The Contemporary Press distributes bookmarkers which carry the company's name, web site address, and the slogan 'Fuck Literature'. Oh, and there's a picture of a bird in a short skirt carrying a gun.
Which kind of tells you the way things are going. 'When Big Publishing dies', it says in another place, 'we're the cockroaches who will devour their bones and dance on their graves.' Right on, brothers. I may join in, if I'm allowed out that late.
The web site adds to the picture. 'Raw words, well done', says another slogan. And the company describes itself as 'publishing future cult classics'.
The genre which is chiefly on offer here -- the way I see it -- is pulp fiction of the old school. Fiction which is in marked contrast to the genteel outpourings of the MFA mob.
'We've lost much of what made pulp fiction great', says Jay Brida, the publisher. 'We loved pulp for its irreverence, its dark (sometimes bitter, sometimes funny) mirror of society, its tittering embrace of the kink and defiance of the pious conventions of society. These attitudes can be found throughout the media, yet are conspicuously buried in modern literature. So we say, "Fuck Literature." Of course, we mean it both as a statement of contempt and a descriptive designation of our books.'
In addition to Jay Brida, there are half a dozen other founder members of the company. Two of them are women. Of one it is said, 'buy her a tequila and she might just make out with you'. And the other, Jess Dukes, is featured on the cover of her book, Down Girl, sitting on the loo with her knickers around her ankles. (Tastefully done, though.)
Well, by now you may have lost interest. This may all sound relentlessly crude, vulgar, and just generally awful. But that, I think, would be missing the point. The founder members of this company are said to be writers/designers who are less than fulfilled in their day jobs and decided to take matters into their own hands and produce some ridiculous, entertaining books.' Emphasise the entertaining.
Not, I would add, that these guys are just playing at what they do. Far from it; they are pretty serious (and also talented). These people are much more intelligent -- and, yes, sensitive -- than they might seem from the in-your-face stuff which greets you at the door.
I can say that with some confidence because I've read three of the books which appear on the Contemporary Press's (shortish, so far) list. Here are my brief comments on each of them:
Jeffrey Dinsmore: I, An Actress
Subtitled 'The Autobiography of Karen Jamey', the title page tells us that the book was 'told to Jeffrey Dinsmore' -- a writer who, incidentally, has also published as Rory Carmichael. (Concentrate now, this gets tricky.) And another prelim page tells us that 'This is a work of fiction.' And indeed it is. But it is one of Mr Dinsmore's little conceits that he writes a blog as Rory Carmichael, and that on that blog Miss Jamey is allowed to give us her take on the James Frey affair.
According to Miss (or is it Ms) Jamey, James Frey was an obvious fake from day one. She mocks, for instance, his claim that he used to smoke 50 keys of crack a day, and that he once put so much cocaine up his ass that he turned purple. No one, Miss Jamey assures us, speaks of 'keys' of crack. And as for putting stuff up your ass, well, she tells us, from personal experience, that this has no effect whatsoever.
Ms Jamey goes on to say that 'my autobiography, which is available at fine stores everywhere and right here, is 110% factual. It is more factual than the facts. It is certainly more factual than anything James Frey has to say, and, I'll add, at least 55% more entertaining.'
See, I told you it got a little complicated.
Anyway, what of the damn book, since I went to the trouble of reading it. Well, Karen Jamey, we learn, was born Karen Hitler, in 1922. Hitler? Perhaps a distant relative; the German media certainly think so at one point. Anyway, young Karen turns out to be a remarkably articulate person. On the other hand, maybe her 'ghost' has made her more articulate than she actually is. And she, or her ghost, certainly has a pedantic way with words. E.g. 'I nervously waited outside the door, not quite knowing into what I was getting.'
The story, to begin with, is fairly familiar from a thousand autobiographies of famous or long-forgotten actresses. Early hardship, the search for a break, experiences on the road, and so forth. But round about page 60 or so the book begins to look a little different from the average example of its genre.
When a gangster tells Karen that he can tell that she feels pain inside, she denies it. 'I had no pain inside me. What did I care. Save for a few years of looking like a Halloween costume, a horrible tour experience, the death of my grandparents, the loss of my mother, the complete absence of friends, and my burgeoning propensity for alcoholism, I had led a charmed life.'
A statement which encouraged me to read further.
Much of the action takes place in the 1930s, including, of course, an account of making films with an eccentric European director. Were the book not soaked in such convincing period detail, and had I not Ms Jamey's personal assurance that her book is 110% factual, I might have begun to suspect a certain degree of exaggeration at this point. But as Ms Jamey remarks, 'Life is nothing but intemperate nonsense mixed with crushing disappointment and moments of despair.' A thought which she attributes to either Freud or Charles Schultz; she always gets the two of them mixed up.
Later in the book our heroine succumbs to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and alcoholism, spends two years in a psychiatric hospital, and for nearly twenty years does no acting. But eventually she finds happiness and a kind of serenity.
Now how, and why, you will be wondering, does a powerful book of this calibre come to be published by an obscure small press based in, er, Brooklyn. (I think.) Well, the answer to that may lie in another question, one that a mainstream editor would have asked himself, scratching his head thoughtfully. To whom would a book like this appeal?
And the answer to that is probably the kind of person who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of obscure B movies. Someone who can tell you the name of every character ever played by Ingrid Pitt or Kitten Natividad. One of those sad, nerdy, geeky types. (And I speak as one who, somewhere, possibly in a box in the garage or the loft, has a signed nude picture of Kitten Natividad. 'To Michael, with love', it says. Don't ask. Just be assured that she signs all her pictures that way. Or that's what I tell Mrs GOB, anyway.)
Well, I enjoyed I, An Actress. Let's face it, it's not a world-beater. but it's a professional piece of work. It was fun.
Tomorrow, because I've run out of time for today, a couple more Contemporary Press books. Oh, and before I forget, the Contemporary Press also turns up on a web site called Uberbelle.com, a place where you can buy fine-art prints of nude fashion models. No, I don't understand the connection either. But I quite liked the pictures.