Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Scandal in Book World

Today was supposed to resemble a free day, but it somehow didn't work out that way. Now I'm not sure where the time went. I had to write some radio scripts for a freelance project, and then I set up a TV interview. I researched something, and then I did a little networking to help out one of my editors. Then the day was more or less over, and I still have tons of stuff to do, including the things I put on my to-do list but haven't yet managed to do.

The TV thing is really cool. My book was picked for one of those TV talk show book clubs. It's on the noon newscast for the NBC affiliate in East Texas, and at the end of the month, I get to be on the show to discuss the book in their wrap-up. I guess it's kind of like Oprah's book club, but on a local level. That might even be worthy of new clothes. Plus, that coincides with my dad's birthday/Memorial Day, so it's a trip home I would have made anyway.

I've avoided mentioning the latest plagiarism scandal that's sent the publishing world into a tizzy. Sometimes I think there are things those of us who work in the biz get really worked up about that the rest of the world doesn't know or care about. This one hit a little closer to home, as it involved books classified as chick lit and books I've actually read. It's hard to discuss the whole thing without sounding like I have a bad case of sour grapes. And yeah, I will admit that I'm jealous about a few things involved in this situation. For one thing, the book deal grew out of the fact that this girl's family paid as much as I paid for my entire college education to hire someone to coach her on making herself into a competitive applicant for Harvard. The idea of getting "coached" on getting into a college you might not get into without the coaching rankles me. If it takes that kind of coaching to get in, would you really fit in there? Then there's the supposed $500,000 book deal for someone who hadn't really written anything beyond a few pages, and she even had to work with a book packager to come up with a marketable book premise. I know so many talented authors who are amazing storytellers who can come up with their own book premises and write the books themselves, and you could add up all their advances and not reach that figure. It really says something about the priorities in the business. I guess in a weird sort of way the scandal is actually reassuring. It's proof that no, you can't just grab someone with a cool personal story, mold a book idea out of it, and then create a bestseller. If you do try it, it may backfire. We'll see if the publishers learn their lesson on this, but I'm not holding my breath. While I'm at it, I might as well wish for no more "novels" "written" by celebrities who barely know how to read. And if you actually bought Nicole Ritchie's or Pamela Anderson's books, you're contributing to the problem!

But what's really started getting on my nerves about all this is that there are a lot of people out there using it as an excuse to bash chick lit and in some cases any kind of light, commercial fiction. The Harvard student journalists who broke the story seem almost as outraged that this girl who was bright enough to get into Harvard dared waste that intelligence on writing fluff as they were by the fact that she copied parts of the book. Others are asking how you can plagiarize something that's already so trite and derivative. Malcolm Gladwell, whose book I talked about yesterday, was one of those who seemed to think that it was a lesser offense to copy something like that than it would have been if she'd copied real literature. He said something along the lines of it being like someone in Kinko's yelling "copy!" Sigh. And I used to have such an intellectual crush on him. Well, Malcolm, it's over between us. You have so much common sense about so many things, but you blew it. He did kind of retract it later, but still, he'll have to work harder to win me back.

I just get so tired of the moral superiority that goes on in the book biz based on what you write, like one kind of book is more or less worthy than another. Each kind of book fills its own niche, and none of them are really all that easy to write. I love the occasional dense doorstop of a book, but then there are also times when I just want to laugh and feel good. You need to have something to read and dissect in literature classes and book clubs, and you need to have something to read in the bathtub. And, you know, switching those two might be interesting once in a while. Dissect the fun book and see why it makes you smile, and let your skin shrivel while you ponder something deep. It's all good.

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