A Mysterious Little Publishing Venture


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In fact, Read's an environmental lawyer at a Park Ave. firm, which fact is...compelling. (A lawyer? one thinks, watching her peer, secret and bright-eyed, out from behind her tumbler of whiskey?straight out of the Edward Gorey School of Law.)


She's also, in a remarkable little way, a budding publisher. We'd met in Max Fish after work so she could tell me the story behind the enigmatic pamphlet she'd mailed me.


I'd been impressed by the mysterious, unsolicited document. It was the folded and staple-bound work with which you'll be familiar if you work in this business?people often send along their self-published writing. But it was integritously done. "Confessions of Doyle: Confession One," read the cover, by John Doyle; the publisher, Read Books, New York, New York.


Read Books?


No curse words, no clip art, no orthographical eccentricities?in other words, none of the tics common to the genre. "John Doyle," read a note on the second page of the 12-page booklet, "is a pseudonym for another man of a similar background."


The text that followed was good:


"I apologize for the tardiness of this report, but my doctor ordered me to quit smoking," it began. "The habit has been symbiotic with all my activities, for all of my adolescent and adult life. So, as you might suspect, I could only split the act of writing from the act of smoking with a monstrous and energy usurping effort. I wish you could see the flexing muscles of my will at work on my nicotine craving?their bulging might would make you swoon. If I could summon that strength to some useful purpose, I could rule the world, or at least save myself.


"So, following proper journalistic form, I've given you some mood setting (here I sit, craving a burning bit of tobacco, a haggard young man with a romantic flaw, hacking away at what I hope will be a long, meaningful missive). And now I will give you my lede/presumptive moral: Pensive Irish boys from Boston suburbs ought not leave those humble beginnings far out of mind. Nobody likes Hibernian ambition. America prefers its Micks drunk and indolent..."


And so on, into wonderfully written evocations of said Hibernian suburban Boston childhood.


The editorial mind reels. A fully formed voice out of the great unsolicited Nowhere, a place dominated by profaners and guttersnipes.


So what, I asked Elizabeth, was the story? Here she is, a year and a half out of Harvard Law, working in a respectable profession, writing legal briefs. She's a successful young professional. But then, on the side, here she is calling herself "Read Books," and publishing enigmatic texts. (The next "Doyle" is due out any week now. You should write Elizabeth at thesupersleuth@yahoo.com?come to think of it, that address is interesting, too?what's up there, Elizabeth??and order it.)


So who was this Doyle? Why did his identity have to remain a mystery? Was he, like, an ex-convict?


"Let's say he's between 25 and 30." She cringes. "Oh no! And after I've had a drink! Can we leave it off the record? He's a really good friend of mine. And I am his attorney."


Leave off the record that he's between 25 and 30?


"No, just that he's not an ex-convict. He's not currently on the lam."


Flustered, but face aglow with secret mischief.


Elizabeth, are you Doyle?


"See, that's why I do want to say more, because it's not me... He actually specifically doesn't want you to know where he lives. He's not on Rikers Island. No?that kind of?actually?he doesn't live on Rikers Island."


Another silence. An oblique devilish smile.


Is he a lawyer, like you?


"If you're going to play 20 questions, I don't want to go there. If you're going to ask, is he this, is he that, I don't want to play this game. I don't really know why he wants to remain anonymous. But it's not me.


"I'll put it this way. We're very good friends. We talk every day. It's not Thomas Pynchon or J.D. Salinger, it's someone our age... So I'm not under strict orders, but..."


Okay. Have I heard of this "Doyle"?


Pause. "I don't think so, no."


You can't even tell me where he lives?


"He'll have to tell you where he lives, and you won't be surprised."


Williamsburg?


"Ohhhhhh, you know." Singsong, girlish. "The kids live everywhere these days."


We sipped our whiskeys. Raven-draped Elizabeth looked conspicuous in the grunge-guy ambience. Bristly downtown lumberjacks staggered in from the freezing street. She smiled?a girl who's just got it into her mind to reach over and mash up her little brother's pudding.


"You know, maybe he'll get mad at me for divulging this much, and kill me, and it will all come to nothing."


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