Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 6, 2006
By: Debra Dickerson

It's No Theory That This is a Conspiracy....It's taken me two days to digest and respond to Nick Chiles' excellent New York Times piece on the sorry state of black literature and the crucial role that the big book chains play in it. Chiles' point:

Last month I happened to go into the Borders Books store at the Stonecrest mall in Lithonia, Ga., about a half-hour from my house here. To my surprise, it had one of the largest collections of books by black authors that I've ever seen outside an independent black bookstore, rows and rows of bookcases. This is the sort of discovery that makes the pulse quicken, evidence of a population I've spent most of my professional life seeking: African-American readers. What a thrill to have so much space in a major chain store devoted to this country's black writers.

With an extra spring in my step, I walked into the "African-American Literature" section and what I saw there thoroughly embarrassed and disgusted me.

On shelf after shelf, in bookcase after bookcase, all that I could see was lurid book jackets displaying all forms of brown flesh, usually half-naked and in some erotic pose, often accompanied by guns and other symbols of criminal life. I felt as if I was walking into a pornography shop, except in this case the smut is being produced by and for my people, and it is called "literature."

Hallelujah, brother!

The problem is not that blacks want to read porn and prefer junk to serious writing like everyone else. It's that black porn and junk are passed off as literature. I can't help believing that both publishers (though much of this dreck comes from fringe houses or is self-published) and the chains believe that this is the best that blacks can do, that this crap is good enough for us.

Liberals and blacks don't help matters much in this regard. We participate in black degradation by refusing to make distinctions between literature and manure as long as it's produced by blacks; back in 1992 (or so) when Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Terry MacMillan (which of these is not like the others? Anyone?) were all on the bestseller list, papers around the country ran photos of the three writers, or the three books, together and celebrated the "coming of age of black women's literature." Literature. Terry MacMillan. Please. My writer friends and I were so depressed, we got together just to pass the offending page around, stunned into wordlessness at having our intelligence so blatantly insulted. Serious writers must sit on panels moderated by best selling hacks. Award winning hacks, blessed by a condescending white majority. Black/liberal writers at major newspapers fight to run profiles of these authors and review their work. Increasing numbers of black/liberal professors teach unworthy writers like Benilda Little and Omar Tyree in their African American Literature classes. Can you imagine scraping up the tuition to pay for your kid to study James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston and Sister Souljah? God forbid they've begun to go beyond the merely awful to the actually pornographic. Magazines like Essence and Black Issues Book Review legitimize the least objectionable of this ilk by taking them seriously, the equivalent of a poetry magazine reviewing odes to men from Nantucket.

One of the reasons I quit reviewing books (aside from the miserable pay) is my disgust with how often I was asked to review these monstrosities. Most were so awful, I refused and dissuaded the editors from insulting their readers with such offerings. Often enough to sap my will, though, editors always white liberals either rejected my withering critiques of the ones passably worthy of review or edited them into meaningless. I can't tell you how often some white boy from Yale, who chuckled over my maulings of a white author's work, chastised me for my "insensitivity." They were honestly shocked that anyone would rip apart a black person's work. How dare I subject blacks to the same level of analysis as whites?

But what can be done about it? No doubt, the "blacklash" against us elitists and playa haters will be swift and vicious. Nonetheless, those of us who know the difference between Jerome Dickey and Shinola have to stand our ground. No one's saying black porn and beauty parlor books shouldn't be either written or read. I'm saying they shouldn't be taken seriously. I have a lowest-common-denominator novel or two in my head that are going to buy me all the plastic surgery and boy toys I'll ever need. I'm just not going to call them literature.

If you want to help pressure the chains to rethink their position on what is and is not Black Literature, write 'em:

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Debra Dickerson 11:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (92)

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Comments

hey, this as a much better, more interesting Dickerson post than the last few. Certainly something Kevin wouldn't be able to address in quite the same way...

Posted by: anonymous regular reader on January 6, 2006 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

The Republican did it!!!

Posted by: Dave on January 6, 2006 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

I'm still a little curious on the basic thesis. Are these potboilers really being passed off as "literature" in the same way that somebody might try and conflate a Philip Roth and a John Grisham as American "literature"?

And to the extent that these "black potboilers" are being passed off as literature, how much of this is really part of the pro pop culture trend in American letters in general over the past several years, in which literature classes in universities spend as much time watching films and reading the lastest post-post modern bestseller, as they do studying the work of more serious novelists, playwrights and poets?

Posted by: David on January 6, 2006 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

I also review books, for a weekly publication (in Canada, but it's mostly the same stuff), and the amount of dreck we get in the T MacMillan vein is truly astounding. Self-Actualization Porn, most of it, and maybe down a notch from Lifetime Channel novelizations. And yet it might be possible to view this stuff, lame as it is, as evidence of a burgeoning middle-class consumer culture.

Of course, to see it that way, you probably have to view the middle class at large as increasingly illiterate and unaware of cultural heritage of any stripe -- Barbara Cartland in its trickle-down form. Like Robert Ludlum is any better. Guess that's not very reassuring, is it?

Posted by: Kenji on January 6, 2006 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

I guess it depends on the bookstore. The one I usually patronize has many of the black bodice-rippers up front in their own section, while the black lit section seems to have more serious works. I haven't really made a serious study of the sections, but now I will have to visit and check it out.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on January 6, 2006 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

It's about time someone cut through the politically correct bullshit and said something about this. Well done, Debra.

Posted by: Rad Racer on January 6, 2006 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

Why do you hate beaches?

Posted by: cdj on January 6, 2006 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

I'm still a little curious on the basic thesis. Are these potboilers really being passed off as "literature" in the same way that somebody might try and conflate a Philip Roth and a John Grisham as American "literature"?

No, not quite the same way; you won't walk into a bookstore and find Roth cheek-by-jowl with Grisham under the banner "White Literature" (or "White Male Literature," to take the point a bit further).

I patiently await the day when rotten black books join their much more numerous rotten white counterparts in a color-blind section simply called "Crap Fiction."

