Literary daybook, July 29

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.


the Salon Books Editors
July 29, 2002 11:02PM (UTC)

Today in fiction

On July 29, 1994, Edward produces a vial of the new drug.
-- "Acceptable Risk" (1995)
by Robin Cook

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to fictiondays@yahoo.com.

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Today in literary history
On this day in 1960, Richard Simon, co-founder of Simon & Schuster, died. According to the 1999 memoir "Another Life," by present S&S editor in chief Michael Korda, Dick Simon was the dark-and-dashing half of the team, with Max Schuster the befuddled semi-intellectual. The two launched the company in 1924, taking a very successful gamble with the publication of the first crossword puzzle book; by the '50s, a third partner, Leon Shimkin of Pocket Books, had joined them, making S&S part of the paperback revolution and, says Korda, a house divided:

"It was not a partnership made in heaven. While Max Schuster retreated to his office to plan further volumes of philosophy and of Will Durant's "The Story of Civilization," Dick Simon chafed at having to deal with the cautious and often nay-saying Shimkin. Simon was a handsome, chain-smoking, hard-drinking man with an eye for a pretty woman and a sense of fun and wit that made him a vast number of friends."

S&S is now part of the media conglomerate Viacom Inc. (Paramount, Blockbuster, MTV, etc.), thus providing the general theme of Korda's book: His career at S&S, begun simultaneous to Dick Simon's early retirement and death, was witness to a gentleman's profession -- book-loving publishers and cottage industry marketing -- being overtaken by the era of profit and hype.

S&S spent 5-10 times more on promotion than most competitors, and Korda's snapshots of life around the office show the struggle between books and commerce to have been decided pretty early on. His book also shows Korda himself on the winning and losing side, depending on your page. One anecdote has him meeting his boss, Henry Simon, younger brother of Dick, while on his way home with "several manuscripts and a sizable chunk of the Durants." This prompted Henry to recall going home similarly burdened, and meeting his very unburdened brother in the elevator: "Dick stared at Henry's load and chuckled. Pointing to Henry, he said, in mock Indian, "You, editor." Then pointing to his thin portfolio, he said, "Me, publisher." A different sort of anecdote has Korda complicit in the publication of a Harold Robbins novel that the author would not change, though the plot and even names of the characters in the second half did not seem to relate to those in the first. "I've been working my ass off to write these books for years, trying to figure out plots and characters," growled Robbins. "Let the readers do some work for a change." This was a long way and a lot of money from Korda's first day at S&S, when he arrived to see a cast bronze plaque designed by Dick Simon on his desk, as it was on all other desks: "Give the reader a break."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.

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