New York - Next month, Ballantine Books, Inc., will publish a 192 page book entitled "I, Libertine" authored by Frederick R. Ewing and described as a "turbulent, turgid, tempestuous" novel of 18th Centurycourt life in London.
The event might well pass unnoticed but for some strange pre-publishing goings on. Strangest of all, perhapas is the fact that thebook was born of a hoax - and Ballantine knows it. Not the least intriging, however, are the characters in this weird story-behind-a -story: An all night disk jockey with a whimsical turn od mind, a cocksure book store clerk, a publisher searching for a non-existent best seller, and the quite unsettling "Night People"
THE PUBLISHERS' LISTS
The tale began last April when 32-year old Jean Shepherd, part time philosopher, jazz musician, writer and record spinner on Station WOR, ambled into the Doubleday Book Shop on Fifth Avenue and asked the clerk for a tome containing reprinted scripts of an old radio serial, "Vicand Sade." He was informed the shop had no such book, and furthermore it did not even exist because, the clerk took pains to explain, it had not yet appeared on any Publidher's List.
To Mr. Shepherd, who earns his living from 1 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. by playing records and chatting about such matters as the vital role the Flexible Flyer sled has had in America's cultural renaissance and the socio-anthropological factors behind the wearing of paper hats at parties, the clerk symbolized a breed apart - the people who live by day and sleep by night.
These day people, Mr. Shepherd mused, waste their waking hours on daytime where life is regimented by train schedules, office appointment pads, insistent telephones and lists of all kind. Yet oddly enough, he told his Night People audience, Day People feel superior precisely because thay're so well organized.
SHAKING THE FAITH
"What better way to restore the status quo," he suggested, "than to shake the Day People's faith in their organization. And what better place to start than with the bookshop clerks whose lists make them the most organized of all?"
To get the campaign under way, Mr. Shepherd called for suggestions for a ficticious book and author. He got thousands, and picked "I, Libertine" by Frederick R. Ewing. This Mr. Ewing, it was agreed, is an Oxford graduate, a retired Royal Navy Commander and a scholar "well remembered" for his series of British Broadcasting Company talks on "Erotica of the 18th Century."
After settling on a book and author, Mr. Shepherd urged his night listeners to order the volume wherever and whenever they could. It turned out that hundreds did, in libraries and bookstores here and abroad.
By late April, publisher Ian Ballantine had gotten wind of the book. Salesmen were bringing in tales about a novel called "I, Libertine" which buyers seemed to be crying for but which no bookseller had ever seen. Mr. Ballantine tracked "I, Libertine" to Mr. Shepherd, discovered the hoax, but had an idea: Why not actually publish a book called "I, Libertine" and capitalize on the hoax?
THE GREAT TRAGEDY
Mr. Ballantine's idea, though simple enough, was a startling one, for publishers consider it one of the greatest possible tragedies to print a book later discovered to be the work of a literary faker. At Simon and Schuster, Inc., faces still redden when Joan Lowell's autobiographical "Cradle of the Deep" is mentioned even though this phony tale of a young girl's spectacularly adventurous life at sea was published in 1929.
Nonetheless, Ballantine went ahead and convinced Mr. Shepherd to team up with science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon to write "I, Libertine". The book based on the adventures of an 18th Century English duchess, will have an initioal press run of 130,000 copies, Mr. Ballantine says.
There's a brief postscript in the book coming off the press September 20. It's a note by author Ewing giving special thanks to Messrs. Shepherd and Sturgeon for their kind assistance and to the Night People - "whose battle cry is Excelsior, and whose humor and forbearance are really responsible for the work.
(Note - in the printed article, the author mis-spelled Shep's name as Shepard. It is corrected here.) ||
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