Life After Publishers

Friday, April 20, 2012


As a newly minted editorial assistant at Norton, writer Tom Bissell was able to resuscitate an out-of-print novel called Desperate Characters by Paula Fox. In Bissell's new book, Magic Hours, he wrote about how, paradoxically, that experience shook his faith in publishing. Brooke talks to writer Tom Bissell about whether we as readers will miss the publishing industry, imperfect as it is, if it disappears.


Julian Smith - I'm Reading A Book


Tom Bissell

Hosted by:

Brooke Gladstone

Comments [5]


Hey just came upon your blog via Bing after I entered in, " Life After Publishers" or
perhaps something similar (can't quite remember exactly). In any case, I'm happy I found it because your
content is exactly what I'm searching for (writing a college paper) and I hope you don't mind if I collect some material from
here and I will of course credit you as the source. Thank you very much.

Mar. 07 2013 01:02 AM
Joseph from Salt Lake City, UT

I was listening to this story from my local public radio station while on an errand Friday afternoon. I was most interested in the Melville story. Just as they were getting to it, my wife called and my Bluetooth connection muted the radio. When I hung up the story was over and they had moved on to next segment. I was disappointed, but figured I could download the podcast.

The next day while driving to work I was listening to NPR on XM radio. By chance I caught a rebroadcast, and thought I would be able to here about Moby Dick. Once again just as they were starting the Moby Dick segment my wife called and I missed it. Disappointed again.

This morning at about 2:30 am I was called into work and was once again listening to XM radio, when to my surprise I just happened to hit a re-rebroadcast and was able to hear the Moby Dick story. I was finally able to benefit from the frequent repitition of programs on XM public radio.

Apr. 23 2012 03:10 PM

Ah, the annual publishing show is always my favorite! Books books books! Damn I love books.

Just a nit to pick with Tom Bissell in this segment (love the segment!):

He mentioned Kafka being published against his will, posthumously, because one of the two in possession of his works DID NOT follow Kafka's wishes. As a result, we get Kafka.

An argument for categorically disregarding such instructions from writers?

But a few things Bissell neglects to mention. Emily Dickinson's sister was ALSO instructed to burn all of her poems on her death. She also didn't follow the instructions (though she did start burning, and then had something of a freakout over it, which I love her for, as I love the works of Emily Dickinson).

One other odd detail: Mabel Loomis Todd, Dickinson's "editing" savior (she changed the poems, adding punctuation and normalizing some of her odder usages-- that is the version that is in the public domain, not her real version, because a scholar who recovered the original punctuation and such, Thomas Johnson, numbered and copyrighted the "real" versions) was the MISTRESS of Emily Dickinson's married brother (a brother who was married to Dickinson's erstwhile "best friend").

Such is the world of wonderful irony. Dickinson's old "best friend"-- some have argued she was the great passion and object of many of the earlier poems-- had morphed into a bit of a Amherst society shrew (I hate that term), and Austin took up with Mabel (see the book "Austin and Mabel")-- some believe consummating the affair at times in his family home across the way from his house, the home of his two old maid sisters (I hate that term too).

So how would Emily feel about her brother's mistress editing and publishing the poems she wanted her sister to burn? That is one of the great questions of history. Especially if, in her own house, she was forced to be a witness to the scandalous affair. Or even if she approved of it.

My guess is Emily would have been more pissed about the changes to her poems. Especially since Thomas Wentworth Higginson got in on the act too, the "visionary" who passed her work by when she was alive.

I loved the Aristophanes story. I had no idea about The Clouds. Those plays are so funny and wonderfully rich.

Apr. 22 2012 11:15 AM
Sandra Jordan from nyc

Paula Fox's highly regarded children's books were always in print--

Apr. 22 2012 10:56 AM
Chris from Jersey City

What a great story -- howver, my high school students are never surprised that Moby Dick sold only 3000 copies. But what do high school students know; they read trashy young adult fiction. But, even better than the story, what was the song playing to exit the show? Title or artist anyone?

Apr. 21 2012 08:12 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.