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Casual Encounters With Print

Sarah Palin and the Oxford University Press.

12:03 PM, Apr 20, 2011 • By PHILIP TERZIAN
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Two random thoughts on the book biz, prompted by a couple of casual encounters with print this week.

Palin Sarah

Photo by David Shankbone.

First, in Tuesday’s “Arts, Briefly” column in the New York Times, an item by Julie Bosman explains that “Former Aide Plans ‘Chilling Expose’ on Palin.” It seems that Frank Bailey, a onetime aide to Governor Sarah Palin, who has been shopping his manuscript around for the past several months, hit pay dirt. Howard Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, will publish his account next month. (No advance was cited.) It is “a chilling expose of Palin,” announces Howard Books, “and the story of one man’s slow drift from his most cherished beliefs to his ultimate redemption.”

If any proof were needed that the left remains deeply fearful of her power and influence in American politics, this announcement alone should give her a certain satisfaction. The late Geraldine Ferraro – the pioneering female on another losing ticket—exerted no such spell on conservatives in her day, and with the possible exception of Dick Cheney, it is difficult to think of any vice presidential candidate – or vice president, for that matter – in our times who has been the subject of as much critical scrutiny as Governor Palin. In September, of course, Joe (The Selling of the President) McGinnis’s tome will appear – and if that doesn’t demonstrate Palin’s hypnotic powers, it is difficult to imagine what would.

In the meantime, the mail brought a cheery spring sale catalogue from Oxford University Press, featuring a number of substantial (and tempting) discounts: For example, the three volume Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, formerly priced for libraries-only at $495, is now available to splurging scholars for the cost of dinner for two at a nice restaurant: $173.25.

But thumbing through the rest of the catalogue, my eyes fell on “To Everything There is a Season”: Pete Seeger and the Power of Song by Allan M. Winkler. I was not especially interested in what is undoubtedly a volume of left wing agitprop—Seeger having been Stalin’s most prominent admirer in the folk movement—but I was struck by the curiously fulsome, and dishonest, character of the catalogue copy: “Describes how Seeger applied his musical talents to improve conditions for less fortunate people everywhere. The book uses Seeger’s long life and wonderful songs to …” – at which point I hurriedly turned the page in search of something less annoying.  

But there I found Freedom’s Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s by Robert Cohen, down to $12.25 from $34.95, which “illuminates Mario’s egalitarian style, his remarkable eloquence, and the many ways he embodied the youthful idealism of the 1960s.” Mario? I couldn’t imagine that an Oxford study of a conservative/Republican figure in modern history would speak equally affectionately in its catalogue copy of “Ronald” or “Bill” or “Dubya” – and in turning the pages to find an example, suddenly realized that I wouldn’t find one because, of course, no such volume exists.

I did take some modest satisfaction in the radical reduction in price for Freedom’s Orator, which suggests that it sold poorly and Oxford University Press is anxious to move the merchandise. But it’s still discouraging to find that a random sampling of an OUP catalogue turns up, first, Pete Seeger and his “wonderful songs” and, then, Mario Savio – or “Mario,” as I’ll always think of him. 

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