New York media types were abuzz last week when Women’s Wear Daily reported that Steve Florio was circulating a proposal for a book based on his days as an executive at Condé Nast—complete with bad-mouthing of erstwhile colleagues. Then, a report this Monday in The New York Times disclosed that Florio—abashed by publicity about the proposed book’s tell-all aspects—has decided not to write it after all. (Florio says that although he approved the text of the proposal, he didn’t write it himself.) Lost amid the idle gossip generated by this episode is an important principle: A book proposal is often far more satisfying than the book itself would be. Had Florio gone ahead with the book, it would have been a slog for him to write and for the rest of us to read. The book proposal, by contrast, has brought unalloyed pleasure to any number of people. How many actual books deserve such praise? One wishes, indeed, that there were a way to encourage the production of more book proposals and fewer books. Perhaps some enterprising publishing company could bring out a yearly anthology of proposals for books that have (thank heaven) remained unwritten. Or the folks at the National Book Award could bestow a National Unbook Award on the best such proposal. In discouraging the writing of bad books, they’d do at least as much for the cause of literature as they now accomplish by honoring good books.
—Posted by Mark Dolliver