Design

On Seeing Inside People’s Brains (Not Literally)

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One thing about being a book editor is that you get to hear about what inspires people. What makes the wheels in their heads start spinning. What, as cheesy as this sounds, makes them happy. Friends and family who know what you do for a living are exponentially more likely, I find, to tell you about their own ideas and creations, or refer you to cool stuff they’ve found out in the world. Now, I’m not talking about the belligerent drunk who wants to force his book proposal on you in the middle of funeral or something—most of what I’m referring to isn’t anywhere near formal enough to fall under the heading of a “proposal.” At its firmest it’s more in the realm of what’s called “blue sky.” Someone’s seen something or thought something up that zips right to the heart of them in an interesting, perhaps surprising way and, donuts to dollars, their book publishing pal is the one they’re going to tell about it. I love this. I love the secret (or sometimes not so secret) glimpses into what makes people tick and hum and get all wavy with their hand gestures. My friend Paul, for instance, is a wine guy—and even though I don’t really work on a lot of wine books these days (although I have ), he’s told me all about some really interesting ideas he’s got percolating in his mind for that book proposal he might just write one of these days. (He’s actually recently started to relate some of these same ideas in his new blog, which is entertaining and informative and which I’d highly recommend.) Even your parents get in on the act—my mom recently referred me to Barbara Kossy’s composite ‘photos of artists studios, and my Dad sent me a link the other day to the blog about minimalist art called The Art of Memory. You get to hear what magazines people read, who their favorite chefs and fashion designers are, how they organized their bookshelves, what long-out-of-print books they miss like hell, and what unwritten books they wish existed to read to their kids. If someone has strong feelings about that new flashy building in the skyline, or wants to renew the lost art of letter writing, or wishes there was a book printed on pancakes, you’re going to hear about it. Now maybe you’re thinking I just have really opinionated friends (well, I kind of do, actually, but that’s beside the point), but I like to think that everyone has a ton of this stuff lurking inside them, and is just looking for someone to tell. Some people tell their hairdressers, I suppose, or their cab drivers. Some tell their friends over coffee and some just tell anyone who will listen. But I love the optimism of the ones who tell their friendly neighborhood editor, in the hope that they’re not the only ones who’ll find whatever-it-is intriguing-that maybe someday what inspires them will find its way out into the wider world, between covers.

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