Friday, April 30, 2010

Letter from the Publisher

We're working hard double time to get everything ready for David R. Godine's 40th Anniversary Retrospective Lecture on May 6th at the Boston Public Library, and hope to see all of you at the talk. Until then, here is David's “Letter from the Publisher” which appears in our 2010 Catalog.


WHEN I STARTED this company, some forty years ago in an abandoned cow barn, I was only twenty five and had no idea what the word “publishing” meant, much less how to do it. We were then, all six of us, primarily printers, producing fine books for others, and, when the presses were unoccupied, occasionally issuing a title for ourselves. As the years went by, I decided to concentrate on publishing and, like many deluded capitalists, dreamed of growing what clearly is — and should remain — a cottage industry into a major international player. This wasn’t entirely hubris; all houses were much smaller then, the capital required to produce books was modest, government support (even to tiny houses) was flowing, and the cost of mistakes was small. The narrow, personal world of trade publishing was still run by opinionated individuals, whose names were often eponymous with their companies, and who more or less published what they liked and did their crying in private. Company policy was dictated by editors, not by marketing departments. (It was Edwin Land who taught me that the size of a company’s marketing department is always in inverse proportion to the quality of its products.) It was still possible to dream of becoming a general trade publisher whose list would cover a variety of subjects and whose books could be produced to high standards, and to do it all with a minimum of fuss and compromise.

Looking back, and knowing a little more about my own temperament, it was foolish (almost delusional) to have thought that this company could ever become larger than it is. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and the pleasure I derive from working year in and year out in this ship of fools comes from the hands-on experience with the books themselves, not in being a manager or an administrator, for which I have little talent and less interest. If you pay attention, close attention, to every book you publish, and if you publish or reprint — as we do — close to sixty titles a year, it is all you can do to read the manuscripts that come in, oversee the design and production, and take an active part in the selling. So, for better or worse, this will always be a small company involving a few fanatics, selling to a relatively small lunatic fringe who still care about the niceties of a well-turned phrase, a neatly produced book, and an eclectic list. This is not exactly the recipe America prescribes for achieving commercial success.

In the sixteenth century, there was a small group of engravers known as “The Little Masters,” so called not because they were stunted, but because their work was small. Their motto was Multum in Parvo: a great deal in a small compass. I have always identified with these artists who were content to create miniscule masterpieces on their own terms and scale. If you believe, as I do, that your work is the footsteps you leave in the sands of time, then every book you publish should contain the proof of that devotion and promise. It is, I think, what Conrad had in mind when he wrote, in his Preface to The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’, “A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art should carry its justifications in every line.”

For forty years, and admittedly with varying degrees of success, we have tried to make good on that promise. Not every book carries Conrad’s justification, but more have than not. And the mere effort of trying to come close, to engage in the process, to yet again take a sheaf of manuscript pages and turn them into something as miraculous and as workable and as permanent as a printed book seems tome worth any amount of trouble. As another of our favorite writers, Montaigne, observed,  “It’s the journey, not the arrival, that matters.”

D · R · G

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Superior Person's Tuesday

Birl v. To revolve a log in the water while standing on it. I knew it - there just had to be a word for it. We've all seen it done at the movies or on television - and now you and I know what it's called. This is powerful information. Chances are you will never meet anyone else who knows what this word means. Use this knowledge wisely.

Each Tuesday, we'll offer up a Superior Word for the edification of our Superior Readers, via the volumes of the inimitable Peter Bowler. You can purchase all or any of the four Superior Person's Books of Words from the Godine website. Birl appears in the second.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Damion Searls & the Significance of a Teapot

At the Significant Objects project, Damion Searls — translator of the soon-to-be published new selection of Rilke, The Inner Sky — writes about a bubble bath teapot: “She had gotten used to the long subway ride, the 3 uptown and past uptown to what came after. She usually saw patients in her office near NYU, but Damien Toussaint was admitted to Mercy’s the week of the earthquake and she treated him there, then thought she’d keep seeing him somewhere familiar for their follow-ups after he was discharged. . . .” Visit Significant Objects to read the rest!

