Friday, May 21, 2010

Bodies at rest tend to stay at rest

We in the book industry have a keen appreciation for inertia as a motive force for good. We believe that there are eternal verities and most things should stay put. (Except BEA which somehow got stuck in New York.) Books, like tree limbs and stones, should be subject to the laws of gravity. They mustn't oscillate in waves at so many megahertz per second to land as digitized files on an electronic device. Yuck. Books are meant to be printed, bound and shipped across great distances to a place where they will be lovingly displayed for fifty-nine days, at which point the bill comes due and all unsold copies will be re-boxed and shipped back to a nondescript warehouse in a cornfield somewhere for pulping. Inertia has decreed it thus, now and forevermore.

We roll around in our effin inertia the ways pigs roll around in their mud, snorting and chuffing, taking delight in our own wondrous pink bulk. We speak in grave tones of the coming apocalypse, the end of civilization, the horrid days when the Barbarians from the West, brandishing their 21st Century Technology like Star Wars weaponry, come galloping into town and take over the saloon, the hotel, the general store, the jail, and the undertaker's. Hey, poot, there won't be nuthin' left for us. Not even a thimbleful of cactus juice.

Inertia is what keeps us going. It steadies us when we get a little too adventuresome and try to revise our discount schedules or co-op policies. It enables many of us to keep our jobs. I, for one, love inertia, even more than I love women, food, and god. (When I was young, me and my buddy R. tried to manufacture a frictionless air puck so we could measure pure collisions. Imagine two kids defying gravity. It was funny at the time, now it seems poignant.)

For us in publishing, the foreign country is the one whose border begins at the Hudson, just the way it was depicted by Saul Steinberg in the
New Yorker those many years ago. We're a helluva lot closer to London than Trenton. Everything to the west of us is scary. The hordes out there have got religion and eat lots of meat, they drive big vehicles and breed, and they don't read real literature. They read self-help books. Hah, that's a joke. We inertia-lovers on the island of Manhattan know better than to try and help ourselves. There isn't anything you can do about gravity. Things fall down. Nothing changes unless an immovable force meets an unstoppable object (or is it the other way around?), at which point you get a big bang, a transfer of energy, accompanied by lots of booze.

Despite our obeisance to the great Moloch of inertia, something needs to move -- BEA. Who agreed to keep the publishing trade show in New York for so many years in a row? Was it us, we parochial New Yorkers too scared to cross the Hudson, desperate to keep the industry ball-and-chained to its roots, here in the least "American" American city, where you can still get French food cooked the way they used to cook it in France? The Javits Center is the epicenter of inertia, where union workers hammering booths together earn more in a month than an editorial assistant does in a year, where public transportation doesn't quite reach, and where the Hudson and its dreaded western bank loom close. Under that black glass shell gravity reigns supreme, it becomes difficult to move one's feet, and sound travels slowly. Once inside, you'll walk among the booths with their brave displays of New Product and you'll feel the weight of inertia upon your shoulders like a Sisyphean stone. You'll find yourself crying. The hot tears are gonna well up in your eyes. Let them come. For you love inertia -- it has taken you so far. But there, under those hissing lights, you'll come to see that it will not take you far enough.

1 comment:

  1. ...and bodies in motion tend to stay in motion.