One of the great joys inherent in our annual Virgin Gorda vacation is letting go of schedules, waking when the mood suits us, reading on an uncrowded beach, snorkeling over one of the finest reefs in the Caribbean, watching incredibly beautiful sunsets and naming what we see in the cloud formations. The biggest decisions to make concerned where would we go to eat each night and what would we order. Judy and I could get away and know that The Permanent Press was in excellent hands, with our dream team of Rania Haditirto at the helm, aided and abettted by Susanne Gustafsson, our extraordinary intern from Sweden, and Stefanie Beroes, who heroically kept up with orders and collections. But I must say after 12 days of rest and recuperation, returning home and getting back to work was equally exciting.
Rania, who is 31, and Susanne, who is 27, provided a file containing more more than a dozen new reviews for upcoming titles, including two fine pre-publication reviews in Kirkus and Publishers Weekly for Hard Stop, Chris Knopf's fourth Sam Aquillo mystery due in May (to see these latest accolades and others go on to Chris's website: http://www.sameddie.com/), and filled us in on the continuing success of Efrem Sigel's The Disappearance (now in its third printing) and Daniel Klein's The History of Now (ranked at 20,000 at Amazon.com earlier today). They also decided we weren't "hip" enough, so they've put The Permanent Press on Face Book. Frankly I don't understand the benefit of all this, but I'm not autocratic enough to say "Enough." Maybe they are on to something that I fail to see.
This possibility occurred when I read in today's New York Times that HarperCollins--a month after closing down their Collins imprint due to the implosion facing all of the conglomerate publishing giants--was starting a new imprint, It Books, that would focus "On pop culture, style, and content derived from the Internet, like a planned collection of Twitter posts called Twitter Wit." Another title for their 21 title fall list includes "The Style Strategy by Nina Garia, a judge on Project Runway." If that is "hip," I want no part of it.
It seems to me that "publishng" is a broad term that consists of two very different approaches that are increasingly apparent during this economic mess: a situation more aptly called "The Great Depression 11," rather than pretending we are in a "Recession." In one corner are those marketeers who seek to commission or hook on to something they believe to be trendy. And in the other corner are those who prefer to discover exciting writing that is more timeless. If I were a betting man, I would predict that It Books, headed by Carrie Kania will fail despite the blessings of Michael Morrison, president and publisher of HarperCollins, who said that "I think we've pulled together the best people wihin our company who are really interested in this and are targeting them to all work together to tap into the Zeitgeist."
Please, Michael, let me give you Webster's definition of Zeitgeist: The spirit of the time, the intellectual and moral tendencies that characterize any age or epoch. If Twitter and Style represent the moral and intellectual tendencies of today, I think you are simply trying to dress up dross with the lipstick of a "hip" German noun. Listen, if you are simply seeking to boost income, why not try starting a "Zeitgeist" greeting card line, like Hallmark, charge $5 for an envelope and a folded card, and stop pretending that It Books is some sort of novel approach. Here's another approach: Why not just try to discover more original books?
Whatever you do, Michael, here's my blessing for you: gesundheit! Or, as Danny Klein quipped, "There's nothing so dated as avant garde passe."