“It was brought from the dead woman’s apartment. It stood empty a few days, empty until I filled it with books, all the bound ones, those bulky tomes. With that act I had let in the underworld. Something swelled up from below, mounted slowly, inexorably, like mercury in a gigantic thermometer. You were not allowed to turn your head away.”
~ Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, who won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature yesterday, from his prose poem “The Bookcase” (translated by May Swenson):
From our Tattered archives:
In celebration of our 40th Birthday, Tattered Cover is pulling out the memories of four decades in the book business. Here is one from the “she’d rather we didn’t brag but we’re doing it anyway because she’s so deserving” file:
Joyce Meskis, owner of the Tattered Cover, with Justice Brennan & others upon winning The William J. Brennan Award for Free Expression in 1996 by the Thomas Jefferson Center:
Photo taken at 1996 Brennan Award Ceremony at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Left to right: (standing) Anthony P. Griffin, 1993 Brennan Award recipient; Joyce Meskis,1996 Brennan Award recipient; Norman Dorsen, T.J.C.’s Board of Trustees; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg; John S. Battle, T.J.C.’s Board of Trustees; Robert M. O’Neil, T.J.C. Director; Edwin M. Freakley, T.J.C.’s Board of Trustees; Julie G. Lynn, T.J.C.’s Board of Trustees; Stanley E. Preiser, T.J.C.’s Board of Trustees; (sitting) Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. (retired); Bruce Sanford, Chairman, T.J.C.’s Board of Trustees.
THE WILLIAM J. BRENNAN, JR., AWARD
The William J. Brennan, Jr. Award honors the legacy of U. S. Supreme Court Justice Brennan’s extraordinary devotion to the principles of free expression. The award recognizes an individual or group whose commitment to free expression is consistent with Justice Brennan’s abiding devotion. Such commitment might be shown by a single act or through a lifetime of activity to enhance the liberties of free speech and press. The award is given not more than once a year or less than once in five years. The honoree receives the award in a ceremony at the United States Supreme Court. Nominees from all professions and backgrounds are considered.
[W]e consider this case against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”
– Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., New York Times v. Sullivan, 1964
1996 Recipient Joyce Meskis
As the owner of Denver’s famed Tattered Cover Book Store, Joyce Meskis has made freedom of expression a centerpiece of the bookseller’s trade. “We’re doing more than just selling a product,” Meskis said in a Denver Post interview. “We’re in the marketplace of ideas, and we’re in the business of putting ideas and people together …. I realize there are books that some individuals would prefer not to see published. Not to stock, not to sell. Yet as booksellers, our job is to provide books of all kinds that people want to read.” Meskis has made the bookstore itself, which is regarded as one of the best in the nation, into a public forum. Numerous authors, including controversial figures from Oliver North to Hillary Clinton, are welcomed at the Tattered Cover each year. Listed below are further examples of Ms. Meskis’ long-standing devotion to freedom of expression:
- In 1994, Meskis started Colorado Citizens Against Censorship, a group that led a successful campaign against a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have made it easier for communities to label materials obscene.
- After two authors canceled their book-signings at the Tattered Cover in 1992 in protest against the anti-gay rights referendum passed by Colorado voters, Meskis told The New York Times: “We consider ourselves a forum for people and ideas and any effort to limit that plays right into the hands of the people who passed this referendum.”
- Threats of violence caused some large chain bookstores to stop selling The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie in 1989, but despite telephone threats, Meskis refused to pull the book.
- A 1981 lawsuit filed by Meskis resulted in striking down a state law that would have barred some books with sexual content from the shelves of stores that were open to children.
The dissemination of ideas can accomplish nothing if otherwise willing addresses are not free to receive and consider them. It would be a barren marketplace of ideas that only had sellers and no buyers.
– Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., Lamont v. Postmaster General, 1965
A drawing of the original Tattered Cover by early staffer, Carolyn Herter, who went on to become a heavy-weight in the publishing industry, as vice-president/director of national accounts for Scribners/Atheneum; as vice-president/director of illustrated book publishing at Simon & Schuster; and as publishing director for Chronicle Books in San Francisco. Finally, she founded Herter Studios, a creative development & packaging consultants firm. We still miss her!
Really nice piece here on social media and book publishing. Norton’s Tumblr is indeed great, as Scribner, and the I Heart Classics Tumblr that was the brainchild of the excellent Emily Meithner. The point here is applicable to any business—everyone is ultimately in the business of storytelling, and those that do is well can prosper.
Thanks, Mark. And nice shout-out to our brethren, Norton.
RACHEL GALVIN on GEORGES PEREC’s The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise
and BRIAN FINNEY on the globalist fiction of DAVID MITCHELL.
Image Courtesy Anna Miller of the David Rumsey
Map Collection http://bit.ly/zLn1w
GHOSTWRITING THE GLOBE
Random House, 1999. 426 pp.
Random House, 2001. 400 pp.
Random House, 2004. 509 pp.
Black Swan Green
Random House, 2006. 294 pp.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
Random House, 2010. 479 pp.
Who is David Mitchell? His name meant little or nothing to many Americans until 2007, when Time magazine placed Mitchell 16th on its list of 100 men and women “whose talent, power and moral example is transforming the world.” He was the only literary figure in the list and was credited with having “created the 21st-century novel.” In fact, this kind of hype began even earlier in the States with reviewers’ reception of his third novel, Cloud Atlas, in 2004. The New York Times Book Review greeted this book ecstatically: “Mitchell is, clearly, a genius. He … can evidently do anything.” Other U.S. newspapers followed suit: “An exciting, almost overwhelming masterpiece” (Washington Times); “revolutionary” (Newsday); “thrilling” (Boston Sunday Globe). Mitchell’s popularity over here was given a quasi-official stamp of approval in the winter of 2010-11 when President Obama chose Mitchell’s fifth and latest novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (2010) as one of his vacation reads.
In Britain, where he was born, Mitchell became a literary phenomenon with the appearance of his first novel, Ghostwritten (1999). A.S. Byatt, a tough reviewer who castigated Martin Amis in 1995 for negotiating so large an advance that the rest of the pool of British novelists (including herself) were likely to be short-changed, greeted Mitchell’s book as “one of the best first novels I’ve read.” All five of his novels were selected or shortlisted for major prizes.
What is it about Mitchell’s work that accounts for such success? Again and again reviewers express their astonishment that he can simultaneously engage in sophisticated linguistic play and complex structural innovation while showing equal skill at traditional story-telling. A.S. Byatt was spellbound, writing that she still hadn’t read the last chapter of Ghostwritten when getting off a trans-Atlantic flight and finished it at the carousel, only to conclude, “It’s even better the second time.” His books owe as much to John Wyndham, Isaac Asimov and James Ellroy as they do to Murakami or Chekhov. He negates the distinction between highbrow and popular. He is both a post-national and post-postmodern writer on the one hand and quite simply a page-turner on the other.
It did not, as a matter of fact, start from happy for either of them. Imogene Gilfeather had just had a cruel haircut and for this reason, or maybe another, expressed little interest that night when the fellow sitting next to her on the bus down Broadway said he knew the perfect guy for her.
“Perfect,” said Imogene Gilfeather, “is not my type.”
Homage to a fellow-indie bookstore
Powell’s City of Books, located in Portland, Oregon, is the world’s largest independent used and new bookstore. City of Books occupies a full city block and stocks more than a million used and new books.
(Photo by Randy Kashka)
“A letter doesn’t communicate by words alone. A letter, just like a book, can be read by smelling it, touching it and fondling it. Thereby, intelligent folk will say, ‘Go on then, read what the letter tells you!’ whereas the dull-witted will say, ‘Go on then, read what he’s written!”
Will our children ever know the joy of receiving a letter—a REAL one made of paper that takes up to a week to reach you?