Birthing a Book

Last fall, news of the arrival of the first child of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt flashed around the world. Everyone was happy for the couple, even overjoyed after hearing the announcement of this new little life recently added to the global register of live human births.

I suppose if Angelina had birthed a book, it would have shot immediately to the top of the best-seller lists. Within a week we would have been reading stunning reviews in the New York Review of Books and the New Yorker magazine. Conceivably, it could have made the top ten in the Amazon.com rankings.

Yet what of all those other babies born that same day; what of all those other books birthed after months of mental gestation? Is each one less significant? Are they inherently of less value? These questions are apropos for an author who also happens to practice pediatric medicine.

“How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book?” Thoreau wrote in the pages of his masterpiece, Walden. Indeed, how many a person has dated such an era through the writing of one?

After several years of persistence, burning the midnight oil; writing, editing, rewriting, polishing the manuscript; periodically emboldened, like Mr. Thoreau, by some degree of success in quiet hours, I finally got a glimpse of my first literary creation.

I remember the day that I found the proof copy of my book resting comfortably inside a brown corrugated cardboard UPS package on my back porch when I returned home from work.

I slit the plastic packing tape with my penknife and pulled the book out, looking rather dumbfounded as I held it in my hands, like a father staring in disbelief at his first-born son.

I paged through it, amazed at how perfect the type looked; each page appeared just as I had painstakingly formatted it. It actually brought a tear to my eye (from the dust, you understand).

I turned on the A/C and the upstairs fan to cool the house off a bit, and then sat down to read through it. I discovered a few minor errors that were easily fixed. I marked them with a highlighter and later made the corrections in the manuscript document on my computer.

Back then, it seemed to me for all the world like a dream come true—something I had wanted to do my entire life. After fathering four children, I’d finally birthed a book of my own. Your fifties may be a fertile period after all.

What does a man do after writing a book? He hems and haws, not knowing exactly whom to share the news with; ponders and postulates, comes to a decision, only to retract it … then, in the end, he takes the leap and elects to publish it to the world.

In 1853, faced with a four-year record of poor sales even after receiving wide notice and favorable reviews of his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Thoreau wrote in his journal: “I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself.”

Too bad for Mr. Thoreau that Amazon.com wasn’t online in 1849.

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