Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Chasya Milgrom chats about changing perspectives

Having read some of your interesting questions in our Q & A, I got to thinking about the way in which we begin to see books in a different light when we (as agents, authors, editors, etc…) enter the world of publishing.

For instance, a little while ago I was scanning my bookshelf for something to read and my eye hit on one of my all-time favorite books, an epistolary novel by Steve Kluger called Last Days of Summer. The book is not something I would think most people have heard of, and I’m fairly sure it didn’t make any bestseller lists, but it is one of those great reads that leaves you laughing out loud at certain points and crying hysterically at others.

The story is about a precocious 12-year-old wise-guy named Joey, who is growing up fatherless and Jewish in early 1940s Brooklyn, and his unlikely friendship with the hot-headed 3rd baseman of the New York Giants, Charlie Banks (also a wise-guy, naturally). I feel like so many people have one of those books on their shelves – the one that you catch yourself wistfully glancing at every so often, remembering just how much you enjoyed it. I remember reading Last Days of Summer for the first time and laughing myself to tears. “Here,” I would insist, shoving it into the hands of one friend after another, “read this; it’s funny.” And they all pretty much agreed.

So I picked it up off the shelf. It had been years. My copy had yellowed with age and was pretty dusty – it literally made me sneeze when I opened it. Given my nostalgic feelings about the book, I was pretty surprised at myself when the first thing I flipped to wasn’t the beginning of the novel itself, even though, as I recall, the novel opens to hilarious effect with a letter from Franklin D. Roosevelt to a then nine-year-old Joey thanking him for his campaign contribution. Nope, that wasn’t what I was looking for. I picked it up and immediately flipped to the copyright page to look for the publication details.

This is a strange little habit that I seemed to have picked up after starting to work here at D & G. Now with every book I see, I am struck with the insatiable curiosity to find out who it was published by, when it was published, whether or not it had been published originally as a hardcover or trade paperback. It was when I lifted Last Days that I was most surprised by this new added dimension through which I now see books.

That is not to say that I am upset by it. In fact, I get a huge kick out of watching my boyfriend shake his head as I flip to the copyright page of every book I pick up. He thinks I’m a huge dork. I tend not to disagree.

A couple of months ago I got to see the entire industry come together at BEA – the Book Expo of America, a yearly gathering of the publishing community. It was really exciting for me to walk around the Jacob Javits Center here in New York. The convention center was simply buzzing and it was great to watch this business in action. Publishers with their books on display, distributing advance reader copies for books coming out in the fall, editors and booksellers mingling with each other, authors (like our own David Morrell) doing book signings.

I realized then how interesting it is how we all begin to have a multi-dimensional perspective on books and how our curiosity can add to our understanding of this industry.

Now, rifling through books, I wonder about their history. Did this book I am reading go through growing pains? How many people had to read it before someone agreed to publish it? Then I crawl up in a ball on my giant cozy chair and start with Chapter 1…

12 comments:

  1. I guess I am a dork, too. I am a writer and I look at the copyright stuff too. I also look at the acknowledgements, to see if the author thanked the editor and agent. It's neat to see which editors and agents worked on which books.

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  2. I love that book. It's one of my favorites. For a solid year, I was one of those annoying people who wouldn't shut up until I got people to read it.

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  3. So how was Last Days originally puplished?

    Christine, MD

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  4. I usually ignore the copyright, but I read dedications and introductions after I've finished the entire book, never before.

    A friend of mine who was a potter would almost invariably turn over a dish he was interested in after finishing whatever was served in it, and look at the bottom. No one could convince him that this was rude; he took a certain professional interest.

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  5. If you love that novel (and I do too), then you must read Kluger's other novel, 'Almost Like Being In Love', which is even more wonderful and touching.

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  6. Glad I'm not the only neurotic one! I too look at the copyright page first, then the dedication, then who designed the dust jacket. haha Sad, but true.

    It's great I know where to come for therapy if the need ever arises. *grins*

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  7. I'm like that too!

    It's not a stretch for me though. My husband's a recording engineer and we always look at the album credits. Flip right through the lyrics and straight to the credits.

    The difference now, for me, is that I have more of a clue what it's all about when i look at book credits.

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  8. I don't generally look at the copyright stuff. What look for is 1) whether or not this is a second or later volume in a series; and 2) read as a writer, noting how they say things, typos, and various structural issues, good and bad.

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  9. I feel professional curiosity is very common. I also feel it can taint the eminence we give the things we love. Do you find that you put down your book to speculate on the possible answers to these questions?

    “Did this book I am reading go through growing pains? How many people had to read it before someone agreed to publish it?”

    I am curious to know how a reading of the Last Days of Summer today, would compare to when you weren’t in the industry. In any case, the curiosity that all professionals get shouldn’t make you a dork. It’s not like your spending your Saturdays playing scrabble and consequently bickering about the rules. Or passing the time on a long car ride by thinking up crossword clues.

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  10. I go straight for the acknowledgments! I like to see who they thank --and it's always a varied list. Some people go on and on, others keep it short.

    My favorite one was in a Grisham book where he said he'd played liberally with some points of law, so don't contact him to tell him this --he already knew!

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  11. Yes, everybody probably have that one special book that means the world to them, but I personaly have a few dozen of those. :D

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