As always, I’ve been informed and entertained by the New Yorker this week. No grand biographies or political commentaries this time, just an anecdote that seems to me to capture quite nicely how I imagine the role of the author in the publishing business (at least in the eyes of the publishers). It’s a little snippet taken from a long and affectionate tribute by John McPhee to his various editors and publishers, “The Name of the Subject Should Not Be the Title”:
“My grandfather was a publisher. The house was the John C. Winston Company, “Book and Bible Publishers,” of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and on their list was the Silver Chief series, about a sled dog in the frozen north. That dog was my boyhood hero. One day, I was saddened to see in a newspaper that Jack O’Brien, the author of those books, had died. A couple of years passed. I went into high school. The publishing company became Holt, Rinehart & Winston, and my Uncle Bob’s office moved to New York. When I was visiting him there one day, a man arrived for an appointment, and Uncle Bob said, “John, meet Jack O’Brien, the author of ‘Silver Chief.’” I shook the author’s hand, which wasn’t very cold. After he had gone, I said, “Uncle Bob, I thought Jack O’Brien died.” Uncle Bob said, “He did die. He died. Actually, we’ve had three or four Jack O’Briens. Let me tell you something, John. Authors are a dime a dozen. The dog is immortal.”
You hear that, precious creative types?
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; Ian Fleming; Charles Dickens; Agatha Christie; Robert Louis Stevenson; William Shakespeare. Can you hear me William Shakespeare? Get over yourselves already: we're all just walking the dog....and the damn dog is immortal.
It's probably raining too. It's bound to be raining. I bet the dog has his own little jacket too....and you left your coat at home.
(dammit. Am I talking about the weather again, or did I get away with it? I think I got away with it...)