Save yourself while you can.
Oops. Too late.
I got off from work early and decided to finish reading my Fall 2007 Author’s Guild Bulletin in which volume is contained a lengthy essay entitled Goodbye To All That 1 penned by Steve Wasserman, former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review. The essay was originally published in the Columbia Journalism Review September/October 2007. You can read the essay here.
Here’s my entire thesis:
It’s not all or none, people!
Here’s a sub-plot (that’s writer’s humor for This is totally off the cuff, otherwise it’s not a rant.)
Maybe there’s another reason no one reads the book review section…
I’m going to riff of Valleywag and give the 100 word version of Mr. Wasserman’s essay2:
Nobody reads important books anymore, we’re all going to hell in a hand-basket and it’s all the fault of those low-culture morons plus popular fiction. The only way to save democracy is to revive the Book Review section (but for dog’s sake, don’t do it any differently.) Keep it exactly the same so we’ll all still find it mostly irrelevant.
Pretty much, that’s what he’s saying. Maybe I inserted a bit of Carolyn RhetoricTM in there. Can you find it? Because that’s an advanced technique and I only know about it because I had to take Rhetorical Theory in grad school. If you try that at home, just be careful, okay?
Right. So, western culture can only be saved by reviewing IMPORTANT books in newspaper Book Review sections. That’s IMPORTANT in big red letters because he doesn’t mean anything else. Marxism Alert! He means ONLY stuff the cultural elite find important. Substitute "Rich White Men" for cultural elite to round out the typical Marxist view. He doesn’t get off the hook for mentioning a Spanish nun. And now let’s go to my favorite bit because it’s soooo Post-Modern and Post-Modern, folks, is grad-school-ese for ist-isms3: sexist, elitist and freaking annoying.
I often tried to imagine what I might do if I had been, say, the literary editor of The Times of London in 1900 when a then obscure Viennese doctor named Sigmund Freud published his first book, The Interpretation of Dreams4 Suppose I’d had on my desk only two books — Freud’s and, say, the next surefire best-selling novel by Mrs. Humphrey Ward, the Danielle Steele of her day.
I’m sure you can guess where he was going with this. Because we all know that if only we eliminated the Mrs. Wards of the world from the literary landscape, we would all leap to read whoever is the equivalent of Freud today. (I have no idea who that is because I’m pretty sure all the theorists I read in Grad school were dead. Except Kristeva, she made my head hurt, so it’s probably her. I think she’s still alive.) Because no one would ever in all the world read both Freud and Ward. I mean, what kind of freak would do that?
Ohmygod. Wait! I have. I’ve read Freud. And years ago I did read some Ward. Because I was one of the massive readers he talks about. 20 books at a crack from the library when I was a kid. And now, I still read a couple books a week. Unless I’m on deadline and working at the collapse of civilization. bwahahaha!
And since when has Nora Roberts or J.R.Ward ever been reviewed in any Book Review section of the sort Wasserman eulogizes? I think the answer’s never. There’s a really fine rhetorical device. Set up a hypothetical dilemma that didn’t happen in 1900 and hasn’t ever happened today, either. And now, we can all conclude that Mrs. Ward (J.R, are you listening??) is single-handedly responsible for the decline of Western Civilization.
And that’s my point. It’s not Freud vs. Mrs. Ward. (But, if it came to a throw down between the two, Freud would die because Mrs. Ward would shoot him dead before he had a chance to explain the significance of her weapon. Either that or Vishous5 would perform a laying on of hands and zzzttt goodbye Sigmund.)
I think more people probably know who Sigmund Freud is than can identify Mrs. Humphrey Ward. And it’s not because of The London Times Book Review. Sorry.
Intellectual importance isn’t determined in The Los Angeles Times Book Review (especially not now, I guess!) mean little snicker (ohh, prosody!) It’s determined in Universities by professors and students who rigorously study difficult issues and who figure out stuff like the parts of Freud that are complete and utter crap. (There’s no penis envy, trust me. Admiration and maybe longing, sure, if I’m in the mood) and which parts have something useful to add. Like possibly dream interpretation. What Mr. Wasserman is actually suggesting is an intellectual trickle down theory. Please, editor, let me inform the Proletariat!
Wasserman: You there! Put down that Ward!
Reader: Hey! I didn’t get to read what happens to Phury!
Wasserman Here. Take this edition of The Lais of Marie de France.
Reader: But I already read that.
See, the thing is the really massive readers do both.
Is there some reason you can’t have a short review of J.R. Ward’s latest and a longer review of Ransom Seaborn? That’s my question. I don’t doubt for a minute that Ransome Seaborn deserves a long, intelligent and thought provoking analysis. Ward maybe not so much. But not none, either. And if they’re both there in the same section… But that way lies heresy.
. . . . .
1. Yeah, I get that the title comes from Robert Grave’s WWI novel Goodbye To All That. Isn’t that ironic? I mean that someone like moi would get the reference?
2. Don’t count. I’m sure it’s not 100 words.
3. I just now coined that word, so don’t say you did. It was me.
4. Just to repeat viz Freud: Professor Kunat, you were right and I was wrong. I was honor bound to take that dratted Introductory Lectures and go confess that yes, Freud was brilliant. Rats.
5. Hey, Mr. Wasserman, there’s a cultural reference for you. Get it?