Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, October 8, 2009

On the Pointlessness of Questioning Whether "X" Classic Book Would Be Published By Today's Publishing Industry

You know how whenever someone gets disgruntled with the publishing industry they invariably name a classic book and say, "Well, [insert James Joyce, William Faulkner, Herman Melville, other dead white male/Jane Austen here] would NEVER have found a publisher today." And this is supposed to remind us about the fickleness of today's crass publishing business, the shortsightedness of its employees, and the general debasement of literature? As opposed to "back in the day" when they appreciated Literary Genius and Weighty Books and all the rest?

What I want to know is: how come no one does the reverse? Here's a fun exercise: let's instead think about all of the books published today that would never have found a publisher in a previous era. You think they would have published Toni Morrison in the era of Herman Melville? (nope!) What about Jonathan Franzen in the era of Jane Austen? (nope!) Or an openly gay author like David Sedaris in any closeted era? (nope!)

Why would previous publishers not have recognized the genius of these authors?

They would have been a) worried about the bottom line and b) busy publishing books that were reflective of their own times.

You know. Like today.






168 comments:

AM said...

It's fun to think about the scandal many of today's books would have caused in the past.

Reesha said...

Too true.
I agree the questioning of such things is pointless. Except for the fact that it makes me feel better when I get a rejection slip.

"Surely, someone out there somewhere, some time, would have recognized my genius?"

Wordy Birdie said...

'Everybody Poops' by Taro Gomi

Dara said...

Exactly.

paulgreci said...

Perhaps Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders or Chaucer's, The Miller's Tale would've had a chance in todays market. If the mss got into the right hands at the right time. But I agree, it's pretty much pointless to think about this stuff, but thanks for the break. Now, back to writing.

mkcbunny said...

I immediately thought of Jonathan Lethem. "Gun with Occasional Music" could only have been published in the 20th century.

Ink said...

Timing is certainly important. Moby Dick, for example, was a very odd novel and quite unlike anything else being published. And it flopped.

After a few more interesting flops, Melville was forced to give up novel writing and spent the last 20 years of his life working and writing poetry. It was only in the 1920s, decades after his death, that Moby Dick was brought to light by critics and hailed as a masterpiece. But what other masterpieces might he have penned?

So, write the best you can, and if it's not working wait a few decades. Try not to die, though.

Anonymous said...

"Cut" (Patrica McCormick), "America" (E.R. Frank), "Lithium for Medea" (Kate Braverman) ... there are so many.

The kernel of this trick question - I like it; reminds me of Miles Fisher's 'This Must Be the Place,' a "remake" American Psycho (um, add that to the list, too) because it yanks work from one era and replants it in the present. What seemed chic & au current (courant? oi, Gourmet closes and there goes my French), 25 years ago becomes ripe for ironic reinterpretation.

Also, this question touches on the cultural & era specific elements of the philosophical dimension of the Polanski debate ie., what flew in the 70's doesn't in the oughts but can one judge someone through the prism of 30+ years?

Naomi said...

Amen.

Ken said...

Times change, is the key there. If Faulkner or Joyce was writing today, they surely wouldn't come up with the same novels they actually did -- just like if you plunked Lethem or Junot Diaz into the 1920's, they wouldn't come up with what they do now.

There's talent on one hand, and there's public tastes on the other - and it's hard to say which way the influence is stronger. Do the great writers make the literary landscape what it is, or do the times make the great writers?

Wordy Birdie said...

All of Laurie Halse Anderson's YA novels. They still cause scandals. ;)

Ink said...

That's a good point, Ken. Jane Austen wouldn't be writing Pride and Prejudice today. Hopefully she wouldn't be writing Pride and Prejudice and Zombies either...

Marilyn Peake said...

I actually think that, overall, the quality of writing in books is much better today than ever before. I think this is because more people with a talent for writing can actually write books even if they have busy lives because computers and the Internet make their efforts manageable. When I look back at books that were popular in the past, many of the greatest classic stories weren’t actually written that well. Those books were published and some of them had movies made from them because, even though they weren’t always the most well-written books, that’s all we had and people love stories. Some of the authors who became household names in the past had a mix of quality in their published books: some of them very well-written, and others that barely made sense. Popular authors repeatedly had their books published, though, because they were valued as storytellers, and there weren’t that many storytellers with the time to write.

My only problem with today’s book world is when books that are obviously not well-written but sell many copies and make lots of money are given literary awards and great reviews by literary book reviewers. That’s a recent change. In the past, writers who wrote more for money than literary excellence frequently called themselves out on it, laughed about it, and didn’t expect to receive literary awards. They were writing for money, not for literary excellence, and they knew it. The award committees and literary reviewers also knew it and pointed it out. I think that’s changed in today’s world where making huge sums of money is often conflated with high quality.

Susan Quinn said...

This begs the question of why readers want the things that are being published today? And do publishers really have a pulse on what readers want? Sure, sure, they follow book sales because, well, they want to make money and they're not stupid. But with so many books not making very large sales numbers, why are they (the publishers) not hitting every one out of the park?

This tags on to a blog from Pimp My Novel about the New York Bubble (TM) . . .

ryan field said...

I love the book "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet."

I doubt it would have been pubbed during World War II when they were putting Japanese Americans in camps in Idaho.

And, there are many talented straight women writers these days publishing LGBT books that never would have been published in the past. I came across a woman the other day who writes gay YA books about coming out and she's wonderful.

Anonymous said...

Hahahahha! Very good point!

And, Ink, I love it: "try not to die, though!"

So sometimes I was probably miscast in this century but there is no other place I'd rather be.

Jill Edmondson said...

Timing is everything! And, yes, the reverse is true - minority writers today would not have found a publisher in days of yore.

Aslo interesting to me is what HAS BEEN published (long ago) that people are up in arms about today. By this, I am referring to a number of school boards in Ontario that do not want "To Kill a Mockingbird" on the high school reading list.

Mockingbird may or may not get a publisher if it were written today, but the fact that school boards are trying to ban it is almost as if they are trying to deny it was published before.

Hmmm... Jill

Mercy Loomis said...

Timing is so important. But what I find to be more interesting than "Would X be published today" is asking "why is X still read today?" What made that story so compelling that it still interests readers, even though it is probably no longer socially relevant? What makes something "timeless?"

Figure that out, (and have a modicum of talent and craft), and you'll be a lot more likely to sell, regardless of the New York Bubble. ;)

Wendy Sparrow said...

Along the same lines, what would be published today IF NOT for the classics? If those long dead had never slogged their way to getting published, many of today's writers would never have taken up the pen... uhh... keyboard. Few non-readers *cough* Kanye West *cough* become writers. (Wait... are we still calling him a writer? or is there another word for him? )

I think those of the past ought to get kudos just for working without spell-check, wikipedia, and Word. If I had to pen or type stories on a type-writer.... It makes me a little ill even thinking about it.

Comparing today's publishing to the past is just so apples and oranges. There are a million different variables that go into determining why something was published then and now. Sometimes... it's talent... and sometimes it's... (Wait... what are we calling Kanye West? )

JEM said...

Hooray! Great post. Comparing things of the past to today is pointless. Do you think a rotary phone would be bought today if it were still available? No. Although I will say, it was pretty well known that Oscar Wilde was gay. In fact, according to my high school English class (which I take as my foremost authority on all things literary), The Importance of Being Earnest was an inside joke about being gay. So...yeah.
But in general? Totally with you. Especially when people are using that argument as leverage for getting their own books published.

ryan field said...

"I think those of the past ought to get kudos just for working without spell-check, wikipedia, and Word. If I had to pen or type stories on a type-writer.... It makes me a little ill even thinking about it."

It wasn't that long ago :-)

I was still submitting hard copy to publishers and magazines in the late nineties, using a typewriter, a dictionary, and a thesaurus.

And it really wasn't that bad. Actually, in a lot of ways it was less stressful.

Keith Schroeder said...

I agree. Stephen King would never get his stories published in 1920. Neither would most of today's bestselling authors.

The quality of books published today are of the highest level ever. I think the added layer of review, read agents, increases the quality. I have purchased books that don't tickle me, but that is more a matter of taste than quality. With rare exception, I can see why a book makes it to the bookstore shelf, even if I don't care for the story.

With authors, agents, and editors all working to make books better, is it any wonder quality has increased?

If a book doesn't find a home because it is a Joyce style masterpiece, you can always travel back in time and sell it to a published there. If time travel alludes you, then you need to write a book that can rise to the level of quality produced by traditional publishers today.

I think that is enough sucking-up for one day. But remember, if you want publishers to cut corners for your book, you have to accept that other books will be extended the same offer. And when you lay your hard earned money down to buy said books, no complaining.

Hilabeans said...

Well said, Mr. Bransford. Well said.

Courtney said...

I think this has a lot to do with style as well.

For instance, there is a vast stylistic difference between the works of Cormac McCarthy and Charles Dickens.

I really don't think McCarthy's books would have gone over well in Victorian England, however sacrilegious that thought may be...

Andrew said...

Okay, so publishers in the past were "a) worried about the bottom line and b) busy publishing books that were reflective of their own times."

And publishers today are busy publishing books that were reflective of our times.

Tell me, how does this disprove the proposition that our times are short-sighted and crassly commercial?

Anonymous said...

Timing *is* everything. Mostly this is becuase often the validity of a published work depends more on its acceptance by an audience at the time it is published than its supposed or actual literary merit/genius.

If I were more mathematical, I would devise a formula. It would be complicated, but someone would note its perspicacity and possibly find an answer that allowed them to sleep at night after their 3rd form rejection.

Nathan Bransford said...

Andrew-

You're going to have to work pretty hard to convince me there was ever an era in publishing that wasn't short-sighted and crassly commercial. While, of course, at the same time producing what are now considered classics. Heck, some of the classics were considered crassly commercial.

Rick Daley said...

If said book is not out of print, then it is published by today's publishing industry.

Seems like simple logic to me, am I missing something?

Andrew said...

Jill Edmondson: "By this, I am referring to a number of school boards in Ontario that do not want "To Kill a Mockingbird" on the high school reading list."

No school board in Ontario is trying to ban this book.

One parent of one child at one Toronto high school has made a complaint, and asked that the book be removed from the curriculum of one school board. No decision has yet been made.

Board representatives have defended the book. The board is not trying to ban anything.

Terry said...

"Best Sex Writing 2009" would not have been published back in Nathaniel Hawthorne's day, even if the title was "Best Sex Writing 1851."

Nathan Bransford said...

Terry-

"Best Sex Writing 1851" is definitely a book I would pay to read. To the archives!

Ink said...

I'm sure Hawthorne had his saucy side...

Andrew said...

Nathan: indeed, publishing has always been crassly commercial. Just as long as you're willing to admit it. ;)

From time to time, though, publishers have been more willing to take risks. David Sedaris may be openly gay, but he's not a risk to his publisher in the same sense that, say, Richard Brautigan was.

That willingness to take risks, too, moves with the spirit of the times. And right now, we don't got it.

Nathan Bransford said...

andrew-

I think it depends on what kind of a risk you're talking about. Mainstream publishers certainly aren't taking many risks at the moment, but there is a whole slew of small presses who are carrying the banner of experimentation.

I think you're right that willingness to take risks move with the times, but I also think the fact that literary works is so far out of the cultural mainstream has more to do with culture than with the publishing industry.

Annalee said...

What gets me about that question is that if you're looking at a famous classic, you're probably looking at something that massively influenced--and probably continues to influence--the market.

If you filed off the serial numbers and sent them off to publishers/agents, (and yeah, I know the stunt's been tried before), the form rejection you get back probably isn't going to be because they thought it was rubbish. It will be because (a) they think it's well-written but derivative (of itself, and all the books derived from it already), or (b) they recognize it, but there's no way for them to tell if you're a smart-alec blogger or a lunatic who believes the original author used time-traveling brainwaves to steal the manuscript from them. So they're sending you a form reject to make you go away.

So before we've even gotten to the part about how all books exist in an historical context, we've already nixed 99% of all classics.

Laura Martone said...

I think it's also important to remember that many great literary voices of yesteryear weren't necessarily appreciated in their day either.

Laura Martone said...

You know, like what Bryan said. Thanks, Ink, for beating me to the punch.

---

word veri: fanders - like MOLL FANDERS?

Marilyn Peake said...

It seems to me that many of the discussions on Nathan’s blog for the past couple of weeks has centered around the huge struggles writers face in getting a literary agent and publishing deal, the huge struggles agents face in selling books to publishers, and the huge struggles publishers face in selling books to the public. A few minutes ago, I stopped over at one of my online writers’ groups and found an incredibly inspiring story, DO NOT GO GENTLE... about the dedication of one writer, Len Joy, told from his perspective. It gave me the courage to persevere. Enjoy.

Anonymous said...

I think the point that the pointless question is making is writing style has changed drastically and we've all been taught the classics are so great when they are "horrible" examples to learn from craft-wise.

Some of the changes are good. Other changes seem to happen for change's sake. We tend to dumb down everything to the common denominator rather then forcing a higher standard.

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

The definition of "statistically unlikely to be published" has to found in the dictionary under B for Brontë: all three sisters in a parson's cottage in the middle of West Yorkshire?

Phyllis said...

Arguments that compare past and present publishing usually suffer from one flaw: The authors quoted to support the argument are celebrated classics. Some of them were successful in their times, even bestsellers, some of them had to struggle for years before they became longsellers.

But they weren't the only writers who published. The rest of them are forgotten. Some of them were successful in their times, even bestsellers, some of them struggled for years to escape oblivion and failed.

Here's a link to all bestsellers of the 20th century:
http://www.caderbooks.com/bestintro.html

I recognized precious few names from the beginning of the century. And I bet the ones I didn't recognize were loved by their publishers for their commercial appeal.

Hollie Sessoms said...

Any era that would not publish David Sedaris sucks big stinky eggs.

Phyllis said...

Arrgh. The rest of them is forgotten.

Mira said...

There is no question that there is so much more access to publishing than in previous eras. Women, people of color, LGTBQ, religious minorities can all publish now, whereas even 100 years ago, if you weren't white, male, straight (or in the closet), dominant religioned and had connections, well good luck to you.

Which is truly wonderful.

But one of the reasons there is such access now is because people fought hard for it.

One should always question the time that one is in. That is how we grow as a community.

On the other hand, there have been great improvements. You are absolutely right to point them out and celebrate them!

GhostFolk.com said...

ink -- Melville was forced to give up novel writing and spent the last 20 years of his life working and writing poetry.

Really? I thought he married money. Oh well. He should have.

Ken said...

An even better question to ask is-- especially in the children's PB genre-- would this be published if this author weren't a celebrity? I don't have a problem with mainstream celeb books since they're typically about the celeb, but I think the trend of publishing celeb authored children's books has been detrimental to the genre in so many ways.

Marsha Sigman said...

Besides not having Stephen King, which would be a crime, we would not have J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. Think about it, there were people in this day and age that protested it was satanic. It would never have seen publication during Jane Austen's time.

I am right where I want to write.

Ink said...

Ghostfolk,

Yup, Melville was a customs inspector in New York. Apparently even an honest one.

Genella deGrey said...

During a tour of - I think it was Margaret Mitchell's house, we were told that she first submitted "Gone with the Wind" on a well-used legal pad with random scribbled scene notes stuck in-between the pages.

That would SO not fly today.
:)
G.

Gina said...

If anyone thinks anything is different in publishing nowadays please read this superb article about William Golding´s struggle to get Lord Of The Flies published:
http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article6801942.ece

It´s a blast and cheered me up no end when I read it first (especially since it has a happy end).
Sample:

¨Faber's reader scrawled along the top of the letter that the novel was an 'Absurd and uninteresting fantasy', and concludes with the verdict 'Rubbish & dull'.¨

clindsay said...

THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS!

Oy. A huge pet peeve of mine from whiners...

Literary Cowgirl said...

Annie Proulx would have been Allen Proulx, because not very long ago (fairly recent, astually), that sort of writing would be unacceptable coming from a woman. And Broke Back Mountain? Well, let's not even go there. We are blessed to have the classics on hand, and so many contemporary works breaking barriers. I can't wait to see literature in another 50 years.

Other Lisa said...

Love this post, and Gina, love the article about Golding and LORD OF THE FLIES. I thought his editor had a great piece of writing advice:

At the end of his letter Monteith concedes that “the allegory, the theophany, is the imaginative foundation”, but insists that “like all foundations” it is “there to be concealed and built on”.

Carolyn said...

Thank you so much for this post!

I adore you for this.

Jeff Adair said...

Excellent post. You are right on the money.

Terry said...

Thanks, Nathan, I'd like to read that one too. Dig deep.

Ink, yes, Hawthorne could be saucy but it was all off-stage.

I may have been the only kid in school who loved Hawthorne and Thomas Hardy, no less.

Teenage angst, no doubt.

wendy said...

Good point, Nathan.

Just goes to show how important it is for the book/piece of literature to reflect the culture of the time or advance the cultural awareness to the next level. Oliver Twist did this so well and Uncle Tom's Cabin. (I believe as I've not read the latter.) But Oliver Twist - a book about children being forced to work in terrible conditions in the UK in the 18th or 19 C. - would make for a strange read today. Whether Uncle Tom's Cabin would have some relevance today I can't say for sure as I've not read it - just about it.

One thing that these books illustrate to me is none of us should blindly follow the values and beliefs of the majority or those of our current culture. We should question everything, try to prove everything, decide for ourselves what is real and true.

Jenny said...

Another interesting question/point of interest would be to see how many books were published back in the day that are not classics. In George Eliot's "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists" she lists a few books that haven't made it to today's bookshelves--making her point that there was a lot of not-up-to-par writing. But I bet that those 'silly books' were the money makers for the publishers. And Eliot and Dickens and Austen still made it amongst all those other silly writers!

Whirlochre said...

Now we all have zippy underwear, the lure of the Walking Tent Look diminishes (though we may still yearn for the homely cotton feel).

Andrew said...

Nathan: indeed, and when you bring up small presses, we get to the crux of it. Many great books -- Ulysses, for example, are products of small presses.

And in Canada (where I'm calling from), small presses are still an important piece of the publishing economy. The career path of most writers still begins with a small press; if the first novel gets good reviews, doors open.

But something has changed in publishing, globally, over the years: the industry has become increasingly centralized in a small number of super-publishers. These companies are much more profit-driven than are small presses, and it's these guys who are accused of being timid and crass.

How many genuinely bold literary experiments -- game changers -- have been launched by major publishers in the past thirty years?

I'll tell ya what. I'll bet you can't name one -- and if I win, you represent my book. ;)

I do agree with you to an extent -- but it's also true that the centralization of the industry has changed things.

Robin said...

Great post, Nathan. A dead on comeback to the publishing complainers of this world.

I know that I am happy to be in the era I reside in. To echo what Marsha said "I am right where I want to write."

graywave said...

What this says to me is that what is considered good writing is a matter of current fashion. (See Finding a Good Novel.) If you want to be published it is essential to understand what the current style is and to practice it. It is definitely wrong to believe the current style is in some way better than styles that have gone before.

Nick Kimbro said...

I agree with most of this post, although I think you have to admit that before market indexes and statistical feedback and all the other things our technologically and capitalistically advanced civilization has to offer,there was pehaps a little bit more room for personal vision on publishers' part.

christicorbett said...

What a great "flip" to a longstanding, and quite silly, arguement. Definately makes a person think.

Now, I've got to get back to my last round of rewrites so one day I can be published and have people trash my book :)

Christi
http://christicorbett.wordpress.com

Cheryl Gower said...

Some in our writers group have been discussing a related matter--are we "selling out" our English language and grammar for the sake of the almighty dollar? or to be trendy? There are many of us who think so. It's a sad day when a phrase is ruled a sentence; when commas are no longer required to separate a list of adjectives; and when writers blog with no care to spelling or capital letters. Our thinking is that whenever one writes, it should be done well. I just read a short story, and although it was poignant and moving, the author wrote in phrases for the better part of the story--and it WON!!

Gina said...

Andrew - good point. Some things are different after all nowadays.

Takes me back to the interview with Georges Borchardt Nathan linked to recently, where GB said he would like to see a new generation of gentleman publishers and less corporate shenanigans.

Crystal said...

I always find that a stupid comparison anyway. Considering a lot of the authors back in the day self published themselves, or started at a big publisher, it's just a stupid thing to say. I think that people who just don't want to try and make a good MS start to wine about how it's too hard in this day and age, and so-and-so couldn't have gotten published now.

Hat Man said...

