The thing is: bookselling is something of an uphill battle. You have to have a sense of mission to keep at this quixotic endeavor, and many of us do. But the stronger the sense of mission one has, greater is his potential for getting discouraged.
Now, folks have been proclaiming the death of reading for as long as I’ve been in the business. Video games, cable television, IPods, texting: each of these in its ascendancy –according to pundits, educators, and codgers alike—has spelled the demise of biblio-centric culture. I don’t really buy into all that hysteria. When you read that more kids lined up for the release of the last Harry Potter book than lined up for the last installment in the Star Wars series, it’s hard to argue that books are fading into obscurity.
Still, I can’t deny that it’s getting harder to put good books into people’s hands. It’s increasingly rare for someone to walk into the Gothic and ask for a recommendation, and it’s rarer still for the mainstream publishing industry to release a book that makes a missionary of you.
It can wear you down.
But there are days when it’s all worthwhile. A newly invigorated Lost Roads Publishers has reissued three books by the great American poet Frank Stanford, and I’ve ordered them for our store. Stanford was a major poet, the best I’ve ever read, and he’s been all but ignored in the canon of American literature. Once in a while I’ll run into a fellow fanatic (Duke’s own Tony Tost is one), but for the most part, his work remains unknown to most readers.
Stanford’s books have been out of print for so long that it’s criminal. I’ve had to talk to customers about him as though he were some sort of imaginary friend. There are books of his that I’ve never even seen. Soon, though, I’ll be able to force our unsuspecting customers to read The Singing Knives, You, and, most importantly, The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love You, Stanford’s 400-page poem that, until this edition, had never been published in a corrected, annotated edition.
Do these reissues constitute a major, significant moment in the world of publishing and bookselling? Maybe not, but, given the chance, I can put these books into people’s hands and be excited about doing so.
That’s enough, for now.