Monday, March 7, 2011

A Ghost Eulogy for a Ghostwriter

One of the nicest things I've found about being a high-profile bookstore (well, higher profile than when I was the buyer for Schwartz) owner is that I get to know a lot of wonderful people. I noticed this during the past weekend, when I was saying hi seemingly everywhere. And by the way, Amie, one of our customers at the UWM Spring Writing Festival said hi to you. Even when I went to wander around Bayshore Town Center (I do like to poke around retail), I wandered into Board Game Barrister to look at all the cool stuff and the gameseller immediately said, "Hi, I was at Boswell for the Paul Harding event" and we had a nice chat about how wonderful that event was. I bought some sidewalk chalk and glitter glue, by the way.

But knowing lots of people also means, how else to put this, I know lots more people who die. In the past few months we've lost Jerome, a wonderfully talented artist who liked stopping by for a newspaper and sometimes an art book, and Tillie, a beloved member of our science fiction and fantasy book club. And just today, I heard about another death, and I'm a bit devastated. And I've decided to leave out her name, in respect for the fact that some years ago, she ghost-wrote a nonfiction bestseller. I'll call her BLICW*.

BLICW was one of those people that I didn't know that well (who the heck do I know that well?) but always made me happy with her presence. We had some wonderful chats about the store, and about publishing. I talked to several of her classes, and at one point, we did some research on new books that were appropriate for the subject she was teaching. Sometimes she'd come in and spend time reading alongside her teenage daughter. If I had a teenage daughter (and I don't), that's what I'd want to do. How could I not smile?

I've actually known a number of ghostwriters over the years. It's a strange job, isn't it? I Whenever a personality writes a book and has no co-writer credit, I check the copyright page and the acknowledgements and look for clues. I've been known to add the ghostwriter to the author field a couple of times. Why not? It's my little acknowledgement of a pretty much thankless task.

One would hardly say I am at the point of my life where I feel immortal. I do that game where I think to myself, how pissed is everybody going to be if I die and my will is a mess (which it will be if I die in the very near future). OK, if I live to 60, I've got ten years left, what do I do? Say I live to 70, then what? Do I outlive the store? It's a valid question, we're all wondering what happens if bookstores effectively become showrooms for ebooks.

That said, I think the pundits are grandstanding when they say the physical book will be gone in 20-whatever. Nicholas Negroponte and Mike Shatzkin are the Jeanne Dixons of the moment--if they are right, congrats on your prescience! If not, who remembers? It's on to another pronouncement. And of course, they will be right someday, as who needs books when we have Raymond Kurzweil's singularity?

But I digress. It's a conversation I won't be able to have with BLICW. Not only didn't we really have that conversation (though we danced around it), I didn't really say goodbye. It wasn't like another death I heard about today, of a friend's spouse who died in his forties of a heart attack at the gym. But it was relatively quick. So I'm saying goodbye now. Also to Jerome and Tillie and while we're at it, Virginia and Sal and Cousin Cheryle. But especially to BLICW, who offered enouragement to me at the right time. Much thanks too.

*Clumsy, yes, but it has meaning.

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