Friday, December 02, 2005

Keys to the Car

A COMMON talking point which appears again and again among those who contend with the ULA is the idea that Dave Eggers and his crew are little-known personalities with no influence beyond 25,000 people. This may be true-- but what does it then say about their abilities?

Eggers has been given the keys to the car by the publishing giants. Clueless themselves about the world outside their hermetic skyscrapers, they've bought into the Eggers p.r. machine, believing he can be their salvation. Company after company, from Random House to Houghton-Mifflin, have signed onto joint projects with McSweeney's Books (many of them anthologies). One sees the books continually at the front of book chains. The congloms have invested huge sums in Eggers's judgement and his writers.

Book editors don't have a rumor of a hint what kind of literary writing will sell. On their own, they fall into the nepotistic easy-out of hyping books by the sons or brothers of well-connected magazine editors. (See Nick McDonell and Jonathan Safran Foer.) Their hope in Eggers is misplaced. In their blindness they can't see the smugness, insularity, and exclusiveness of the McSweeney's style of writing, which limits its appeal to snob-wannabes who hold MFA degrees. The said 25,000.

Eggers is analogous to Matt Millen. General Manager of the Detroit Lions, Millen was given the keys to the football operation by the Ford automotive family which owns the team. Watching games from the comfort of their stadium skybox, the Fords have little idea about what happens on the field. (As shown by decades of failure.) Signing on Millen was a laudable gamble, but the gamble has turned into a multi-vehicle pile-up. The problem isn't so much Matt Millen, but the desperation revealed by his hiring.

The book conglomerates are in a similar state of desperation. Uninteresting novels by rich guys like Rick Moody are hyped as great. The public doesn't care. Credibility dwindles. As solution, the companies run to Eggers-- who himself publishes Moody and his ilk at every opportunity, which demonstrates that Eggers has no new game plan, no innovative strategy, no revolutionary plays or exciting players, only more of the same.

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