Wednesday, September 22, 2004

What's Wrong with Publishing Today, Part I

BOOKFORUM's Eric Banks also says something to the effect that "no matter what you hear, there's a tremendous amount going on in publishing today."

To which I reply, "Bullshit!"

This isn't exactly 1925, when both The Great Gatsby and An American Tragedy were published, with Sun Also Rises out the next year, and giants like Faulkner, Dos Passos, and Sinclair Lewis producing a stream of near-masterworks during the same time period.

Today we get BOOKFORUM writer Claire Messud, who gushes about unmagical unreal novels with passages that have to be read over three or four times to be understood, and whose own award-winning productions presumably are similarly incomprehensible; whose prose shown to us in BF is a clogged dense mass of lifeless and stupid verbiage.

Meanwhile, excellent clear-headed and intelligent novelists like Lawrence Richette and Phillip Routh (yes, that's his name) are reduced to publishing through Xlibris. Now, if BOOKFORUM printed an essay about Routh's work, instead of Roth's, THEN they would be topical and relevant.

But the overeducated snob aristocrats who've taken over the publishing world don't know what's out there and don't WANT to know. They'd rather cling to the familiar. When Philip Roth goes they'll have to stuff him and pretend he's still cranking out books, and have some mediocre MFA student dummy up his novels-- or maybe Claire Messud-- with suitably ridiculous plots. (It's said the next one will be about what would happen had Warren G. Harding lived.)

They'll prop the preserved Roth against the wall at author receptions, next to the preserved Updike, Bellow, and others of that ilk, giving employment to a host of standing-next-to-them ventriloquists.

The New York literary elite of which BOOKFORUM is part lives bunkered down in their office buildings-- in their own Green Zone-- clueless about what's happening in the provinces; eyeing the country and population fearfully; traveling through it in intellectual Humvees, their closed-off shut-down minds well-protected against potential intellectual hostility and assault.


Adam Hardin said...

Claire Messud-Hell, What a Waspy Name, gives Heidi Julavits some competition.

These books are difficult to read as you said, not because they are profound, but because they are clogged with fatuous limp dick rambling prose. Prose that was not written but talked onto the page. If these people knew how to write well, they would trim off a third of their books-the third that is repetitive, unnecessary, verbose, and digressive.

However, these people aren't writers, but trained writers, so if they actually did the trimming, they would be left with nothing. That is the point. These people write rambling and verbose books to cover the fact that they can not write, and have nothing to say except what has been said a thousand times over by their MFA ilk.

Anonymous said...

I recently read THE HUNTER by an Australian wh lives in Paris--Julia Leigh, I think is her name. She was on the Observor's 21 WRITERS TO WATCH IN THE 21st CENTURY. It was difficult to get through, and I only finished it because it was apparently supposed to be an adventure story, and I like adventure stories--but I think I missed some of that. :/

King--you heard of her? There was a Russian on that list also, names Victor Pelevin. Heard of him?

Adam Hardin said...

I have to Praise Eggers here. Stop reading if you are going to be offended.

On his Web Site he published a hilarious parody of those lists: 5 Greatest Writers under Five.

Something like:

Ralphie is my dog. Ralphie loves to go for walk. Ralphie loves to play fetch. Ralphie has fleas. Ralphie jumps up on people.

It means nothing except good marketing and hype for the people on those lists. The Pulitzer Prize is a similar list in my opinion especially now as opposed to fifty years ago.

As Richard K. said, we are in the Age of Prizes. What prizes have you won, what degrees do you have, what fellowships... is the judge of you as a writer. Your writing takes the back seat.

There is so much shit being hyped as Literature and so much of it is the same that really that is the only way to tell one writer from another.

King said...

1.) I hadn't heard before of the two writers mentioned.

2.) Eggers is just upset that his wife lost her #1 ranking in LIT FAN MAG's "Ten Most Ridiculous Lit Figures."