Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Ghosts in the Shelves

While you were searching for a particular book today, you found a ghost in one of the shelves.  Intrigued by the discovery, you soon found several more.

The ghosts were tangible enough formats, some of them the standard 6 x 9 formats of many American hardcover books, others a tad smaller at 5 1/2 x 8 1/4, one a whopping and nostalgia-laden 7 x 10.  Others were in a format you've come to miss with its unnoticed exit in the explosion of the e-reader and e-book, the massmarket paperback.  All are ghosts because in one way or another, their publishers have disappeared.

In the process of your browse, you realized you'd begun a collection of some of the many books you acquired, then edited while at your first major publishing job, Sherbourne Press.  Between your departure from Sherborne, through your move to Dell, many of your signed copies are gone.  You particularly miss Larry Lipton's scrawl across the copy of The Erotic Revolution.  "After all we've been through..." it said.

Some of these ghosts in yourself are about to become involved in a mixed metaphor; they are archaeology, the relics of the past, abandoned, sold, subsumed.  Indeed, at one time, when you ran the Los Angeles office for the Dell massmarket line, and your primary rival was Bantam Books, you were directed to have the receptionist at your Wilshire Boulevard office announce, "Dial, Delacorte, Dell," putting the hardcover force of more substantial hardcover books ahead of Dell.
At one point, you instructed the receptionist to add Laurel Books to the litany because you especially liked the Laurel YA list and its editor.  But.  In one of your weekly phone meetings, you were told, "Mrs. Meyer [the Publisher] does not appreciate your addition.  She wishes to remind you that your primary target is the massmarket original novel and the motion picture tie-in."

Today, what was once Dial, Dell, Delacorte, is merged with, among other things such as Doubleday Books, the old arch rival, Bantam Books, which is all owned by the German conglomerate, Bertelsmann.  

About a year ago, as you sat at coffee with former Bantam editor-in-chief, Marc Jaffee, and Sales Manager, Fred Klein, Jaffee tossed out the notion that the three of you should start your own venture, with the logo OFB, which you would not decode for anyone, but which meant Old Fart Books.

A respected colleague, who once ran--and well--the now defunct Avon Books, has started his own logo, Overlook Press.  Another old pal, Sol Stein, was publisher of Stein and Day.  Jerry Gross was editor for Paperback Library, now gone.  You also have a few titles from a lower-tier massmarket publisher, Lion Books, who published your pal, Day Keene.

At the mention of Lion, you also have a hardcover and trade paper edition of a Lionshead [English for Lowenkopf] biography of Dashiell Hammett, written by the legendary, unceasingly prolific William Francis Nolan.

There are ghosts representing authors you grew up on--Bill S. Ballinger, Frank Gruber, Steve Fisher, Chad Oliver--as well as a ghost of the trend-setting massmarket original mystery novels from Gold Medal.  There are Ace Books, two novels printed so that when you finish one, then turn the book over, the back cover has become the front cover for the second novel.  There are Kozy Books, at least one Pocket Book, which was the company run by Ian Ballentine, and a favored series, the Dell Mystery paperbacks, with the map of the crime scene on the back cover.

You should not forget NAL, New American Library, once presided over by Edward "Ned" Chase, a man you considered a role model.  You can forget and have forgotten the second- or third-tier paperback reprint house presided over by the estimable Agnes Birnbaum, to whom you used to lease the paperback rights to your acquisitions that barely broke even.  In your shelves are also Pyramid Books and at least one Graphic.

How, how indeed, could you forget Athena Books, which published a pseudonymous novel of yours, written to finance a riotous week in San Francisco with a girl you were sure you loved and, as it turned out, did.  On that riotous week, you took her to a bistro called El Matador, where the owner said something ought to be done about you bringing an under-aged person into its amazing depths.  He never said what, but that was also the beginning of your friendship with him to the point where you edited over ten of his books.

There is great comfort to be had in ghosts.

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