I spent the first part of this week in New York: people to see, business to do, obscure books to consult, and a visit to the Norton fall sales conference cocktail party. Which was delightful because I got to put on a snazzy dress (normally I work in my husband’s discarded T-shirts and sweats), and because I got to see all my favorite Norton folks (well, a good cross-section of them), and because I got to go the 21 Club (although mini-burgers and mini-hot dogs with sauerkraut didn’t exactly fill me with the desire to stuff food down by handfuls).
Also because I got to hear people say nice things about the history series. See last week’s post for my thoughts about why this doesn’t really work as motivation for the long run, but after bashing my head against the enigma of early medieval Indian chronicles for months and months, I can totally deal with an evening that involves dressing up and listening to kind words about my prose.
And getting the occasional dose of reality at the same time. One of my favorite sales reps came up to tell me that she was going through the upcoming titles with one of her regular independent booksellers, and that the bookseller stopped at The History of the Medieval World and said something like, “Ah, Susan Wise Bauer. All history books should be written like hers. THIS is what history should be like.”
Me (feeling warm and fuzzy and waving away tray of mini hot dogs with sauerkraut): Aww, thank you!
Sales rep: The bookseller loves your books. Just thinks they’re wonderful. I wanted you to know what a fan you have.
Me: That is so encouraging. It means a lot to me.
Sales rep: That bookseller is so enthusiastic about your work. Really a huge supporter.
Me (feeling happier by the moment): Wonderful to hear!
Another W. W. Norton staffer (standing by and listening with interest): So how many copies did the bookseller order?
Sales rep: One.
But hey, I’ll take the enthusiasm. When I’m trying to figure out exactly how long the last king of the empire of Orissa reigned, it will help to remember that SOMEONE thinks this is how all history books should be written.
Well, maybe all those homeschool kids using SOTW will grow up and order lots and lots of copies… Your popularity as a historian/writer may take a huge leap when all those chronological history kids grow up. Right now, there just aren’t enough Well-Trained adults, right?
I especially appreciate your history books after having read the textbook for my Western Civilization I class in college. This textbook feels like a list of facts. There are no explanations, stories, or connections. I don’t remember anything after I read it. Here’s a typical sample of my textbook, *Western Civilization: Beyond Boundaries* (5th ed.) Houghton Mifflin:
“Along with cities came writing, which developed between about 3500 and 3100 B.C. in Mesopotamia. The growth of writing from simple recordkeeping can be traced step by step. Before writing, Mesopotamian people used tiny clay or stone tokens to represent objects being counted or traded. By 3500 B.C., with 250 different types of tokens in play, the system had grown unwieldy enough for people to start using signs on a clay tablet by making indentations in the clay with a reed stylus: writing. New words were soon added through pictographs (pictures that stand for particular objects). In time the pictographs evolved into ideograms–that is, abstract symbols that are no longer recognizable as specific objects and thus can be used to denote ideas as well as things.”
How dreary it is compared to your chapter on the development of writing in the *History of the Ancient World*! I remember everything I’ve read in your book because you actually bothered to *explain* things. Thank you for writing history books that are actually worth reading. Someday when my future children are in high school, I’ll have them read your books.
Not that you’re pandering for praise, but you’ve got two more admirers – well three if you count me as my children’s teacher. You have completely ruined them for any other form of history 🙂
well, i hope my local barnes & noble has ordered a few copies, bc i’ve been saving my gift cards! my kids & i have so enjoyed story of the world that i can’t wait to read the history of the (whole) world. and if we decide to keep my son home for high school next year i am figuring on this being the text we use.