Changing the World One Book review at a Time
Afterword: Tres Femmes Affirmed
“What in the world are you girls doing up here?”
Sometimes, it takes the observation of a complete stranger to put your life in perspective. If that complete stranger happens to be the UPS deliveryman, well then, so be it.
“We’re changing the world,” I told him, hands on hips, straight-faced and serious. “We’re three women and we’re up here changing the world.”
It was the spring of 1998, and Victoria Sutherland, Anne Stanton, and I had been in ForeWord’s office for only two weeks when the books started arriving. Boxes and boxes and boxes of books.
There were novels, poetry collections, adventure narratives, and gardening guides. There were military history encyclopedias, spiritual self-help books, works in translation, gay and lesbian literature, and children’s picture books. And, there were memoirs. A whole lot of memoirs. All of the books were carried, carted, hefted, or wheeled up a narrow, steep, and creaky staircase by that UPS driver, and into our office.
We’d rented a place above a candy shop on Traverse City, Michigan’s main street, and every day when our driver arrived, we tore open the packages with delight. We were amazed at their sheer variety, then humbled by our responsibility to share that variety with people who wouldn’t know these books existed if not for our new magazine.
Publishing was changing; we could feel it, and we wanted to be part of it.
We wanted to be the part that delivered new, unknown, or obscure voices to readers who were looking for them.
Sometimes, in those first few months, I’d take a break from work, stand at our big front window and look out onto the street below. It seemed miraculous to me that the people down there were going about their day just like always, while in our little office upstairs, we were busy changing the world.
“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world,” anthropologist Margaret Mead once said. “Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
An independent thinker herself, Margaret Mead, I think, would have loved the idea behind ForeWord Reviews. I think she would have cheered the good work the magazine has accomplished, and would have been happy to see herself in its pages. (A quick search finds two books that ForeWord has reviewed, Legacies of Love and Creative Blogging for Personal or Business Improvement, that contain stories about Mead. The diversity of these two titles, and my somewhat random choice of them here, encapsulate the magazine’s mission perfectly.)
As ForeWord Reviews celebrates fifteen years of bringing books, booksellers, librarians, and readers together, I think of that Margaret Mead quote. Of course, change isn’t easy. There are plenty of narrow and steep steps to climb along the way.
I remember standing at the top of the escalators in McCormick Place in Chicago in June of 1998. It was BookExpo, and I was wearing a spring green business suit and holding a deliciously fresh stack of the first issue of the magazine. Victoria was at the top of the other escalator, and we were handing out free copies to attendees as they flowed up into the exhibit hall. The booksellers seemed as happy to be given a copy of our inaugural issue as we were to hand them out. Our smiles were real, until security arrived.
Apparently, a permit was required to do what we were doing. A permit that was only granted after paying a hefty fee. That was our initiation into the very real world of publishing as not only an exchange of original ideas, but also as big business.
Five years after helping to found the magazine, I left to write my own books. Opening all those packages made me ache to be on the other side of that UPS delivery. In that decade, ForeWord has new staff, a new office, and reports on technology as it dramatically changes the delivery mechanism of independently published books (though I don’t think it has lightened ForeWord’s mail much, if any).
Still, these are just logistical changes; where it matters, ForeWord has continued to do the important work of changing the world of ideas. And the magazine has done it just like we planned. One book review at a time.
Mardi Jo Link is the author of the memoir, Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm, and two true crime books. She was nominated for a 2014 Pushcart Prize and is a co-founder of ForeWord Reviews.
Mardi Jo Link