Author and publisher Arthur Naiman has no time for those without humor or creativity. The Chicago-born Tucson transplant by way of New York, Paris and the Bay Area has published more than 30 nonfiction books and started two publishing companies.
A philosophy major at Brandeis University, he had no intention of following his peers into academia, doctoring or lawyering. Instead, he followed his dreams to Paris in 1963, honing his literary hand at the same Café Procope that Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson frequented. “It was like heaven,” Naiman comments on his time in Paris, recalling that his room only cost $1.60 per night, owing to the fact that France was still recovering from World War II.
Homesickness eventually lured him back across the pond to New York, to a civil service job for the New York State Commission for Human Rights. Unwilling to leave his creative side neglected, he spent the remainder of the ’60s and ’70s pivoting between his two chosen professions: teaching and writing.
Teaching a variety of subjects to middle and high schoolers brought unique challenges, as he was frequently assigned self-contained classes of “emotionally-disturbed” students. Naiman clearly has a soft spot for remembering his “rebellious” students; he enjoyed the work. Finding new ways to engage their interests, hold their focus and reward good behavior was fulfilling and demanding.
Whenever teaching wore him down, he would go back to working as a copywriter at high-end New York advertising agencies, where he would spend weeks refining copy for print, radio and TV ads.
By 1976, Naiman was ready for a change and moved cross-country to Berkeley. California’s independent publishing scene was a counterbalance to New York’s corporate publishing that Naiman didn’t even know he was seeking. Eventually, he fell in with an independent publishing community where he drafted and published his first books. The first, “Every Goy’s Guide to Common Jewish Expressions,” was a 1981 bestseller.
“I was looking for book ideas and I realized that there was no single, unified guide to Jewish expressions,” Naiman explains. “I didn’t know much Yiddish myself, because that’s what my parents spoke when they didn’t want me to understand what they were saying. So it was a lot of fun learning about it as I was writing the book.” He treasures the feedback and praise he received from this and other works, and feels proud of his contribution to his Jewish heritage.
Teaching writing classes for adults at the University of California Extension gave Naiman access to the school’s mainframe computer, which was hard to come by at the time. Having written his first book using the mainframe, he realized another unaddressed writing niche: good, readable guides to using personal computers.
“After bringing out nine books with a variety of publishers,” says Naiman, “I was ready to try publishing one on my own.” The result was “The Macintosh Bible,” his best-known work, which has sold 875,000 copies worldwide. He published other computer-related titles as well. Though publishing was financially rewarding, he found it exhausting. “Self-publishing is like having four full-time jobs,” he says, “writing, editing, publishing and marketing.” His second publishing company, Odonian Press, brought forth “The Real Story Series,” focusing on a wide array of left-leaning political philosophies and subjects.
He owes his good fortune in publishing, he says, to his sense of humor and his passionate concern for readability. “Working in advertising trained me to make readers’ eyes ‘fall through the copy.’” As for all the jokes and whimsical digressions he inserts (one reviewer said that it was “impossible to read one of [his] computer books without laughing out loud”), he traces that to the long, proud tradition of Jewish humor.
Mold allergies and a love for the light, warmth and dryness of the desert eventually drove him from the Bay Area to Tucson. He keeps busy reading books, watching movies and playing pickleball and badminton. He has a couple of new works in the pipeline: a memoir penned under a pseudonym and a book on biotech, anti-aging and radical life extension.
Naiman’s writing career has encompassed the transition from the use of electric typewriters to produce hand-delivered manuscripts to today’s real-time desktop production of mass market writing and clickbait. “Technology has made the craft of writing easier,” Naiman comments. He has high praise for nonfiction works with big ideas, like Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel,” James W. Loewen’s “Lies My Teacher Told Me” and almost anything by Noam Chomsky or Gore Vidal.
Big ideas are worth pursuing, and Naiman plans to keep writing in pursuit of that, exactly.
Sarah Chen is a freelance writer and associate director of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s Northwest Division.