Posted by: shortstop on January 6, 2006 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK
On shelf after shelf, in bookcase after bookcase, all that I could see was lurid book jackets displaying all forms of brown flesh, usually half-naked and in some erotic pose, often accompanied by guns and other symbols of criminal life. I felt as if I was walking into a pornography shop, except in this case the smut is being produced by and for my people, and it is called "literature."

Hallelujah, brother!

I can only presume that neither Nick Chiles nor Debra Dickerson has spent much time examining the covers in the more general "fiction and literature" section of a major chain bookstore or, for that matter, ever taken seriously the adage "don't judge a book by its cover."

Because lurid covers depicting flesh, often in erotic poses -- black or not -- are hardly uncommon there, and neither are depictions of
guns and other things that Chiles would probably describe as "symbols of criminal life."

The problem is not that blacks want to read porn and prefer junk to serious writing like everyone else. It's that black porn and junk are passed off as literature.
No, clearly it isn't. Anyone remotely familiar with what sells in bookstores outside of the "African American Literature" section would realise that the "problem", insofar as it exists at all, is that "porn and junk" is "passed off" as "literature" generally, mostly because large chain bookstores use "literature" in the general, catch-all sense of "printed matter that does not fit in a more specific category", not in the sense of "material which we find has particular artistic merit." (If they have a section defined by wide acclaim of artistic merit, it is likely to be labelled "Classic Literature" or something similar.)
Liberals and blacks don't help matters much in this regard. We participate in black degradation by refusing to make distinctions between literature and manure as long as it's produced by blacks; back in 1992 (or so) when Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Terry MacMillan (which of these is not like the others? Anyone?) were all on the best seller's list, papers around the country ran photos of the three writers, or the three books, together and celebrated the 'coming of age of black women's literature.' Literature. Terry MacMillan. Please. My writer friends and I were so depressed, we got together just to pass the offending page around, stunned into wordlessness at having our intelligence so blatantly insulted. Serious writers must sit on panels moderated by best selling hacks.

No doubt the "serious writers" recognize that the "best-selling hacks" are writers with as much -- or more -- practical influence on society, and realize that sitting on those panels gives themselves and their writing more exposure, and more chance to be heard -- because of the popularity of the "best-selling hacks".

And no doubt no small part of the reason that they are on those panels is that the "hacks", as you refer to what might more fairly be referred to as popular writers, also understand the value of the serious writers work and want it to get broader exposure, too.

Award winning hacks, blessed by a condescending white majority.

This would be considerably more credible if there was any reason to believe that award-winning black authors were any more likely to be "hacks" rather than "serious writers" than, say, award winning white, Asian, or Hispanic writers, or writers of any other race or ethnicity. Lots of people who, judging from your implicit criteria, you would categorize as hacks win awards and general acclaim for their writing, across ethnicities.

Increasing numbers of black/liberal professors teach unworthy writers like Benilda Little and Omar Tyree in their African American Literature classes.

Yes, increasing numbers of educators at all levels, of all races, and of all ethnicities are teaching more popular works, rather than exclusively "high art", in literature classes. Given that this is the literature that is most
read, and which has, therefore, the most influence, there is quite a good reason to for students of literature to examine it, and understand it. Teaching about it doesn't turn it into an ideal; you want to learn about what matters in the real world, not merely about what you might wish mattered most in the real world.

Can you imagine scraping up the tuition to pay for your kid to study James Baldin, Zora Neale Hurston and Sister Souljah?

Having a good friend who just finished a Ph.D. with work focussing on popular Hispanic-American perfomers (admittedly, this is not "black" or "literature", but directly parallel), I can certainly appreciate the relevance of such study.

Saying that literature students shouldn't study "bad" literature is like saying History or Political Science students shouldn't study, say, the actions of Hitler or Lenin or Mao because they were "bad" actors. You are advocating the academy be used not as an institution of learning but as a source of ideological indoctrination.

God forbid they've begun to go beyond the merely awful to the actually pornographic.

Yes, certainly pornography has so little influence on our society that there would be no reason to study or understand it.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 6, 2006 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

Glad to see a Lib stand up for good literature.

Posted by: GOPGregory on January 6, 2006 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK
you won't walk into a bookstore and find Roth cheek-by-jowl with Grisham under the banner "White Literature" (or "White Male Literature," to take the point a bit further).

No, instead they are likely to be cheeck by jown in a section called "Fiction and Literature"; at least, that's my experience with Barnes and Noble.

Well, except that its alphabetical, so Grisham is unlikely to be next to Roth.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 6, 2006 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

Gosh, all you self-important "serious" authors make me feel guilty for enjoying the occasional Grisham-esque novel. For the sake of all of us, please lighten up.

Posted by: KW on January 6, 2006 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK
Of course, to see it that way, you probably have to view the middle class at large as increasingly illiterate and unaware of cultural heritage of any stripe

Is there any reason to question this view of the middle class?

Posted by: cmdicely on January 6, 2006 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

Does this mean I should put my copies of Donald Goines' novels on the bottom shelf? What about Iceberg Slim?

Posted by: Grotesqueticle on January 6, 2006 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

What could be less interesting than a writer's skin color?

Posted by: Ace Franze on January 6, 2006 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

Well, "passed off as literature" ... Philip Roth and Tom Clancy end up on the same shelves too - they're both classed as Fiction. I wouldn't argue someone's passing off Tom as a Great Novel.

(Or, rather, White Fiction, I suppose. Can't get used to the idea of matching books to skin tone. Bandages, yes. Just another American idea we'll acquire in due course, I suppose. Incidentally, is the idea to keep black people in, or keep white people out?)

Anyway, real classics by black authors will be where they belong, in my experience - on the Classics shelves.
Like the books of the most successful black author in history - Alexandre Dumas. (You knew that, right?)

Posted by: ajay on January 6, 2006 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

Very interesting take, Debra.

