Editor's Note: Tramps Like Us
As I sat writing this on the very cusp of Labor Day Weekend, my South Philadelphia neighbors were preparing for something very special: The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, was preparing to play two shows at Citizens Bank Park over the holiday weekend. The Asbury Park legend is an adopted favorite son (plus it'll be about the only interesting thing happening in the ballpark this summer).
But this column is not about Bruce Springsteen. I'm using him as an entrée to what I really want to talk about: "Born To Run."
A funny thing's happened around the Book Business watercooler in the last few weeks. Maybe it's because the local baseball team's been out of contention for months, or maybe it's just something in the Schuylkill Punch we drink here every day, but all anyone seems to be able to talk about is a book that was published nearly three and a half years ago, an utterly ancient tome by today's "ebook bestseller of the daypart" era.
It all started over breakfast at a diner when a staff team-building trip was cut short by one of those classic August downpours. And now Christopher McDougall's "Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen" (Knopf, 2009), seems to come up at least once a day as we shoot the breeze. (I should add, since I know our publisher is reading this, that these conversations are incredibly brief. Hi, Matt!)
Maybe it's because our resident good-guy sales-guy/Twitter jockey (@mike_cooper)/hot-pepper pusher Mike "Coop" Cooper is endeavoring to go Couch-to-5K. Or maybe it's because we've all had our personal battles with running and aging bodies. But McDougall's tale of ultra-marathoners, a tribe of Mexican Native Americans who wake up and run 100 miles in primitive sandals, as well as his own triumph over foot and knee pain, has enthralled all of us.
It's a book I read not long after it came out and it inspired me—a guy with a fireplug build and who had back surgery as a 19-year-old—to buy a pair of those weird-looking "barefoot" shoes and actually go running, and without pain. At the heart of McDougall's book is the idea that humans were, you guessed it, born to run—that the human foot was actually designed for running (while the traditional running shoe was inadvertently designed to make running painful).
It's a good reminder, focused as we all are on the next thing—the next title, the next delivery platform, the next surprise bestseller—of why we do what we do. It's easy, as a publisher, to forget about a book once it hits the backlist. But there's a reason we put so much time—writing, editing, designing, proofing, fact-checking, promoting—into them.
Books are supposed to last. That's why bookstores extend past the new release tables. That's why libraries—physical, digital or otherwise—will always have an exalted place in our culture. It's why Ikea still sells so many freaking bookshelves.
And when it all works, it's books like "Born To Run"—stories that live on for years after the launch events and the Daily Show appearances, that live on to make a bunch of achy desk jockeys at or near the wrong side of 40 feel like they've been sprung from cages—that live on, on shelves and in readers minds, and that ultimately keep us going as publishers.
As focused as we are on the challenges that confront us, it's good to remember that nothing keeps a good story down.