Yes it is absolutely pointless. More to the point is that they had trouble getting published in their own day.

Scott said...

I hear your frustration, Nathan, but I'm not buying the argument 100%. Writers reach back because those are the books that inspired us and fed us our styles. The reverse just doesn't have a natural entree into the process.

Also, the competition with technology has changed the way we read, and in many ways, dropped readership in some demographics. Men used to read more fiction. Now, they're info junkies. Coincidence? I don't think so.

I agree that the industry is just reacting to trends, but I also think it's valid to examine the past in a way that comments on the present. I'm not saying agents should fix it, but maybe it wouldn't hurt to listen.

Ryan Potter said...

DOING IT & SMACK, both by Melvin Burgess, wouldn't have seen the light of day in the YA world as recently as 20 years ago.

Donna Hole said...

Words to live by Ink.

Maybe you could create a section in your bookstore for those of us who have to resort to self publishing to get our "creative works" out there. You could call it the "BUY IT BEFORE THE AUTHOR DIES" shelf, and if a work doesn't sell before that eventual expiration date, feel free to remove the novel!

I do agree that comparing what would or would not have been published in either today's or a generation ago's time is pointless.

Case in fact: A couple years ago my dad asked me to write a fairy tale for him. This was about August, and I finally started the tale in early October. A great Halloween story, if I'd gotten it to him in say September. By the time I finally handed it to him (polished to perfection, I'm sure) in late November he was already in a Christmas mood, and not very amused with my offering.

All creative works in good time . . .

..........dhole

London Mabel said...

Thanks for saying this. I get so tired of that argument.

Adam Heine said...

"Writers reach back because those are the books that inspired us and fed us our styles. The reverse just doesn't have a natural entree into the process."

I have to disagree with this, Scott. I'm inspired and influenced as much by Dashiell Hammett and H.G. Wells as I am by Neil Gaiman, Orson Scott Card, and George Martin.

And there's a whole generation of writers who are, at this moment, being inspired to the craft by authors like Rowling, Paolini, Colfer, and Meyer.

I think the reverse (i.e. inspiration and influence from today's books) is the most natural entree into the process. For myself, I only reach back to see how it used to be done, not necessarily how I should do it now.

J.J. Bennett said...

I personally like to think those writers would have been too classy to make a comment of that nature. I think it shows malice and unprofessionalism...

Dominique said...

That is so true.

I cannot help wondering, with the number of people concerned in our day that J.K. Rowling is turning kids into devil worshipers, what would have been done with Ms. Rowling 200 years ago.

Vacuum Queen said...

All I know is, I wish there were as many MG and YA books available to me when I was young. A lady in B&N the other day kindof scolded me about the books I had piled up on the checkout counter. "Today's children's books are rubbish." I told her I was looking forward to reading them before I gave them to my kids.

So I guess feel like Guardians of Ga'Hoole and Warriors and other fun books for kids would've been a hit back then. There were probably kids like me waiting for MORE to check out from the library.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Other Lisa said...

Wow, I can't imagine why @anon 11:07 PM's comment might have been deleted...

Some of my best friends are straight white men (really!), but seriously, the assumption of privilege that your post embodies is something you might want to work on, seeing as how it's the 21st century and all...

Ink said...

Anon,

You're really Charles Dickens, aren't you?

The Rejectionist said...

No, that Anon was actually Harold Bloom. Great post, Nathan!

liv said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ink said...

Gordon,

The point is that we're not rising or falling... we're just humans, muddling along the same as always. There are challenges, preferences and prejudices in every publishing age. There's not much point in romanticizing the past and bemoaning the present. Which is not to say you can't advocate for things in the present if you think you have a goal worth promoting. But that advocacy should be rooted in the present reality rather than an idealized past.

Mira said...

Lol.

Anon, you're pretty funny. You rely on Nathan's 'open-mindedness' not to delete your post, and then proceed to insult him personally and call him every name in the book, including 'narrow-minded.'

Your argument has similar inconsistencies.

I think you're trying to say something, that may very well have some value, but it's really lost in the rant.

Mira said...

Ink - your 6:07 post. Really good.

Anonymous said...

I believe it is Nathan who is censoring my posts, which really only proves my point - he's narrow minded.

No one should feel threatened by dissenting views, even mildly insulting ones, because anyone with a healthy sense of self esteem can weather a few barbs. Which proves, he's not only narrow-minded, but weak minded as well.

When one is a true advocate of art and of free thought and expression
the very idea of censorship is loathsome to them, thus he is not arbiter of art, he couldn't be, he's a seller of goods, no more, a cog in the wheel of delivering crap to the consumer, he's one more (of many) "general mills" of the publishing world.

Censorship is the retreat of a the weak and fearful.

Censorship is the antithesis of art.

Who said those thing?

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

What bugs the hell out of me is when people submit, say, Pride and Prejudice to mainstream publishers, and then claim that its rejection is proof that no one recognizes good literature.

Um, that, or they DO recognize good literature and want nothing to do with the crazy person. But no, no, it MUST be a problem with the publishing industry....

Mira said...

Anon 7:08

It's not censorship for a blog owner to have rules of posting. It's their blog.

In terms of this blog - my experience is that Nathan is extremely fair minded. It's admirable how open he is.

Try expressing whatever you are trying to say here without the insults, mild or otherwise. It would probably stand.

But regardless, no one is censoring you. You have every right to start a blog and post your viewpoints.

And that's really about all I have to say about this - I don't want to get into a big argument, if that's where this is headed.

Best wishes.

Ulysses said...

I occasionally wonder what the author of Gilgamesh would have gone through to get published back in the day. His rejection pile must have made fascinating clay-tablet reading:
"I'm sorry, but there's a glut of flood stories on the market today."
"The plot's good, but I found the character of Utnapishtim unsympathetic."
"Enkidu dies? After all the effort the reader's invested in empathising with him?"
"An interesting memoire, but we don't feel it will appeal to the larger population of illiterates here in Ur. Good luck placing it elsewhere."

Ink said...

Anon,

Funny, I always thought insults were the refrain of the weak-minded...

And you're free to say whatever you want. That doesn't mean other people have to publish it. You can go insult people on your own blog. I'm sure they'll be thrilled.

Susan Quinn said...

Whether today's bias is any better or worse than yesterday's bias is beside the point. We have to write in the present.

For the record, I think Nathan is a stellar individual for all the time and effort he puts into this blog, which many, many people find of tremendous service (myself enthusiastically included).

I'm concerned about navigating the biases inherent in an industry I'm new to (since I'm still working on that darned first novel) - they are there in any industry. The authors of days past that wanted to push the limits found ways around them, to varying degrees of success.

Of course you should focus on writing your story, the one you want to write - but you also have to know how things work, what the visible (and invisible) blockages to publishing are, if you hope to be published some day. Isn't that what blogs like this are purporting to help us do?

