 500-year history and recent annual revenues in excess of $400m, is a veritable British institution) cower and engage in pre-emptive book-burnings as a result of fear of legal action.”

Washington Post foreign policy blogger Adam Taylor also covers the fate of Professor Dawisha’s book, publishing an illuminating Q&A with her. Here’s a sample:

Adam Taylor: Are you able to describe any of the new evidence you found or how you found it?

Prof Dawisha: I rely on published sources, especially Russian investigative journalists in the period before press freedom was attacked. Many of these documents and reports disappeared from the Russian Internet, but I have been able to get hold of them. Interviews were used for background only, but lots of them in many countries. As to the details, I would rather people read the book since the cases I cover provide quite a clear picture of Putin’s role.

Adam Taylor: Do you feel like Putin’s St. Petersburg days are especially relevant now, what with the Crimea conflict and the U.S. sanctions against his associates that time?

Prof Dawisha: Absolutely. Almost all the key players, including (Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry) Kozak, who was just named as Putin’s federal representative to Crimea, started together in St. Petersburg. All the people on the sanctions list are key players in my book….

Adam Taylor: What’s your plan for getting the book published now?

Prof Dawisha: I will seek a U.S. publisher, although this decision has certainly cost me time. And it is a pity because this is a story that should come out sooner rather than later.
—–

Like the author I do hope a US publisher will pick up the title for publication here, though the house that does so will have to try and prevent even single copies being shipped to UK customers, lest Putin and his cronies use these sales as a pretext to claim the book has officially been published in the UK, giving them (spurious) grounds to sue the US company.

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April 4th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Publishing & Bookselling

#FridayReads, April 4–A Week for Bookselling & Publishing Memoirs: “Amazonia” by James Marcus & “Stet” by Diane Athill

Amazonia #FridayReads, April 4–AMAZONIA: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot.com Juggernaut by Employee #55, James Marcus’s witty and winning memoir of working at Amazon from 1996-2001, which he published with The New Press in 2004. Having earlier this year read and written about Brad Stone’s THE EVERYTHING STORE: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, which briefly cited Marcus’s book, I also read Marcus’s review of it in Harper’s. I made a point to also read George Packer’s February 2014 New Yorker articles on Amazon, “Cheap Words” and “Amazon and the Perils of Non-Disclosure.” In the latter piece, Packer likens Amazon executives, secure in their Seattle redoubt parceling out only the most limited information about the company, to American officials during the Iraq War confined to Baghdad’s Green Zone who only shared information that suggested the war was going great. I found this analogy quite striking, and suggested, that at least from Packer’s perspective, things may not be going so well for the retail “juggernaut.” Seeing that Marcus was a quoted source for Packer, Marcus’s book has been squarely on my radar for a few months, so I’m glad now to have gotten a copy and begun reading it. It’s immediately enjoyable, with Marcus chronicling the decidedly weird and geeky culture of Amazon and his first meeting with Bezos, when the Amazon founder asked him to “explain a complicated process in as simple a manner as possible.” Humor is sprinkled throughout, as when he begins his new editorial job by writing a 45-word spiel on the seafaring novels of Patrick O’Brian.Amazonia back

I’m also reading STET: An Editor’s Life, Diane Athill’s London publishing memoir spanning the end of WWII 40s to the 90s with Andre Deutsch Ltd. Athill knew and edited many great writers, including Brian Moore and Mordecai Richler for several of their early books. She recounts having also published Philip Roth’s first novel, LETTING GO, which did well enough that they were going to make an offer on his second book, WHEN SHE WAS GOOD. I love the way she presents this embarrassment:

Stet “[We] decided to calculate the advance on precisely what we reckoned the book would sell–which I think was 4,000 copies at the best–and that [offer] was not accepted. As far as I know WHEN SHE WAS GOOD was not a success–but the next novel Philip wrote was PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT.

This space represents a tactful silence.”

 

These are illuminating and humorous recollections, gossipy but never malicious, coupled with a wise presentation of editing essentials. She’s also a very endearing narrator. I heard a lot of good things about this publishing memoir when it came out in 2000, and bought it on a trip to a Bay Area publishing sales conference back then. I’m glad I’ve finally made time to read it.Stet

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