I greatly enjoyed the first of your
two-part conversation with Cornelia and Michael Bessie. Set against the backdrop of
today's book business, careers like theirs look extraordinary, heroic: trumpets blaring,
banners flapping in the wind.
I have an especial affection, of course, for Michael Bessie's work, because he
published my father's first novel. The novel had been under contract to Random House. Bob
Linscott was the editor. He had not approved of an early version, and the despair my
father felt at that rejection was quite genuine. In his journal, he wrote, Still no
word from Linscott. This seems to imply no enthusiasm, and if the work I've sent him is
bad I have made some grave mistakes. My eyes are wrong, my heart is wrong, and I have been
mistaken in listening for all these years to the rain.
These old bones are up for sale, he wrote to Bessie, who asked him
where should I send the check?
Good books are not always a commercial success. Interviewing Marion Boyars for
Archipelago (Autumn 1997), Katherine McNamara asked Do you
think there was a time when the readership was more secure than it is now? No;
no, said Boyers. I'll give you an example: George Gissing, THE
PRIVATE PAPERS OF HENRY RYCROFT; wonderful book. When it was published, in 1902, it
sold sixteen copies.
THE WAPSHOT CHRONICLE was a success. It won
National Book Award. I would say that it was a best seller, but to say that is to make
myself part of the problem. It was a good book, it is a good book. And that's the bottom
BENJAMIN H. CHEEVER
Benjamin Cheever is a novelist and a Contributing Editor of
Archipelago.His Confessions of a Lover,
Spurned appeared in our inaugural issue.
Marion Boyars, Vol. 1,
Bessies, Vol. 1, No. 4 AND Vol.
2, No. 1