January 31, 2022

Tomes take tumble into sea; supply-chain sorrows symbolized


The freighter MADRID BRIDGE at sea in November 2020.

Last week’s publishing news of the file-under-unbelievable stripe included the story that a shipment of cookbooks published by our partners at Penguin Random House were lost at sea during a storm.

The two cookbooks, by Melissa Clark and Mason Hereford, were apparently cargo that was stored in containers aboard a freighter named the Madrid Bridge, which ran into rough weather on January 15 while en route to New York. According to the New York Times, the ship suffered a “container collapse,” with the result that fifty containers toppled irretrievably into the Atlantic Ocean.

Our managing editor, who has somewhat of a nautical bent, was quick to seize on the story, spending more time than perhaps strictly necessary on a website called Marine Traffic, long an inside cult fave at Melville House for its colorful graphics and surfeit of detailed information that is under most circumstances completely irrelevant to the process of making books. We learned many things:

  1. The Madrid Bridge, which is currently docked in Charleston, South Carolina, is a 152,000-ton ship with a waterline (that’s “length” to you lubbers) of 366 meters, and a beam (“width”) of 51 meters, built in 2018 and owned and operated by a Japanese consortium.
  2. No one was hurt in the incident. It’s easy to think of this whole thing as funny, largely because it is in fact funny, but it also serves as a reminder that the shipping and freight industries are extremely dangerous. The people who who work in these fields rank just ahead of bitcoin enthusiasts Republican pollsters emergency-services personnel in terms of personal courage;
  3. As author Melissa Clark said, “I think it’s important to stress that humans weren’t hurt, just merchandise.” Both authors have been incredibly gracious, at least online, about the mishap, both posting genius-level memes on social media;
  4. There is a sub-culture of people who write and tweet and report and argue about … this stuff, and they are both awesome and also completely bonkers. They say thing like this, and if you want to get up in their stuff you can be prepared to lose a couple three four hours doing it. Happily, of course.




Michael Lindgren is the Managing Editor at Melville House.