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Envy

June 10, 2007, 4:56 pm

I need to say that Kenneth Ackerman’s new book, noted on Mary Dudziak’s Legal History Blog, makes me want to scream. This book is in chain bookstores everywhere and will be purchased by the thousands.

Do I want to scream at Mary Dudziak for shilling this book? No. I admire her. And I have many reasons to be grateful to Mary Dudziak, only one of which is that she has mounted this great blog that helps us keep up with what is coming out in the fields of legal and political history. The other reasons will have to remain a Mystery as they have to do with Very Secret Professional Business.

Back to Kenneth Ackerman’s book. I’m sure this is a fine book, but its very appearance plays to an ongoing trauma of mine. My trauma is this: I cannot tell you how many more or less general books have — and will be — published about the FBI. It is like the Civil War: there is literally an endless market for such books, and they are mostly all the same. And they sell many copies before they go out of print.

So why has my book about the FBI, a first book, but all the same quite different from the rest, one that has some spiffy stories in it and weaves a particular period of the Bureau’s history into the New Deal state making project — why has this book never sold like hot cakes? I ask you. Hence the screaming part. And actually, this Ackerman book makes me scream less than some of the rest — he actually did what I did, took a chunk of J. Edgar Hoover’s life that was very underwritten and explored it thoroughly. There is at least one book out there, aimed at a very popular market for which, as far as I can tell, the author read my book and then re-wrote it with conversations that he pulled out of his head, and without an argument that would serve only to confuse the general reader. That one made me want to scream and cry. And maybe sue.

You are now wagging your virtual finger at me and saying, “Stop the whining Radical, you got tenure with this first book, didn’t you?”

We-e-e-ll, yes.

“And isn’t that worth a lot of money over the years?”

I guess so.

“And you get a little check once a year that is usually between $100 and $200, don’t you?”

Uh-huh.

“Isn’t it the case that many authors never see a dime beyond their advance money?”

Yup.

“Have you ever gone out of print in nine years?”

No (feeling small now).

“And if you look at the Amazon site, there are 53 people selling your book from $2.73 on up. At Labyrinth, an independent bookstore where you should always be shopping, you can get it used for $6.98, $15.02 off the cover price, damn it! Doesn’t that suggest that a lot of people are actually reading your damn book? Maybe adopting it in their courses? And that they don’t feed it to the pigs afterwards?”

Yeah. So?

“And doesn’t a graduate student run up to you once in a while and — in an appropriately breathless way — ask if you are, in fact, the actual author of this book?”

Yes. But I wanted fame and lots of money and to be on the Lehrer News Hour. And to be desired by all. I especially wanted to be desired by all.

“Hush up and get back to work Radical. You know, Tinkerbell isn’t writing your second book while you work on blog posts, you nitwit.”

OK. Bye. You are right. I’ve stopped screaming now.

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