In this installment of Lisa Dierbeck‘s guest blogger series here on the Happy Ending blog, Lisa brings you the Four Horsemen of the [Publishing] Apocalypse, here just in time for the holidays. Four harbingers of hardback doom that double as reasons the small, independent publisher is both wholly necessary right now and possibly staring down its own demise–shared with you, after the jump!
“We brought four cartons of books to a used bookstore in Brooklyn and tried to sell them. We also filled
up a box of CDs. The owner of the bookstore said: ‘I’ll take the CDs.’”
The holidays arrived, but my red flowers all turned brown. Might an Aktionist feel forlorn and a little
frightened right about now? Clues are everywhere that the buoyant, feisty, snarling soul of American
literature is struggling.
Four Dramatic Warning Signs that the Book is Dying
THE FIRST SIGN
Recently, Good Witch and I had the following conversation.
“Lisa, we own too many books. We have almost 2,000 of the things.”
“Well, that’s because we’re writers. We collect books because we love them, right?” Logical enough.
“But print is obsolete. It’s gone the way of illuminated manuscripts. We could just download all these as
“We don’t have enough space anymore. Do we? The new apartment is too small for so many books.”
A tense, thoughtful silence falls.
“We need to get rid of some. How do we choose which ones to go?”
“It’s like a museum de-acquisitioning its paintings,” G.W. said, stroking the cover of The Trial. We
have duplicate copies. The paper is yellowing and old.
“It’s like drowning puppies.”
“It’s like choosing which one of your children you have to kill.”
It’s like ________ (select appropriate metaphor.)
THE SECOND SIGN
G.W. said: “How many boxes full of your diaries and unfinished manuscripts do you have again?
THE THIRD SIGN
We packed up the books that we have to part with, the ones that we don’t love as much as the others. It
felt evil and ugly – also, perilous. If we booklovers are giving our books away, what will happen to ours?
I mean, the ones we will write? The ones we have already written.
We brought four cartons of books to a used bookstore in Brooklyn and tried to sell them. We also filled
up a box of CDs. The owner of the bookstore said: “I’ll take the CDs.”
He gave us money for the CDs. Forty dollars. For the books: zero. Less than zero. He said: “No one
will buy these.”
We brought the books to another used bookstore, on Atlantic Avenue. Inside, the light was dim and
the room had a pleasant sandalwood scent. The owner stooped over our books, gravely, like a diamond
merchant, examining them with care. He ran his index finger along their spines.
He would not look us in the eye. “I’m sorry, I can’t help.”
THE FOURTH SIGN
On December 11th, Scarecrow said: “You shouldn’t read at your reading.”
ME: Er, it’s a READING. Wasn’t reading from my new book the point?
SCARECROW: No. Let’s do something surprising.
ME: Like what?
SCARECROW: Let’s play a game.
ME: Which game?
SCARECROW: How about the dating game?
SCARECROW: We’ll auction off a dinner date with Jonathan Ames.
You can be the M.C. for the evening.
I do not want to be the M.C. of The Dating Game. I want to be the author of a novel entitled The
Autobiography of Jenny X. I want to be a writer, which I am. Et tu, Scarecrow? The Book is limping,
hurt; the Book is my life; I’m howling, but I don’t say anything. I pour a bit of scotch into a glass made
of cut crystal.
Scarecrow says, “Baccarat.” Baccarat crystal – the sort of glass that a novelist shouldn’t possess, that a
novelist wouldn’t ever be able to afford. Scarecrow has a weakness for it.
“I’m a princess, “Scarecrow confesses. “I’m a bourgeois hausfrau. Listen.” He touches my wrist.
“You’re uptown — half a block from Central Park. You’re right down the street from the Dakota. You
bought your place from Mia Farrow or someone and you’re practically neighbors with Madonna.” He
smiled conspiratorially. “I like nice things. Tell the truth. Don’t you, Material Girl?”
No, no! Noooo. I am a writer, an embryonic actionist, a publishing revolutionary.
Or am I? If I were a bona fide actionist what action would I take?