Q&A With Charles Spencer III

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Q&A With Charles Scribner III

My latest guest is with author, art historian and publisher Charles Scribner III. Some of Charles’s non-fiction books are Sacred Muse: A Preface to Christian Art & Music, The Shadow of God: A Journey Through Memory, Art, and Faith & his current release Scribners: Five Generations in Publishing.

Q: Charles, would you like to talk about your current release Scribners Five Generations in Publishing?

A: Sure. It was a book I never expected to write, so in a way it befits its story: the first Charles Scribner, my great-great grandfather, originally planned a career as a lawyer, but because of frail health he was advised by his doctors to choose a less taxing profession. So he founded a publishing house! (I wonder whether any physician today would prescribe such a choice.)

Q: What made you want to write and publish Scribners about your family’s history in publishing? What was the research process like when researching this book and all your other non-fiction books?

A: I wrote Scribners because my longtime editor and former publishing colleague Michelle Rapkin told me I must. I was planning to follow my last book, a very brief illustrated preface to Christian art and music titled Sacred Muse, with a brief and personal series of walks through Rome with Caravaggio and Bernini, two favorite artists, called Going for Baroque; but Michelle told me to write the family publishing history first. Why? Because, she said, if I didn’t do it then all the stories I had told her over the years would disappear with me. How could I argue with that? So I took my laptop to Florida for my two months of tropical exile last January and started writing each day. Following my dad’s dictum ‘no rush, just do it immediately’, I started typing each morning. I was hooked. It became a full-day job. By the end of January, a manic month of writing, it was finished: seven pages a day times thirty days. That’s why the book is 210 pages. Unlike my previous art books, based on years of research in libraries, this book flowed from memory aided by a company timeline published by the Princeton University Library, which houses our archives. I had my iPhone at my side for fact checking via Google as I wrote, as I had previously done while writing my spiritual journal-memoir The Shadow of God. Without that technology the book would surely have taken ten times as long to complete. No trips to libraries needed this time: everything was literally at my fingertips. I’m so grateful I didn’t undertake it twenty years ago!

Q: If you are currently writing your next non-fiction book, what will the topic of that book be about?

A: I don’t know. My previous art book was likewise written by surprise as a diversion in Florida exile. It’s so much shorter—an hour of reading—because I had only an iPhone on which to write it, one digit at a time. Perhaps I’ll take up those walks through Rome this winter as an ‘accidental tourist’.