Saturday, March 7, 2020

Publishing news

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.


  1. Congrats on the well-deserved new book deal. Looking forward to it - I enjoyed the last one.

    For a writer of your background, not knowing Le Guin would be a big winner in a round of Zorn's "Lacuna". (SF-loving friends prodded me into reading The Left Hand of Darkness.)

  2. A couple years ago, I encountered a quote from Ursula Le Guin that caught my fancy, but I had not read any of her works until I spotted her name on the cover of the Edinburg Review. Unfortunately, the short story printed in the Review did not excite me as much as the quote.

    Disappointing, as is the cold blooded quote from the publishing analyst. Let's hope "Every goddamn day" single-handedly revives the publishing industry.


  3. I read some Ursula K. Le Guin in high school, I believe, but not since then. Your dismissive assumption about what genre she wrote smacks a bit of reflexive sexism, I fear.

    Anyway, congratulations on the upcoming book! Will it be a compilation of your best blog posts?

  4. I encourage you to read some of her stuff. She was good. Thanks for your column. I read it daily, and enjoy it.

  5. The subject brings to mind a cherished malapropism encountered on my very first job. Our boss thought we junior executives would benefit from learning speaking skills and, to that end, organized a Toastmasters Club. At the very first meeting it was proposed that we each be provided with a copy of Roberts Rules of Order. To that end one of our number volunteered that he could probably get a good price on the 20 or so volumes need because his brother in law worked for the publisher, a firm he identified as the Scott Foreskin Company.


  6. I too read Le Guin as a young man. I used to be a sci fi fan. For a long time she was one of just a few women authors whose work I had just barely explored. I've spent the last decade intentionally seeking out the work of women surprised I never circled back to Ursula. I'm looking for a good read just finishing a Flanery O'Connor.
    Always enjoy your work as well Neil. It's on my list if I live that long

  7. Count me in as another old fart who likes books, real books preferably, not that Kindle stuff.

    1. An interesting position. Is a book its words and ideas, or its pages and binding? Although I still read some physical books, I read more of them on my iPad. Primarily from the library, and mostly because I hesitate to add more books to our already ample inventory. But I also appreciate the ability to adjust the contrast and font size, to quickly look up a definition, and to use the search function to remind myself who a character is and what they’ve said/done in past chapters. Also, it’s nice to be able to read on my phone while waiting in line somewhere.

  8. The more sensitive, pious, and easily offended...what some folks mock as "Bible-thumpers"...might object to the use of the word "goddamn"--and not want to buy, or even read, a title with "that word" in it. But you aren't writing for the evangelical market, so who cares about them, anyway?

    You used to have a "for the easily offended" link, Mr. S, but I don't see it here. I'm assuming you took it down. Maybe, with all that's happened in recent years, nobody really gives a goddamn anymore.

    1. I have some reader who every day leaves a brace of carping, superannuated, unwelcome comments, not on the story itself, but on those side pages, where I couldn't publish them if I wanted to, and I don't. I took all the pages down because I got sick of even glancing at them. I put my bio back up; I suppose I should put up the others too.

  9. Which three newspapers? Read them in paper or digital? - Mark Eleveld

    1. The New York Times and Sun-Times, in paper, the Washington Post, in digital. I also subscribe to the Tribune, digitally, but only read it occasionally.

  10. Another book deal. Wonderful!


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