Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Why the publishing industry and I are Frenemies.

Not long ago I asked a few writer friends of mine to indulge me in a bit of a thought experiment: I challenged them to find the worst book in all of existence. I then asked them to take advantage of their background and training (their literary expertise) by convincing some of their friends to read the book they've found. I instructed them specifically to sell the book as "the greatest single piece of that particular genre". For example: if, say, you were to find one of those extra cheesy, barfy romance novels--with Fabio's likeness on the cover--sitting alone on a shelf at one of those independent gas stations that nobody ever patrons at, you have to try to get as many people to read it by telling them it's the single greatest piece ever written in the genre. That, in fact, that particular novel has drastically changed that trajectory of that genre, if not, the world as we know it.

Bro, what are you doing?

The point I'm trying to make is that if you get enough people "in the know" to back something, you'll get more than enough people "out of the know" to read this type of filth. It's pretty much the literary version of the 1-percent versus the 99-percent.

Literature in this country has become a niche sport, like soccer. While it is wildly popular throughout the entire world, when faced with the likes of American television, film, video games, technology, dating, friends, a sex life. . .it trails quite a bit. And much like soccer, if you put crap in front of the American public, they won't watch (see MLS), unless it's OVERHYPED CRAP (See David Beckham as well as a slew of other "Designated Players" that MLS has signed over the years). But, here's where it gets really interesting (I'll be using both David Beckham and Haruki Murakami as primary examples): 

Beckham is sexy. Beckham is cool. Beckham is an Armani model. Beckham is English, therefore, he's someone exotic (I guess). More importantly, Beckham is sexy. Now, I've always come to the defense of America's soccer pallet. I'm always yelling at people: "Don't ever make the mistake of underestimating the soccer intellect of an American soccer fan!" And most soccer enthusiasts agree with me. But, here's the rub: when MLS brought David Beckham over to the New World, they were not thinking about those pockets of American soccer enthusiast. They were thinking about those masses who typecast soccer as being "boring," and "slow," and even "gay."

And Beckham did help convert some of those people. . .at least, in the beginning, anyway. Unfortunately, reality soon hit. As serviceable as Beckham still was (maybe a little more than serviceable), he was no Messi, or Ronaldo, or Xavi, or Rooney, and MLS still wasn't even close to being what the leagues in England, Spain, Germany, Italy, France have been for a while now. Beckham was not elite. The MLS is not elite. But, Beckham was a pop star and America loves pop stars.

As sad as it is to say, Haruki Murakami (specifically, his novel 1Q84) falls into this category as well. For those who know Murakami well, Murakami has written much better work than this particular pop culture failure. Murakami is a talented novelist, and deserves the focus and attention that he gets. Much like Beckham, his body of work is impressive. Unfortunately, as was the case with 1Q84, his work fell victim to the hype machine that is the publishing industry. And yes, I do get it: their job is to sell books, not preserve whatever "culture" we may still think we have. But, could you at least have picked a better work than 1Q84? Could the MLS have brought over someone who was actually breathtaking to watch? Yet, people still sat and watched Beckham throughout his uneventful tenure the same way people waded through almost a thousand pages of uneventful writing. Why? Because all of those people "in the know" told you to read it, that's why.

And the worst part about it is that I keep finding these year-end lists with that damn 1Q84 close to the very top, if not squatting right across the very top of most of them. It's pathetic. The novel IS NOT GOOD...period. I'm sorry, Haruki. You've got talent. You've written great work before. You just whiffed a little on this one, my dude. 

But, it's not really about David Beckham or Haruki Murakami is it? What pains me is that I know that the American literary pallet is as refined as any other country. Problem is, people are just fucking lazy and would rather have someone else tell them what to read, even if it is some trashy romance novel.