Thursday, August 29, 2019

Here's to the Small Books

As we roll toward the fall publishing season of "big" new books, big predestined bestsellers, the next big thing, etc., I would just like to say...

Here’s to the small books, the unsung writers, the unreviewed, the unbought and unawarded, the authors and poets quietly refashioning form from the margins and undaunted by the unlikeliness of success let alone a living.

Here’s to the denizens of the disappearing midlist and their beautiful literary disappointments. Here’s to those at the bottom of the Bookscan barrel.

Here’s to the readers who write and who hope to write, the keepers of commonplace books, the worried ones haunting their neighborhood independent and holding out against Amazon.

Here’s to the editors standing sentinel for the living voice, who circumvent or defy the deadening sales conference. Here’s to the individual publishers carrying more than their weight in a march to keep the word alive, even and especially where the profit potential is nil.

Here’s to the authors who help, especially the authors who have the means or hold a megaphone and turn these to the work of encouraging, supporting, and sustaining the less lucky.

Here’s to the writers who teach in order to instill creative freedom, clarity of thought, a spirit of experimentation, & a fidelity to voice & form however unconventional. Here’s to the small literary magazines & the volunteers who produce them for the pure love of literature.

Here’s to the literary souls who staff our independent bookstores and who, for every predestined bestseller, strive to lift up 10 small unlikely works.

Here’s to the unnominated, the unconnected, the unincluded and uninvited best of the best working without encouragement or reward. You’re there, you’re for real, you keep us going.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Honorable Obscurity, John Steinbeck Edition: "A Little Miserable Popularity"

John Steinbeck to his literary agent Elizabeth Otis, 1935:
"Curious that this second-rate book [Tortilla Flat], written for relaxation, should cause this fuss. In your dealings you need make no compromise at all for financial considerations as far as we are concerned. Too many people are trapped into promises by gaudy offers...we've gone through too damned much trying to keep the work honest and in a state of improvement to let it slip now in consideration of a little miserable popularity. I'm scared to death of popularity. It has ruined everyone I know...I suppose it is bad tactics but I am refusing the usual things--the radio talks, the autograph racket, the author's afternoons and the rest of the clutter--politely, I hope, but firmly."

Steinbeck to Joseph Henry Jackson, 1935. Upon learning that Tortilla Flat had won the gold metal for best novel from the Commonwealth Club of California, Steinbeck insisted that he could not attend the awards dinner:
"Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. The most I have had to dodge has been a literary tea or an invitation from a book shop to lecture and autograph. This is the first and God willing the last prize I shall ever win.
     The whole early part of my life was poisoned with egotism, a reverse egotism, of course, beginning with self-consciousness. And then gradually I began to lose it.
     In the last few books I have felt a curious richness as though my life had been multiplied through having been identified in a most real way with people who were not me. I have loved that. And I am afraid, terribly afraid, that if the bars ever go down, if I become a trade mark, I shall lose the ability to do that. When I do I shall stop working because it won't be fun anymore.
     This is not clear, concise, objective thinking, but I have never been noted for any of those things. If I were a larger person I would be able to do this and come out of it untouched. But I am not...I have no social gifts and practically no social experience..."