This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2, 491) on Friday, September 9, 2022.
What is it that makes a book a bestseller?
Take a book that has an excellent and engaging plot and that is well and perceptibly written. Combine that with an author who is well-known. Give the book a handsome cover, and make sure the book’s interior is legible and well-proofed. Back the book up with a generous and targeted marketing scheme. Add to this mix excellent reviews.
If you have all of these things, a book is still unlikely to make a bestseller list. Why is that? Honest publishers (and there are a few of those around) will tell you that they simply do not know what makes a book sell. The most likely factor is a well-known personage, such as a politician, as the book’s (supposed) author.
Books that have none of the characteristics listed a couple of paragraphs above can shoot to the top of the bestseller list and stay there for weeks or months on end.
With more than 500 years of publishing experience to go on, we still do not have an inkling of an answer to the question: what makes a book sell?
Have a great and literate weekend.
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Larry Doby: Everything that happened to Jackie Robinson except the accolades
Almost everyone knows the name of Jackie Robinson, and most people know his story. He began playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in April 1947, thus becoming the first African-American player to break into Major League Baseball in the 20th century.
His playing ability and his legendary courage in facing down the taunts and ignorance of teammates, opposing players, umpires, and abusive fans are legendary. Major League Baseball has done much to honor him, including retiring his uniform number, 42, so that no player for any team can ever wear it again.
Robinson certainly deserves all the accolades that he has received.
But in honoring Robinson, we have forgotten the name of Larry Doby and his story, which mirrors Robinson’s almost precisely.
In July 1947, four months after Robinson made his debut in baseball’s National League, Larry Doby began his playing career in the American League with the Cleveland Indians. He faced the same cold shoulders, taunts, and discrimination that Robinson had endured. Robinson was first, but his entry into the major leagues did almost nothing to ease the path for Doby and a number of other Black players who followed him.
Doby was born in Camden, South Carolina, in 1923, and like many young men of his time, both Black and white, he played many sports. He loved baseball and wanted to make it a career.
He got his chance in 1942 when he broke in with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League. He also played professional basketball and was the first African-American to play both in the American Basketball League and in Major League Baseball.
Doby served in the Navy for two years during World War II and returned to baseball after the war. It was common knowledge at the time that a number of baseball owners were planning to integrate the league, Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers being the most prominent. Bill Veeck, who owned the Cleveland Indians, also made it known that he was looking for a good young Black player with the talent and the demeanor to handle the difficult task that he would be facing. A reporter suggested to Veeck that he take a look at Larry Doby of the Newark Eagles.
After seeing Doby play and observing him off the field, Cleveland Indian scouts reported to Veeck that he was someone who could handle being the first Black player in the American League. Thus, he joined the team on July 5, 1947.
Doby entered the Indians locker room and tried to introduce himself to his teammates. That did not go well as many of the players either turned their backs on him or gave him a cold handshake. When he came out onto the field for team warm-ups, he stood by himself for several minutes because no one would engage with him. Finally, Joe Gordon, a second baseman, came over and asked Doby to toss and catch a few balls with him. Gordon befriended Doby, and the two became close companions and good friends for the rest of their lives. (Gordon was one of the outstanding players of his time, and he was eventually inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame.)
Doby struggled during his first year with the Indians, and he did not get much playing time. In addition, he had to endure all of the expected taunts and challenges, including having to stay in a separate hotel from the rest of the team while the Indians were on the road.
Doby’s ability to play baseball, however, was never in doubt. In 1948, it was clear that despite his experience as an infielder, Doby would get more playing time if he learned to play the outfield. That’s what he did, and by mid-season, Doby was making significant contributions to what would become the Indians’ championship season.
The Indians made it to the World Series that year. Against the Boston Braves in Game 4, Doby hit a home run, the first by an African-American in World Series history. All the doubts about his playing ability and his acceptance by the team had, by then, been erased. In 1949, Doby was one of the five members of the Indians team to be selected to play in Major League Baseball’s All-Star game.
Doby ended his 13-year major league career in 1959. His batting average was .287, he had hit 273 home runs, and he had more than 1000 runs batted in.
Doby stayed with baseball and eventually became a batting coach for several teams. In 1974, he rejoined the Cleveland Indians. When the Indians fired their manager at the end of the season, the team named Frank Robinson as the first Black manager in the league.
In 1978, at the age of 53, Doby became the second Black manager of a major league team, taking over the reins of the Chicago White Sox. His managerial career lasted less than one season, however.
