Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Rumrunners: A Prohibition Scrapbook

I didn't update this blog enough last fall: too much to do, and too few hours in which to do it. So this may well be the first real post I've done on Marty Gervais's Rumrunners. This is quite strange, as it is -- only two months after its release -- already our bestselling title. We made it through the initial 3000 copy print run in under a month, and are now more than halfway through our 4000 copy second printing. Though things have obviously slowed a bit after Christmas, it is still selling steadily, and I think we may see it approach the 8000-10,000 copy mark in its first year. For a press quite happy to sell 300-400 copies of the average title, this has been quite an unexpected surprise.

Though I have been joking of late that this book has ruined me as a literary publisher, it hasn't yet. In fact, it has almost singlehandedly saved the press this year from the devastating cycle of scant sales and horrific returns which plague the industry. It also points to a possible path out of the grant dependency I never wanted to develop, yet to which we have somehow succumbed, and you can expect more titles such as this from Biblioasis in the coming years.

Though the book is largely a local history, and 90% of sales have come from the Windsor area, it is not really just of local interest. Somewhere approaching 85% of all booze passing from Canada to the the United States during Prohibition passed across the Detroit River, meaning that anyone who wants to understand Prohibition really needs to understand what happened here. And Marty's book takes a different tack than most treatments: it is a scrapbook, a compendium of various odds and ends, but it is also an oral history: though, as one expects, Al Capone and the Purple Gang and other criminal figures graces these pages, Marty has focused on the average man (& woman) carrying the booze across the border, in everything from drained eggs to fake gas tanks to airplanes. It's the story of Prohibition as small time local ingenuity, and, for my money, is at least as fascinating as the larger stories of Capone and company. Indeed, the latter cannot be truly appreciated or understood without it.

The 90th Anniversary of the introduction of the Volstead Act, whch made Prohibition law in the United States, is less than two weeks away, and anyone interested in understanding what Prohibition looked like from the ground could do far worse than pick up a copy of the Rumrunners. Among others, it seems Margaret Atwood has: from her Year of the Flood blog:

But speaking of criminal airs, our old friend, poet and Black Moss publisher Marty Gervais, was there, and I bought his terrific local-history book about the roadhouses and rumrunners in Windsor during Prohibition: The Rumrunners: A Prohibition Scrapbook. (Biblioasis.) Great stuff –lots of pictures. How wicked Windsor was!

No comments: