July 29, 2010
Judith Gurewich: One always runs the risk of reverting to platitudes when one talks about one’s publishing vision, and why should I be any different? After all, I am a little greener than most in the business and therefore even more prone to superlatives than my seasoned colleagues. The old saying goes, “You are what you eat.” For publishers, it should be, “You are what you publish.” If so, I’d prefer to jump right into the kitchen and talk about the books. Since I love to cook as much as I love to edit, my authors often move into my house in Cambridge so I can feed them as we talk, fight, and work around the clock. Mind you, they love the food—it helps the editorial medicine go down—and they like the results: great publicity, beautiful covers, lavish ads in the New York Times and strong sales even while the depression rages on. The Glass Room by Simon Mawer is a case in point, with over 40,000 copies in the market place and more than 25,000 of those already avidly read.
But life has not always been so easy. A while back, I published an array of remarkable literary novels in translation, by the likes of Hanna Krall, Icchokas Meras, Alberto Moravia, Erri De Luca, Peter Stamm, George Konrad, and many more. In my view, they all qualify as classics, for they each reveal not only the their authors’ talent but also the mentality, the culture, and the psychology of a different era, often the second part of the twentieth century. I only wish that then was now! We were small at the time, and did not have the incredible Random House sales force to push our books, thanks to whom we have acquired credibility among booksellers, as well as the friendship and support of many. I could easily spend my time touring the country and hanging out with what I have discovered is the secret intelligentsia of our country.
These booksellers did not need to read more than one page of the galley of The Wrong Blood by Manuel de Lope to realize that this Spanish novel, translated by the award-winning John Cullen, is the kind of literature that only comes by once in a blue moon. Written like a dream with resonances of Borges, Proust, and Baudelaire, and just enough dark wit to give it spice, The Wrong Blood shows us the Spanish Civil War as seen from the perspective of two women who share a secret that will give you the shivers. It isn’t far-fetched to say that I am always searching for a “classic” feel, even in the most contemporary and avant-garde literature I publish. It is no coincidence that Charles Elton, whose Mr. Toppit, a huge bestseller in England that really captures the pulse of our celebrity-obsessed era, read the early novels of Joan Didion and Philip Roth over and over again in order to shape his writing style and his story line. Learning to Lose by the celebrated Spanish author David Trueba also fits the bill, though it falls into the entirely different genre of “cool.” Here we find the joys and woes of soccer and young love under the sun of modern Madrid.
Occasionally I relax a little and publish stories that are simply terrific page-turners. Even with these, I look to go beyond superficial entertainments, because a good book, even when not a literary masterpiece, must affect your soul, and leave you with something you did not have before—whether knowledge, emotional charge, or some particular insights. This is the case with Mitchell Kaplan’s By Fire, By Water, a novel that effortlessly introduces us to the world of conversos during the Spanish inquisition, filled with intrigues, love affairs, and real history. Similarly, The Debba by Avner Mandelman is both my first foray into thriller-land and an insider’s look at the incredibly complex texture of Israeli society from 1947 to 1972. The reader leaves the book totally exhausted, having taken a roller coaster ride while acquiring a very different perspective on the Middle East conflict.
As far as non-fiction is concerned, I am proud to have published the much-lauded memoirHurry Down Sunshine by Michael Greenberg. It seems everyone has heard of this brilliant memoir but few connect it to Other Press. Hurry Down Sunshine was also my first international success, having been sold to eighteen countries and becoming a big best seller in Spain, Italy and Sweden.
This October, Montaigne comes to America in the form of an amazing biography by Sarah Bakewell called How to Live. It is my pride and joy of the season. I think you already know this because I saw the tweet on your blog.
My goal is to get Montaigne on the Colbert Report – it would do Steven and America a lot of good to finally learn “How To Live.” In a nutshell, Sarah’s wonderful book epitomizes what I want people to associate with my publishing house: it is at once immensely instructive, entertaining, intelligent, and beautifully written. And it puts you in a good mood!