Yesterday I received my annual royalty report from Penguin Books. In 1970, I and my first wife were both in full-scale analysis, and I was tap-dancing as fast as I could to pay the bills. New American Library [a semi-quality paperback house absorbed some while back by Penguin] asked me to edit a little collection to be called Ten Great Works of Philosophy. The idea was to cobble together classical works either in English or in old translations so that everything would be in the public domain. The whole would then be published in a pocket-sized paperback, suitable for book racks in drug stores and train stations. The advance against royalties of a thousand on signing and a thousand on submission was more than enough to buy my services [I had done In Defense of Anarchism for five hundred], so I said yes. I cut and pasted the thing so fast that I submitted the final manuscript before they had time to give me the first thousand for signing. I wrote some brief intros and promptly put the book out of my mind. I think I can say without fear of contradiction that it was not my finest scholarly hour.
When I entered the latest sales in my Royalty database, before preparing the very small check for deposit, I noticed that the total sales over the past forty-five years are now at 194,878, slouching toward two hundred thousand. Over the years, I have made about twelve and a half cents per copy, which is not much, but still is pretty good pay for maybe three days' work.
Thirty years from now, my great grand-daughter will ask her mother, my grand-daughter Athena, "Mom, I found this ancient book in a rubbish heap near my school. Is this your grandpa?" and Athena will say, "Yes, daughter, I remember him as a genial old man, who taught something or other in college. Be careful. It may have germs."