While considerable editorial talent passed through Doubleday during the next few years, none of it changed the culture: The firm just kept taking on water. Finally, in the late 1970s, Doubleday was bought out by the same Bertelsmann giant that's just acquired Random. But Doubleday's was more of a salvage operation: What the Germans reportedly most wanted were the firm's many book clubs and huge backlists of cookbooks and coffee-table furniture. The old company is now, ironically, the cheese slice in the Bertelsmann-acquisition sandwich known as Bantam Doubleday Dell - those bread slices being the profitable little paperback houses that ate our lunch years before.
Well before this takeover took place, management realized that, whatever my earnings, I didn't fit. I tended to agree. About then, I read a new translation of Maxim Gorky's Mother, submitted in manuscript. I didn't know Gorky - he wasn't in the academic canon - so I was ambushed by his rush of emotion, color and feeling, savoring, as editors so rarely do, each word. I'd edited some good books. But nothing like this. I knew suddenly that there was fulfillment out there that I'd never experienced. It was called literature. And it had little to do with working at Doubleday.
I paid $3.98 from my first unemployment check for the Grateful Dead's new American Beauty, stuffed my Dunhill churchwarden pipe full of Haiphong gold and played that LP until midnight. I was both richly depressed and strangely elated. I'd lost the only serious job I'd ever had. But thanks to Gorky, I'd discovered a fulfillment in words beyond publishing: