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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 44.
- Review Date: 2006-09-11
- Reviewer: Staff
We never know what may happen when we pick up a book," writes Werris is her tragicomic memoir of life in the book trade, "... turning the page might actually change the course of our existence." As an unemployed college student, Werris began selling books in 1970 at the Pickwick Bookstore in Los Angeles and never stopped. Her evolutionary career began in bookstores, moved to publishers (like Rolling Stone's imprint, Straight Arrow), continued on to repping and culminated in escorting famous authors on tour. Daughter of Snag Werris, a longtime comedy writer for the likes of Milton Berle and Jackie Gleason, Werris has humor in her genes and a raconteur's flair for a good story, and her book bubbles with insider tales of authors and celebrities (like her one-night stand with Richard Brautigan and a magical dinner with Eric Idle and George Harrison). Sadness peppers Werris's story, however: failed relationships, the death of a beloved friend from kidney failure, a complicated relationship with her parents and a brutal rape whose perpetrator was never captured, despite Werris's own valiant efforts. The book details a richly textured world of small presses and now vanishing independent bookstores, and is a bittersweet tribute to the indefatigability of bibliophiles like Werris herself. (Nov.)
Books of a lifetime
Author and bibliophile Wendy Werris is in passionate thrall to the words of others. Werris' memoir, An Alphabetical Life: Living It Up in the Business of Books, reveals how a life spent in the book business granted her "a life well-lived, because of the generosity of books, because of the grand life tour they have given me."
For Werris, daughter of a flamboyant Brooklyn-born mother, Charlotte, and television comedy writer Snag Werris (veteran staff writer for Jackie Gleason and other comic greats), a bookish life began because of "my weird genetic goulash" and a quest for air conditioning. On a hot Los Angeles day, she took refuge in the illustrious (and air-cooled) Pickwick Bookshop. She exited two hours later with a jobone that started a long career spent in bookstores, publishing houses (including Rolling Stone's Straight Arrow imprint) and on the road, repping books and escorting famous touring authors.
Rakish humor is used liberally as Werris recounts the ups, downs, detours and inevitable speed bumps of her journey through the male-dominated world of bookselling. Nostalgic, funny and sometimes sad, An Alphabetical Life pays affectionate and insightful tribute to her family, chronicles strange and wondrous celebrity meetings (an odd one-night stand with Richard Brautigan and a beautiful dinner with George Harrison), peeks into the rich intellectual milieu of small book presses and the days of courtly book editors, and remembers a horrific experience of rape.
As she looks back upon decades of literary retailing, Werris makes many recommendations for good reads, inviting us to check out her favorites, from Rabbit Redux to 84, Charing Cross Road. Consistently illumining, her narrative is a staunch devotion to our rapidly vanishing independent bookstores, the intimate thrill of being alone with a fine book and the dogged notion that if ever she does retire, the sustaining effects of books "will never leave me."
Alison Hood is a Bay Area writer.