Today, I think the industry, and society as a whole, is more open to multicultural, gay, previously-under-represented-group type publishing, with agents actively soliciting these kinds of stories. But what is the industry more closed to? I don't agree with the name-calling, but the valid point that's getting lost is that there are biases. I'm not qualified to say what they are, being too new in this industry, but I would like to hear what others think they are. . .

Anonymous said...

Just found your blog and already my eyebrows are singed. In my critique group this very week, we ranted about how Hemingway's novels would never sell now! Shame on us!

Anonymous said...

Susan Quinn states her opinion very well, kudos.

However, I dont think that its so much a case of an active bias perse in the pub industry, but more of a pervasive, almost monolithic, like mindedness. Its almost to the point of a cult of personality is guarding the gates and I see more and more writers are not writing what they want, but writing to please the gatekeepers.

That's the death of art.

Nathan Bransford said...

I agree with Susan as well that every era also has its biases, including this one. Further up in the chain someone linked to Eric's post about the New York-centric nature of publishing, and I do think some miscalculations are made because there is a disproportionate number of people from similar backgrounds: the stereotype of an Ivy Leaguer with a privileged background isn't true of everyone in the industry, but it's very common.

I don't agree with anon though, about a cult of personality or writing to please the gatekeepers. The gatekeepers are just the messengers - we're only following the market. When publishers decide to buy a book they almost always do so by committee. It's not one or two people deciding everything, it's a big mixture of people. Collectively those people can indeed be led astray by collective biases and there are indeed some people with a lot of sway, but writing to please one gatekeeper would be pretty pointless.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon@7:08-

You're not a freedom fighter; please spare me the lecture. You're welcome to post if you can find a way do so in a respectful fashion. Otherwise I'll continue to delete your comments.

Jean said...

I hear you. Why don't we go in reverse? :)

Ink said...

Hey, that's sort of funny - I now have this picture of Nathan's inbox full of queries with main characters named Nathan Branton and Nate Brimsford.

Anonymous said...
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Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

If you think so little of me I don't know why you'd deign to spend your time here.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Susan Quinn said...

Nathan - I trust you're right about the Ivy League Insider being over-represented in the publishing industry, and that having an impact what gets published - I'm just not sure what that impact is. But it helps to know that going in, to hopefully understand the publishing "world" better, in all its glory and warts.

BTW, thanks again for being Sheriff Bransford and keeping the peace. Sorry it's a lousy job.

Anonymous said...
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Ink said...

Nathan (or anybody else),

Would you say the quality small presses have more variance in terms of their members (ie. their backgrounds)? It would make sense, really, in terms of personal opportunities, and might explain some of their willingness to take the risks that make the New York publishers leery - that is, their interests, tastes, and concerns might be different.

Nathan Bransford said...

bryan-

Not to my knowledge. I think their experimentation has more to do with the fact that they're content with reaching niche audiences and don't tend to be as profit-centric as the NY publishers.

Mira said...

Yes, I think small presses are the risk-takers - sort of like indie movies.

If we have a bias today, I think it might be more toward making money.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I remember that incredible interview Nathan linked to...someone mentioned it earlier. And that man said publishing used to be run by rich men who would back an artist even if they weren't making money.

So, I think when people complain that the classics wouldn't be published today, it's because of the focus on the dollar and the bottom line.

Oddly enough, it doesn't work well. The publishing industry is not making as much money as it could, by a long shot, imho.

Nathan Bransford said...

I sort of agree with you, mira, but I don't know that there was ever an era in publishing that wasn't profit-centric. There may have been a bit more patience to let authors develop and to invest in them rather than being very focused on the short term and to lose money on certain authors they believed in, but the entire infrastructure of publishing was built on profits. The industry has never been run by philanthropists.

Mira said...

Nathan - I haven't studied it, and I believe you. Rings true.

Anonymous said...
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Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

If anyone thinks that the nineteenth century was a prelapsarian era of publishing joy, I highly recommend they read George Gissing's New Grub Street (published 1891; available in Oxford's World Classics IIRC).

Heck, I recommend this anyway, because Gissing is a fantastic writer and not enough people read him. But really, as Nathan says, it always was about commercialism.

Anyone wants a lecture on how Mudie's Circulating Library forced the Victorian publishing industry to work in a three-volume format, you just let me know.

Nathan Bransford said...

Everyone-

Please just continue to ignore the anon until he goes away.

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

Never mind OWC - you can read New Grub Street thanks to Gutenberg:

http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/1709

(And the Victorian litgeek will now quietly depart....)

Nathan Bransford said...

(or until he's actually able to pull together a non-insulting and constructive comment. But we all may be waiting a while for that.)

Ink said...

Thanks, Nathan.

How bitter is the fight between editorial folk and corporate folk about dropping writers quickly? The whole one and done scenario? I'd just think that someone like Dan Brown would be a good example... there's money in letting a writer take a few books to develop. It's gotta be frustrating as hell for agents and editors when good writers are cut...

Anonymous said...
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Nathan Bransford said...

bryan-

Quite a few editors I know on the adult side are feeling pretty beaten down at the moment. More work, less autonomy, uncertain future, etc. I think that Dan Menaker article from a few weeks back really captured the mood among editors.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...
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Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan @ 9:45 AM, October 9,

I’ve sensed exactly what you’re saying – and read a few Internet blogs that express the same opinion – that editors and some agents are feeling pretty frustrated with the struggle to sell books right now. It isn’t just writers who are frustrated. In many ways, it’s a great time for writers. I figure that, in the same way that very successful businesses are able to create new products during tough economic times and then sell them when the economy improves (several big companies started out that way), writers now have the time to write good books and hone their skills.

Ink said...

I always found the one and done philosophy sort of puzzling.

A writer puts out a book, and publishers expect a sale of 20,000 books. Total sales end up being 10,000. A disappointment, so the writer's cut.

Instead, they publish a debut writer, hoping that he/she will sell 20,000 copies. And so on.

But... that first writer, even though his sales were disappointing, still sold 10,000 copies. Even if only half of those readers became fans... that's 5,000 fans. Which is 5,000 more than a debut writer has. And the fact that this writer didn't reach 20,000 sales likely was not because people thought it was a terrible book, but because they never saw it at all. It was lost amidst all the other books.

But a second book, say, would have 5,000 sales from the fans of that first book (disappointing as it was in terms of sales), and then it would have just as much chance to bring in new readers as the debut author's book, just as much of a chance to be noticed. So, maybe just a plan for a 15,000 print run. But 5000 sales are pretty solid. And if all it does is match the first book's (disappointing) run of gathering new readers it will sell 15,000 total, paying out its advance. Everyone's happy! Or maybe it does a little better than the first book and earns some royalties. 20,000 sales! And half of the new sales become fans, too...

Now the writer has 12,500 solid fans to buy his next book. So, one disappointment and one mediocre, let's say, book... but for the third book you already have a pretty solid 12,500 sales... you build on that and start to make some nice money. And so on and so on. And maybe you reach a tipping point and have that breakout best-seller.

