A business story? You decide.
One of those pitch perfect autumn leaves kind of days on the campus of the University of Chicago. More like when Harry met Sally than when Penguin met Random House.
Penguin and Random House announcing merger talks that could result in one company controlling 25% of the US publishing market.
The prophesy of the songwriter Greg Brown coming to mind;
“They’ll be one corporation
Selling one little box
It’ll do whatever you want to
And cost whatever you got.”
But on the campus of the University of Chicago, the comforting rhythms of academia blended with the golden, orange and red autumn leaves. Professors strolled along pontificating; students lazed under trees on the quadrangle, reading Kierkegaard in the warm breezes. No one seemed in a hurry. Everybody carried the message that they were doing something important, but no one was rushing.
Penguin and Random House, giant companies both, are owned by even bigger companies. Penguin by the British conglomerate Pearson. Random House by the German firm Bertelsmann. A commentary on these times when everybody seems owned by someone bigger.
But that kind of thinking was for other times, other places. Here on the campus, the sweeping prairie style planes in Frank Lloyd Wrights “Robie House” were rising out of the earth leaving no doubt as to the contention of architecture as fine art. Construction crews were at work. Scaffolding dressed a giant church that could have been from an English village.
Somewhere near here another Harry was meeting another Sally to load up the car, set off for some real or imagined New York City and all the winding, zigging and zagging curves the highway would take on a road trip through life and if they were very, very lucky, to reach something past surviving and a maybe even on towards dreams being real. Maybe even dreams that they never imagined could be real when they, young Harry and young Sally were just starting out back here on the campus in the autumn loading up their car.
They would make that drive from Chicago to New York. Turning left at Gary Indiana where the sizzling orange sparks of the steel mills belching fire and smoke into the air hinted at forces that was bigger than they were. Across the flat plains of Indiana and Ohio, into the hills of Pennsylvania and like an electrical current getting stronger, on over the bridges into Manhattan and a life.
Maybe this time, Sally would marry Harry’s best friend. Harry would get life long credit for introducing the two of them, even though no one introduces what’s always meant to be. Harry would write a primitive 3 chords on the guitar song for the two of them as a wedding present,
“Raise your voice in celebration
All that changes is not lost
Sometimes things work better than you plan”
Harry would end up always staying in touch with his best friend. But the connection wouldn’t spill over into Harry staying in touch with Sally. That connection rising up best and rightly so in memory on those rare days like this one. On days when you walk across the campus and you remember your own Sally or your own Harry.
Your own Sally memory. Her with a throat catching beauty that would rival any Meg Ryan you choose. Your Sally’s beauty shining just as bright in memory,
And now all those years later, here you are walking across the campus to see if there is any chance at all that a legendary bookstore, an independent bookstore’s bookstore, a real life co-op will carry a book that actually has YOUR name on the front!
You are lucky enough to find yourself talking to the gentleman who makes the buying decisions, and while he pages through the book, you say, “the last time I heard, it was #37 on amazon in our category.”
He smiles understandingly at you and says, “Amazon is probably not a word you want to use in a bookstore.”
Your cringe undoubtedly visible on your face, his kindness as a natural teacher comes out and he tells you that’s OK.
Then the subject changes completely and he holds up the book and says, “This is good. This looks quite good. I can put this in three stores.” And he asks you for more books than you were even carrying!”
“Hang on,” you say. “I’ll just run back to my car (or drive to China if that’s what it will take, you think) and get you more.
So off you go, up the steps of the fabled bookstore. Incredulous. That book written by you and your co-author. That book is now on sale on the campus of the University of Chicago. In a bookstore where the likes of Saul Bellow used to roam. Where Nobel Prize winners would scan the shelves.
Today merger talks between Random House and Penguin were announced.
But today your book went on sale on the campus of the University of Chicago in a real bookstore. And make no mistake, your co-author and you are more than grateful for all of the stores stocking the book as well as amazon. More than grateful.
But even in the shadow of the merger of giant publishing houses, today a book went on sale right across the campus from where Harry Met Sally.
“I Am Your Neighbor: Voices of a Chicago Food Pantry.” By David R Brown and Roger Wright. Now on sale at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore, 57th Street Books, The Newberry Library, The Book Cellar, Unabridged Books, Women and Children First and www.amazon.com.