The Many Lives of a Book

MY LONGTIME FRIEND Paul Brouillette sent this photo via Facebook as a report from the field during vacation book-surfing at Yellow House Books in Great Barrington, Mass.   Atop an Underwood , a collection of Jack Kerouac's early writing that I edited, hit the streets in 1999 as a Viking Press hardcover (the Penguin paperback followed a year later), making next year the 20th anniversary. The book earned good reviews and sold well and is still in print, although I don't see it as often in stores now that so many bookstores have cut down on inventory. In the good old days there could be 15 different Kerouac titles among the K's in the fiction section. Now, it is not unusual to see  On the Road  and maybe two others. In niche literary communities a wider assortment of Kerouacs would likely be found.  Last fall in Paris, at Shakespeare and Company on rue de la Bucherie, right in the front of the store books by Kerouac and other Beat writers filled a tall bookcase. I looked for  Atop , but we had not made the cut that day. There is a French translation by Editions Denoel, although I didn't see that either. Through the years, I've gotten a big kick out of seeing the book in stores in different places, from San Francisco's City Lights to Boston shops.  Every once in a while I get a letter from a reader, sometimes a student, who wants to tell me how much the book has meant to him or her. Still, it's difficult to know the impact of a book. It gets cited in certain scholarly articles and books analyzing Kerouac's work. I've seen volumes in which I expected to see it referenced but where it was left out. What to make of that? After almost 20 years, with thousands of copies in circulation, it's not unusual to see used copies for sale online or at book fairs. If you are someone fortunate enough to have published a book or several titles, then you know the special lift you get when you see the book living its life in public, away from you, having left somebody's hands in this used scenario or waiting to be picked up new, fresh from the latest printing.

MY LONGTIME FRIEND Paul Brouillette sent this photo via Facebook as a report from the field during vacation book-surfing at Yellow House Books in Great Barrington, Mass.

Atop an Underwood, a collection of Jack Kerouac's early writing that I edited, hit the streets in 1999 as a Viking Press hardcover (the Penguin paperback followed a year later), making next year the 20th anniversary. The book earned good reviews and sold well and is still in print, although I don't see it as often in stores now that so many bookstores have cut down on inventory. In the good old days there could be 15 different Kerouac titles among the K's in the fiction section. Now, it is not unusual to see On the Road and maybe two others. In niche literary communities a wider assortment of Kerouacs would likely be found.

Last fall in Paris, at Shakespeare and Company on rue de la Bucherie, right in the front of the store books by Kerouac and other Beat writers filled a tall bookcase. I looked for Atop, but we had not made the cut that day. There is a French translation by Editions Denoel, although I didn't see that either. Through the years, I've gotten a big kick out of seeing the book in stores in different places, from San Francisco's City Lights to Boston shops.

Every once in a while I get a letter from a reader, sometimes a student, who wants to tell me how much the book has meant to him or her. Still, it's difficult to know the impact of a book. It gets cited in certain scholarly articles and books analyzing Kerouac's work. I've seen volumes in which I expected to see it referenced but where it was left out. What to make of that? After almost 20 years, with thousands of copies in circulation, it's not unusual to see used copies for sale online or at book fairs. If you are someone fortunate enough to have published a book or several titles, then you know the special lift you get when you see the book living its life in public, away from you, having left somebody's hands in this used scenario or waiting to be picked up new, fresh from the latest printing.