Now, this assumes the writer keeps putting out good books that the agents and editors believe in. Except for the big names, though, you're selling the book and not the writer. So, if you have an equally good book by a debut and a published author, shouldn't the published author have the advantage on account of those few thousand fans?

Lol, though maybe I should save this argument for a point later in my career...

Mira said...

Nathan, what you said about editors, that really sucks - that people are feeling so discouraged and beathen down. That's not good.

Maybe we can be helpful....

Maybe we could have a post or two about how to help the publishing industry or the editors within it strengthen and/or make more money. Brainstorming....

Just an idea....I felt for them when you said that.

Nathan Bransford said...

gordon-

Every generation, especially as they get older, feel that art in the present is inferior to the past. My grandparents hated the rock and roll my parents loved, my parents hate the music I listen to, I'm sure I'll hate the music my kids listen to. That's just the way it works. I think music got far better with the rise of Indie rock, but then, that coincided with the time everyone thinks music was at its greatest - basically whenever they are 18-24.

I also don't know that complexity is necessarily an artistic ideal. I find it curious that you both bemoan lack of complexity in literature as well as modern art. It seems to me that the pendulum swings back and forth between accessibility and inaccessibility, and right now we're at the zenith of literature that is both artistic and entertaining.

Lastly, just because you disagree with the present course of certain institutions doesn't mean they have collapsed.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant post there, Gordon, but a white dude talkin' a religious themed topic here? Whew, you're treadin' on hot coals on this blog.

The degradation of which you speak is unique in human history indeed. In the past, govts attempted to control art through censorship, but we are now at a crossroads where the govt doesnt squelch freedom of expression, but the lockstep and narrow mentality of the people themselves enforce conformity (ahem, Nathan).

The reason that affects quality is when you have a defacto system of conformity it has a chilling effect on creativity, because individuals fear stepping out of bounds.

How's that Nathan? Constructive enough for you? Now, refute your role in that, please.

See? even threw in a please for ya!

There exists no greater offense than censorship! (Who said that?)

Nathan Bransford said...

bryan-

The thing that always drives me craziest about business in general is the way expectations drive perception more than the actual results. When I was in college I co-ran a student business, and the CEO kept telling us, "You're over budget!", nevermind that we were turning a profit. The budget is just a guess! So what if we guessed wrong as long as we were making money?

Ugh.

All of this is to say that I don't think the publishing industry is alone in hewing too much to whether a book was a relative disappointment rather than looking at the underlying success. Authors are penalized far too much for a publisher's initial irrational exuberance, in my opinion.

lotusgirl said...

Thanks for keeping it real Nathan. It seems to me like there's a lot of amazing stuff being published these days. Things that never would have 200 years ago. I have to say that I think the philosophy of book "x" not being published today is fundamentally flawed. There are a lot of books like "x" that are published these days too. Bottom line. These days TONS of books are published every year--contrast that to 200/150/100 years ago.

Nathan Bransford said...

Be still my heart, anon, wrote a post that I don't have to delete.

You seem to be simultaneously accusing the industry of conformity as well as excessive diversity. Which is it?

I also think it's pretty hilarious that you're essentially accusing a straight white male of discriminating against other straight white males. And one whose parents are farmers no less.

Nathan Bransford said...

And straight white males sure are having a rough go of it in the publishing business these days, what with Dan Brown, Jonathan Franzen, Michael Chabon, Dave Eggers, John Grisham, etc. etc. all experiencing phenomenal obscurity.

Mira said...

Anon - you're driving me nuts. I've googled all of your quotes and come up with nothing.

Could you please quote whoever it is correctly?

You so clearly want to know who said these things, and I'm trying to help you out here.

Note: I will tell you one way the industry could make more money. Put authors on salary, and give them huge bonuses if their book sells well.

I'll volunteer.

Ink said...

Lol, and Nathan's favourite book is Moby Dick, no less, a novel by one of the pre-eminent old, dead, white guys.

Nathan Bransford said...

bryan-

Herman Melville taught me everything I know about being a liberal hippie communist.

Anonymous said...

Yay! Substance!
Ok, here we go, stay with me:

"You seem to be simultaneously accusing the industry of conformity as well as excessive diversity. Which is it?"

Great point, this is the key! When one enforces diversity for the sake of diversity itself it becomes exclusionary, hence a self defeating proposition, because one begins to look not for quality, but "diversity". That in turn reduces quality AND diversity.

"I also think it's pretty hilarious that you're essentially accusing a straight white male of discriminating against other straight white males."

Exactly! Its the proof of how far you in particular are willing to go to ingratiate yourself and conform to the new york elite lit circles (which I'm sure you sit around and dream of becoming). That is precisely that self induced "lockstep" mindset of which I speak. I mean, this is self evident when it has become passe to hear white males such as yourself speak derisively of their own kind. (When it fact, to do so, is patently patronizing to other groups, because it actually latently implies a superiority.)

Here's some advice: if you really want to be elite, then DONT be like them, stop combing your query pile for the next teen chick vampire drivel and be a little different.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

There is actually no such thing as exclusion through diversity. Diversity is by definition diverse, meaning it represents all viewpoints and is nonexclusionary. That is how the same publishing company (Random House) can publish both Barack Obama and Bill O'Reilly.

And yes - I have completely demonstrate my desire to be a member of the New York publishing elite by moving away from New York and living in San Francisco.

I think you reveal everything anyone needs to know about you by referencing my "own kind." Guess what, anon, my "own kind" is FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS OF ALL BACKGROUNDS.

Anonymous said...

Oh that's too rich! I'm a cretin because I used the term "kind"! (When isnt it literally true, don't we all have a "kind"?)

But when you speak derisively of a whole segment of the population that's ok? Because its white males and you're one? Apparently, by your own words white males are a "kind" worth centering out, yet detest the day someone use the term "kind" specifically. Such hypocrisy!

Nice try to deflect on the issues by contriving some indignation at something that you are guilty.

When white males talk self effacingly of "white males" generally, don't you see how that is actually patronizingly superior?

Its offensive to everyone, not least of all, white males (yes, your "kind").

What's even funnier in all this is your assumption that I am both white and male!

Thanks for the joust - you get the last word, make it good.

Ink said...

Gordon,

You have some interesting points there, but when you say it's not subjective... it is. It's your opinion, based on your own particularly held view of complexity (and the difficulty of production) as the end and goal of art. But for many people that does not hold true.

Simplicity is as true an artistic goal as complexity. And there's nothing inherently beautiful in either.

And I think (subjectively, I admit), that artistic pursuits have often been driven more by the desire for newness and change than it has been for complexity and refinement... though complexity and refinement have often been modes of change.

But how much more refined and complex than Finnegan's Wake do you want? I think the fascination of stories has a root far deeper than external complexity and refinement, and there are many ways of reaching down to those roots - and most of them won't be following in Finnegan's wake (sorry for the pun). It's only natural for general trends, at some point, to move away from that. And even back then there were always other threads, diverging threads, of artistic pursuit and artistic goals. Part of the interest of art and aesthetics is the contention between different ideas and forms - the fact, say, that you can get remarkable art out of both Hemingway and Faulkner. Artistic ages are rarely homogenous.

