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Boxing the Octopus: all content copyright 2008 Colleen Thompson and Joni Rodgers all rights reserved.
Book nerd that I am, I feel choked up every time I push through the revolving door into the lobby at Random House. I always try to get there early so I can walk the entire perimeter, taking in the grand history of this place -- this institution -- built by generations of editors who cared deeply about their authors and authors who cared deeply about their craft. This place literally towers with an unabashed love of books. Floor-to-ceiling shelves flank the expansive entryway. Every tome at eye level was in some way groundbreaking. The covers and titles are iconic, instantly evoking an era, a watershed, a sea change. As a reader and a writer, I'm starstruck.
So many of these book covers transport me to an exact time and place in my life as a reader. I always loved that these particular editions of Gulliver's Travels and Tom Sawyer are displayed together. I bought them both off the dollar-a-bag table at the LaCrosse Public Library's annual used book sale the summer before sixth grade, and I vividly remember sitting up in a huge mulberry tree, sucking on an orange Popsicle, drinking in these two brain-changing works. When I see that cover art, I remember the smell of these great books with the baking grass below and hot, ripe berries hanging in the air around me. Walking the perimeter of the Random House lobby, I feel a personal history with so many of these stories, and I'm profoundly grateful for what these books were in my life.
For a writer (unless you're Dan Brown), a stroll around the Random House lobby is a humbling experience. The layout of the lobby is an accidental parable. At one end is the reception desk; at the other end is that revolving door. (Need I elaborate?)
In the most frustrating moments of my work life, I sternly remind myself of the blood, sweat and tears that built these walls. Every one of these giants was kicked by critics, rejected by readers, thrashed at times by the daily ranch work and personal drain of the writing life. And tucked between the iconic titles and literary giants are thousands of authors who labored in obscurity. I've often wished they'd install library ladders in the Random House lobby, because I'm dying to see who's up there, out of sight and out of mind, but there, dignified, binding intact. It's a privilege to be with them in this building, in this business.
Well. Enough kvelling for Saturday. I've got a deadline looming.