The Wave, or Why to Publish (corrected and expanded)

Contemporary Literature cover and frontispiece
Fred Schreiber's copy of Contemporary Literature, 1956

My father was a skilled and productive writer. He published many novels, including the recently reissued National Book Award nominee The Balloonist. There were a few non-fiction books as well: some early scholarly work about Italian literature, a book about solo sailing around the world, and a series of literature study guides for students with the usual plot summaries, discussion of themes etc. The crib books were the least important thing he had done, and my mother had done a lot of the work with him grinding out summaries.

Now, a leap. In the early 1990s I was an America Online user and an avid player of online trivia. Online social networks were very new, and this was a great one. Intelligent, educated obsessives battled for free online hours at a time when connection time was expensive. I made some good friends among the “Triviots” and not too many enemies, and some of these people are close friends to this day.

One day in chat I talked about my father and his work. Later I received an email from a fellow Triviot: Are you really this guy’s son? He changed my entire life around! We have to talk.

The email was from Fred Schreiber, an antiquarian bookseller in New York and a former professor of Classics.

And now, a lesson. The three paragraphs below are completely incorrect, which is why they’re in strikeout. I am not sure how this happened, but a story appeared in my mind — backed up by memories of conversations that did not occur — that is in fact not true. The story is told in the link below, and is very different: a working-class kid and compulsive reader, a love for books, and a formal education that started a mile behind and finished to win.

My Life With Books: How One Thing Leads to Another

After gently correcting my bizarrely fictional account, he was kind enough to say:

“The fact remains that your father’s book played a VERY BIG part in my early education; the proof is that I have kept it for well over a half century.”

So there we are, with a new story. At this point I really have no idea what part my father’s little book had, and I’m going to back slowly away from the story and just say that Fred’s pretty amazing. For my own part, I seem to have fallen into one of my father’s novels, possibly Hemingway’s Suitcase, in which the line between fact and literature becomes thicker and thicker as imagination and fraud switch places.

I apologize to Fred for inadvertently romanticizing him into a kind of high culture Horatio Alger character. The true story is better and more complicated than accidental fiction, as lives usually are.

Fred’s story did not begin in academia. In 1956, he was uninterested in school or anything else in the straight world. By his account, he was a tough guy headed for a working class life at best, and constantly in some kind of trouble. Some twist of fate, probably a court order, put him in night high school at the age of 21, taking bonehead classes and hating it.

For his sweathog English class, Fred picked up a copy of Contemporary Literature, one of my father’s crib books, with plot summaries and critical paragraphs to get him through this nightmare with the minimum of actual reading. And then something odd happened.

He became fascinated with the stories, the ideas, and the writers. In a recent email to me, he put it this way: “I remember how fascinating and instructive I found the book: your father had a way of telling the essential facts about an author in a most readable and elegant way.” I have to drag out a cliché here: a door opened for him into an entirely new world, full of stories and characters and ideas, the last thing he’d expected from an enforced trip back to high school.

The transformation took Fred from the streets of New York to college, graduate school, a Ph.D. in Classical Philology from Harvard, and a professorship at CUNY in Classics. He was as immersed in literature and ideas as a person could be, and loving it. When he got tenure and a job for life, though, he was immediately bored. He left academia and began dealing in old books. To this day he and his partner wife are E.K. Schreiber, dealer in books before 1700.

So this is the story of how a young person headed for a tough life in a hard city became a seller of “Early Printed Books, Incunabula, Renaissance Humanism, Early and Important Editions of the Greek & Latin Classics, Early Illustrated Books, Emblem Books, Theology, Early Bibles (in Greek & Latin).” And my father’s books were the key to that world. Not any of the award-winning novels, or the studies of Italian post-war literature, but the plot summary study aids he bought for $1.95 so he wouldn’t have to read his assigned work in remedial adult high school.

Publish! Record! Blog, even! Don’t just create, distribute, as far and wide as you can. To this day my father’s mostly out-of-print books are in libraries and used bookstores all over the world, in many languages. I have no idea if there’s just one Fred story there, or a thousand. If you have something to say or make, please put some effort into sharing it.

A bit of yourself, thrown far enough, hits the ocean and makes a little wave. You may never see the shore on the other end, never see the size as it breaks, but make the wave anyway.

Summer Book Roundup from Fringehead House Publishing

We’re as pleased as punch and just as excited to share this summer’s new releases with all of you. As always we remain eclectic yet focused, with a concentration on a wide variety of accessible yet cerebral titles. Please visit our booth, #35B in Kentia Hall. Justin Celine, our VP of marketing, is the one in the hilarious mad scientist outfit!

Now to the releases. We are excited to present:


Chived: Hard Times and Stale Tastes in the Dried Spice Business. Basil, Oregano, fines herbes: every day we open a bottle of dry leaves and add flavor to life. But what’s it like where these little jars are filled? Chef and freelance journalist Katie Montaigne spent a year in the rough-and-tumble world of professional spices. Her stories may shock, surprise, and even humble you. You’ll never look at poultry spice the same way again.

Pillows and Predators: A Year in a Quality Inn Off I-10 Somewhere. Notary and freelance journalist Justin Svevo walked out of his comfortable life to manage a mid-range travelers’ motel for a year and came back with this powerful yet nuanced picture of an industry on the brink. From rough towels to midnight pot deals, no detail escapes his questing eye. Nominated for the National One Small Topic Book Award.

