|Paul Kozlowski, adding spark at Book Expo America|
Keep in mind that everything I am going to write is about a man who once laid me off from Random House. Letting me go was a job that fell to him because I didn’t wait and get a more humane face-to-face lay off from my direct manager. What can I say, I was a troublemaker.
PK was involved in hiring me as a sales rep at Random House, but the first time I met him was actually when I worked at BookPeople. He flew to Austin to meet with the buyers and introduce our new rep, as Random House had shuffled their sales force significantly and they wanted to reassure the store that we were still an important account. Oddly enough, the meeting was triggered by Gianna having been laid off. He was in the room when I first interviewed for a Random House job several years later, when I was passed over so that RH could rehire Gianna. I was disappointed that I didn't get the job then (and of course they hired me a year later), but I always respected PK.
It's worth noting: I do not like cocktail hours or dinners or social occasions. That said, if PK asked me to hang out and have a drink or dinner, I went. I found him engaging, sometimes infuriating, sometimes farcical, but always interesting. He was a student of human behavior, a viewpoint he brought to the books he read and loved. And know this: PK was always thinking about and working on books. He was a bookseller.
The Liar's Club by Mary Karr
It's no secret that I'm a fan of this book. I think Mary Karr is the finest memoirist writing, and she holds a special place in my author pantheon because we share a home territory in East Texas. When I read The Liar's Club in college, it offered both glimpses of where I'd come from and hope for where I could go. When PK and I first sat down for cocktails, it was at a bookseller forum hosted by Random House at their warehouse facility in Westminster, Maryland. In a hotel lobby we sat and talked for several hours (along with several other booksellers from around the country) and I realized how much he respected me and/or how drunk he was when he leaned over to another bookseller and pointed at me and slurred "This one, this one is one of our people." It was a significant moment for me because I was self-conscious about being the youngest person in the room by about 20 years and the new kid in the group. When he heard I was from East Texas, PK launched into a long description of the genius of Mary Karr and how she redefined an entire genre. The Liar's Club was a seminal moment in book publishing.
Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam
Gianna's right: PK belonged in the West. He seemed to have a special fondness for the spaces and people. One of the books we worked on together, when he was Associate Publisher at Other Press and I one of the sales reps tasked with building buzz for Other Press's titles (which is still part of my job). PK shows up with this book and tells me that I have to read it and that the author will tear up the world. Or, in PK terminology, "this cat will tear up the book world." I don't know if I'll ever be called a "cat" again; he loved to called his buddies and colleagues "cats." Bonnie Nadzam was young, hugely talented, and she'd written a novel that challenged notions of propriety and desire in a manner that Lolita did and still does. It's a novel about a girl and older man taking a road trip from her hometown to his cabin in the Rocky Mountains. It's a novel that questions the girl's agency in the journey; was she abducted? Did she know what she was doing? Was she in control? It's a great read with lots of room for discussion, and Bonnie Nadzam won the Flaherty-Dunnan Prize for best first novel for Lamb.
A Pigeon and a Boy by Meir Shalev
The location: North By Northwest, a restaurant. The participants: Liz, Gianna, our boss Valerie, and PK, who was Valerie's boss (and therefore ours too). The time frame: 2007, about a month after I started working for Random House. PK came to Texas to visit accounts and we went to dinner. PK and Valerie sat on one side of the booth. Gianna and I sat on the other side. I had consumed about four Diet Cokes because I love my Diet Coke and I tend to drink more at dinners when I'm a bit anxious. PK had gone from being a work associate I saw occasionally to a guy who judged my work performance. I happened to start with Random House on the first day of the big sales conference in March when fall titles are discussed, and I had little time to settle into the role of sales rep. PK was adamant that reps read and love books; it seems like a no-brainer, but if booksellers are anything, they are adept at talking knowledgeably about books they've never read. PK asked me how much I'd read and I told him that I'd read excerpts of most everything I would be selling as well as a handful of full manuscripts, and that I felt pretty good about the list except for this book called A Pigeon and a Boy. I don't remember what I said I thought it was about, but obviously I wasn't even close to correct. As Valerie and Gianna and I watched, PK proceeded to expound for fifteen minutes about this book, at one point lurching across the table and pointing at me and saying "IT'S ABOUT LOVE." Gianna was trying to keep from laughing at the scene and Valerie didn't make eye contact with us. Under the table, Gianna grabbed my leg, an expression of "Can you believe this is happening?" even as PK kept talking about the book. He was so passionate and so, well, intoxicated. It was a moment none of us has forgotten and a story we tell. A Pigeon and a Boy? It's about love. That's what you need to know.
PK kept a blog, PK in the Terrarium, which offers a glimpse into this man and his world. When longtime Knopf editor Ash Green died, PK wrote a lovely tribute to Ash, calling him "the quintessential Book Man." From his blog:
For Ash, and for those he inspired by example, making a book was a labor of love and an act of faith. A labor of love because there was no other way for a man like him to live. He authored his life, it was his art. An act of faith because he believed in a writer's ability to achieve clarity if given intelligent and sympathetic criticism. He also believed in a future for books -- including the books that he labored over, attending to every jot. His was the bedrock faith of every genuine publisher -- books are valuable because people will continue to turn to them for instruction and delight as long as human culture lasts, regardless of format. He was one of that singular tribe who knew how to withstand the onslaught of the technocrats and money men so he could continue to do good work. Ash's books took time -- he made them so they would last. He cared for them and their authors. For him, a book was the nexus of a lasting relationship.To us, PK was that quintessential Book Man who loved books and understood their value. He spent his life among books and the people who created and read them. We will miss him.