|University of Chicago Press warehouse|
I have an interest in the publishing industry and like to keep current, the way a denizen of the old Maywood Park with $2 on Whirligig in the 3rd would study the Thoroughbred Gazette he's found on a seat, to see how next season's crop of Kentucky 2-year-olds is coming up.
So my eyes fell with interest upon the March 4 New York Times story, "Simon & Schuster, A Top 5 Publisher, Is Offered for Sale." The opening sentence caught me up short: "Simon & Schuster, the publishing powerhouse behind best-selling authors like Stephen King, Ursula K. Le Guin and Judy Blume, is up for sale."
Now let's play, "See if you can guess what puzzled Neil."
Read that opening sentence again.
Any ideas? I read three newspapers a day, The New Yorker, The Economist, paw through the New York Times Sunday Book Review. I know that Beowulf's dad is Ecgtheow. I like to think I'm aware of stuff.
But Ursula K. Le Guin? That was an entirely new one for me. If I had to guess, I would assume she's a more recent version of Barbara Cartland, one of those mega-selling authors of bodice-ripping romances that a certain stratum of American society seem to have an endless hunger for. No shame in being unaware of that.
Wrong. Let's end the suspense with a quick check of Le Guin's Wikipedia page.
Well, she's dead, for starters, in 2018, at age 88, having written 20 novels—science fiction. A realm I'm not entirely unfamiliar with, having gobbled Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov novels as a lad (and once, believe it or not, having gotten a phone call from Harlan Ellison; he liked one of my books. I should have thought to get a blurb). Michael Chabon called Le Guin the "greatest American writer of her generation." All told, quite the career.
Well that's a comfort. A reminder that all success is relative, and someday Mick Jagger will find himself on the phone, trying and failing to get a reservation at a hot new restaurant. ("Mick ... Jagger... The singer...From the Rolling Stones...It was a band. Very big in our day...Oh. Yes. I see. Maybe something at 4:30 then?")
The story relates how ViacomCBS is selling off S&S because it can't be bothered with a shriveling segment of the entertainment world.
"It hasn't been a strong growth industry in a long time and what little growth there has been recently seems to be arrested," Thad McIlroy, a publishing industry analyst, tells the Times.
And here I thought it was just me.
Actually—and talk about burying the lede, but I'm trying to find a gentler pace as I shamble into the vale—I seem to be back in the game, book-wise. Think of it as a $2 trifecta ticket on three longshots in a race taking place in 2022. Or 2023. 2024 at the very latest. The University of Chicago Press on Friday asked me to write a book—another book, my third for them, ninth overall, if you're keeping score at home. They suggested this new book be called "Every goddamn day." Good title. I said yes.