Here we are- approaching another Book Expo in a year when more and more readers are using the Kindle, Nook or iPad, and fewer and fewer companies are distributing print galleys or the like.
In addition, since we started following publishing as writers, lawyers collectors and students of the industry, the number of publishing stalwarts has shrunk to a half dozen megacorporations where every title has to be separately financially justified(no longer can the big sellers be depended on to support the midlist), and if you read Andre Schiffrin's brilliant works, including The Business of Books, rhe number of bookshops in major metropolitan areas has shrunk by 90%- This happened even before the full flowering of the net,Amazon and e-books. The high rents in places like Manhattan have turned the neighborhood bookshop into a relic of the past in a ghost town virtually devoid of bookstores. Only the Strand and McNally Jackson seem to be thriving.Brooklyn calls of course!
Still, one cannot suppress the excitement of meeting one's former colleagues and seeing them go through the motions of hawking and grinding out the literature and publicity for this fall's new title list.
We, as usual, are particularly interested in seeing Dalkey Archive, the New Press, and those University Presses still able to afford a booth in the somewhat antiquated Javits Center, as well as the mainstream publishers of books like Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie's memoir of life under the fatwa after the publication of his Satanic Verses in late 1988.(Joseph Anton was a pseudonym he chose while on the run, using the first names of Conrad and Chekhov.)
And, after all, despite the appalling of lack of fiction in translation, America is still a place where a huge number of titles are published each year in a climate of general press freedom, although authors of books that espouse a more fundamental radical view of the society are sometimes ignored by the establishment - but we suppose that's better than being harassed and surveilled, no?
Just a short mention of two recently released titles-Death Sentences, by Kawamata Chiaka, and published by The University of Minnesota, which has a seriously intellectual publishing program.Here the sharing of a surrealist poem over time kills its readers, a theme close to William Burrough's concept of language as a virus, and picked by recently in a similar contxt by Ben Marcus in his most recent novel The Flame Alphabet. See also the brilliant riff of a secret language coded for death in Delillo's mesmerizing "The Names"
The other book is by David Talbot, founder of Salon-it's a complulsively entertaining valentine to San Francisco, The Season of the Witch about Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City by the Bay- A wondrous romp from Janis Joplin and the Diggers through the SLA, Patty Hearst, Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple and the tragic intersection of George Mosconi Harvey MIlk and Dan White-, ending with the bonding together in the Super Bowl victories engineered by Bill Walsh for the San Francisco 49ers. Just whipping through the book reminds one of how far ahead of our Eastern metropolitan culture is this city on the Bay.