Not familiar with the site and its goals? According to their site, the basic idea is that if a “talented, creative writer invents a story about an object” then that otherwise mundane object becomes “invested with new significance by this fiction,” and should “acquire not merely subjective but objective value.” They test this theory via open auctions on e-bay; the project is now immersed in Stage 2: Charitable Fund-Raising & Data-Crunching.

Book Production Circa 1947

Thanks to e-verse radio for this.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Janes' Walk: May 1 and 2

Jane’s Walks: International Movement to Honor Jane Jacobs
by Glenna Lang

On May 1 and 2, people in cities all over the world will gather to walk and observe their neighborhoods in honor of urban activist and writer Jane Jacobs. Begun shortly after Jane’s death at almost 90 in 2006, Jane’s Walks encourage people to explore where they live and take action to influence these places for the better.

This year, on the first weekend in May – the weekend closest to Jane's birthday – more than a hundred walks will take place in Canada, several in Europe, and even one in India. Jane’s Walks are currently scheduled in thirty-five U.S. cities, with more added daily. Any inspired citizen can organize and host a walk. The walks are free, fun, enlightening, open to everyone, and they welcome information and thoughts from participants as well as chance encounters along the way.

Last year, we organized a hugely successful first Boston-area Jane’s Walk. This May 1, we hope to rival it. During a walk entitled “Urban Fringe: Walking the Cambridge-Somerville Line,” we’ll follow another set of old train tracks (now a dedicated walk / bike path) between North Cambridge and Somerville’s Davis Square, and branch out into the contiguous neighborhoods. Along the route is a fascinating mix of recreational, industrial, commercial, and residential uses dating from the 19th century to the present.

Sites include Jerry’s Pit, Boston’s first Catholic cemetery, the remains of a brick factory and a race course, a newly built co-housing community, affordable housing at Trolley Square, and Camp Cameron from the Civil War. Charles Sullivan, executive director of the Cambridge Historical Commission, will provide historic background.

For more information about the Jane’s Walk movement and individual city walks, go to: or

To find out more about Jane Jacobs, read what Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Robert Campbell designated “the best short introduction yet to the life and work of one of the most influential Americans of her generation” for all ages, Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday Miscellany

Conversational Reading is discussing a recent Sven Birkerts essay on the dilemma of reading in the digital age. Scott Esposito writes, “I simply don’t believe that people aren’t sophisticated enough to figure out how to read amidst digital entertainment options, but are sophisticated enough to do so in the face of other impediments. Actually, I’d say that the abundance of digital ephemera would be a boon to reading; that is, after you’ve been fried all day on beeps and flashing lights, aren’t you chased into the arms of a good book, or some other equally ‘antiquated’ experience? I am, for one.”

• At The New Yorker, Jill Lepore writes about dueling editors — Henry Luce of Time Magazine and Harold Ross of The New Yorker: “Ross liked to tell the story of how, on hearing that the Army was about to start publishing a paper, he deserted his regiment and walked a hundred and fifty miles to Paris, to the offices of the Stars & Stripes, where he stayed for the duration of the war, as a reporter and editor. One piece of enduring Luce lore has it that Time began because, while at Camp Jackson, Luce was struck by how little the enlisted men knew about the war they were being sent to fight. [Alan] Brinkley suspects this boot-camp business is hooey, and I take the same view of Ross’s hoofing it all the way to Paris. What’s interesting, though, is that even their just-so stories run in different directions: Ross strapping his typewriter to his back and making for the metropolis, Luce pledging himself to bringing news of the world to every last Joe.”

• At The Poetry Foundation blog, Harriet, A.E. Stallings asks, “Doesn’t it seem that every time you open a magazine, someone is praising their morning oatmeal, exalting their suburban cul-de-sac, hymning a cup of filter coffee?”

The Millions writers wax nostalgia poetic on the bookstores they have known, including Book Soup (CA), Housing Works Bookstore & Café (NYC), and Second Story Books (MD).