It's worth noting that the major chain bookstores tend to classify any non-genre fiction as "literature" these days, regardless of merit. At Barnes & Noble you can find the likes of Anne Rice and John Grisham mixed in with the literary canon. To some extent this is an issue of the publishing industry condescending to all Americans, not merely to African-Americans.

But you have a valid complaint, all the same.

Posted by: Violet on January 6, 2006 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

Now, if they could only have an Arab section of porn for our dear new friend, Collunsbury.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on January 6, 2006 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

>What could be less interesting than a writer's skin color?

Listening to them gripe about better-selling authors?

Posted by: MJ Memphis on January 6, 2006 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

So usually liberal book stores have no problems with racial segregation?
I can attest to the fact that segregationists always denied any malice in their actions. Blacks were just different and were more comfortable among their own kind. The KKK and the NAACP agree again.

Posted by: Walter E. Wallis on January 6, 2006 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

Is there any reason to question this view of the middle class?

Well, if one supposes that, say, all of Kevin's commenters are Ivy League-educated aristocrats or somesuch, then no, there isn't. Otherwise, yes.

Posted by: Phil on January 6, 2006 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: No, instead they are likely to be [cheek by jowl] in a section called "Fiction and Literature"; at least, that's my experience with Barnes and Noble.

Am I misremembering that one of the major chains used to have separate "Fiction" and "Literature" sections for popular fiction versus "serious literature," with very little crossover?

Of course, that requires some highly subjective decision-making on the part of the chains, which is why they stopped doing it, if they ever did. And before anyone goes all humorless and literal on me, I was only half serious with my suggestion that all the crap be placed in its own color-blind section.

Anyway, the point is that white readers and writers don't feel compelled to apologize for or be outraged by crappy white books. That we are not yet to the point as a society that black readers and writers can feel similarly is not really a mystery. Check out the parallel conversations going on about women writers, lesbian writers and so on.

Posted by: shortstop on January 6, 2006 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

Is this really a problem specific to black authors? It seems to me that bookstores don't try much to distinguish between literature and forgettable best-sellers, no matter who the author is. Novels are organized by genre---science fiction, fantasy, horror, mysteries, and then everything else. The "Literature" section is just a hodge-podge of novels that don't fit into any other category.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on January 6, 2006 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sorry, but isn't this like arguing that there are very few black ballet dancers or opera singers? The state of literature as a whole could be considered a shambles, black, white or otherwise. Nowadays, modern writing is all Wizards, Hobbits, Lawyers, or get rich quick schemes. In fact, the only book probably worth reading was printed over 2000 years ago (you all know the one I'm talking about).

Posted by: Al Candra on January 6, 2006 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK
So usually liberal book stores have no problems with racial segregation?

Er, where did anyone mention anything about "usually liberal bookstores"?

Posted by: cmdicely on January 6, 2006 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

>In fact, the only book probably worth reading was printed over 2000 years ago (you all know the one I'm talking about).

The Tao Te Ching, naturally.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on January 6, 2006 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

In fact, the only book probably worth reading was printed over 2000 years ago (you all know the one I'm talking about).

Printed 2000 years ago? Yeah, man, and Gutenberg had all kinds of problems getting that press to work with all the desert sand in it.

Posted by: shortstop on January 6, 2006 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK
Am I misremembering that one of the major chains used to have separate "Fiction" and "Literature" sections for popular fiction versus "serious literature," with very little crossover?

I seem to remember years back one or more of the majors of the time (if I had to guess, either B. Dalton's or Waldenbooks) doing that, then again, I also remember being very confused as to how they categorized books among those categories; I've found a number of bookstores with a "Classics" or "Classic Literature" section for the well-established -- and usually long-dead -- "serious" writers, but not making as much distinction for current writers. Which, actually, I think is more sensible, really -- its a lot harder to draw the line with current works, while with older works longevity itself is evidence of a kind of importance, even if the author may not have been particularly "serious".

Posted by: cmdicely on January 6, 2006 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Ace Franz -

An author's sexual orientation?

[shrug] Just throwin possibilities out there...

Posted by: cdj on January 6, 2006 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK
Well, if one supposes that, say, all of Kevin's commenters are Ivy League-educated aristocrats or somesuch, then no, there isn't. Otherwise, yes.

I would submit that Kevin's commenters are not a representative sample of the middle class.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 6, 2006 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: Which, actually, I think is more sensible, really -- its a lot harder to draw the line with current works, while with older works longevity itself is evidence of a kind of importance, even if the author may not have been particularly "serious".

I'd agree with that.

Posted by: shortstop on January 6, 2006 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Good essay. In my experience of university Lit departments since the early 90s (when I got my English degree at Wisconsin) the race and gender of the author override all aesthetic considerations. The fact that something is writeen by an ethnic minority or woman (or both) renders it impervious to ALL critical comment, and something written by a hetero white male is open to vilification (usually with lots of verbiage like phallo-logo-hemegmeno or whatever), again regardless of technical/aesthetic merit.

Posted by: scott on January 6, 2006 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

ROFL - "printed over 2000 years ago".

Did Amazon deliver it too?

lololol

Posted by: cdj on January 6, 2006 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

For another viewpoint on this op-ed, check out
http://writewhatilike.blogspot.com/2006/01/anybody-can-get-op-ed-in-times.html

Posted by: linking to a post elsewhere... on January 6, 2006 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

In fact, the only book probably worth reading was printed over 2000 years ago (you all know the one I'm talking about).

The Odyssey?
The History of the Peloponnesian War?
The Tripitaka?
The Mahabharata?
The Epic of Gilgamesh?
The Aeneid?

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on January 6, 2006 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK
No one's saying black porn and beauty parlor books shouldn't be either written or read. I'm saying they shouldn't be taken seriously.

I think this reveals another mistake. Most chain bookstores I know have works by authors like Maya Angelou or Toni Morrison in their general "Fiction and Literature" section or the equivalent; inclusion in the "African-American Literature" section isn't evidence that a book is "taken seriously", it is evidence that it is considered to appeal to narrow, special interest; it is no more a sign of being taken seriously than it is for a book to be included in, say, the "Manga/Graphic Novels" or "Science-Fiction/Fantasy" or the undifferentiated "Foreign Language" section of the bookstore.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 6, 2006 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

"I'm sorry, but isn't this like arguing that there are very few black ballet dancers or opera singers?"