Will There Ever Be a Flag Day? When mom and freelance journalist Katie Firbank learned her youngest daughter had sunburn, she didn’t back down. This is a powerful and surprisingly accessible story of science, sun, health care, and one mother who wouldn’t stop until the real story — and the real cure — was revealed. Soon to be a Lifetime Channel Movie of the Week. Book club study guide available.

Rebar: The Stuff of Empire Ignored and even mocked, the strong yet flexible stands of this ubiquitous material hold up most of Western Civilization. Construction supervisor and freelance journalist Justin Bulgakov tracks the hidden history from the story of Hans Rebar’s first discovery through the Rebar Treaty of 1938, and finally to the Presidential Medal for Structural Items. You’ll never look at an urban construction site the same way again.

Nothing Over $20: A Long Year in a Tollbooth. When dental hygienist and freelance journalist Katie Calvino walked into a tollbooth in 2008, she had no idea of the journey that lay ahead. Greasy cash, angry drivers, and the dark secret behind America’s $500 billion toll road industry frame this gripping story of one writer’s passage from boredom and fear into a new strength born from knowledge. Forward by Malcolm Gladwell.

Go Fish! The Card Game that Gave Us World War — And Hope. Families and friends gather every day to play this simple card game. But does anyone know why? Sales associate and freelance journalist Justin Faulkner spent a year tracing the game’s history from its dark Nazi past in Munich to its life-changing energy in modern-day Turkey.

Pulling Iron: A Year on the Tugboat ‘Marie Rouge 223-B’ New York Times reporter and freelance journalist Katie Mishima walked out of a divorce and family tragedy onto the deck of an ocean-going tugboat in Long Beach, California. This is a story of huge ships, smaller ships that tow huge ships, grease, gumption, and finally redemption. Soon to be a major motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon. Book group study guide available.

These Pants are Made for Walking: The Sansabelt Way To Grow Any Business Justin Sansa, freelance journalist and son of legendary pants CEO Victor Sansa, teams up with his father in this hard-hitting, hard-nosed story of the man who didn’t need a belt to win. From the early days of Rubr-Shorts to the peak of 1979’s Stretchin’ film appearances, the whole story — and we mean really the whole story — of the Sansabelt phenomenon is here.


Can’t Get No Satisfaction. Young Sanjay DeSantis is only 10 when his abusive father mails him to a fruit processing plant in Camarillo, California. The world of a fatherless child, seen through a strawberry glaze, shines its luminous light over Sanjay’s molecular journeys through time. A thunderous achievement by first novelist Katie Lysenko.

Street Spirit. The Kepler sisters, hosts of three competing television talk shows, frame this sweeping narrative of the mid 1990s in suburban America. This second novel from rising superstar Justin Mulholland will resonate with anyone who knew the chain bookstores and college rock of those years, and will be a touchstone for that magic moment in 100 years — or more.

No Parking On The Dance Floor. Neil Heliopolis, a brilliant and deeply troubled college freshman in 1983, chooses to spend the entire year in his dorm room. His tiny paragraphs on Post-It notes are the building blocks of this extraordinary first novel from facilities manager and freelance journalist Katie Merck. Forward by Malcolm Gladwell.

Crocodile Rock. When failed graduate student Esi Jones receives a carved stone in the mail, he’s confused at first by its intricate hieroglyphics and images. As he delves deeper, he is drawn into an ancient and deadly conspiracy that brings together the Pyramids of Giza, Big Oil, and the United Methodist Church. This page-turning thriller goes from hymnal to gusher and finally to a shocking denouement that nobody — not even Cheops himself — could have predicted. Another instant classic from Justin DuPont.

Right Round Like A Record. The short, chaotic career of Israeli disco impresario Luis Kent is brought to life in this series of five linked stories by Booker Prize winner Katie Lister. Once again her empathetic ear for the dialogue of failure and her extensive drug experience illuminate this rocket-speed narrative of long club nights, using short club sentences. Soon to be a major motion picture starring Owen Wilson.

Once again, please stop by and say hello. Justin, Katie, Katie, Katie, and Justin will all be there and we have some great “swag” to hand out!

Adventures in literature: what’s with all the big words?

reminded me of a favorite Internet book reviewer, and linked me to two of his critical pieces I had not seen.

  1. Moby-Dick “The plot could be wholly told in about 15 pages, none ommitted. The rest is philosophy and whale-encyclopedia.”
  2. Mrs. Dalloway “Just WTF is this book about ? Making fun of the London “drawing rooms” society of 100 years ago ? M…kay, whatever.”
  3. The Odyssey “The style is heavy, but there’s no other way out, I guess. They spake (hehe…) this way back then…”

Nick and I came up with some book ideas last night

I was soured after my trip to B&N and nicholasjamesb and I started riffing on the “publishing market.” Here are some sure fire books we came up with:

Hitler’s Secret Weapons: Your Success Advantage for Life

The Templars, 9/11, and God’s Promise for Your New Life after Divorce

Chicken Soup for the Unholy Occult Secrets of the SS

Harry Potter and the Liberal Traitors of the Media

Donald Trump’s lives of the Templars

Sylvia Browne Channels Gilles De Rais

Q is for Quagmire: Sue Grafton’s Tour in Baghdad

Joel Osteen’s TEMPLARMANIA! & workbook

Mein Kampf: The Essential Church Group Reading Guide

My Pants Got Wet: A Suburban Woman’s Essentially Uneventful Life, Overexplained

A Wide Stance for America: The Larry Craig Story