In Defense of Amazon
In “Preston vs. Amazon” (PCM Spring 2015) Douglas Preston makes some good points, but in at least some respects his viewpoint is based on an outmoded author/publisher model.
He states: “If authors couldn’t get advances, an awful lot of extremely important books wouldn’t get written.” While this may be true of some books, it is also true that many great books have a terribly difficult time getting past the gatekeepers at publishing houses, who are increasingly looking for blockbusters and who are increasingly unwilling to nurture beginning authors. The list of highly-rated authors who spent years receiving rejection letters before getting published is a lengthy one. These authors weren’t getting advances, and they had to spend countless hours struggling to get published instead of researching and writing books. (William Saroyan, for example, received 7,000 rejections before selling his first short story; Marcel Proust got so many rejections that he gave up and self-published.)
Publishing on demand (such as is offered by Amazon and other publishers) has solved this problem: there are no gatekeepers. Beginning authors can publish anything they want, and see it listed for sale on a variety of sites, including Amazon. Yes, a lot of dross gets published this way. On the other hand, a glance at the books for sale in airports or on various “best seller” lists demonstrates that a lot of dross gets published the old-fashioned way. In the end, for better or for worse, the market—not a publishing house—will decide what lives and what fades away.
If publishers are “venture capitalists for ideas,” venues like Amazon are virtually cost-free incubators for individual thinkers and entrepreneurs (i.e., writers) trying to get their concepts produced and marketed without having to impress a patron. This is not a bad thing.
—David Rearwin ’62
La Jolla, Calif.
The College has preliminary plans to build an art museum at Second and College where the cottages now stand, across the street from the Seaver Mansion/ Alumni Center where the Claremont Inn, a real community center, used to be located. As a planner and a donor with a long interest in the College, I would like to see a transparent planning process in which this building project serves the broadest possible cultural goals. We have been constructing single-purpose buildings, and they have created a banal, sometimes isolating cityscape of a college, which for the most part hasn’t deployed architecture to generate a cultural edge. I would argue that Pomona students suffer from this deficit. As a college, we need more cultural energy: a Medici city palace with artist residencies, Claremont fellows, comfortable places for visiting dignitaries and scholars should generate this kind of cross-fertilization and nourish the art of conversation. Maybe we would produce more Rhodes Scholars with this conversational energy and the self-confidence it breeds.
Close to the city center, this site is too important just to be an art museum housing a modest collection, including many Native American artifacts now stored at Big Bridges. With the largest endowment per student in the country, Pomona is rich enough to build new buildings without soliciting big donors or their advice. But I would argue that rather than giving administrators the credit for a single-purpose building that can be done quickly, this site is strategically important for constructing a stronger culture with ties to the community and to the other colleges. It requires real leadership to build those ties and a cultural confidence that many academics lack. An elegant dining room serving the trustees, literary and artistic societies (yet to be formed as they are at Harvard and Yale), community leaders and donors, a cinema café (acknowledging that filmic literacy is part of a Pomona education), community rooms that host endowed lecturers, as at the CMC Athenaeum, and perhaps a used book store will give the site a more dynamic spirit.
It took protests from Yale students in the 1960s to change the plans of the award-winning architect, Louis Kahn, and the donor, Paul Mellon, to transform the Yale Center for British Art on Chapel Street into a lively street presence, with café and book store. Pomona is less urban and, I would argue, less urbane, and there may not be a student constituency that could demand more of the building than an architectural prize or many trustees that care about these values, but let’s try with at least an open discussion. Culture is a sense of mutual responsibility between centers of power. It is time that these centers started having a conversation at Pomona. Now, that is a project for “daring minds,” the current slogan used to raise money for that conservative and safe goal of scholarships. Let’s go further. Let’s make Pomona a scintillating place. Mixed-use buildings are a beginning.
—Ronald Lee Fleming ’63
Remembering Jean Walton
The latest issue of PCM introduced Professor Ami Radunskya and a story about women and math. I wonder if she knows the name, Dean Jean Walton, a woman of major importance to Pomona College and its education of women? Part of me wants to write a long piece, but if I try, this will never get sent. Besides, just a quick review of old issues of your magazine will provide information as to how old I am and how old the story of the unique issues of women and the College truly is: Pomona Today Illustrated for July 1973 has an article called “Choices,” and the summer 1990 issue of Pomona College Today has an article called “Rethinking Roles: Women’s Studies Challenges Belief Systems.” My files also include an article from the Winter 2005 PCM titled “End of the Weigh-In,” by Helen Hutchison ’74, remembering a Jean Walton experience.
What I have tended to forget, partly because I never took a math class at Pomona, is that Jean Walton’s Ph.D. was in mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania. I actually have a copy of her thesis. Although it is unreadable to the likes of me (words like “and,” “but” and “to” were the few I recognized), I love having it. If any of you, including Professor Radunskya, are curious about Dean Walton, (she retired as a vice president, but during my years as a student and when we did the early Choices weekends, she was Dean) one interesting book that has a whole chapter written by Jean is: The Politics of Women’s Studies; Testimony from 30 Founding Mothers, edited by Florence Howe. The heading of her chapter, which is in Part I, is “‘The Evolution of a Consortial Women’s Studies Program,’ Jean Walton (The Claremont Colleges).” I write all this because somehow it is important that these sorts of connections don’t get lost. It might make the newer faculty a little wiser and more compassionate about their aging ground-breakers.
—Judy Tallman Bartels ‘57
Remembering Jack Quinlan
Professor Quinlan was appointed Dean of Admissions in 1969, a critical time in the college’s history. Chicano and African American students felt we were vastly underrepresented in the enrollment at the time. Members of MECHA, including myself, and the Black Students Union were pressing the College to increase its diversity. I had the privilege of serving on a subcommittee on Chicano admissions with Dean Quinlan. Although our relationship was initially adversarial, I soon found John to be genuinely committed to the goal of diversity.
The fact that the enrollment of Pomona College today roughly mirrors that of the nation as a whole is in great part due to Dean Quinlan’s commitment to “quality and diversity,” first demonstrated all those decades ago.
—Eduardo Pardo ‘72
Los Angeles, Calif.
Athletes and Musicians
The PCM reported in the Spring 2015 issue that Kelli Howard ’04 has been inducted into the Pomona-Pitzer Athletic Hall of Fame, a well-deserved honor. It is worth noting that Kelli and her doubles partner, Whitney Henderson ’04, were also four-year members of the Pomona College Band, playing tenor saxophone and trombone respectively. Combining intercollegiate athletics and serious music-making is difficult at a school like Pomona, with its heavy academic demands, but as Kelli and Whitney demonstrated, it can be done.
—Graydon Beeks ’69
Professor of Music and Director of the Pomona College Band
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