Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Larry Ashmead, 1932-2010

When I was working at Warner Books in the mid 1980's, an editor named Larry Ashmead was hired. It was rather rare to get new blood at that time, but he came with a storied past, which means he had lots of stories.

Of course he acquired many books in his tenure, but what I most recall was his picking up the mass market rights to Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, in 12 volumes. Not the sure-fire hit you say, particularly as it was still available in four trade paperback volumes? No worries--those were the days when the mass market channel could take on anything. I'm not sure it took on Powell that well, though I did get my Mom and my sister Merrill to read the entire cycle (I never did). Larry's secret, which I now pass on to you--start with volume 3.

He told me how to publicize a few other books (I was a publicist) to no avail; I wasn't exactly cut out for that life (my stomach was constantly in knots) and I moved to Milwaukee to sell books.

I crossed paths with Larry again when I was at Schwartz. He was an editor at Harper now, and had pretty much launched Simon Winchester in the United States with his acquisition of The Professor and the Madman. He hit it off with John, our other buyer (someday I'll describe the complicated by balanced way that we divided up the buying in the mid-nineties) and for years afterwards, John would receive his annual collection of funnies.

The funnies were photocopied cartoons, in shorts, and silliness, sort of a pre-internet precursor to that aunt who puts you on her forwarded joke list. Come on, you have one!

I never got on the list, which sort of made me jealous. Then Bertha Venation came out. Then I read about his passing in The New York Times. Then the memories came back, like you've lost a bunch of files and then someone pulled out a drawer and they all fell on the floor and now you're putting them back and saying, hey, you had an effect on a lot of people. I guess that's the way things go. You'll be missed.

1 comment:

john eklund said...

I don’t know if “hit it off” is the word. I felt around him like I did around all book business dandies of a certain age- uncomfortable but mesmerized. I once made it into the Ashmead annual compilation but its driving me crazy that I can’t remember what it was. A clipping from the Journal I think, about something local. Probably some weird headline with double (and salacious) meaning. Oh well. His annual was always in the form of a ream of mimeographed paper. Seemed so wasteful, and he probably had some publicity assistant do all the work. Bless his heart.