Publishing gambits

I stopped by Reston's Barnes & Noble to see if I could find Goodwin's new book Team of Rivals and her Lincoln quote "What's up?" – was it sourced or not?


I am close to buying her book just to run down the notes, a malicious pleasure I treat myself to once in a great while. But what's holding me back is what bothers Eric Wittenberg – financially rewarding someone who has badly mistreated another author and then cruelly failed to make amends. St. Martins Press now reissuing her unrevised and disgraced work - with all plagiarized material intact - to piggyback on the expected success of Team of Rivals - sets a new low for sleaziness in publishing.


To buy or not to buy? But I'm getting ahead of my story.


For what interests me is that B&N did not have a Team of Rivals display. There was a biographies shelf, hello Tab Hunter, no Goodwin here, and there was a "new biographies" table prominently featuring work by Alan Alda, no less. The Civil War and Lincoln sections did not have it.


I could not find Team of Rivals. Maybe it sold out.


In the games section my eye stopped on a book almost as thick as Team of Rivals. It was Pal Benko's 2004  autobiography.


Pal Benko is a second tier grandmaster, an Hungarian immigrant. From 1958 on, he was "the other child prodigy" whose career developed in the shadow of Bobby Fischer's. My father and I used to see him (and Fischer) at the Manhattan Chess Club in the late 1950s. I studied his games as a youth. The name evokes an intense nostalgia for me.


Chess publishing is small business compared to Civil War bookselling. I don't know a trade house or university press that will touch chess. The field belongs to tiny commercial publishers.


Benko's autobiography is gorgeous – as fine a vestige of the publishing tradition as one could ask for. Great paper and binding; a vast number of pages; liberal distribution of photos throughout; and excellent jacket and book design. And there it was, prominently displayed in a huge retail outlet. As it has been, presumably, for the last 18 months.With the in-store discount, it was available for under $39.


I had a flashback to a Civil War title purchased there last week. At about $35, it was sold shrink-wrapped to prevent me opening and skimming the contents. It sported naked cardboard  "hardcover" with a figleaf of cloth on the spine, cheap paper, skimpy index, and a great many necessary diagrams drawn smearily by the author himself with a broken-tipped felt marker. University imprint.


There is a lot more love and goodwill in chess publishing than in ACW publishing.


If the Goodwin affair teaches us how low this business can go, the Benko book gives our field a standard to imitate.