• And finally, a heck of a speech by publishing and digital guru Richard Nash.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Wanda Coleman @ Harriet

There is a star-studded cast of writers and poets posting at The Poetry Foundation blog, Harriet, for poetry month, including Black Sparrow's own Wanda Coleman. Her short post is titled “What is Poetry? Nuthin’ to Explain” which is itself a sort of prose-poem meditation on the experience of the poetic spark. “The body calls. Poetry is invited in. We read the hunger we need,” she writes. Couldn't have said it better.

For more from Wanda Coleman, check out the list of titles available right now from Black Sparrow Books, including African Sleeping Sickness.

Poets Featured at Barnes & Noble

At the Barnes & Noble Review blog In the Margin, Godine and Black Sparrow poets will be featured all week in their poetry month festivities: “This week, we offer selections from the eminent independent publisher David R. Godine, whose Boston-based press began publishing 40 years ago, and built a reputation for bookmaking craftsmanship that resulted in Newsweek magazine calling out their editions as ‘flawlessly produced examples of the arts of printing and bookbinding’.”

So far they've posted poems from former British Poet Laureate Andrew Motion's The Mower (“All Possibilities”) as well as Rainer Maria Rilke's The Inner Sky (“Spring Songs”). Check back for more tomorrow and through the end of the week!

Superior Person's Tuesday

Aasvogel n. A vulture. Ideal term for oral insults, the sound being even more offensive than the meaning, which no one will know anyway.

Each Tuesday, we'll offer up a Superior Word for the edification of our Superior Readers, via the volumes of the inimitable Peter Bowler. You can purchase all or any of the four Superior Person's Books of Words from the Godine website. Aasvogel appears in the third.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Saroyan and Wakoski in Denver

We're proud to announce that Black Sparrow authors Aram Saroyan and Diane Wakoski will be featured readers at the AWP Conference in Denver this week. You can pick up copies of Saroyan's brand new book of essays and reviews, Door to the River, and Wakoski's poetry works The Butcher's Apron and Emerald Ice at the Tattered Cover, the local bookstore. Head to the conference website for information about attending and seeing what looks to be a fantastic line up of speakers and authors.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Midwest Homeschool Convention

Godine will be in the Midwest! We will have a table at the Midwest Homeschool Convention in Cincinnati, happening April 8-10th. If you are attending the show, come find our table to have the chance see our new books for yourself! We will have free poster giveaways and special deals for the duration of the show! More details at the show's website including entry fees for individuals and families:

Monday, April 5, 2010

Wesley McNair: Writer's Almanac

Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac today features a poem by Godine author Wesley McNair, whose new volume, Lovers of the Lost: New & Selected Poems is available through our website or anywhere fine books are sold.

McNair will be appearing this evening (Monday, April 5) at Colby Sawyer College in New London, Connecticut, to discuss his work and the process of writing poetry. In an article at, Melanie Plenda reports:

“Through photographs, report cards, early works, letters and notebook drafts, he will give an audience insight into what it takes to live as a poet.

McNair, 69, lists himself among the broken. His father left the family early on. By his mid-teens he worked the last of the farms in the Connecticut River Valley in New Hampshire and came of age in a 1960s America battered by social strife.

‘In trying to mend these broken things I am trying to mend myself, and as far as I know I’ve reached that goal,’ said McNair, who now lives in Mercer, Maine. ‘We’re all broken, of course. We all have something we didn’t manage to do, always aspiring to something higher, something more, to achieve that wholeness.’

His presentation also will include themes of balancing work with family and how he was helped through to the other side of the discouragement that comes along with being a poet.”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Easter Special

Only three days left to get Rabbit School at 25% off! The very first English translation of the 1924 German classic, complete with the same art by illustrator Fritz Koch-Gotha, Rabbit School tells the story of bunny rabbits headed off to school to learn the most important rabbit knowledge--what tasty vegetables to eat, how to paint Easter eggs, and how to make a garden grow. Buy a copy for the family Easter bookshelf right here.

Image from the email signature of our buyer at Ingram. Too charming to pass up.