After leaving Major League Baseball, Doby held several positions in the National Basketball Association and retired from sports in 1990. He died in 2003 at the age of 79.
In 2012, Dave Anderson, sports columnist for the New York Times, wrote of Doby:
In glorifying those who are first, the second is often forgotten … Larry Doby integrated all those American League ballparks where Jackie Robinson never appeared. And he did it with class and clout.
Rare Book School
If you love books and are interested in their history and development, you might want to check out the Rare Book School, which is located in Charlottesville, Virginia, and is associated with the University of Virginia.
The school offers a combination of courses, lectures, and other resources—both online and in person—that appeals to bibliophiles of all shapes and stripes.
The school is the brainchild of Terry Belanger and was begun in 1983 with a genius grant from the MacArthur Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Belanger retired in 2009, and the director of the school is now Michael Suarez.
Experts in all facets of the history of books and printing have been recruited to lead lectures and seminars in their specialties. Some of the lectures that these people present are free, some are broadcast online, and many of them are archived on YouTube. The school also leaves Charlottesville occasionally to offer courses and lectures in New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Bloomington, New Haven, and Washington, D.C.
One of the missions of the school is to train archivists in what it calls “responsible stewardship” of rare books and documents.
The courses, lectures, and resources of the Rare Book School are certainly worth checking out.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
Peter Gunn: a cool guy and gal, a problem-resolution, and lots of fun—all in 30 minutes
If you have accumulated enough birthdays, you might remember turning on the television one evening each week and watching a mystery/detective show titled Peter Gunn.
If you don’t have that many birthdays under your belt, you have surely heard the famous Theme from Peter Gunn, which was composed by Henry Mancini and which became an instant classic during that era and far beyond.
Mancini, who composed many memorable songs and themes, won a Grammy award for the Theme from Peter Gunn. That piece of music has been played and recorded countless times since 1958 when it was first heard.
In addition to the music, or maybe because of it, the television show Peter Gunn has an iconic place in the history of movies and television detectives.
The lead role was played by the square-faced Craig Stevens, who always had the vague look of Cary Grant about him. His girlfriend on the show, Edie Hart, was played by Lola Albright, a beautiful and talented actress who underplayed her part perfectly in the show’s run of more than 100 episodes.
Each week, viewers got to see Pete, as he was known to his friends, and Edie exchange snappy banter that was suggestive but never over the top. Edie never “caught” Pete, which was one of the show’s strengths. She was obviously in love, but she was also an independent woman who did not mind having thoughts that were unapproved by her male counterpart.
The show’s creator was Blake Edwards, who wrote and directed many of the episodes. Peter Gunn was the first detective character that was created solely for a television series. The other detective series that came before Peter Gunn had begun life as characters in radio shows.
Possibly the most surprising thing about the show for modern viewers is its 30 minute format.
Each week, Peter Gunn was presented with a situation, sometimes a mystery and sometimes not. He, Edie, and his always irascible police detective friend, Lieutenant Jacoby (played by Herschel Bernardi), plus a few other standing and sometimes questionable characters, together resolved that week’s situation or mystery.
They did so with Peter Gunn, the coolest dude around, touring the town (it was never identified) in his Plymouth Fury that, far ahead of its time, was equipped with a car telephone.
It all worked. The concept, the writing, the actors, and every other part of the show made for entertainment that drew large audiences for the three seasons that it ran.
And the shows themselves are still very watchable today. All 113 episodes are available for viewing on Amazon Prime. Today’s viewers are likely to find them light on plot, but when you consider that they had less than 30 minutes to tell the story, you have to admire the effort and the outcome.
Group giveaways for September
And my young adult novel, Point Spread, is part of this young adult book giveaway:
Each of these giveaways includes more than 20 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors.
It helps me a great deal if you use these links to take a look at the offerings even if you don’t select any of these books. Many thanks.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Roll Tide 2022
Best quote of the week:
Errors like straws upon the surface flow:
Who would search for pearls must dive below.
John Dryden, poet and dramatist (1631-1700)
If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try pray-as-you-go.org. The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.
If you are interested in reading scripture, either the Old Testament, the New Testament, or both, you might be interested in the videos, commentary, and podcast of the BibleProject.com. The people who work on this site have done some deep and thoughtful reading of the Bible, and the videos they have produced (generally shorter than 10 minutes) are both entertaining and enlightening. They view the Bible as a single entity with a single purpose, and their approach is both delightful and refreshing.
Helping those in need
Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.
It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).
When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: Ralph Nader, preserving memory, KMOX and the Cards: newsletter, September 2, 2022
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