Canonical Follies

Harvard-University

It frankly doesn’t matter if “The Yellow Wallpaper” is taught in high schools instead of The Great Gatsby (which is too deep and well-structured a book for high schoolers anyway). Raising the question is asking which texts students will be bored by.

THIS is a quote of mine in a review about a new book by Dana Schwartz about white male writers and the Western Canon. My own view has long been that to be a living art, that art needs to survive and thrive outside institutional settings. Categorizations such as the so-called literary canon say more about the mindset of the supporters and curators of such places than they do about the art form being preserved and celebrated. (One need look only at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with its curious list of omissions and entrants.)

IF I cared more about the literary canon, I’d mention several writers who should be in it, or ranked higher within it– beginning with the American novelists Frank Norris and James Gould Cozzens, masters at that particular art.

gatsby cover

(p.s. For what it’s worth, F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s The Great Gatsby is a far superior, more complex work of fiction than “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a short story by Charlotte Perkins Stetson— one of those overwritten, obsessive inside-the-head tales of the kind often done by overrated canonical author Henry James, and later popularized by Mary Roberts Rinehart, who no one is rushing to put into any canon. Outside that of mystery writers.)

mary roberts rinehart(Mary Roberts Rinehart.)
*******

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

Matthew Stoller Misses a Goliath

AND IT’S A BIG ONE

goliath-9781501183089_lg

Liberal journalist, advocate, Harvard grad and all-around guy-on-the-make Matthew Stoller has written a new book about the power of monopoly and its threat to democracy– GOLIATH.

Except he seems to have missed a very big Goliath, one standing directly in front of him. His publisher! Simon & Schuster is one of publishing’s notorious “Big Five” book conglomerates.

How big are they? Take a look at this chart and judge for yourself:

http://almossawi.com/big-five-publishers/

Be sure to scroll down to see all of it.

The chart gives only part of the story. The real clout of these New York City-based conglomerates with their many imprints is their influence over Manhattan media– the scores of publications both print and internet, from the New York Times and The New Yorker on down, which determine which books– which voices– are allowed to be heard in this extremely noisy society. 

Threat to democracy?

In some ways, the Big Five and their many appendages and fellow travelers are the biggest threat to democracy. The most pernicious, most influential concentration of power. All congregated on a single island.

matt stoller(Matt Stoller, looking smug.)

Matt Stoller well knows of course how dominant, how influential they are. Which is why he chose to publish his book with them– and not with one of the many alternative publishers out there. 

Such is the game and how it’s played.
*******

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Diana Athill on Virginia Woolf

AN INSIDER’S HONEST LOOK AT THE INSIDER LITERARY SCENE

VIRGINIA WOOLF(Virginia Woolf.)

VIRGINIA WOOLF is considered one of the literary gods of the Twentieth Century, not just by British literary critics, but those in America as well.

I found it interesting, then, to discover this quotation in a book, Stet: a memoir, by long-time British editor-publisher Diana Athill. In this excerpt from her memoir’s final chapter, Athill is discussing “a particular caste” in control of British publishing:

Of that caste I am a member: one of the mostly London-dwelling, university-educated, upper-middle-class English people who took over publishing towards the end of the nineteenth century from the booksellers who used to run it. Most of us loved books and genuinely tried to understand the differences between good and bad writing; but I suspect that if we were examined from a gods’-eye viewpoint it would be seen that quite often our ‘good’ was good only according to the notions of the caste. Straining for that gods’-eye view, I sometimes think that not a few of the books I once took pleasure in publishing were pretty futile, and that the same was true of other houses. Two quintessentially ‘caste’ writers, one from the less pretentious end of the scale, the other from its highest reaches, were Angela Thirkell and Virginia Woolf. Thirkell is embarrassing– I always knew that, but would have published her, given the chance, because she was so obviously a seller. And Woolf, whom I revered in my youth, now seems almost more embarrassing because the claims made for her were so high. Not only did she belong to the caste, but she was unable to see beyond its boundaries– and that self-consciously ‘beautiful’ writing, all those adjectives– oh dear! Caste standards– it ought not to need saying– have no right to be considered sacrosanct. 

This applies not just to British publishing of the Twentieth Century– but to American publishing centered in New York City, and to those in the academy, now. A marked inability to look beyond their narrow world to see the possibilities that exist for the literary art today, and those which could exist, given imagination, ambition, and boldness.
*******

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

The Real Literary Gender Gap?

