“I have been an editor for 13 years,” says an anonymous gripester, “and… I have never in all my experience seen such a dumbing down of books.”
“One look at the NYT bestseller list will convince anyone that I am right,” the complaint continues. “The top two books are not really books, but book-like objects produced by TV personalities. The writing is so poor, but the attitude among publishers is who cares? Tom Brokov [sic] has book [sic] on The Sxties [sic], but would it have been a bestseller if he had not been on NBC for years? Coming in number 4 [sic] is a stupid little book by Anna Quindlen about how her lab taught her life lessons. You have got to be kidding me.”
Well, either the person who wrote this letter doesn’t work at Random House, or he or she does work there and has some serious Kate Medina issues… And is this person really trying to argue that there’s no distinction to be made between Glenn Beck‘s An Inconvenient Book and Stephen Colbert‘s I Am America (And So Can You!)? Or that this list is so much worse than what people were buying 65 years ago?
Sure, there’s books on the current bestseller list that don’t impress me at all, and it could definitely use some more women writers besides Quindlen (and Allison Silverman on the I Am America committee), but there’s also a commendable three-title run by Knopf of books by Oliver Sacks, Joseph Ellis, and Geoffrey C. Ward, along with other strong books by authors like Tony Dungy, Alan Weisman, A.J. Jacobs, and David Michaelis, covering a diverse range of subjects. (On a completely unrelated note, our national obsession with memoirs continues unabated; if you throw in the reflective elements of Brokaw’s BOOM!, eight of the top ten nonfiction bestsellers fall into that category, and ten of the top fifteen.) And it’s almost too obvious to point out that the bestsellers are only the barest fraction of what’s available to readers.
But the whining didn’t stop there. If only.
“What does this say about readers today and what they will buy? Do we as editors have to bow down to the lowest common denominator just to sell a book? In order to make money publishers must pander to the great unwashed because books are now no different than buying soap at Wal mart. [sic] Get me out of this stinking business that has no more values, no more depth and no more class. I know that there are a number of editors who feel the way I do. They are as pissed off as I am about having to stoop to the bubble gum minds of readers who don’t know what books should all be about. What a shame.”
Here’s my response to this letter, the anonymous emails that came before it, and the ones that any of you might be thinking of submitting in the future: Quit your damn bellyaching already and get yourself out of publishing if that’s the way you feel about it. You think you’re better and smarter than the book-buying public, that readers don’t even know “what books should be all about” anymore? Then sign your name to your email and tell us all what you’ve bought lately that’s so damn special. Seriously, I want to know, since you seem to think you know what’s best, what exactly are you contributing to this industry besides your pissy attitude?
New rule: No more unsigned complaints about how terrible it is that you’re forced to publish such awful books. It’s not exactly like you’re Sherron Watkins and need the shield of anonymity just to complain about TV pundits topping the bestseller lists. From now on, if you want to talk to me about what’s wrong with publishing, you can do it on the record or you can skip it.