If you tell me not to read something, you can probably guess what I'm going to do, post haste. Lately, the novel Fifty Shades of Grey, has caught my attention, not just because it and its progeny have been on the New York Times bestseller list for-almost-ever, but because it is getting panned all over the Internet, especially on Facebook. Most recently, I believe it was the Yellow Springs Library Association that cautioned readers to stay away. My response was along the lines of, "Now I definitely have to read it." So, I got in line on the library's digital downloads section and a few weeks later, I got my book - Saturday, to be exact. There were more people waiting for a copy of this book than any other I have seen - and more copies available, too. Last night, I started reading it and just a few pages into some of the worst, most amateurish writing ever published in any format, I sent it back.
Immediately thereafter, I downloaded The Sea Is My Brother, the long lost novel by Jack Kerouac, his first, written in 1943, and until recently unpublished. You could expect that it would be pretty bad, and the cautions from reviewers were out there with the proviso that it could be read for its insight into what would later become Kerouac's familiar writing voice. It shines in comparison to Fifty Shades.
I have a novel in my desk drawer that is so bad I won't show it to anyone. It's better than this, but I wouldn't want thousands of people reading crap published under my name, no matter how much it paid.
Just jealous? Not so. I have no problem with writers getting famous and making lots of money. I just read John Grogan's Marley and Me. Was it great literature? No. Was it worth reading? Yes, especially if you are a dog lover. It has found its rightful place. Who then reads crap like the Fifty Shades Trilogy? They are first, second and third on the NY Times fiction lists and the entire trilogy, purchased as such, is number six on the ebook list. Somebody is buying this drool and we can assume that they can read...
So what's my problem? My problem is this: In this dumbed-down society of 21st Century America, there are more and more terrific writers, writing wonderful, literate, imaginative books of all sorts, who can't find a publisher. If they do, they are going to have to market the book themselves, with virtually no assistance. Some of my favorite novels were self-published, like Michael DeCapite's Through the Windshield (Sparkle Press), others, like Steve Vivian's Flunky (Boson Books) were published by unknown presses or vanity presses, where you pay to get your book in print. Many are familiar with the unrelenting efforts of John Kennedy Toole's mother to get his A Confederacy of Dunces published posthumously. It is a cult classic that has been in and out of print many times since the 60's. I have purchase three copies, one of them an e-book.
With the advent of e-books, all this is going to change. Good books will be written and go straight to e-ink - often self-published. Writers will become masters of marketing and/or a cottage industry of e-book marketing will pop up. Publishers will adapt or become extinct. This new world that book-lovers so fear, might actually be the answer, rather than the problem. And then, how is the NY Times bestseller list going to keep track of it all?