The original story idea for A Republic of Books was conceived shortly after I was forced to close my own bookshop, Avenue Victor Hugo Books, on Newbury Street in Boston after 29 years. The tale was imagined as a means of relieving some of the pain while grasping the reasons for what had happened. There were many mundane factors involved—lack of funds, poor planning, bad decisions—all of which fell on my head more than my shoulders, but each of those had a context and history of their own, while each reeled off to more causes and consequences, and my attempts to fathom the whys and wherefores was more than I could handle at once. Yet, it was crucial only to me. My family certainly had to deal with the consequences of my actions, but the actions were mine, and I wanted to understand them, even after the fact. Many decisions had been made in the heat of a moment or as triage when choices were few. In addition, there were actions that preceded those that brought them to the crisis when the mistake was made. And there were so many such moments.
And none of this was of any real importance beyond the small sphere of my own world. Another bookshop, another closing, another show. As Charley says in the novel, it’s ‘a standing head,’ such a frequent story line that it could be kept set up in type back in the day when type was lead, because the theme was so common, and the lede, like ‘boy falls through ice’, ‘cat caught in tree,’ carried the weight of a shared human experience. But in fact, the experience is common no longer. The day for bookshops such as mine was over. It has become picaresque. Anecdotal. Of ‘a by-gone era’ as one newspaper noted of our own passing.
The easy excuses for me involved the rising rents on Newbury Street, the changing demographic of the neighborhood in the Back Bay of Boston, and the change of tastes from the free wheeling of the 1970’s to the new millennium. But each of those had its own story.
The reason the shop failed was not in the stars but in myself. That was the bottom line. And it was very clear to see all of that as a farce of sorts. A comedie. Theatrical. Certainly humorous. So my first attempts at the novel took that form. But the several assaults—then under the title of ‘Knox Books’—were not at all satisfying to my soul.
However, with some distance of time, I began to see in context some of the political forces at large that influenced my behavior—not to excuse myself, but to understand what had possessed me to act in the way I had. Those ‘forces’ had been at large for decades. I was always aware of them. I had often dealt with them. What was the difference at last?
Another matter were the particulars of my personal life. I was not interested in writing a biography or a memoir. If there was any greater value in my experience it was beyond the personal. And that was the way I chose to tell the story. There is a lot of me in it, but it is not about me. There are many characters in the story who are close cousins of the people I knew and near relatives of the family and friends who had to endure my foolishness. But keeping it just to the business, nothing personal, was beyond my limited artistic means. There were several more false starts before the writing gained its own momentum and carried itself through to the end.
Now here it is, vincentmccaffrey.com/2015/10/12/a-republic-of-books/ and I am somewhat surprised at the result. It’s not exactly what I had originally intended—and yet it is. It’s still a farce, but more in the way that so much in our time is that. So much of what we live now is artificial and manufactured to meet requirements, hyped to gain attention and phonied to hide unpleasant reality.
I will be trying to publish A Republic of Books in physical form as soon as possible. Before that, very soon I think, I will likely have some form of ebook available that is better than my website offering. For now, you can download the work to your tablet as a pdf if you like. But having wasted thousands of hours pursuing established publishers for my writing, I am no longer interested in throwing good time after bad. The moment for that is past as well. So, if you have any interest in the story, you will have to endure my own attempts at publishing as well (never mind the typos and all the usual dyslexia). There are several other finished works that are waiting for my attention in this regard but in the case of the two mysteries, Biedermeier and John Finn, they will still be mysteries later, and the science fiction of knight’s tale hasn’t happened yet so I have some time there as well. For now, I think, the political forces that surround us and dominate our lives need some more immediate comment.