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For the Love of Books

Jul 13 2016

Image: The examined life of Steve Wasserman

By Iain Espey
B.A., Philosophy, 2018
Sales and Marketing Intern at Heyday

Out West Student Blog

Student Blog

Outside my office window teems the benign rabble of the People’s Republic of Berkeley: rush hour road rage on University Avenue, yuppies on bicycles (of whom, I confess, I am one), mothers speaking softly in Spanish or Chinese as they lead their children to school, street artists hawking spray paint portraits of our Lord and Savior (Bernie, that is), endless construction on Milvia Street, and the variously inebriated, hippified masses. A most unruly city, but one with a certain dirty aliveness that’s slowly grown on me.

I mention this for context. I could not say much about my summer without giving you a sense of the place where I have spent it. It’s equally impossible for me to get at what Heyday is like without first mentioning the place it’s called home for the last forty years.

Since mid-June I’ve been working at a non-profit publisher called Heyday. Heyday makes books, specifically, books about California. Okay, pause. Let’s unpack that statement. Unless you’ve worked in publishing, when you’re at the Stanford bookstore picking up your paperback copy of Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality for spring quarter SLE, you probably have no idea what all goes into the making of that slim little paperback.

Behind every book Heyday puts out is an unseen web of interlocking tasks and responsibilities. On the front end, you have the editors and designers who take a manuscript – or even just an idea – and identify its potential, and cultivate it, grow and refine it until, like a child, it has a life of its own. Then come decisions you’d never even consider: What size should it be? What about the weight of the paper? How much does a waterproof cover cost? Should it be printed overseas or domestically? Then there’s the area where I’ve spent most of my time this summer: how do we get people to buy it? For my part, I am in charge of events planning (or as in charge as a twenty-year-old intern can be). I take, say, a history of sequoia trees or a guide to sustainable sea foraging, and pitch events with the authors to venues like museums, bookstores, and historical societies.

This is my primary, ongoing responsibility, but I take on other projects too. For the past week, I have been writing copy for the catalog of next spring’s releases. First, I skim each book to get a sense of it: what it’s about, how the author approaches the material, what sort of person might read it. When it’s time to really focus, I put in my earbuds and blast something brutal, hoping that my officemate is into Young Thug too, or, at very least, doesn’t hear my foot tapping. Then I produce a less-than-200-word paragraph in which I describe and “sell” the book. Sometimes I’m given specific points to hit on or quotes to include. What I like about writing copy is the combination of creativity and control that it requires. By the time I finish on a book, I have a tightly structured, information-dense piece of writing that will (hopefully) make whoever reads it say, “Wow, I do want to read the memoirs of a Barbary Coast prostitute!” and then shell out eighteen dollars for the book. Writing copy for the catalog is my favorite project I’ve undertaken this summer. It is, in the words of my freshman roommate and close compañero, “a job for a humanist.”

But we’ve skipped over a larger question: what constitutes a book about California? In some ways, an easy question to answer. Specialty nurseries in California? Why, yes. Political murals in the Mission District? Definitely. Maidu Indian myths? Without a doubt. What unifies the books Heyday publishes, however, is not just geography, but a keen sense of place. There are as many Californias as there are people who have called this state home, and probably many, many more. Illuminating the richness and distinctness of each of these Californian experiences is Heyday’s goal, one I admire and strive toward too.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I have spent much of the summer thinking about place. Now, as I cut through the fog at unbelievable speeds on my 100 percent downhill bike ride to work, I no longer grumble that it is 54 degrees in July, and this fact confirms to me that Berkeley and Heyday have become my place, if only for the summer. As I sweat through my 100 percent uphill bike ride home from work, People’s Park glows in the afternoon sunlight, and for a little while it stops looking like a campground or a battlefield. There is a strange beauty in this too, if you are interested in seeing it. You wouldn’t believe this place, or maybe you would. I still don’t.

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