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A half-century length career in book publishing is my dream, and Jason Epstein is the icon and achiever of this goal.

Epstein is kind enough to expel his knowledge and experience of the publishing industry in his professional memoir, Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future.  While catered toward the niche group of people interested in book publishing, this is also a wonderful tale of history and the way relationships with books have evolved throughout the 1900s.

This iconic career began when Epstein stumbled across an editorial position

Epstein sharing his knowledge in 2009

Epstein sharing his knowledge in 2009

with Doubleday in his early 20s (and I do mean stumbled, he claims to have known nothing about publishing at the time when the opportunity was offered him), during which he repeatedly said he was ready to pick up and leave at a moment’s notice, though he ended up staying there a decade.  Within that decade he was the man responsible for the invention of Anchor Books – the imprint responsible for the “quality paperback” book, which made literature more affordable for the masses as opposed to the superior quality, expensive hard cover novels.

After that success, Epstein moved over to Random House, now the world’s largest trade publisher.  When Epstein first made the career transition Random House was a family-style business located within the wing of one New York mansion, in which he tells tales of famous authors delivering manuscripts in slippers and spending the night on couches (and not always alone!).

Epstein is a big-picture businessman.  Able to look at book publishing from the editorial and quality of literature angle, as well as the ability to envision new venues for sales and marketing, he is a man I would trust to carry a book from conception to success.

Responsible for numerous advances in the publishing industry throughout his career, Epstein was among the first to embrace the online retail giant in its struggling years, Amazon (ironically he found fault with Amazon’s business model, which has boomed since the publication of this memoir in 2001).  This enlightening book, surprisingly small in statue considering the wealth of information contained within, cites book publishing to be on the edge of a vast transformation, in which I see future opportunities without bounds.

Since this publication, Epstein has capitalized on some of his own visions mentioned.

Espresso Book Machine - visit ondemandbooks.com

Espresso Book Machine: ondemandbooks.com

In 2004, he launched “OnDemandBooks.”  With yet another invention on his repertoire, the “Espresso Book Machine” is available at locations throughout the United States, Canada and England for on-demand, affordable printing of books

Read this if: You’re interested in hearing  a behind the scenes tale from a publishing great, and how the industry has changed in a mere 50 years and the how the transformation may continue.

Avoid this if: You’re looking for a raucous tale filled with gossip and dirt on some of the most respected authors.  This is not a tell-all, but a memoir of an accomplished career.

  • Title: Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future
  • Author: Jason Epstein
  • Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
  • NovelWhore’s Grade: A-

I used to love John Grisham, he could do no wrong.  From the “The Pelican Brief” (which I’ve read at least seven times), to bawling while finishing “The Chamber,” to the more intense page turners “The Firm” and “A Time to Kill” – they were all wonderful.  I used to be able to pick up the latest Grisham novel and know I was in for a good time.

I had been looking forward to yesterday for awhile.  Not only was I taking the train to meet my mom and sister half-way for a shopping spree (someone has to support this dismal economy!), but I knew I would have quality train time to finish a couple books without distraction. Grisham’s legal thriller “The Appeal” from 2008 was on the top of my list.

Taking place in Bowmore, Mississippi, a sad little town that mammoth company Krane Pharmaceuticals has turned into “Cancer County, USA,” it’s a simple case of good vs. evil, David vs. Goliath.  The novel opens with a huge verdict of $41MM awarded to a woman whose son and husband have both died as a direct result of the poison from Krane that ended up in the water system.

From here, the book goes horribly wrong.

Spinning off in tangents – religion, supreme court, bought politicians, local banks and bankruptcy, class action suits, greedy CEOs – while I won’t deny all the tangents somehow link back to the original verdict, there is so much going on that as the reader, it’s impossible to focus on the bigger picture or get attached and relate to any of the characters.

"The Appeal" - already delegated to my bag of books to donate, unworthy of taking up space on my book shelves

"The Appeal" - already delegated to my bag of books to donate, unworthy of taking up space on my book shelves

And the ending… wow.  You hope for some character growth, and while it’s probable, the book ends with quite a few threads left hanging.  Spoiler alert: I may be unrealistic, but I like to see karma come back in some form.  I was hoping against hope the evil CEO and his co-conspirators aboard his mega-yacht in the last chapter would be the victims of some sort of boat explosion/lightning strike/iceburg hitting event, but it was not meant to be.

But please, by all means if you feel differently let me know.  Am I jaded? Expecting too much of Grisham?  Too naive to appreciate a book with a disappointing ending?

My advice: If you’re looking for a big-business trial book, try Grisham’s old school (1997) “The Runaway Jury,” in which a big tobacco company is taken to trial by a grieving widow.  I read this book a decade ago and still remember the plot and characters.  “The Appeal,” on the other hand, is about to be forgotten as soon as this post is published!

  • Title: The Appeal
  • Author: John Grisham
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • NovelWhore’s Grade: D

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