Ed Fitzgerald is, on the evidence of his own testimony, one of those rare and fortunate people upon whom life has bestowed its blessings in almost the exactly desirable amount. Now in his late sixties, Fitzgerald can look back -- and does so in "A Nickel an Inch," a most agreeable memoir -- on a career that was long, productive and varied anbwapping that are perhaps the best parts of the sportswriting life. When suddenly he was hired to take over a moribund book club, the Literary Guild, the change didn't seem all that great to him: "You're creating and selling words and ideas, information and entertainment, in both worlds."
He did a bang-up job at the Literary Guild, in the process learning a lot about its parent company, Doubleday, and its president, Nelson Doubleday, about both of which he writes with a certain affection but considerable asperity; the latter he characterizes as "the last of the plantation owners." From this job he went off to the McCall's magazine group, where he discovered to his sorrow that Shana Alexander is a better writer than manager, and ended up at last running the Book-of-the-Month Club, where he introduced the highly successful Quality Paperback Book Club and where he ended his career with all the happiness he had earned.
Fitzgerald came into contact with a good deal of glitz, but through it all he kept his eye firmly fixed on some old-fashioned truths, two of which are especially important. One is that bigger is not necessarily better: "I am sure that if you make money every year selling good books to people who care about them, you shouldn't be held accountable for becoming bigger every year, you should be held accountable for becoming better." The other is that the MBAs who are swarming all over the publishing business aren't doing it much good, that "a publishing business ought to be run by people who are essentially editors or, at least, people who are in love with the newspapers or magazines or books the company is publishing."
That Fitzgerald is himself such a person is beyond question; it is also obvious from every page of his memoir that he is a decent man whose dealings with others have been unfailingly honorable. Into the bargain he writes a clean, unpretentious prose and tells a lively story; in only one chapter, a numbing recitation of what famous authors said and did at BOMC luncheons in their honor, does he resort to routine name-dropping, and he can be forgiven this since the occasions clearly gave him great pleasure. That, in turn, is precisely what he offers his readers in "A Nickel an Inch."