Amen, Al. If history has told us anything, it's that black people are far more adept at jumping and running and throwing spears than being graceful and articulate. Writers like James Baldwin are an abberation. As for Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou -- can we just post their faces in the dictionary beside "overrated"?

Hey, you gotta play to your strengths. For every Larry Bird there are countless comparable black hoopers (Magic, Hakeem, MJ, Isiah, Kobe, AI, and on and on). And fairly enough, no one is writing articles proporting the genius of guys like Brian Scalabrene or Raef LaFrentz. So black people aren't very good at writing...is that a crime?

Posted by: Tim L. on January 6, 2006 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

I take black porn very seriously. Is that wrong?

Posted by: Greg on January 6, 2006 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK
What could be less interesting than a writer's skin color?

Complaints that boil down to "works of which I approve are not promoted as more valuable than those of which I do not approve by commercial vendors of written material."

Posted by: cmdicely on January 6, 2006 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, join the club. It's not just black authors forced to sit on panels with hack black authors. It's called the publishing industry has no, never has had, and never will have a clue. If you're looking for artistic and/or creative validation from a for-profit industry, I think, just maybe, you're looking in the wrong place.

Posted by: Stacy on January 6, 2006 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

I am in almost complete concordance with all of cmdicely's points.

The real problem that Mr. Chiles and Ms. Dickerson seems to have is that the large chain bookstores they visit have a different definition of "African-American Literature" than they would like. In short, the bookstores are classifying everything by African-American authors as African-American Literature, whereas Mr. Chiles and Ms. Dickerson would prefer that only actual Literature, as defined by some rarified opinioniste, be labeled as such.

Me, I would rather see Literature by African-Americans be in the Literature section, Romance by African-Americans in the Romance section, Mysteries by African-Americans in the Mystery section, and the only African-American section be "African-American Interest", i.e. books about being African-American or of special relevance to African-Americans.

I hate to break it to Ms. Dickerson, but most people enjoy and prefer reading trash. This includes most African-Americans. The sense of a need to choose better things to read *on behalf* of African-Americans is highly condescending, and very misguided. No one heads for the "African-American Literature" section, finds a trashy book, buys it instead of something more intelligent just because it was there, and becomes dumber thereby.

African-Americans enjoy reading trash. All other ethnic groups enjoy reading trash, too. Your use of terms such as "black degradation" is, just as you say, elitist - and misguided.

Posted by: S Ra on January 6, 2006 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Since we're complaining about the organization of bookstores, though, why is it that Borders puts novels by Paolo Coelho in some subcategory of the Religion section, but those by Fr. Andrew Greeley in the general Fiction section?

I mean, I can't come up with a conspiracy theory to explain it, but it certainly is a pain in the neck if you want to find books by looking on the shelves and applying some kind of internal logic rather than by going to the in-store computer terminals.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 6, 2006 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

We're still in litigation over royalties.

Posted by: Matthew, Mark, Luke &John on January 6, 2006 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

IMO, modern "white literature" isn't exactly the greatest thing on the bookshelf either.

Posted by: tbrosz on January 6, 2006 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Walter Mosely is almost always found in the mystery section, where he rightly belongs.

The mystery section seems to be the least segregated, in that no one cares what your gender is, what your race is--they let everyone in. All they ask is that you just write a good book.

How could you have left him out of the discussion, folks?

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 6, 2006 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK
The mystery section seems to be the least segregated, in that no one cares what your gender is, what your race is--they let everyone in. All they ask is that you just write a good book.

You either have much broader tastes than I do or go to bookstores that are much more discerning than those I go to; IME, its more that "all they ask is that you just write a book in the rather broad mystery genre." (Similar standards apply to, e.g., the "science fiction/fantasy" section, with the genre label altered.)

"Good" doesn't seem to figure into it.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 6, 2006 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

It's a little more complicated than "Most popular fiction is trash--white, black or other, so this isn't about race."

Of course it's about race. It's also about the current practice of lumping together all fiction, regardless of significance, longevity or quality. Believe it or not, it's possible for both things to be true at once, despite our apparent inability in this country to have a serious discussion about race without disintegrating into the usual "if A is true, B must be false" formula.

I'm with S Ra in thinking books ought to be categorized by genre, not by the author's race, or at the very least cross-listed and cross-stocked. But at this point in our history, many people still see some value in having separate sections for black authors in some stores and of pushing every possible genre and quality of black-authored book together.

Meanwhile, white-authored books of fiction (significant, forgettable and everything in between) don't go into a special section entitled "White Fiction and Literature." The effect is that every book written by a black author takes on undue additional significance. It's not just a book, it's a Black Book. It doesn't just speak for itself, it represents Black Literature. Unless it's dealing directly or indirectly with race issues, what white-authored book has that burden?

In my opinion, Dickerson feeds this phenomenon by giving lousy black books--and I'm purposely not trying to define that term--way too much power; hence her over-the-top phrases like "black degradation." I'd argue that it's appropriate to call a crappy black book a crappy book and let the readers of that review and the perusers of that bookstore section draw their own conclusions. But it's overly simplistic to go to the opposite extreme and maintain that there is inherently no difference in the way black authors are viewed as a result of this kind of marketing and categorization.

Posted by: shortstop on January 6, 2006 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

You either have much broader tastes than I do or go to bookstores that are much more discerning than those I go to.

Yep.

As for bookstores, I tend to prefer a good used book store vs a chain bookstore. We have some great ones out here.

I didn't comment on sci-fi because I don't read it. I think there's a pretty broad acceptance of authors over there as well.

Leaving a book store organized in broad subject matter mixes everyone in a little better. My point was that books that are poorly written and do not sell are either not stocked at all or are not restocked on the shelves. Good books tend to be restocked and sold many years after they were written.