Just my two cents.

Best of luck with your writing, Gordon, and I hope you find the right home for it.

Bryan

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

I didn't speak derisively of anyone, actually. Whatever slight you divined from my post was the projection of your own anxieties.

Anyway, I know it's frustrating and scary when the world has passed you by. The flip side of progress is that it always leaves some people in the dark.

Anonymous said...

Oh, sorry, one other thing:

Saying that diversity is diverse, ergo, simply because you refer to it using the term "diverse" is that classic circular logic of: "well, if we call it by a particular word, then it MUST be that thing we call it!"

But, no, sorry, just calling something diverse doesn't make it diverse.

You should be a politician!

JenD said...

So, are we basically saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same? Wondering whether "X" classic book would be published today is kind of like wondering if The Beatles would have been popular by today's music standards, isn't it? Or is that a pointless comparison? Forgive me, I'm a total newb...

Ink said...

Anon,

Um, where did Nathan say anything disparaging about white males? Must've missed it.

In his joke, he referenced dead white males who wrote classics. He didn't say anything bad about them. He simply said it's not prudent to judge modern publishing habits in regards to books published over a century ago. Again, maybe I'm missing it, but what's derogatory to white males?

Diversity in publishing is not exclusionary. Unless you're suggesting that they only publish minorities, now, and not white males. Which would be laughable. I think white males are still doing not too shabbily. All diversity means is that the industry is no longer ignoring quality works from minorities (or not as much as they used to, anyway). I find it kind of hard to swallow that white males are somehow disadvantaged. Unless, of course, your definition of disadvantaged is merely a loss of the gross random advantages they once received on account of their race and gender, the ol' "this whole equal opportunity thing based on ability is a real downer."

Anonymous said...

Yeah, right, Nathan, so much again for your high-minded insistence on "constructiveness" to the commentary.

You are such a hypocrite! And a very linear thinking one at that. Its no wonder you ended up as a b level agent who spends more timing blogging than cutting deals.

Listen, you're reasonably bright, just try to think a bit more outside the narrow constraints you and your profession have put on you.

Don't be so afraid to be a little different, take some risk, dont be so conventional in your thinking.

Best of luck.

Mira said...

Bye Anon.

Too bad you weren't able to learn anything from this conversation. You ended it pretty much the same way you started it. That's a shame.

Nathan Bransford said...

Anon-

So much for letting me have the last word, eh?

Anyway, I've extended far more courtesy to you than you have shown to me. If we're in advice giving mode, mine would be to work as hard on your writing as you do on finding slights where there are none.

christicorbett said...

Nathan,
I REALLY liked your response back to Anon at 11:24AM. Nicely done!

Anon, you should really find something else to do than insult Nathan, and maybe think about stepping up and using your actual name instead of hiding behind "Anon".

Nathan, you rock!

Gordon Jerome said...

Nathan,

I agree that the istitutions I mentioned may not have actually collapsed yet, and perhaps they won't. However, art (music, literature, painting, sculpture) has gone from more degree-of-difficulty to less. At least in general.

This seems to have coincided with a growing technological culture, a more atheistic culture, and a more sexually expressive culture.

I believe humanity has lost its certainty about many things, and this has caused a great deal of existential despair. I believe art reflects this by becoming more chaotic, less defined, less skillful, and more beastial. Essentially, since we can't figure out why we're here, art serves less and less of a purpose. We have no reason to do our best. We have no reason to rise above our animal instincts.

Soon, there will be no difference between a painting by a monkey and one by a human. Eventually, a comic book (most likely a sexually oriented one) may be the greatest work of literature that is commonly produced. Eventually, all music will be nothing more than booming tribal beats, or expressions of anger and rage.

From that, a civilization may form as the result of some religious cult following or some such thing, and in that setting people will try to rise upward again.

Perhaps it's all cyclical.

Terry said...

"Herman Melville taught me everything I know about being a liberal hippie communist."

LOL, Nathan.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, who said I was a writer?

Did you thunk that just maybe this blog came up in search on a particular writer, whose name just might have popped up?

Hmmm?

Sigh - more of that linear thinking . ..

I'll give you the last word once you demonstrate an ability to make it an intelligent one. Remember, the "make it good" part?

Ink said...

Gordon,

You have some interesting ideas, but that's a pretty steep assumption...

I'm not too worried that the death of literature is right around the corner... there's simply too many people invested in writing good books, and too many good books still being published.

Ink said...

Lol, Anon, I'll take some linear thinking over your circular logic.

JenD said...

Gordon-

What's wrong with revisiting our tribal roots? Do not all art forms come full circle eventually? You speak of the constant dances of art and cultural evolution as if it's a bad thing!

You do not have to like all that is currently being expressed, but to pooh-pooh the fact that it is being expressed seems very, I don't know...dare I say archaic?

Nathan Bransford said...

Actually, anon, the cool thing about owning the blog is that I do get the last word.

And with that, anonymous comments are closed until further notice.

mpd57 said...

If James Joyce's Ulysses were published today it would inevitably be as a graphic novel only!
http://ulyssesseen.com

Mark Cecil said...

hey nathan: quick quasi-related question, but i think an important one:
when we are titling our book, do we have to worry about someone else having the same title? i mean, i'm not going to call my book "The Great Gatsby" but there's millions of books out there and the chances are that a good number of titles are repeating...right?
i ask because i just came up with an AWESOME title for my book, only to find that there is one book from ten year ago, also called that (at least it's almost identical)....what copyright issues are there with titles?
thanks!!!!

Nathan Bransford said...

mark-

There aren't any copyright issues, it's just a matter of deciding if the previous book is going to overshadow yours. If it's relatively obscure and published a while back there probably won't be a problem.

Mark Cecil said...

thanks a mil nathan. appreciate the prompt reply.

Mira said...

I love the way you run this blog.

How did you get to have such good judgement and sense of timing?

Kudos, Nathan.

Gordon Jerome said...

Gordon,

You have some interesting ideas,

Thank you, Ink.



I'm not too worried that the death of literature is right around the corner... there's simply too many people invested in writing good books, and too many good books still being published.

That is true. Hopefully, I am one of them, or at least I wannabe one of them. And that may be just the thing: the more and longer art shifts toward talentless chaos, the more the demand will increase for the opposite.


Jen D. wrote:

Gordon-

What's wrong with revisiting our tribal roots? Do not all art forms come full circle eventually? You speak of the constant dances of art and cultural evolution as if it's a bad thing!


Tribal roots are for animals, that's why we left our tribal roots. That's why we value upward evolution not devolution or horizontal evolution.

You do not have to like all that is currently being expressed, but to pooh-pooh the fact that it is being expressed seems very, I don't know...dare I say archaic?

You may dare. It seems the older I get the more archaic I become. I am in fact becoming more archaic every day.

