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Senator Josh Hawley versus Simon & Schuster

What if they are both wrong?

Remember when I said I was going to leave politics to my personal site? Yeah, I lied.

Speaking of Senator Hawley, regarding his spat with Simon & Schuster

After witnessing the disturbing, deadly insurrection that took place on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., Simon & Schuster has decided to cancel publication of Senator Josh Hawley’s forthcoming book, THE TYRANNY OF BIG TECH.  We did not come to this decision lightly. As a publisher it will always be our mission to amplify a variety of voices and viewpoints: at the same time we take seriously our larger public responsibility as citizens, and cannot support Senator Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat to our democracy and freedom.

And the Senator responds:

What if they are both wrong? I think S&S, whose books I enjoy, should publish the book.  I think the last sentence above makes little sense.  Either you are open to a variety of voices or you are not.  Publishing the book of a politician doesn’t mean you support their election or their views.  I am not a fan of Hawley or his recent actions but canceling his contract will just make him a martyr to certain people and allow him to sell more books at Regnery or someplace like it.

The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri

I stumbled on The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri (Goodreads rating: 4 of 5 stars) at the library and read it in one sitting.  A lecture turned book(let), it was nevertheless interesting to read an author’s thoughts on book covers and to ruminate on their role, impact, etc.  It is not something the average reader probably thinks a lot about even as it may play a large role in the books they buy and read.  Book covers have an impact in ways obvious and less so.  There are elements that we consciously look for and those we don’t think about or may not even be aware of.

There are informational elements like reading jackets for basic plot or subject outline, for blurbs and descriptions from authors we may know, to know which book in a series this one might be, etc.  There are also graphical elements that catch our eye; maybe a particular style or artist we like or just the design and feel of a book may speak to us.  Covers send signals about books in ways that we might not pick up on too.  A particular style may signal science fiction or mystery or romance and this signal may or may not comport with the actual words that lie within. We may be drawn to books for reason we can’t really articulate.

Few would deny, however, that covers play an important role in the books we buy and read.  Which is why I imagine they are so problematic for authors.  Having put their heart and soul into the text they must then hand over something so critical in the ultimate success of that text to someone else.  Lahiri describes how frustrating and disheartening she finds this process.  In a related way she discusses the role of classics, or those books allowed to be positioned as such, by inclusion in a publishing series that removes this aspect; such as the Library of America, the Modern Library or Everyman’s Library series.  Apparently in Europe these type of editorial series more often include contemporary authors and aren’t reserved for those deemed “classics.”

I will admit that I am influenced quite a bit by book covers; in ways both graphic and informational (and how the two seem to connect or work together).  But I am also drawn to collections of classics and own quite a few of the above mentioned series.  Interestingly enough, I find these type of series, with their elegance and quality, appealing textually and aesthetically.  And not surprisingly, Lahiri notes that inclusion in these types of series is seen as an award or prize in itself; to be included means the work is worth this sort of attention and quality.

There is a tension involved in the way that books are packaged and sold that can’t really be resolved.  In some ways, we want the text to stand on its own; the words to have the meaning and to be judge on their own.  And yet it is not so easy to separate books from their covers; to disconnect the words from the package.  For many, the cover of a particular edition of a favorite book is part of the memory and experience of that book; the words are irreparably connected to the cover and vice versa.  And it is a basic aspect of marketing that in a world flooded with books all the tools of the trade will be brought to bear in causing readers and buyers to pick a particular book from that flood.  We need covers to differentiate and help curate books for us to prevent us from being overwhelmed with choices.

As the above might indicate, if anything Lahiri could have written much, much more on this fascinating topic.  If you are looking for a deep dive on the topic, this book is probably not for you.  But if you enjoy a well written but brief rumination on the topic from an author then you will enjoy it for what it is methinks.  I did.

The Journey of the Penguin by Emiliano Ponzi

If you are a literary nerd (I mean that in a good way, honest), a fan of publishers, or just fascinated by book illustration you will want to check out The Journey of the Penguin by Emiliano Ponzi:

To celebrate 80 years of Penguin Books, a charming picture book that tells the imagined story of the penguin who waddled his way into history as the symbol of a beloved publisher

A lonely Antarctic penguin, dreaming of adventure, sets off on a long swim north. Arriving at last in London in 1935, he encounters the chance of a lifetime: auditions are on to find the face of a brand new publishing house. The penguin wins, of course, and so begins an adventure that takes him on to New York and into the hearts of readers around the world.

In The Journey of the Penguin, award-winning graphic artist Emiliano Ponzi delivers a boldly illustrated, wildly imaginative, and terrifically fun story—told entirely through image—that brings to life the “dignified yet flippant” bird chosen eighty years ago by Allen Lane as the name and icon of his revolutionary publishing business. With cameo appearances by legendary Penguin authors including Jack Kerouac, Arthur Miller, and Dorothy Parker, this exquisite, one-of-a-kind book celebrates the enduring appeal of storytelling.

The illustrations really are wonderful and the book sparks the imagination as the reader must tell the story in their own way based only on pictures rather than text.  There is a simplicity and elegance about the illustrations.  Yet, it is interesting how much action and emotion can be conveyed within that simplicity.

journey-of-the-penguin-picame-4

As I said, fans of Penguin Books, Ponzi, and/or publishing and illustration in general would enjoy this gem.

Question for publishers and publicists (and authors):

Are reviews at Goodreads and Amazon as valuable as blog posts?

Let’s say, hypothetically, someone didn’t want to write blog posts anymore. Would publishers send said person books if they posted reviews on Goodreads, Amazon and/or other assorted retail establishments or social media channels?

(if you don’t want to comment publicly you can use the Contact Form)

Jonah Goldberg on writing a book

The problem, you see, is that people who don’t write books don’t know what an unending, unyielding ass-ache they are. I’d compare them to a non-stop flight in a middle seat between John Goodman’s sweaty former body double who’s now jobless because he “let himself go” and a runny-nosed, cotton-candy-loving small child who is hard to distinguish from a deadly pathogen vector.

But I can’t make that comparison — because writing a book is worse than that. You see there’s nothing “non-stop” about writing a book save the constant yearning to either reach the destination or the unending sound of the siren on your shoulder counseling you to give up and beach the ship. Even though you’re often surrounded by people, you’re always alone in that community-of-one called “the author of your unfinished book.”

It’s more like a years-long journey with constant layovers, cancelled planes, and rerouting through Newark. Every time you push away from the keyboard, it’s like deplaning just long enough to see if Wolfgang Puck Express has finally decided to more accurately rename itself “Bowel Stewery on the Go.”

I know what you’re thinking right now: “Stewery isn’t a word.” To which I ask, “That’s your objection to this rant?”

Jonah Goldberg in today’s G-file

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