Sunday, December 07, 2008

Thank you, Timothy Egan

Timothy Egan has written a wonderful column for the New York Times asking, cajoling, begging, and shaming publishers into refusing to publish books by the likes of Joe the Plumber and Sarah Palin. Amen, amen. And yet...

Here's the problem, Mr. Egan: As a writer, you know that we need to focus on our audience. So, who's the audience of this piece? I have a few guesses.

Publishers don't want to hear it, and though they might need to, they're unlikely to be convinced to abandon lucrative sales in the name of good taste or fealty to the English language. Sure, they say they publish garbage so they can afford to publish real literature, and sure, that's often a justification to cash in, but considering their circumstances, can you blame them?

And your audience certainly isn't Joe the Plumber or Sarah Palin. No one, including Sarah Palin, knows what newspaper she reads. But anyone who's read some of her responses to questions and wondered how someone managed to convert oral blather to written drivel knows she doesn't read enough. And as for Joe the Plumber, could anything possibly convince this guy to avoid the spotlight for one second? If anything, you've done these two the favor of offering them some free press.

Which brings us to our third possible audience: The book buying public. We are most to blame for what publishers publish, just as we're most to blame for the rise of media freak-show acts like JTP and Palin. We're also to blame for the quality of the news we watch right before we go out and applaud politicians who criticize the media. We're responsible for the sex and violence in the movies we pay to see before dismissing Hollywood as too depraved. If we're really honest, we know we're responsible for the kid who hasn't seen his dad in five or six years because we threw him in a cell in Guantanimo and forgot about him. We're responsible for that errant bomb that landed in a school in Kabul or Baghdad, and we're also responsible for the correctly-aimed one we built and sold to somebody who sold it to somebody who sold it to somebody who dropped it on somebody else. Why start teaching Americans about personal responsibility when it comes to the crappy books we buy, and why stop there?

You see, Mr. Egan, my fourth guess is that your audience is really folks like me. I'm sitting here, working on the tenth... no, twelfth, no, fourteenth re-write of Chapter 12 of a novel no one will probably ever read, and when I take a break to catch up on some news I find your article. And there's the problem: You've written a very nice sermon to the choir, and worse, a choir filled with people who, categorically, don't matter. You are defending a bunch of nobodies, Mr. Egan.

It's almost as though you want to live in a world that listens to nobodies instead of paying attention to people like Joe the Plumber and Sarah Palin.

With those kind of ideals, I can't believe you found a publisher.

1 comment:

Wakefield Tolbert said...

I read Mr. Egan's snotty precis on writing, and must say he might very well be suited to plumbing after all.

He's got more lead in his prose than the X-ray lab downtown.

So he says writing is hard work?

Wow--where'd he get that insight?

I'm underwhelmed.