October 3, 2008
I Feel Petty, Oh So Petty
Our managing editor, Allison Rieck, turned us on to the poem "The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered," written by Clive James and posted online at Garrison Keillor's writer's almanac. You can read it here.
Remaindering is a sad and all too common experience in the publishing industry. A book is remaindered when it becomes a matter of economic prudence to unload remaining stock as quickly as possible, rather than to continue to bear the costs of storing books that simply aren't selling. The poem vividly communicates the phenomenon, most notably the wickedness it evokes in the competitive onlooker.
Writing as a craft carries a lot of mystique to it, but writing as a profession or an industry is vulnerable to the same vices as any market enterprise--most notably, competition and its impact on how we relate to our competitors. One more book remaindered, at the end of the day that everybody talks about when they're envisioning the crass bottom line of a long list of competing interests, means one less book to compete with your own, one less author to vie for media attention or critical reviews, one less half-inch of shelf space preventing your spine-out book from being face-out.
But when writers step back from the industry of writing they think of the craft of writing and the discipline of reading, and they recognize that remaindering remains a sad and all too common experience. Writers understand better than most the rewards and the significance of reading, and the part that writing plays in keeping continuity between the present and the past, not to mention the present and the future. We are, as a culture, in many ways what we read and what we write, and so books that fall into remaindering are to one degree or another evidence of the road we have chosen not to take--and some of those roads less traveled we may one day come to regret.
So alongside "The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered" I suggest we reread "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and pause to reflect that each book, like each person, diminishes each of us with its death.