Wednesday, September 23, 2009

In Memoriam

Working with Will Powers has been one of the great gifts of my career. I’m not sure publishing allows for the kind of all-encompassing skill and talent that Will brought to his work any more than other trades do (think of the gifts Will would have brought to the job had he been a professional chef, carpenter, architect, doctor—Oh, they would all have to do with the hands!) but Will’s passions were perfectly suited to our field: his passion for the book arts, of course; the pursuit of intellectual pleasure; the democracy of the word. And, it seems to me, most of all, the discovery of the best in people.

Like many editors, I am a master in the art of no. Show me your prize and I’ll find a way to reject it or tear it apart and have it completely redone. But Will was a master in the Art of Yes. Yes, the budget is tight, but we can do this. Yes, that schedule is crunched, but we can do this. Yes, that text is a conundrum of words and maps and charts and translations, but we can do this. I got so jazzed bringing a unique problem Will’s way and watching him solve it: Hey Will, looks like we’ve got an Arabic publisher interested in our English edition of the Swedish Moberg titles. What say? And then I’d receive e-mails, typed so hard and fast I could hear his fingers hitting the keyboard like an old newsroom reporter on a Smith Corona. I’d have queries and solutions and links to New York Times articles and then maybe a day or two later a sample, borrowed from the local library.

Theologian Sally McFague writes often about the “loving eye” (versus the “arrogant eye") and “to see the world as it is.” Loving it as it is. In that regard Will holds my highest admiration. Being able to see the world as it is, with loving eyes, and engaging it so thoroughly, well, it seems to me that is the Art of Yes. Even if you didn’t know Monk’s music or Marcella Hazan’s recipes or the difference between Bodoni and Baskerville, he would aim to find common ground.

I suppose for Will and me, beyond making beautiful books together, our common ground was storytelling. I’m not a great cook or a music aficionado but I love people and so did Will. I had such fun sharing stories with Will about our working-class beginnings, our travels around these States--bars and restaurants and shop floors filled with noble citizens and troubled misfits alike. I had hoped he might write his own book someday and was prodding him to think about it. It’s clear now that we don’t need that book to get what we need, what we want from his life well lived. It’s clear that his passion is all around us. It’s clear we’ll all aim to see a little more of this world with those loving eyes, with an enthusiasm for common ground, with a hope that we, too, will master the Art of Yes.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Big Fall Shows

Here it is, the first day of Autumn, 2009. Our fantastic late fall weather has shifted in the last twenty-four hours and and today it is cool, overcast, still. I could build a fire in the fireplace today and it wouldn't seem out of place.

When I'm lazy I pull out my laptop and browse through things, never quite landing a serious eye on anything, catching words only briefly, lingering over pretty pictures. It's like the channel surfing of the nineties: flip, flip, flip, pause--nah, flip, flip . Sometimes I flip through the Etsy website; sometimes I flip through GearJunkie. This week I've been flipping through fall fashion pictures from all the big shows. You'd think I'd attend to my own fashion more the way I'm drawn to those fashion shots. But they are simply eye-candy, for the moment. And always, I'm a little like my German/Indian grandmother, finding fault first before I praise the entirety. The big shows are always over the top and for a sensible Midwest woman, there is always something to fault. Big gory eye makeup, weird flaps and zippers, and this year, superbly clunky shoes, gladiator-style with lifts and wraps and chunks. Gladiator mid-ankle boots, chunk bootlets, strapped, bootie stilletos. You just know that if you wore any one of them everyone on the bus would stare at you.

It's amusing how just when I'm ready to pull out my fall sweaters and wool pants, I'm catching the spring looks on the runway. In fall, they show spring. In spring, they show fall.

We do somewhat the same in the book world. It gives the buyers of this world a chance to work ahead of the consumer. This week we're working on our spring catalog; all book covers need to be done by October 15. But our fall show, the midwest regional trade show, showcases our current fall books; the publishing world is a lot more "just in time." The books are out--and came out as early as August--but this is the time we handsell the books to our trade accounts, our independent bookstore partners throughout the five-state area. We bring in authors, give away books, talk up promotional plans for the holiday season, and take orders. Pre-orders for this season look stronger for our frontlist than they did last season, despite all the conservative practices of the entire industry this year. Blue is the new black, I hear. But really, frugality is the new black. Everyone wants to get out of the red and into the black.

The big fall shows are happening everywhere, some just in time and some pushing the season ahead. Push-push. College campuses are revved up with the "prospie" tours, hoping to sell their best features to the high school juniors and seniors touring their top five choices. Even health care has its push-push, its high-selling season. November is typically open enrollment for managed health care. And just as soon as we pull off Halloween, the Christmas push-push will be on full steam ahead.

Despite all the big fall shows, the thing I tend to like about fall is that by nature it signals a slowing down, at least for a city girl like me (that is, I haven't crops to pull in, produce to put up). It might last only a few weeks, before the holiday hubabub, but the first days of fall are just made for lingering. Poets might say this is the wistfulness of fall, where we mourn another summer gone by. But I've always loved the coming of winter, the beauty of things turning and closing down for the night. We talked over drinks on Frost's patio last night and all agreed we have no trouble falling asleep at night. We're tired. We've pushed enough for the day. Clean sheets on soft skin and plump pillows and we're happy as clams. Fall is like the sweet hour before sleep comes on. Ahhh.