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 6, 2006 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK
My point was that books that are poorly written and do not sell are either not stocked at all or are not restocked on the shelves.

Books that don't sell are not likely to be restocked; books that do sell are likely to be restocked no matter how poorly they are written. Popularity is not strictly a function of how well written a book is.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 6, 2006 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

There's plenty of bad mystery writing on the local shelves. A well-crafted, well-written mystery is my favorite form of mind candy, and I've had a lot more Brach's chews than Godivas.

But PR is right about mysteries (and I guess sci fi; I don't read it so I'm not sure) being perhaps the only non-segregated fiction section in most bookstores.

Posted by: shortstop on January 6, 2006 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

I'll second Walter Moseley - "Devil in a Blue Dress".

The Easy Rawlins series - Wish that they had made another movie with Denzel Washington.

Hasn't Moseley written Sci-Fi as well?

Posted by: thethirdPaul on January 6, 2006 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

And I wish that they would have Don Cheadle play Mouse Alexander again.

Posted by: thethirdPa;ul on January 6, 2006 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

When I visit the adult bookstores, the materials are typically sorted by the characters or the content, rather than the creators. After all, if I'm looking for hot man-on-man action, what do I care if it was a black person who wrote it?

Posted by: Matt K. on January 6, 2006 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

Popularity is not strictly a function of how well written a book is.

I think you're confusing the issue. If a poorly written book sells, it has some quality to it that goes beyond a values judgement of 'good or bad.'

Subtract the values judgement from the equation, and you end up with authors that are either read or ignored. I'm not making a values judgement of whether or not Danielle Steele writes good or bad books; she writes successful books that sell and are often restocked.

The wannabe Danielle Steeles are not restocked if they don't sell, regardless of whether their books are written well or not.

I should have substituted the word 'successful' for the word 'good.'

Authors are, more and more, simply a brand name. I should have drawn a clear distinction between 'good' and 'commercially successful' because that which is 'commercially successful' drives how bookstores are stocked.

Do you know what the saddest database in the world is? Books in Print. It's a sad database because of how small it is compared to the overall number of books that have been written and what is still in print.

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 6, 2006 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

You either have much broader tastes than I do or go to bookstores that are much more discerning than those I go to; IME, its more that "all they ask is that you just write a book in the rather broad mystery genre." (Similar standards apply to, e.g., the "science fiction/fantasy" section, with the genre label altered.)

Actually, I find that mystery novels are one of the last vestiges of the socially conscious novels, of books that really explore the character's racial, ethnic, class, economic and regional differences. Think, for example, of Richard Price, or or George Pelecanos' D.C. novels, or Dennis Lehane's Boston books, or Tony Hillerman's exploration of present-day Navajo life in his Chee/Leaphorn stories. These are books that deal mainly with working-class characters, with people in the forgotten middle of American life who live from paycheck to paycheck. It's hard to find that taken seriously in most other literature these days.

Posted by: Stefan on January 6, 2006 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK
But at this point in our history, many people still see some value in having separate sections for black authors in some stores and of pushing every possible genre and quality of black-authored book together.

Do they? IME, black authored books are quite often found in the general "fiction and literature" section, in specific genre sections, in specific nonfiction subject matter sections, etc., in every bookstore I've been in. Some bookstores also have a section of "African-American Literature" (and often similar sections around other demographics, particularly "Gay and Lesbian"), which mostly consists of books that are presumed not to appeal to general audiences of the other sections, but to have particular appeal to a special "African-American" interest.

And, you know what, if people didn't go into bookstores looking for "black books" or "gay and lesbian books", bookstores wouldn't have separate sections for them.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 6, 2006 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

mystery novels are one of the last vestiges of the socially conscious novels

Exactly. Every Carl Hiaasen novel has some aspect of what is being done to the environment in Florida or what is going on in terms of political corruption. Hiaasen is a writer who steps back and forth between his novels and his newspaper column and never loses touch with being socially conscious.

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 6, 2006 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

Yeesh. Leave this white liberal out of it. Now I'm being blamed for black people writing dreck?

Posted by: abe on January 6, 2006 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Stefan,

Excellent point - Walter Moseley does that with his Easy Rawlins series - also James Lee Burke and Robert Ferrigno write more for the common person.

Gave up on Ludlom several years ago - Got tired of the Super Hero 200+IQ, Delta Force, Ace Pilot, speaks 10 languages fluently.

To get away from it, a book store owner in Pioneer Square, Seattle, suggested a book about a PI who was a complete FUp, however, would stumble in with a victory somehow. Can't remember the author, but it provided a respite from the Super Duper types of R. Ludlom.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on January 6, 2006 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Since the major book chains pull their shelving off a central computer system, and those systems are based heavily on the BISAC subject codes assigned by the publishers, I thought it might be interesting to see what the classifications are in these areas.

Interestingly, juvenile fiction has divisions by race, but regular fiction does not.

http://www.bisg.org/standards/bisac_subject/

Posted by: Mike on January 6, 2006 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

suggested a book about a PI who was a complete FUp

Fletch?

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 6, 2006 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK
Actually, I find that mystery novels are one of the last vestiges of the socially conscious novels, of books that really explore the character's racial, ethnic, class, economic and regional differences.

I've read, and still read, far more science fiction than mystery, but I'd describe a greater proportion of the science fiction I've encountered as "socially conscious" than the mystery; then again, most of the really socially conscious novels I've read have been the kind that get left in the general "Fiction and Literature" section whether they are more of the type the elitists would label "literature" or more popular works that they would label as "hacks".

Posted by: cmdicely on January 6, 2006 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK
Interestingly, juvenile fiction has divisions by race, but regular fiction does not.

That is interesting, as I've seen more major bookstores with demographically tagged general "literature" sections than similarly tagged young-adult or childrens sections.

OTOH, its quite possible that the interests are different; retailers may look at the publishers categories in stocking based on the demographics of their market areas, but their own, slightly different categories, reflect what consumers consciously are looking for when they come in the store

Posted by: cmdicely on January 6, 2006 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely:

"[Y]ou know what, if people didn't go into bookstores looking for 'black books' or 'gay and lesbian books', bookstores wouldn't have separate sections for them."

