Tuesday, August 11, 2009

`Things in Books' Clothing'

They show up with grim regularity, sometimes pitched by the author, sometimes by one of the publisher’s lesser minions. The text is boilerplate with a personalized salutation pasted on top, often in a different typeface: “Dear Patrick,” “Dear Anecdotal Evidence,” “Dear Accidental Evidence” – the last from an apologetic author whom I hastened to thank for the inspiration. These are among the publishing industry’s latest innovations in pandering – sucking up to independent book bloggers, hoping for a blurb in exchange for a review copy. This dying gasp, for instance, arrived Monday from City Lights, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Beat redoubt:

“Beauty Salon is a dream-like account of a plague-ridden city and one hairstylist’s attempt to save as many of the sick as possible. This poetic tale of survival and seclusion, published in translation and written by renowned Mexican author Mario Bellatín, examines the process of death through the dual lens of the hairstylist’s collection of exotic fish, living and observing from their aquariums, as well as the dying passing through the salon.”

Señor Bellatín’s novel sounds like something Gilbert Sorrentino concocted for Mulligan Stew. Such pitches almost invariably involve the sort of titles Charles Lamb in “Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading” calls “things in books’ clothing.”

We’ve forbidden our sons to read books during meals because macaroni and cheese is not an acceptable bookmark. The other day my 9-year-old was reduced to reading the ingredients on a can of fruit juice. Truly, I sympathize. The need to read can verge on pathology but even on an otherwise bookless international flight I wouldn’t resort to Beauty Salon or its literary cousins. Lamb observes and I concur:

“I can read any thing which I call a book. There are things in that shape which I cannot allow for such.”


Fran Manushkin said...

The New York Times has a long feature about Mr. Bellatin. Here:

C. Van Carter said...

The hairstylist novel is really coming into its own as a genre.

Ron Slate said...

Some publicists have been helpful allies during the demise of newspaper reviewing and the growth of legit lit-blogging (like our friend Levi Stahl at Chicago). They've helped me promote my site. But the ones you've been hearing from seem not to have noticed that you do more reflecting on -- than reviewing of -- books. So they're not doing their jobs. Some don't read the books they push. How I miss my former publicist at Houghton, Walter Vatter (now at Ivan R Dee) who speaks so persuasively about literature and helps bring books to fruition. Of course, I spent 30 years in marketing and communications -- so I'm apt to valorize publicists if they're smart and committed.

Anonymous said...

i get the impression that as print-on-demand technology takes off, the only purpose of publishers now is to market their authors' books. Any writer with ability & a conscience won't need an editor, and now any Joe can publish his own book on, for example, Lulu, there seems nothing left for publishers to do except market books. They don't even seem to proof-read books any more. Perhaps when marketing is shifted from the shouldres of a few publishers to the wider, blogging public, publishers will shrivel up and die, as they deserve.