Monday, August 09, 2004

Gerard Jones's farewell -- or au revoir

Gerard Jones, of Everyone Who’s Anyone fame, sent me an email directing me to the update of his site.

It turns out that Gerard has had enough. For the time being at any rate. Instead of regularly updating his site he’s going to do something different, though what it is he’s not yet sure.

Before leaving, however, he makes an exit speech, in which he tells the book world exactly what he thinks of it. And, as you would expect if you’ve ever read any Gerard, he is not too impressed. Here is just a sample of what he has to say about publishers:

These guys have no clue what a good book even is anymore. They're schlock peddlers, first, foremost, last, always and only...and that they pass themselves off as the guardians of great literature makes it almost funny in a sad, sickening sort of way. They're the guardians of schlock. Schlock sells. They're the guardians of superficiality and stupidity. Superficiality and stupidity sells. Whose fault is that? Not mine. I don't read their stupid books. I write good books, instead, and even if I just read them myself and nobody else ever reads them I'm way better off in the long run, in the grand scheme of things, than I would be if I tried to please these useless, heartless, brainless,shameless, moneygrubbing morons.

He writes rather well when he gets up a head of steam, don’t you think so? I really like ole Gerard. He at least is not likely to get ulcers from repressing his emotions.

Meanwhile he links us to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, which, he claims, says much the same things as he is saying, except in politer language. And he’s right, broadly speaking.

The article is written by one Gail Vida Hamburg who evidently has a ‘political novel’ coming out next year. Meanwhile she berates the publishers of this world for putting out ‘too many books of questionable literary quality.’

Well, stap me vitals. I never thought that I would be cast in the role of defender of the publishing establishment, but I have to say that I disagree with both Gerard and the lovely Gida over this one. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to criticise commercial firms for acting in a commercial way. And God forbid – please, please forbid – that anyone should succeed in persuading the Governments of either the USA or the UK to put out subsidised literary fiction, on the entirely spurious grounds that it is somehow good for people’s souls. We already have far too much of that sort of thing as it is.

Gail Vida Hamburg goes on to heap praise on the UK book world, which, she says, promotes its young writers and encourages reading. She quotes Booktrust and the Book Marketing Council as examples of UK organisations which do this noble work. Well, up to a point, yes. These organisations do ‘encourage young writers’, but only if you belong to the literary genre. I don’t see many arty-farty bodies supporting, say, writers of romantic fiction. Neither would I expect the Arts Council to give you a grant if you’re working on a detective novel.

Gail Vida Hamburg seems to be yet another example of the literary fiction fan who seems to think that the rest of us have a moral duty to share their rather odd enthusiasms, and that we are somehow demonstrating our intellectual inferiority if we happen to prefer, say, crime fiction or science fiction. Well, sorry, but I find the intellectual case for that wholly unconvincing.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem with publishers making money I have a problem with them making money selling crappy books when they could just as easily make money selling good books. They control what gets hyped and what gets hyped is what gets bought. GG got zero reviews other than by individual readers whose opinions carry no weight. Like this one was pretty cool, and there were a bunch more like it:

"Given the the stranglehold the pretentious, incestuous McSweeney's school of thought has on "literary fiction" these days, one can only consider Gerard Jones' self-professed lack of education a blessing. Why, just imagine-- a writer who actually saves outlandish metaphor for scenes in which it's appropriate (such as the first acid trip). Comparisons with Salinger and Twain are not overstated, for Jones has the rare ability to express a brilliant intellect in an accessible, dare I say folksy, manner. The story is certainly a poignant, bittersweet one-- I confess I cried at the end-- but Jones throws in enough partying and brushes with the famous and semi-famous to intermittently relieve the almost unbearable emotional tension. Though there isn't a plot per se, there's so much meat to this story, and Jones' descriptions are so vivid, that reading "Ginny Good" one almost feels it to be a cinematic experience. All in all, a bravura debut from a wonderful storyteller."

But where's Michiko? Where's Yardley? It got a brief mention by Thomas Jones in the LRB and by Nick Clee in the Guardian, but it has as yet to get reviewed anwhere anyone pays any attention to while tons of way crappier books get promoted and publicized and reviewed up the wazoo through the efforts of the marketing departments of big publishers. It takes money to make money. These guys have all the "connections." If Random House says it's a good book--and they say so by investing big bucks to buy and sell the thing--then it's ipso facto a good book. It's a closed, festering, fetid system that you and everyone else who buys books keeps supporting and you support it 'cause they "pay" you to support it by brainwashing your poor pea brains into thinking "they" know what's best for you...and you buy it, you fall for advertising, you fall for hype, you fall for buzz. It's not your fault. You don't know any better. Money makes the world go around. Where your treasure is there will your heart be also. G.

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