Exactly right. Bookstore shelving categories are customer-driven, not Decreed from On High. They reflect booksellers' knowledge about how people looking for X are also likelier to be interested in Y than they are in Q.

They also reflect the plain fact that bookstore customers do want a fighting chance to find stuff that interests them.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden on January 6, 2006 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

Also, the BISAC category into which a publisher decides to place a book is often very much influenced by which buyer at the national retailers the publisher intends to pitch the book to. There are plenty of cases where a book could go into one category or another, but the publisher feels that Fred, the mystery buyer at Barnes & Noble HQ, will be more receptive to it than national romance buyer Darlene, so by golly we're going to label it "mystery." (Needless to say, Fred and Darlene are invented for the purposes of this post.) (I won't even get into the issue of political maneuverings between buyers for chain bookstores. Over here on at the publishing end, we occasionally can't avoid hearing the sounds of furniture breaking behind the arrass, but We Know Nothing.)

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden on January 6, 2006 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Well, that was proper writing at least.

However, the main thesis seems to be that (black) "literature" with a capital L would be more popular if it were on more book sellers shelves. Abstracting away from the issue of race, and looking at what one sees on book sellers shelves, ex race, (or in visual media) I find that hard to credit. Most readers want crap, it would appear. Titilating "pornographic" crap.

I would be surprised if black angophones are any different.

Doubtless of course given a smaller general market, 'serious' fiction aimed at an ethnic minority will have a harder time of it.

All in all, strikes me that this is a bit of magical thinking on the part of the writer hoping for "seriousness" - a quality I appreciate mind you, but market realities are what they are.

Perhaps the suggestions to explore genres and stop thinking magically about some idealised and utterly fictional "literature" should be taken.

Well, in any case, we can at least see that Dickerson is capable of joined-up writing and while she seems to be afflicted with the literary person's rather stereotypical (and eternal if one looks at it historically) dreams of an ideal reading world or public (or market), at least this was not annoying to read on its face.

Makes the idiocy of the prior posts harder to explain.

Posted by: collounsbury on January 6, 2006 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

cm, you lost me. First:

Do they?

And then:

And, you know what, if people didn't go into bookstores looking for "black books" or "gay and lesbian books", bookstores wouldn't have separate sections for them.

The second answers the first, doesn't it? If people are going into stores looking for "black," "lesbian," etc. books, obviously some people find value in these characterizations and categorizations.

My point was that as long as there are separate sections like this, race is going to be a component of this discussion; it's not simply about the confluence of "popular" and "serious" fiction in general, although that certainly plays into this as well.

And my comment about people trying to plug this phenomenon neatly into an either-or formula is nicely illustrated by abe's idiotic comment at 2:07. Who here has even remotely suggested that white people are responsible for black dreck?

Posted by: shortstop on January 6, 2006 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

If people are going into stores looking for "black," "lesbian," etc. books, obviously some people find value in these characterizations and categorizations.

Yeah, I think that's more marketing than some deep social undercurrent of a hidden agenda. Bookstores are going to be a think of the past, just like independent record stores are disappearing.

My point was that as long as there are separate sections like this, race is going to be a component of this discussion.

That's another valid point. Dang, shortstop--you're all over it. No wonder we're all here on this thread and not screaming at C-Nut and rdw on the President Gore thread.

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 6, 2006 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Bookstores are going to be a think of the past

More like, 'a thing of the past.'

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 6, 2006 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Very interesting post on something that had just started to interest me. I keep walking into the local B&N's and coming across a table full of such books and am never sure what to make of them. As a fan of pulp fiction I'm tempted to pick one up, but you make a strong case not to.

cmdicely:"Saying that literature students shouldn't study "bad" literature is like saying History or Political Science students shouldn't study, say, the actions of Hitler or Lenin or Mao because they were "bad" actors. You are advocating the academy be used not as an institution of learning but as a source of ideological indoctrination."

I think you're mixing apples and oranges here. The actions of Hitler etc were morally bad. Debra's argument is that these books are technically bad. Hitler may well be worth studying in a war college or such - he was an able enough military mind.

I'm wary of pronouncements by the educated elite that X is good and Y is bad (Like I said, I'm a pulp fan) but we can agree there's some truth to them. Can a serious music student really gain much from study of the music of Ashley Simpson? I'm not saying it's worthless, but I suspect its fundamentals could be understood pretty quickly.

Posted by: wil on January 6, 2006 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

PR: Well, we know c-nut's unemployed and living off that Canadian socialist system he despises, but what's rdw's story? Was he recently laid off and decided to commit his life to being an idiot on PA, or is he some College Republican doing this all day during winter break?

Posted by: shortstop on January 6, 2006 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sure cmdicely will disagree the most eloquently, but I think everyone is missing Debra's point. The data as a whole rather than by example paint a broad picture of poor recognition of what constitutes good contemporary black literature (vis a vis non-black literature).

Just because not all of her examples are exclusive to black authors does not mean she is incorrect. Just because the Marlins win a World Series doesn't mean that roster salary doesn't (negatively) affect competition in Major League Baseball.

Her most salient point is that "high" and "mass" black literature are frequently conflated in public ways, such as conferences, magazine covers, etc. I took a great class in college in American best sellers, but it was at least labelled as such. God knows that Riders of the Purple Sage didn't belong in any other kind of English class ...

Posted by: Matt on January 6, 2006 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK
cm, you lost me.

Let me try to clarify, then. I think the claim that people see value in indiscriminately accumulating all types of books by authors of a particular race into a segregated section is not supported well by the actual practice in the industry. Its clear that there are "African-American Literature" and "Gay and Lesbian Literature", and other demographic sections, and that the demographic background of the author is a key criterion on which books are put in those sections. Its also clear that for each of those sections, authors that are from the demographic segment to which the section is addressed also can be found in many of the non-demographically-tagged sections of the same stores.

