The heads of three American publishing powerhouses met to discuss the state of the books business May 31 in New York City. Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle, Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy, and Macmillan CEO John Sargent, speaking at the BookExpo conference, discussed their generally positive (or at least non-negative) outlook for print books.
They also reflected on high points in their careers when moderator Maria A. Pallante, CEO of the Association of American Publishers, asked them to name the titles they have been proudest to publish.
Sargent, who joined Macmillan’s St. Martin’s Press in 1996, chose Being Mortal, the 2014 nonfiction book by Atul Gawande, and the 1989 children’s classic, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, with illustrations by Lois Ehlert. In choosing his answer to Pallante’s question, Sargent said that he tried to think of a book that was both meaningful to readers and commercially successful, and said it was a bonus if he liked the author a lot; if the book’s publishing had a great story behind it; and if he had had a personal hand in the efforts.
“I was a young guy and a couple of us really busted our ass to make the book work,” Sargent tells Quartz of why he chose Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. “It’s been all these years later and it’s still in stock everywhere you go, and kids still learn to read from it.”
Reidy chose Angela’s Ashes, the 1996 Pulitzer-winning memoir by Frank McCourt. ”It was an Irish book, and–this was the common belief at the time—the Irish don’t buy books about themselves,” Reidy said. “It was too much money. But we had 100 pages of the book—it was so glorious, the writing, the communication between the child narrator and the adult writer and the reader was just so phenomenal. So we bought it anyway.” The book sold at least 4 million copies and was adapted for film. Reidy also mentioned Hillary Clinton’s first memoir, Living History, from 2003, and All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2014 novel.
Finally, Dohle said that he takes pride in publishing a diversity of voices, as well as helping important older books resonate across generations. He added that recently, publishing titles that add deeply to the cultural or political discourse has become especially important to him. He chose the memoir by former US first lady Michelle Obama, called Becoming, due out in November. Dohle also mentioned On Tyranny, by Timothy D. Snyder, The future Is History, by Masha Gessen, Democracy in Chains, by Nancy MacLean, and Collusion, by Luke Harding, all published last year.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the Association of American Publishers and misspelled Maria A. Pallante’s name.