In the last year or two, an awful large number of my fellow Americans, including two members of my own editing staff, were bounced out of their jobs due to the Great Recession. Though we in the publishing business, the entertainment business in general, tend to think of ourselves as “recession proof,” such is not the case this time around, and publishing has been in a long and dizzying tailspin for a frighteningly long time.
This is one of those times where it’s good to be a small publishing house that’s part of big company that’s part of a much bigger corporation. Thanks to Hasbro’s generous bonus plan (and the Transformers movie), this spring I not only kept my job at Wizards of the Coast, but got a decent bonus. It would be inappropriate for me to give you an exact figure but I can tell you it was a little bigger than nothing and a lot smaller than what the AIG guys got.
I did a lot of things with that money, even managed to save a little of it, if you can believe that, but one thing I made a point to do was to spend some of it on books.
It may not surprise anyone that, being someone who makes a living writing and editing books, I’m an avid reader and even collector of the same. I have almost all of the classic Ace science fiction doubles, including the rare The Man with Nine Lives/A Touch of Infinity by Harlan Ellison, last year’s big Christmas present for me. I have a first edition copy of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. I have the first two volumes of The Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes: Batman and Wonder Woman, which I’ve seen on sale at conventions for $50 each. I have the Star Fleet Technical Manual with the deluxe cover.
Up until about two years ago I bought books obsessively. The week after Christmas 2006 I counted all the books I own but have not yet read, estimated how many books I read (for pleasure) every year, and found that I have 35 years’ worth of books at home already.
Then somewhere in the summer of 2007 we went through our own mini recession/credit crisis at home and my wife and I made the inevitable decision to stop living beyond our means. We all had to give up something. What I gave up was buying books.
I still bought a few, mind you, but nothing like the $50 or so a week I was clicking along at before then.
So when we found ourselves once again “out from under,” and this bonus appeared that wasn’t already spent, I went out and bought some books at brick-and-mortar bookstores, and a few coupons aside paid full price so the author would get a royalty and I would feel as though I was single-handedly fixing the worst crisis in American publishing since the Great Depression.
It didn’t work. Maybe if I was a senior vice president at AIG . . . but I tried.
From a little list I’d been making in preparation for the end of the Great Phil Book Buying Recession, I bought:
The Thing About Life is That One Day You’ll Be Dead by David Shields
Death with Interruptions by José Saramago
Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen
Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
Tinkers by Paul Harding
The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson
Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse
The Dart League King by Keith Lee Morris
Jesus Out to Sea by James Lee Burke
Hunt At the Well of Eternity by Gabriel Hunt
I should have all of them read by the time I’m 80.
And now I have to go back to not buying books all the time, just some of the time. But maybe you can find $50 for books this week, and someone else next week can do the same. Then I won’t have to rely on a bonus that might not come to spend $2600 on books in 2010.
Anyway, someone has to.