I also think that while it is one of the key things that is considered in categorization (and decision to purchase) books that the bookstore would not otherwise stock in its other sections, the demographic background is almost certainly not the only criteria used to stock those sections. Rather, the content of the book and, particularly, whether it its content addresses the demographic that the section is labelled for seems important as well.

My point was that as long as there are separate sections like this, race is going to be a component of this discussion; it's not simply about the confluence of "popular" and "serious" fiction in general, although that certainly plays into this as well.

Race clearly plays a role in the assignment of books to sections labelled by race. That's hardly a controversial statement. What is controversial is what the role of race is, and whether the inclusion of the lesser lights of ethnic literature in such sections somehow demeans the greater lights that may or may not also be in that section (IME, they usually are not relegated to that section.)

Posted by: cmdicely on January 6, 2006 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: "Since we're complaining about the organization of bookstores, though, why is it that Borders puts novels by Paolo Coelho in some subcategory of the Religion section, but those by Fr. Andrew Greeley in the general Fiction section?"

I live in a large metropolitan area, and every single Borders I've been in here has been organized terribly, in terms of aesthetics & accessibility. And it's not just that they're cluttered. It's just that nothing is where you would think it would be. "Ataturk" in History, rather than Biography? What's the point of having a Biography section?

Posted by: chaunceyatrest on January 6, 2006 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK
I'm sure cmdicely will disagree the most eloquently, but I think everyone is missing Debra's point. The data as a whole rather than by example paint a broad picture of poor recognition of what constitutes good contemporary black literature (vis a vis non-black literature).

I don't know about "eloquently", but I'll certainly disagree; indeed, I'll go so far as to say that the very concept is incoherent -- "data" cannot indicate a "poor recognition" of a subjective evaluation. (In can indicate that most people disagree with your subjective evaluation, of course, but since it is a matter of taste, that hardly demonstrates any "poor recognition" on their part.)

More broadly, I think that it is true that certain works are considered important as black literature that do not meet the standards applied, by the same people, for being considered important as general literature. OTOH, I don't think that's a bad thing.

Her most salient point is that "high" and "mass" black literature are frequently conflated in public ways, such as conferences, magazine covers, etc.

The same is true of any other category of literature not inherently defined by "high art" vs. "mass" concerns. I don't see that this is a bad thing; they share commonality on one axis and differ on another axis -- where the focus is on the first axis, they should be treated together. When its on the second, they should not.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 6, 2006 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

Its also clear that for each of those sections, authors that are from the demographic segment to which the section is addressed also can be found in many of the non-demographically-tagged sections of the same stores.

Theoretically, yes, and sometimes practically, too. Books by all demographics that can and should be cross-stocked often aren't, most often because of a limited number of copies but sometimes because of store policy/system. But we're beating a dead horse at this point.

Race clearly plays a role in the assignment of books to sections labelled by race. That's hardly a controversial statement.

No, and it's not the argument I was making, either. Go back and read the numerous "it's not a black thing, it's a trash thing, and it's exactly the same for white authors" posts to see where this line of discussion started.

Posted by: shortstop on January 6, 2006 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK
I think you're mixing apples and oranges here. The actions of Hitler etc were morally bad. Debra's argument is that these books are technically bad. Hitler may well be worth studying in a war college or such - he was an able enough military mind.

In the same way that the Third Reich, while most of us would agree it was morally repugnant, acheived considerable, at least for a period, notable military successes that are worth studying (in addition to failures that are worth studying for their own reasons), Debra's "best-selling hacks", which she finds aesthetically displeasing, have acheived success at putting together books and getting people to buy them, read them, and come back for more -- which, I'd say, is a phenomenon worthy of study, understanding, and learning from, whatever one feels about the content of the book.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 6, 2006 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

And WTF is with this headline? "It's No Theory That It's a Conspiracy" sounds like something Dickerson fell in love with and was determined to use regardless of whether it remotely fit the copy.

Posted by: shortstop on January 6, 2006 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK
Theoretically, yes, and sometimes practically, too. Books by all demographics that can and should be cross-stocked often aren't, most often because of a limited number of copies but sometimes because of store policy/system.

Well, yeah, cross-stocking eats up shelf space, so its always going to be a compromise based on the perception of the store owner (or someone under them) of how likely people would be to not buy the book because it wasn't stocked in one or the other section vs. other uses of the space.

IME, its as likely that that results in, say, a Toni Morrison being in "Fiction and Literature" and not in "African-American Literature" as the other way around.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 6, 2006 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK
"It's No Theory That It's a Conspiracy" sounds like something Dickerson fell in love with and was determined to use regardless of whether it remotely fit the copy.

The only way I could make any sense of it is to interpret it as an implicit analogy to Intelligent Design, which is also not a theory, though I doubt that is what was intended.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 6, 2006 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

I think you guys are really starting to bash her a little more than necessary on the title, guys. According to the article, "The Man" is obviously tring to keep black people oppressed by publishing inferior literature in the name of their race. Therefore it is fact, not theory, that there is a conspiracy. Does that help clarify?

Posted by: Al Candra on January 6, 2006 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

cm, let me try another example. We all like hamburgers. They're clearly successful as a food. But is there much to study there? They satisfy certain base instincts (not that I'm knocking base instincts), probably some primal carnivorous need instilled in man via years of evolution on the barren plains, but you really can't underthink a hamburger. (You can undercook them though) On the other hand, sushi really is an intellectual food worthy of some rumination. I can make a decent hamburger. I risk food poisoning if I try to make sushi.

A lot of junk-porn fiction - black, white or green - is hamburgers. It can be enjoyable, but we can understand it quickly because it's mainly there to satisfy our "baser" instincts. Every so often one rises to the top and you realize it's something more, but that's a rare occasion.

Posted by: wil on January 6, 2006 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

wil,

One problem with your food analogy: sushi began as fast food- the Edo-period Japanese hamburger, if you will. Over time it gradually evolved into the fancy forms that we know today, and eventually became trendy among certain urban Westerners. Likewise, the lowly McDonald's hamburger is a status symbol in some countries, and even in the US some hamburgers are far more refined than your basic meat & lettuce on a bun.

