My friend Lauren is visiting this week, which means we’ve spent hours and hours talking about the spiritual toxicity of publishing–another name for the the unpleasant dynamic produced by the double truth that 1) while recognition, publicity, and acclaim are necessary so that books can sell and pay the bills, 2) the active pursuit of recognition, publicity, and acclaim kills creativity, produces envy, discontent, and all uncharitableness, and makes the writer miserable. Is spiritually toxic, in other words. It’s a theme I’ve addressed before on this blog (here, for example ) and which I’ve now decided to turn into its own category.

So this morning at breakfast Lauren read me the following poem by Clive James, which is apparently being reprinted in a collected volume of James’s poems called Opal Sunset. According to the New York Times, the book is being put out by my own publisher, W. W. Norton, although I don’t yet see the book either on Amazon or on the Norton website.

In any case, here it is.

The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased.
In vast quantities it has been remaindered
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
My enemy’s much-prized effort sits in piles
In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.
Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
One passes down reflecting on life’s vanities,
Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
Lavished to no avail upon one’s enemy’s book –
For behold, here is that book
Among these ranks and banks of duds,
These ponderous and seemingly irreducible cairns
Of complete stiffs.

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I rejoice.
It has gone with bowed head like a defeated legion
Beneath the yoke.
What avail him now his awards and prizes,
The praise expended upon his meticulous technique,
His individual new voice?
Knocked into the middle of next week
His brainchild now consorts with the bad buys
The sinker, clinkers, dogs and dregs,
The Edsels of the world of moveable type,
The bummers that no amount of hype could shift,
The unbudgeable turkeys.

Yea, his slim volume with its understated wrapper
Bathes in the blare of the brightly jacketed Hitler’s War Machine,
His unmistakably individual new voice
Shares the same scrapyart with a forlorn skyscraper
Of The Kung-Fu Cookbook,
His honesty, proclaimed by himself and believed by others,
His renowned abhorrence of all posturing and pretense,
Is there with Pertwee’s Promenades and Pierrots –
One Hundred Years of Seaside Entertainment,
And (oh, this above all) his sensibility,
His sensibility and its hair-like filaments,
His delicate, quivering sensibility is now as one
With Barbara Windsor’s Book of Boobs,
A volume graced by the descriptive rubric
“My boobs will give everyone hours of fun.”

Soon now a book of mine could be remaindered also,
Though not to the monumental extent
In which the chastisement of remaindering has been meted out
To the book of my enemy,
Since in the case of my own book it will be due
To a miscalculated print run, a marketing error –
Nothing to do with merit.
But just supposing that such an event should hold
Some slight element of sadness, it will be offset
By the memory of this sweet moment.
Chill the champagne and polish the crystal goblets!
The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am glad.

– Clive James

Showing 8 comments
  • Lori

    Oh my! If I may just say something totally colloquial, that is stinkin’ hilarious!

  • Austin Storm

    Don’t worry! If it gets remaindered I will buy up a bundle and it will enjoy a healthy if somewhat sad second life at my bookstore.

  • mary kathryn

    If I had any doubts at all, you’ve just convinced me never to seek publication for book I once wrote. I think I like it better in its present form!

  • Craig

    Give Lauren (“Emerita”) my regards. Fun to think about the two of you sitting around solving all the publishing problems of the world.

  • Suzanne B in CA

    Can I say again that I find it hilarious/crazy that you and Lauren Winner are friends, and that I have admired you both, for different reasons (different especially because I’ve never met her!!) completely independent of realizing that you knew each other?! I wish I could be there as a fly on the wall this week. A fly that can ask questions, that is. And drink coffee.

  • Anita

    I’m with Suzanne, what I would give to be a fly on your wall this week. I take my coffee with creme 😀

  • Sebastian

    I think this is the first time I’ve laughed out loud today.

  • Sahamamama

    To: Anyone Ignorant of the Definition of Terms
    From: Similar Person (until about 1 minute ago)

    Remainder = a copy of a book remaining in the publisher’s stock when its sale has practically ceased, frequently sold at a reduced price.

    Now you know. 🙂

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