VANISHING MEN IN LITERATURE AND PUBLISHING

Penguin_Random_House_Tower_New_York_2005

Much noise is made by organizations like VIDA about the gender gap in today’s publishing world. When you examine the actual data, however, you find a different tale.  According to this story from 2016 in The Guardian, the U.S. publishing industry is not only predominately white, but 78% women. (At the executive level, with hangers-on from past male dominance, the industry is 60% women.)

Doing swift calculations of the figures, we can further say that the single largest demographic group in the industry is white women, at more than 60%. By contrast, Latino men make up 1.2% of the industry– hardly registering, which makes the dilemma of Junot Diaz more eye-opening.

Another striking article is this one which appeared in The Atlantic in 2017, which describes how many male authors pretend to be women in order to be published– a turnaround from the days of George Sand. According to this article, 80% of fiction readers are women.

Do you want more statistics? Per the Humanities Indicators site, approximately two-out-of-three English graduates– bachelors, masters, and Phd– are women. Per Data USA, 62% of “writers and authors” are women.

documents

We’re beginning to see these ratios reflected in literary awards. For the most recent National Book Foundation awards, 15 of 20 finalists were women. All five of the “5 Under 35” award winners were women.

As I pointed out in an earlier post about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the few male authors in some writers organizations are so outnumbered by women they feel like kids in a candy store– some of them getting into trouble for too many affairs, too many hook-ups while partaking in the book industry’s “meet and greet” soirees.
****

WHAT does it all mean? For starters, an industry or art form catering to the public gets into trouble when it disregards half of its potential audience. For example look at what happened to the Western movie when it began focusing almost exclusively on men characters (many Spaghetti Westerns did not have a single woman in the cast)– writing out the women who played a large part in the historic West, to present instead sociopathic narratives of obsessive bloodletting, often starring squinty-eyed and emotionless Clint Eastwood. A far cry from the days of the torridly romantic Selznick spectacular “Duel in the Sun.”

duelinthesunb - Edited

Today, the Western movie has all but vanished.
****

IF figures pertaining to class were available, we’d find the narrowness of viewpoint further skewed. Examine the mastheads of Manhattan magazines which cover arts and letters and you’ll find the staffers from the top down are graduates overwhelmingly of Ivy League universities, with a few Stanford grads and Brits from Oxford thrown in. The same holds true, from what I’ve examined, for the Big 5 New York City-based publishers. Those who decide which authors and books are published and reviewed are, in the main, upper-class women. Not by any measure the best way to create a representative literature for a very large and complex civilization like ours.
****

With an array of male authors and editors being purged from the book industry after “MeToo” revelations, the trend toward an all-female business and audience doesn’t look to turn around any time soon.

MORE TO SAY on this matter. . . .
****

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

Fantasyland: Or, Rich Guy Slams America

THIS WEEK we highlight a new book trashing America by establishment trashmeister Kurt Andersen, Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History.

fantasyland

One doesn’t have to read the book– the text is in the title. The title is all you need to know about what’s contained in the pages.

Mr. Andersen is getting a splash of publicity c/o his publisher, with laudatory reviews.

“A frighteningly convincing and sometimes uproarious picture of a country in steep, perhaps terminal decline–”  -The Guardian

Kurt Andersen’s publisher is Penguin Random House, a multinational company, part of one of the “Big Five” publishing conglomerates which dominate the trade. Their headquarters is in New York City. They’d better hope the nation isn’t in terminal decline!

“Reading a great revisionist history of America is the bookish way to feel what it’s like to be born again.”  -Hanna Rosin, New York Times

Andersen himself, curiously, is an Insider’s Insider; a Capitalist’s Capitalist. One of the Elect: Harvard grad married to a Harvard grad. From his bio:

“He was named by New York magazine as one of the “100 People Who Changed New York,” and by Forbes as one of the “25 Most Influential Liberals in the U.S. Media.” And he was named the 2014 arts Medalist by Harvard College’s Signet Society.”

In his career Andersen has founded start-ups and sold them for huge sums of money. See the negotiations for one of his companies as related by Ken Auletta:

“”I don’t believe that anyone is going to give the company more money,’ Cramer remembers telling Andersen.”

He took the best deal. Cashed in. Sitting pretty. Yet Kurt Andersen isn’t happy. You would think he’d be kicking back smoking a big cigar saying, “Isn’t America great?” There’s no disdain for Harvard or venture capitalists (those he knows) in his book, one can wager. Instead, he takes aim at the American people themselves– for their populist ethos and political choices, all of which makes Kurt Andersen’s life, if not unprofitable, at least discomfiting. (2016 was the first time since 1984 that a Harvard-or-Yale grad was NOT elected to the Presidency, and in Andersen’s lofty milieu, that is simply outrageous.)

Yes, trash America’s 500-year history– and make yet more money in the process. Open the door for Dostoevsky’s Demons. Who cares? The French aristocrats who sparked revolution in 1789 were consumed by what they sparked. What does that have to do with aristocrats today?

Meanwhile, we have a question for our readers. How would you describe Kurt Andersen’s expression in the photograph below? Smug? Pompous? Arrogant? Or does the facial smirk represent something else? Indigestion? Complacency? Constipation?

Hatred of his own country?

Let us know. Thanks!

KurtAndersenconstipated

Where Are the Journalists?

See_No_Evil,_Hear_No_Evil,_Speak_No_Evil

IT’S COME TO OUR ATTENTION while looking into the National Book Awards, whose lavish awards dinner at Cipriani Wall Street is November 15th, that no one covers the established publishing business. NO ONE.

Oh, there are articles. A host of back-slapping herd-following articles. But no one looks beneath the surface of the manufactured glamour and glitz unless forced to– as in the Daniel Handler fiasco at the NBF awards dinner three years ago.

Where the publishing industry is concerned, what we have in New York City and elsewhere are not journalists in any sense of the word, but cheerleaders writing puff pieces.

cheerleaders

*******
AN EXAMPLE of the tame coverage given PR productions like the National Book Awards is this Los Angeles Times blurb from Michael Schaub. The operating principle: Make No Waves. Note the “see no evil” treatment of Daniel Handler. Schaub is the typical go-along-to-get-along personality type which permeates today’s literary scene. Don’t look behind the accepted version. Give the Big Boys of letters what they want.

schaub(Michael Schaub.)
There’s no need to single Michael Schaub out– though we have. Hundreds are like him– interchangeable cogs. Throw a rock in Brooklyn and you’ll hit a dozen of them. Michael Schaub clones, proceeding obediently along prescribed paths like workers entering Metropolis.

They don’t exist to question. They are not paid to think. Learn the doctrine and the script. “Established lit is wonderful. Our novelists are the best!”
*******

cipriani
(Book Awards venue.)

Available stories for media:

-How much is Cynthia Nixon being paid to host the National Book Awards? Is the amount more than the awards themselves?

-Is it conflict of interest for those funding and running the National Book Foundation to in effect be nominating for awards their own books? Does this correspond with the proper actions of a nonprofit charity?

-Would there be a less costly venue for the awards than Cipriani Wall Street– so that more of the money raised could be given to the authors themselves?

-Does the extreme ideological slant of the nominations, and the propagandist nature of several of the books, violate strictures of the 501(c)(3) law governing nonprofits– “no substantial part of the activities which is carrying on propaganda”?

AND, one unrelated but topical question:

-What kind of buyout did Harvey Weinstein receive from Hachette Publishing when they dissolved his imprint?

The questions are out there, but don’t expect answers. No one looks into such matters. It isn’t done. Sports reporters, of all people, have more an adversary relationship with the subjects of their coverage than does anyone covering the publishing world.
*******

The National Book Awards aren’t about the writers, and never have been. They’re a celebration of New York publishing. Of the monolith itself.

Book reviewers and critics on proliferating media sites play the role of affirming chorus to the National Book Foundation’s stage show. One can picture it. Power people at tables in tuxes and gowns applauding as various winners enter the spotlight like vaudeville performers.

stageshow

Cynthia Nixon, soprano, host: “We’ve gathered here to celebrate.”

Baritone chorus: “We here are all so won-der-ful.”

Soprano Executive Director: “We’ve done this year a smashing job.”

Chorus: “We here are all so won-der-ful!”

Huge applause.

This is not a gathering of peers. In the New York publishing pyramid, power is strictly tops-down, with writers at the bottom.