Books are the same way. There is no objective "good/bad/ugly" measurement that you can use to differentiate the junk from the "literature". There are people who make studying Dickens their life's work; personally, I find his work hackneyed and sentimental. To each their own.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on January 6, 2006 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK
I think you guys are really starting to bash her a little more than necessary on the title, guys. According to the article, "The Man" is obviously tring to keep black people oppressed by publishing inferior literature in the name of their race. Therefore it is fact, not theory, that there is a conspiracy. Does that help clarify?

Er, no, because the article doesn't provide an adequate basis for even rating that as a rational conclusion, much less a fact.

Indeed, it merely assumes that it is a fact, and uses a lot of loaded-but-content-free emotional language based on that assumption rather than marshalling evidence and argument to support the intended conclusion.

Rather like, e.g., most "arguments" for Intelligent Design.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 6, 2006 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

Monica Jackson, who writes romances (generally paranormal with African-American characters) and doesn't pull her punches in discussions about race, has had a lot of discussion about books being shelved in the "African-American section" in bookstores and review sites.

Take a look at, for instance:
The Colored Section
Talking with Romantic Times about racial labeling
A Meeting of Minds

Posted by: Jade on January 6, 2006 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely...lighten up, baby. Al Candra's post of 3:29 was pretty obviously sarcasm.

Posted by: shortstop on January 6, 2006 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

As the late poet Lew Welch once said: Few do it well, no one knows why.

Most of the stuff in bookstores isn't worth the paper it's printed on, same as it EVER was. Good to great books are being written by black anglophones, some of whom are WOMEN! See A.J. Verdell, Zadie Smith.

Posted by: jinemeryville on January 6, 2006 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I was an American Studies major who was required to read an *awful lot* of drek and/or bestsellers (Mickey Spillane, Sidney Sheldon, Stephen King, etc. etc.) because of what they said/say about American culture, and who also appreciates Serious, Difficult Literature(tm) as a matter of aesthetics.

I tend to agree with Chris Dicely here. I think Debra's post amounts to special pleading. I see black pulp as a sign of overall progress, an indication of a healthy black middle class.

I *do* understand why Debra's pissed, though. The problem is when people conflate the books in the African-American Literature section with, well, African-American literature -- or literature in general, for that matter. I do think there's been a tendency in the academy to bend over backwards for black authors that amounts to condescension. I wouldn't stick Terry "Waiting to Exhale" McWhatshername next to Ralph Ellison, either.

I think the problem is a function of cultural lag. 30 years ago, black literature wasn't so common and the exemplars both stuck out and wanted to be seen as representatives of their race, or at least for making arguments through their fictions that addressed racial issues in penetrating ways. It's impossible to see Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, etc. in another way.

Now, though, we have the Oprah Book Club. The cult of Morrison and Walker (not a bad thing at all) by the popular media has substantially levelled the playing field. Emerging black authors like McWhatsername are much less preoccupied by race than were her immediate predecessors, and this undercuts the rationale for "black literature."

The fact that it remains as a category is, as many have mentioned, more a function of marketing than a fudging of distinctions. My prediction is that as this trend continues, the category of "African-American Liberature" will start to fade away, and the classics that can make a legitimate claim to it will be fully assimilated into Classic Literature.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 6, 2006 at 7:28 PM | PERMALINK

Well written piece! I suppose I suffer from a similar problem, in that I live in a rural area. If I should go rent a movie, usually all the local stores carry are the latest Hollywood drivel. It's not that everyone in Maine only watches movies like Ocean's 13. The problem is that maybe 80% (or whatever) of the viewers around here only watch mainstream films; and perhaps 20% would enjoy an arthouse flick, but will settle for what they can get. As long as that group keeps buying the drivel, that's all they are going to get. Ahh well....

-Zedmaster 3.75

Posted by: Zedmaster 3.75 on January 6, 2006 at 9:03 PM | PERMALINK

As a bookseller I can tell you that the number of professors assigning their students Jerome Dickey, Benilde Little etc. is minuscule. Minuscule.

Posted by: Nancy Irving on January 7, 2006 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

Debra's concerns here remind me of the huge stink a few years ago that Jonathan Franzen made by snubbing Oprah's book club for his William Gaddis (heh, speaking of Difficult)-inspired novel, The Corrections.

The furor didn't last too long, but it was blisteringly intense. Some thought it exemplified the worst sort of academic thanatophilia, defining "importance" negatively though snobbishly rejecting an opportunity that any other emerging ficton author would give his NYU library card for.

The other camp did the Debra Thang and lionized Franzen for that very slap, citing all the corrosive aspects of popular culture masquerading as literary appreciation, which, after all, takes a degree of effort more deep than mindless consumerism and liking something because Oprah likes it. If he's going to sacrifice his book sales over it, so much the better. Lords know, we all love martyrs to our favorite causes.

At the time, I had sympathy for Franzen. I've not only read Gaddis' The Recognitions, I've read his almost unreadable JR. (His best novel was the short, taut, quasi-thriller Carpenter's Gothic).

I don't know really what I think now. I'm tempted to see Oprah's move in progressive terms, edging the middlebrow out of its comfort zone. I can also understand Franzen detractors calling it just a move to grab status in reverse, generating an academic knee-jerk reaction that would guarantee him attention based on rejecting Oprah alone.

As a fan of literature, I cringe when I see it crassly promoted. I love guys like Pynchon and JD Salinger who just toss a mighty FU at the whole commercial edifice and exist in fiercely guarded anonyminity. Then again, why cut off *any* potential avenue of access for your work -- even the middlebrow Oprah fans who would be guaranteed not to "get it" even as Franzen's book sits prominently diplayed on their bookshelves?

What do others think of this?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 7, 2006 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

think Bob is right

Posted by: Cielo on January 8, 2006 at 8:03 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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