Maurice Sendak, RIP

I am so sad to hear that Maurice Sendak has died. His books were a huge part of my childhood, of course, but he was also someone who inspired me to write as an adult. I saw him give a talk when I was in college, and he was cranky, yes, but also so unabashedly, unapologetically himself. Seeing him helped give me the courage not to go to graduate school, but to pursue art and writing instead.

One particular quote stuck with me: “People ask why I write children’s books. I don’t write children’s books. It’s not my fault booksellers don’t shelve me next to Saul Bellow!”

I took that to heart. Write what you need to write. Let someone else decide how to categorize it.

Rest in peace, old man.

Edited to add: Holy crap my friend Phantom can write. Here’s her eulogy to Mr. Sendak.


Across a crowded room (full of books)

Here’s an interesting post by Cory Doctorow on marketing, or as he puts it, “getting people to care about the products of your imagination”. The article’s focus ends up being on self-publishing, but I think it’s relevant for any author, really.

What interested me most (because I approach everything obliquely for some reason) was the first few paragraphs where he described his early bookselling career. I’ve been a bookseller, too, and he’s got his finger on something I often used to feel: the pathos of publishing, that books (even good ones) are ephemeral. So many shine briefly and then disappear.

Long ago, I worked in an antiquarian bookstore in Chicago, where I eventually became a buyer. People would bring in old books and I would offer them money — or not. Age alone does not make a book valuable: someone also has to want it, and most of the books that have ever been published are long forgotten (often justly, but sometimes not). That was an unusual store in that it was tactically disorganized, forcing patrons to browse. I think young Doctorow, based on his description of himself, would have loved it. It was for exactly that kind of reader, in search of a serendipitous book, and that is the kind of context where books – obscure books, books that have disappeared undeservedly – are united with readers who will appreciate them. That was a beautiful thing, to my mind.

Later, I worked at Children’s Book World, where we prided ourselves on being able to unite books with readers in a different way. We all read extensively, we got to know our customers, and we played matchmaker. It was very, very satisfying.

Doctorow seems hopeful that the internet and electronic media will keep books available longer, but there’s still that crucial step, connecting reader with text. Sites like Goodreads help bridge the gap; book review blogs do too. I like to pretend to myself that I’m doing something useful in that direction right here. But I think readers are also an important part of the equation, readers who actively look for a book that will speak to them, regardless of how difficult it may be to find.

What’s the most serendipitous book you ever found, and how did you find it? Or – if you will permit me to pose the question spookily – how did it find you?