Red Letter Day

Red Letter Day 

In recent columns, I’ve alluded to reversals of fortune, a succession of them, coming in the form of rejection letters.  Two came from senior editors who turned down an article, controversial and breaking new ground, which was on a topic closely attuned to their readers’ concerns.  When I read a version of that article at a panel last year, a fellow panelist turned to me and said that you could hear the silence crack in the room and that, based on what I had read to them, he would have to change his course curriculum.

So the recent emails were disappointing, but I did not internalize the editors’ rejections.  Too bad.  Still, I knew the worth of what I had submitted to them.

The third editor was different.  She turned down my book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher.  Let me set that in context.  Confessions was recommended to that editor by a person held in highest esteem at that university press and recognized as knowledgeable in the areas relevant to my book.  Confessions is also the focus of an entire chapter of different book forthcoming at that very press.  It’s quite unusual for an unpublished book to be described in detail and liberally quoted in a book that’s on its way to publication.  The editor of the book on-its-way-to-publication that cites mine is the same editor who just turned down Confessions!

Nor is this the first time something of this kind has happened with Confessions.  In four previous instances, it has been recommended by highly-regarded, well-connected, experienced book people, who had reason to think their words carried weight with the publishers or editors they volunteered to contact. Sometimes they were simply rebuffed.  When the rejections came to me in writing, they praised the book but said it did not fit their lists.

I have run out of big shots.

Previously, a long tally of university presses also said that Confessions didn’t fit their list.  The trade presses (like Random House & Simon & Schuster) will not look at a submission unless it reaches them through an agent.  I have knocked at the door of every agent remotely suitable for this book.  It didn’t fit their lists either.

A word about Confessions itself.  As the title indicates, it’s a memoir, a personal journey, thus a feminine journey.  But the journey is not merely personal.  It traverses current worldviews, philosophical, political and religious.   Nevertheless, it’s not an “abstract” book.  It’s novelistic.  In the true story I tell, contending worldviews were not just worked out on paper.  They were lived through thoughtfully, as a test of their truths and their untruths.  The book offers an original take on a spectrum of issues hard for most of us to escape: the asymmetrical relations of men and women; love, sex and seduction; marxism, existentialism, millenarianism, and anti-humanism; relations between the races; identity politics and anti-semitism.

Readers can learn from it.  It sheds light on lives we are all living, and issues all of us encounter nowadays.  So my concern for this book is not just personal.

After a week or so of mulling over the whole situation, it came to me that – barring some surprise development – by now I have pretty much turned over every rock.  What remains is self-publishing.  For various reasons, I’m told that’s no longer viewed with disdain in the publishing world.  Self-published books sometimes get literary prizes.  It’s a little like going to a ball without a partner.  If you have other qualifications, your dance card might fill up just the same.

If you self-publish, you own the book.  You can offer it and advertise it on any terms you choose, sell it on amazon and continue to do so as long as you desire.  If you want a certain font, you won’t have to convince your editor.  If you want illustrations by original artists, you can hire one.  In the nineteenth-century novels I have loved, words and images were paired.  They should be in this book too.

Since reaching this decision,

I’ve felt lighter,

more at home in the world.

I went for a riding lesson last Friday, at the stable where natural riding is taught.  You don’t use crops or spurs.  You communicate with your body and your intentions.

Before mounting, my trainer instructed me to lunge California.  At one point, Cali stopped, broke the circle and came over to stand in front of me.

“What’s she doing?” I asked my trainer.

“She’s saying that she messed up and she’s coming over to acknowledge you as her leader.”

All my life, I’ve respected horses, while knowing perfectly well that they did not respect me.  Our relationship has not been reciprocal.

So this — respect from a world-wise pinto — is a first in my life.  After this, who needs a tacky old Nobel Prize?

For me, let’s face it.  This is …


About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” ( where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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