Medievalist Envy

I returned from Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Monday, but it�s taken the last three days to fully recover. Those medieval studies conferences really take a lot out of you. A quick recap of my adventures in the Midwest:

We arrived in Kazoo, brandishing fresh haircuts and 20-foot banners, on Wednesday afternoon and went straight to Western Michigan University to set up the Penn Press booth. First impressions were exceedingly positive � giant, state-of-the-art basketball gym and football stadiums, both of which were dedicated to a benefactor named Waldo. (So, just to answer the age-old question: Waldo is on Stadium Drive, on the outskirts of Kalamazoo.)

Unfortunately, when we found our way to the conference facilities, it was clear that Waldo had not seen fit to endow any non-athletic buildings. The Medieval Congress was held in two large dormitories, which were like a cross between a working-class-neighborhood grammar school and Abu Ghraib prison. Although about three thousand people attended the conference, the bathrooms would have been more suited to, say, twenty. By the end of the first day they looked like the washrooms of a 747 after a transatlantic flight.

–The Penn Press booth. Ain’t it grand!

After checking into the Holiday Inn and unpacking my things, I realized that my shower didn�t have any bathtub. It was just a nozzle jutting out of the wall, with a curtain cutting across the middle like in a hospital room. Curiously, there was also a large plastic armchair. When I went to hang up my blazers, there was no closet to be found � just a bar at thigh level next to the front door. Then it dawned on me: I�d been given a handicapped room.

Upon complaining about the mix-up, I didn�t get much of an explanation, and the front desk told me there were no other rooms available. Still, I think it may have been my ever-so-slightly-retarded-looking haircut that did me in. Next time, I�m growing a beard.

–Accomodations for the Acquistions Assistant, aka, cripple

The conference was shockingly busy. Shocking, I say, because after one year in publishing, I�ve had it systematically beaten into my consciousness that people do not buy books any more. Hence the borderline minimum-wage salary and histrionic wining from my bosses. But in the bizarro world of Kalamazoo academics bought books by the armful. It was not unusual for people to plunk down $200 at our booth, and then proceed to do the same at 30 other publishers. All in, we sold about 600 books, well over $10,000 worth of discounted stock. For the most part, it was grueling work, with barely enough time for bathroom breaks � never mind lunch. But it was nice to see people so passionate about scholarly publishing. And it was nice to finally see me passionate about something else: overtime.

When I asked one of our authors to give me a rough estimate of how many scholarly books she reads in a year, she gave me a perplexed, constipated look. �Well, do you read more than fifty, or seventy?� I asked. �Of course,� she said. �More?� �Oh, easily over a hundred.� �And that�s including novels and beach reading, right?� I said, feeling a little uneasy. �No, I read a couple dozen of those in my free time, too.�

Teaching has never seemed so appealing to me as at this moment. A couple years ago, right before I veered off into the wacky world of publishing, I flirted with joining the New York Teaching Fellows, a program designed to give inexperienced people a first job in teaching. At the time, I vaguely remember thinking that as a teacher I�d have no time to read or work on my writing. Clearly, that was about as wildly off base as box office forecasts for The Alamo. Maybe it�s time to give reconsider teaching as a career. I�ve always been fascinated by the whole helping kids thing, but to get all the time in the world to read whatever the hell you want � and summers off, too. Can’t beat that! Plus, in the classroom, nobody cares if you cut your hair like a member of the mentally challenged ROTC.

Jerry and Bob.JPG
–One of our authors, Bob Berhofer, and Acquisitions Editor Jerry Singerman (why can’t I stop calling him that!). Judging by the smile on Bob’s face (left), it just goes to show how swell zero percent royalties can sound if explained in the proper setting.