Suzy Staubach has been potting longer than bookselling. "It's the other
big thing in my life besides books," she told Shelf Awareness
. "And if
you're a book person, everything comes back to that: you either read or
write about that other big thing."
After reading a lot about pottery, Staubach began writing about it,
too. The result is now at the stage that's roughly the equivalent of a
pot firing: Staubach's new book, Clay: The History and Evolution of Humankind's Relationship with Earth's Most Primal Element
(Berkley, $23.95, 0425205665), will be published November 1.
, Staubach molds the history and the many surprising
uses of clays--in computers and space exploration, in tablets for
the first written communication, in irrigation, to name a few. "The
first sparkplug was made on a potter's wheel," she said. And the
potter's wheel was "the first machine."
Staubach has years of experience in bookselling. She is manager of the
general books division at the UConn Co-op bookstore in Storrs, Conn., a
board member of the ABA, former president of NEBA, former president of
the Connecticut Center for the Book and contributor of the "Face Out:
Notes of a College Bookseller" column for NACS's College Store
magazine. She is also one of the most thoughtful, kind, soft spoken and
funny observers of the book world that we know. So it's not surprising
that she thought she knew a lot about the publishing process. Now on
the verge of seeing Clay
take form, she has a different view, saying, "I thought I knew more than I did."
She had been researching the subject of clay and pottery "forever,"
taking notes on cards, corresponding with a range of people, including,
for example, "a guy at an enameling instituted that makes sewer pipe,"
when her agent, Ed Knappman, sold her idea to Berkley. Suddenly she had only a
little over a year to write her book, less than the two years she
wanted. She raced to meet the deadline, and like so many authors, had a
hair-raising experience: "My editor was great, but she quit two weeks
before BEA," Staubach said. Since handing in the manuscript last
Halloween, she has been surprised by the "hurry up and wait" quality of
the process. "I work frantically for a couple of weeks to get something
done, then nothing happens." Securing permissions for the many pictures
was particularly hectic. "Thank God for computers and jpegs," she
exclaimed. "I didn't start getting permissions until I knew how many we
would use. If I did this over, I would start earlier."
She "had nothing to do with the cover" but loves it. She also had a different title for the book, Mud
, but was happy, particularly after seeing the cover, that Berkley changed it.
Now she's looking forward to publication. Staubach will tour "a bunch
of stores" in New England, will appear at Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops
in Milwaukee and go to the Miami Book Fair International. "It'll be fun
to be on the other side and see how stores do events," she said. "I
just hope I'm not a bad author." As for an appearance at the UConn
Co-op, Staubach said that planning something would be "a conflict of
interest." But when several faculty members said they had to do
something to celebrate her book, she went along. An event will be held
on November 17.
She'll also do a few events in what she calls "the clay world," most of which will focus on technical aspects of the subject.
Staubach continues to throw pots, mostly tableware and a lot of garden
pots. Her work tends to be "very functional," she commented. "It's the
one part of my life in which I'm very conservative." While most potters
do double firings, she does single firings, which she started in
the 1970s during the last major energy crisis. (Now her approach is
back in fashion.) She was also tempted to try new things after learning
about them while working on Clay
. One example: farmers in India
put an upside down pot on a stick like a scarecrow. "I've been inspired
to make a few on my own," she said.
In 1998, Staubach published another book, Connecticut: Driving Through History
"It was with a small press [Douglas Charles Ltd.] and much more
casual," she said. She may try another book. "I'd love to do something
on sunken gardens," she said. "Or a biography of M.C. Richards [of
Black Mountain College fame and the author of Centered
]. She was an interesting character, and no one's done a bio."
She'll also continue potting. "It and bookselling are equal wealth builders," she said, laughing. "Bookselling is my day job."