Friday, December 03, 2004

The McSweeney's Saga: Competing with Eggers


As the McSweeney's gang takes over what's left of the publishing establishment-- using joint projects to merge with Random House, Houghton-Mifflin, all the rest. . . .

. . . as in a sign of Protest against the San Francisco Cult the National Book Awards nominates as many New Yorkers as possible, to keep The Dave from sweeping every award, as the Cult wanted. . . .

. . . one wonders, how did this so quickly happen? Was there no attempt at the outset by the book corps to compete with the guy, before opening all doors to him, rolling over and playing dead?

Actually, there was a major attempt back in 2000, when the conglomerates realized they were so decrepit they couldn't compete even with whiny insipid faux-hip memoirish journals which gave at least the simulation or the possibility if not the reality of being alive. The fatcats pooled their ideas and resources to come up with ONE writer who could face-off against The Dave on his own terms.

Five months later after countless costly expense-account Manhattan power lunches the well-staffed Search Committee had found a candidate. A summit meeting was called, held in a huge oak-panelled room in a secret location at a private estate in the woods, attended by the heads of the Big Five media conglomerates. "Well?" a fatcat snapped.

A nerdy petite woman dressed completely in black, wearing nerdy black eyeglasses and faux-hip black boots, stood and produced a large photograph of the choice. The photo showed a personality-free expressionless nondescript man with eyeglasses, a bookish intellectual, likely nominee to be a librarian more than charismatic savior of a realm. The fatcats frowned as the young woman told them his name: "Jonathan Franzen."

Groans, dropped cigars, shocked eyes and gassy belches throughout the room. "Jonathan!" the fattest cat choked, swallowing handfuls of nitro tablets for his suddenly unravelling five-way bypass. "Please tell me that 'Jonathan's' writing isn't as boring and bland as his name and the way he looks. He appears to be rather-- uptight and stiff. Not exactly the author for which we'd hoped."

The mousey young woman pouted and reacted in snippy fashion, noiselessly stamping the plush carpeted floor with her boots. "That's the best we could come up with!"

The Big Five corps had their million-dollar promo departments devise various strategies to package Franzen as exciting: Jonathan Franzen in tweed jacket holding pipe in den with walls covered in hunting rifles, loyal golden retriever on bearskin rug in front of him; Jonathan Franzen in beret, on motorcycle, dressed like Che; Jonathan Franzen dancing in Parisien discotheque (wearing same beret); Jonathan Franzen in superhero costume; Jonathan Franzen smiling, eyeglasses tilted rakishly, while holding tropical drink as he sits surrounded by babes on an island in the Caribbean. None of the strategies worked.

(To be continued.)

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