Questions for National Book Foundation

CiprianiWallStreet

(Pictured: Cipriani Wall Street, location of 2017 National Book Awards Ceremony.)

NOTE:  We requested an interview with National Book Foundation Executive Director Lisa Lucas about their upcoming awards, but never received a response. Here are several questions we would’ve asked:

1.)  Does New York City exercise too much dominance over American literature?

2.)  Would you say the National Book Foundation is a promotional arm of Big Five publishing? Are New York publishers the foundation’s chief support?

3.)  Is it a mistake for all ten of your 2017 Non-Fiction nominees to be slanted politically one way? Should a tax-exempt arts organization be open to a variety of viewpoints?

4.)  We note the National Book Foundation is sponsoring a reading program in Pakistan. Is this done for political reasons?

5.)  How does one attend the awards Benefit Dinner at Cipriani Wall Street on November 15th? How much are tickets? Is the event not open to the public?

*******

 

 

Coming Soon!

COMING SOON  or already out are a number of new books from our favorite pop lit writers. (Scroll down on this blog to read about one from Alex Bernstein.)

This includes a new book of stories, By the Wayside, from Anne Leigh Parrish. New Pop Lit editor Karl Wenclas is privileged to have written a blurb for the book, displayed on the back cover.

blurb-for-anne-leigh-book

****

Coming soon– in a day or two– is Part Two of our Overview of new writers, which we call “Hyper-Talents of the New Literary Age.” Included in the discussion will be a few words about Anne Leigh Parrish herself, who’s among those leading the charge for a reinvented literary art. That continued discussion will appear right here, so don’t miss it!

What Is PLRKNIB?

For one thing, Plrknib is the title of a new memoir by Alex Bernstein. But it’s also more than that. We’ll be reviewing the book right here, upcoming. The first of several new releases worth discussing, from America’s best new writers. What’s happening? For literary news we’re the go-to place.

Meanwhile, if you want to get a jump on the crowd and discover for yourself the “plrknib” secret, get a copy via this page.

Discounting Franzen’s Purity

ARE THE BIG 5 IN TROUBLE?

Seldom has a book received as much advance hype as Jonathan Franzen’s 563-page novel, Purity, due out September 1 from the Farrar, Straus & Giroux company. Advance reviews, articles, and interviews are multiplying across the internet. Seemingly every Manhattan Monopoly literary person has been unleashed to gush over the thing.

No one is announcing the size of the advance Franzen and his agent, Susan Golomb, received. A million dollars? Easy. Two million? Three? We can only speculate.

THE QUESTION

The question is why the publisher is ALREADY heavily discounting the book, before it’s even been released. This moment Amazon is selling it, under pre-order status, for $15.40– which is not quite half off the novel’s $28 cover price. Is FSG afraid that they otherwise won’t move copies?

The contradictions of Manhattan publishing may be catching up to the industry. The advance given to Franzen, as we said, no doubt was sizable. His agent, Ms. Golomb, doesn’t come cheap, and took her cut of the payment. Farrar also has a large suite of offices– on expensive New York real estate– to pay for, as well as phalanxes of editors and publicists and other staff people. Farrar, Straus & Giroux has also budgeted a huge sum for advertising and other avenues of publicity.

Purity is not just FSG’s, but the entire New York City-based industry’s, big book of the season. From the novel they need to obtain sales and prestige. By all accounts (biased, certainly, from a host of literary media flunkies) the novel is perceived to be a great artistic triumph. Jonathan Franzen is the industry’s leading novelist. His previous two successes sold millions of copies. He has a built-in, long-sustained and proven reputation. His image has been on the cover of Time magazine– and may be again this time. The book has all the earmarks of a “sure thing.”

Why, then, the discounting?

Is Farrar, Straus & Giroux panicking already?

(Could they possibly fear that Jonathan Franzen is not in fact a very exciting writer?)

**************************

What’s the truth of the matter?

The truth is that Jonathan Franzen produces what can be called coffee table books. They look impressive. Their author carries a ton of prestige. They’re the kind of thing which rich people in New York or in plush suburbs across the country will purchase to show off as indications of their taste and breeding. The novels look fine placed on coffee tables. “Oh! Jonathan Franzen,” house guests will say. “His latest!”

Owning the plodding novels is like possessing the latest model Rolls or Mercedes. But few people actually read them.