One of the problems with working in publishing is sharing books with colleagues. It’s not like working as a grocery store cashier, having a bagboy say to you, “Yeah, I love to read. Stephen King is a phenomenal writer,” and knowing you can happily trade horror novels back and forth with him, and he’ll be grateful (which is how I lived my reading-and-sharing life during my high school years). The stakes are ratcheted up when the person you’d love to lend the book you just read is someone who sends your marked-up emails back to you. You find yourself thinking, “Well, the story was all about
It’s a true double-edged sword, though. I mean, with the exception of libraries and book stores (and they pay even less well than publishing companies do), where else are you going to work where you’re surrounded by so many readers? My company actually has a white-board specifically for making book recommendations, providing one-or-two sentence descriptions, which I do, every time I visit the office, feeling somehow obligated, because I’ve gotten some great recommendations from it. I doubt IBM headquarters has such an animal hanging in its hallways. I don’t need to tell you, my book blogging friends, how wonderful it is to work in such an environment. There are people at the office for whom the first words out of my mouth after “How are you” are “So, what are you reading?” Again, I can see VPs at McDonalds looking at me cross-eyed were I to have the misfortune of working for them and to ask such a thing.
I’ve mentioned in the past that making book recommendations is never an easy enterprise. Lately, when people come to stay with us, I like to go around the house and pick out four or five books to leave on the bedside table that they can read while here and borrow if they’d like. I find this much easier to do for some than for others. Family members are very easy. Friends of Bob’s (which means they probably think Plato is a light beach read) I’ve only met once, not so much. What if I choose something they absolutely hate and then get labeled “Bob’s flighty wife who actually reads things written post-1800?” Think what it’s like to have to worry about colleagues labeling you “the editor who obviously has no judgment and should not be in charge of acquiring books.”
Try adding an extra factor to this enterprise, which is that most who work in the publishing industry are pretty picky about such things as books filled with awkward sentences, missing serial commas, facts that are just plain wrong, and unoriginal material (makes one wonder who the editors are who are allowing such books to be published, but the publishing bottom line is a subject for a whole different blog post). And yet, I don’t seem to be able to keep myself from recommending books to them. You’d think I’d just keep my mouth shut, forget about advising my colleagues, pretend I’m the only editor in the history of the industry who enjoys neither reading nor writing. Instead of blurting out, “Oh, you’ve got to read A Death in the Family!” when asked what I’ve been reading lately, I ought just to say, “I don’t read much. You know, I read all day long for my job, and I want to do other things when I’m not working.” (In fairness, A Death in the Family is not likely to raise too many eyebrows, but I haven’t been reading Tamar Myers or Laurel K. Hamilton lately.)
However, I don’t even have to be asked. I’ll just hand books over to people and tell them to read them. I’ll send around company-wide emails extolling the virtues of Persephone Books, which of their books I’ve read, how everyone ought to be reading them and can borrow mine, if they’d like. I’ll blurt out, “Did you ever read Wild Swans?” because someone is talking about
Maybe I need to go back to working in grocery stores. Nah. Then I’d probably start telling people what foods they should buy and recipes they should try. And I’d rather have an angry editor, appalled he or she wasted time on my latest recommendation, wielding a “Track Changes” button at my emails than an angry chef wielding a cleaver at me.