The other day, I received a copy of the dust jacket for my new book, a history of American beer. It’s gorgeous! Engaging design; rich, lively colors -- far more exciting than what shows up onscreen at my website. (Only downside is my photo: I look like I just won the Messiest Hair in the Universe award.) [Note: This was in reference to the hardcover edition, which looked like this.]
But even as I admired the jacket and the talent that created it, I experienced what has become common in my life as a writer: That sense of distance and disconnect that comes with each new book. That jacket -- the physical object -- has nothing to do with my creation. Just as the book itself, when it finally arrives, will feel to me like someone I once knew, long, long ago but who I now barely remember.
What I remember about my books is this: Hours and hours and hours spent sitting at a microfilm reader, or going through decades worth of indexes. Leafing through journals and old magazines. Days spent at archives and libraries, days filled, more often than not with frustration and panic. Plastic filing cubes stuffed with photocopies of documents. Staring for still more hours and then days stretching into years at a computer monitor. Grabbing pages of text from my printer, filling them with penciled corrections and edits, desciphering those scribbles and arrows and circles as I type the changes into the computer.
That’s how my mind’s eye remembers my book. Those other pages? The ones printed with a fine font and adorned with a page number, the book’s title across the top of every other page in yet another lovely font, all bound in a tidy package between two hard covers and decorated yet again with that eye-popping dust jacket? That’s someone else’s work. Nothing to do with me. Lovely to look at; delightful to hold -- but, well, not something I would identify as mine in the Lost and Found.
And so it goes with my books: they leave my hands in one form, then reappear in another. Sure, I remember those thousands of hours spent creating the manuscript. But this finished product, the one I sometimes spot in a bookstore, is a stranger to me. A companion of days long past now vanished from my life and living its own.