Wonder Woman 1984, the latest DC Comics film set in the Washington, D.C. of the 1980s, offers viewers a glimpse of the ghosts of bookstores past. Look closely and you can pick out storefront signs for Waldenbooks (RIP 2011) and B. Dalton Bookseller (RIP 2013). This is Wonder Woman, pre-Amazon.
Despite the archival feel, rumors of the book market’s death have been greatly exaggerated. The book is dead? Long live the book!
Our little book publishing start-up is built on our belief in the importance of books in every form — print, ebooks and audiobooks. We’re in good company.
The Economist’s forecast edition for 2021 devotes not one but two full-length articles to the resurgence of books. “Books bounce back,” the editors announce. Seems we are experiencing a boom in print not seen since 2004, in those pre-iPhone days when George W. Bush was re-elected President. Fast-forward, Obama’s new memoir, amazingly, tied up printers and kept readers riveted throughout the fall and winter. Next, those gurus at The Economist also predict “a literary outbreak” of Covid-19 fiction. I am both intrigued and skeptical.
This year Clyde Hill Publishing invested in the future of books, doubling-down on my belief in further democratizing the printed word. We are now aligned with the North Carolina-based, Duke University inspired tech firm, Trado. Trado is built on enabling voice-to-book technology. Imagine authors who do not yet realize they are authors, publishing their life stories and lessons in greater numbers, with fewer obstacles. Read more about Trado here.
There’s still a direct line from Gutenberg’s printing press that got all of this literary democratization started and today’s publishers and retail bookstores who are sustaining this fundamental belief in the importance of spreading knowledge and sharing ideas. Start-ups like Trado will take storytelling and publishing into the next generation.
Meanwhile, 2020 was a pleasantly productive year for me, literarily speaking. I did a lot of writing of my own. More on that another time. I also decided to stop pretending that I had read, really read, some seminal classics, like Don Quixote, Beowulf and Canterbury Tales. That’s right, I finally read them, carefully. I loved the new translations of Beowulf and Canterbury Tales. No comment on Quixote. (Stick with the theatrical version of the man from La Mancha. Blasphemy, for sure.) In leaning toward the backlist, I was right in line with prevailing trends: during Covid many of us caught up on some serious reading of time-tested classics.
Still, I delighted in a number of new titles, books that publishers must have released with trepidation in 2020 given lockdowns and other distractions. Book promotion this year was both a strategic and technological challenge.
For me, this was the year of the Künstlerroman and the Bildungsroman. The Germans have a way with words. The Kuenstlerroman is about an artist’s growth to maturity. The Bildungsroman is the artist’s coming-of-age story. The Kuenstlerroman is a sub-genre of the Bildungsroman.
Here are a few of my highlights:
A few years ago, I found myself with a free weekend in Buenos Aires. How to spend the time? Years earlier I had read about Argentina’s great libraries and decided to devote the entire weekend to visiting them. I saw all of the grand ones, but I had found an obscure article about the former national librarian’s personal office – Jorge Luis Borges — in an outlying neighborhood. On the day I visited, the library was closed, but I knocked anyway and negotiated my way upstairs to his old office, now memorialized. Borges is the blind Argentinian librarian and celebrated author of Ficciones. He kept a small office on the roof of the neighborhood library, where I luxuriated in a conversation with the head librarian. Borges and Me is a literary memoir about a more intimate encounter with Borges. The poet Jay Parini, while studying at St. Andrews in Scotland, was asked to drive Borges on a tour of the country, and along the way they learned from one another about life and literature. I loved Graham Greene’s Monsignor Quixote, which chronicles a similar driving tour involving an errant priest and a communist mayor. Road trips are so much fun.
Talk about a road trip. The Grapes of Wrath, more than Kerouac and Thelma and Louise, created the genre. Ok, I guess there is that road to Damascus story. As a born and bred Okie, Steinbeck holds a special place for me. Souder introduces us to the personal and literary life of John Steinbeck, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Steinbeck’s deep love and understanding of his region and its people provided a muse for a memoir that I am writing about those who stayed behind in Oklahoma. (This year I read a lot of memoirs, but none better than Patti Smith’s Just Kids.)
In the midst of a global pandemic and its resulting economic consequences, Keynes has resurfaced as a guiding light for the post-Trump era. This biography is Keynes’ journey to one of the important public intellectuals of the last century. His public finance acumen played a vital role in bridging Europe’s transition from World War I to World War II, but it was his proximity to British literary lights like Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury set that captivated me. Keynes lived in two worlds, literary and public policy. He also lived in two worlds in terms of his sexuality. Keynes our interest and curiosity in these 2020s.
I have traveled widely and written extensively about India. Nearby Persia has intrigued me since my high school years in 1979 when my best friend emigrated to Dallas, Texas, from Teheran. Except for a love of cricket, Pakistan has eluded me. Thankfully, Declan Walsh offers a fast-paced, colorful history of Pakistan that fills in many gaps and helps us to appreciate the country’s role in our world.
Prove me wrong, but Barack Obama is the only writer to serve as President. Yes, I know, Thomas Jefferson wrote elegantly. Ulysses Grant wrote a lauded memoir. Kennedy, with the aid of Ted Sorensen, won a Pulitzer and wrote speeches for the ages. But Tales of My Father and now A Promised Land rival the very best of American political memoir. It would be easy for Obama to attract an enormous advance and produce only an abbreviated set of policy papers and polished personal autobiography. Instead, he opens up about his marriage, youthful drug use and emotions more than most authors I ghostwrite for.
I’ve always enjoyed mythology but I’ve also struggled mightily to understand the relationships between and among The Second Order, the primoridials and The Olympians of Greek Mythology. Stephen Fry finally solved the puzzle for me in his often hilarious and always accessible collection of stories about the gods. Writers and editors will appreciate the categories and inter-relationships of ethos, powers and rivalries.
A tech guy in Boston recommended this to me. I’ve long been a fan of John McPhee’s New Yorker’s articles and so I gamely bought a copy, never expecting to complete it. Stephen King’s On Writing, Robert Caro’s Working and other writerly wisdom has been fun to peruse but McPhee’s book is essential. Tech guys love structure, schemas, and this book opens with an early chapter on structure. I loved it because McPhee draws diagrams of his books’ structures. Not all diagrams are linear. Some are circular. I heard an editor this year ask an author if his book was modular or sequential. It was a good question. There are chapters on elicitation and omission, but the penultimate chapter, entitled Draft No. 4, should be taught in every writing course and read by every writing student. The number four is not so important but the sequencing of and vocabular for drafts of long-form, complex writing is so important.
I must reveal that this has been a year of poetry for me. Auden’s humor and caustic guidance anchored my attempts at poetry. I even published my first poem and hope to publish more.
In the new year Clyde Hill will unveil a new poetry imprint, edited by my friend Frances McCue.