That said, I don't think you'll find anywhere where I have pooh-poohed that devolved art is being expressed. I have merely pointed it out. However, I am sane enough to know the difference between good art and bad.

For sure there is good abstract art, and there is garbage. There is good classical realism, and there is garbage. There is good literature, and there is bad. And music from say, Yes in the early 1970's, is more complex than music from P-Diddy.

Like manners, everyone has taste, that doesn't mean everyone has good taste or good manners.

Where I live, if you take some of the folk who come speeding out of the sticks in rusted pick ups, greasy hair flying, missing teeth, and scraggly nicotine-stained beards, they will consider Burger King fine dining. They would be wrong. But even more importantly, they are not an equal judge of what fine dining is. Their opinion doesn't matter.

Dolts will like a good story. They also like romance porn. It is our responsibility to give them a good story wrapped in good literature, not fishnet.

Adam Heine said...

"Actually, anon, the cool thing about owning the blog is that I do get the last word. And with that, anonymous comments are closed until further notice."

Oh, snap! That was totally worth reading all those ridiculous comments. Thanks, Nathan!

Anonymous said...
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Nicole said...

Just heard a story about how morally debauched Jane Eyre was considered during its time on NPR. Then a few days later, David Sedaris comes on with a story about how he found a book about a family who was having sex with each other.

Every writer that has something that pushes the edges of what society deems as accessible, will have a challenge expressing their point of view when it comes to publishers who are worried about commercial viability - and promoting a product that is broadly socially accepted.

It's much the same with advertising - there's a limit to how far an advertiser can push the boat out before a client freaks out, or society cries foul.

pjd said...

Ooh! Opportunity for sports analogy!

It's a bit like when sports writers, in that slow period between contract negotiations and felony convictions (otherwise known alternately as "the regular season" and "the playoffs"), try to debate whether the 1904 Miami Penguins would beat the 2003 New York Metrosexuals. Or whether today's #10 drafted wide receivers would even be playing the game back in the '50s when the players had to pay for their own bus fare to away games and fashion their own dentures from scavenged railroad ties. THOSE were the days.

But Ted Williams would never bat .400 today.

Other Lisa said...

I also...and don't take me wrong, anyone...I have a hard time with the correlation between "atheism" and "bestiality."

I'm pretty much an agnostic. I am not a believer in any traditional sense and yet I accept that existence and consciousness are very complicated and mysterious and that I don't have the answers to these eternal questions.

But I do not accept that my lack of faith in some form of patriarchal Deity in any way equates to a debauched, lower form of artistic expression.

Hell, most of America's founding fathers were religious skeptics or at least not traditional in their beliefs, and they did pretty well in setting up a system that despite its faults, serves as a model of enlightened rationalism. Which I'm assuming is the opposite of the "bestiality" that's being decried here.

Gordon Jerome said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gordon Jerome said...

I'm not using the term "bestiality." I said bestial, or like an animal. And I'm not referring to a god of the male gender, nor have I. In fact, I am not arguing God's existence at all. What I'm saying is that if we believe there is no God, then humanity won't try to be perfect. If we stop trying to be perfect, then we settle for less.

Eventually, we settle for being human animals, because that's our default state. Animals know nothing of any God.

Vacuum Queen said...

On Rosie O'Donnell's blog, you have to enter your email, but it doesn't show up to the public. Once, when she was being targeted by an annoying commenter, she published their angry emails on the blog with some sort of "Go away blahblah@yahoo.com."
I would've loved to have seen how that person reacted to all the junk in HER inbox the next day.

Have a good weekend, Nathan.

Steve said...

REPLY TO GORDON - PART ONE

Gordon,

A few comments about some points you have raised.

You said-

"This seems to have coincided with a growing technological culture, a more atheistic culture, and a more sexually expressive culture."

But in an earlier post you suggested that literature has progressed from 200 years ago to the mid 1950's before entering a decline. May I point out that technology progressed steadily through that same period. So, whatever literary decline may be occurring can hardly be blamed on technology. Now, if you want to cite particular misuses of specific communications technologies, that might be a different story.

As to sexually expressive, I think I agree.

Not sure on the "atheistic" point - but see below.

You said -

"I believe humanity has lost its certainty about many things, and this has caused a great deal of existential despair. I believe art reflects this by becoming more chaotic, less defined, less skillful, and more beastial. Essentially, since we can't figure out why we're here, art serves less and less of a purpose. We have no reason to do our best. We have no reason to rise above our animal instincts."

I think you main point here is quite mistaken. Great art can flourish in a climate of uncertainty. It does so by addressing areas of uncertainty and giving the underlying phenomena meaning. What great art cannot withstand is the loss of hope and belief in a future. Perhaps this is what you are actually picking up on.

As a counterexample to your thought on what makes art good or bad, consider the films of Quentin Tarentino (sp?). Very complex, very technically skillful, and totally degrading of the human spirit, and deliberately so, IMO. The guy is totally proficient at what he does, but what he does is just wrong!

Why are we here? Certainly, we no longer agree on this, if we ever did. But, in an age which lacks consensus on this point, the challenge to art is to answer that question. And if a good answer should be presented, would people not eagerly grasp for it?

"Soon, there will be no difference between a painting by a monkey and one by a human. Eventually, a comic book (most likely a sexually oriented one) may be the greatest work of literature that is commonly produced. Eventually, all music will be nothing more than booming tribal beats, or expressions of anger and rage."

As long as people are human at all, art which elevates the spirit will have an audience. It may however, be a very small audience. And I'm not sure tribal beats can't be great art. Remember, at one point historically tribal drums formed the backbone of a sophisticated long distance communication system. Rythmic expression has ample scope for complexity and sophistication. And, I recall in the late fifties reading an article about "art" produced by tossing globs of paint at a spinning wheel. Arguably, the monkey's product might be better. :)

Steve said...

REPLY TO GORDON - TWO OF TWO

You said -

"From that, a civilization may form as the result of some religious cult following or some such thing, and in that setting people will try to rise upward again."

People will always try to rise upward. That's what makes them "people". However, some circumstances are less conducive to success

You said -

"Tribal roots are for animals, that's why we left our tribal roots. That's why we value upward evolution not devolution or horizontal evolution."

But, oddly enough, no aimal has ever produced a tribal culture on the order seen in human tribal society. Human tribal societies evolve or they die. And if they evolve, that is the proof they were not animal, but human. I agree that living in a tribal culture today would not be particularly desirable. But to assert we can learn nothing from that culture seems somehat absurd.

"Where I live, if you take some of the folk who come speeding out of the sticks in rusted pick ups, greasy hair flying, missing teeth, and scraggly nicotine-stained beards, they will consider Burger King fine dining. They would be wrong. But even more importantly, they are not an equal judge of what fine dining is. Their opinion doesn't matter."

I doubt this. They might consider it "good eatin'" which is a different sentiment. I myself don't, because I dislike flame-broiled burgers. I'm strictly a McDonald's guy for my fast food. (And their new Angus burger is great!) But, the truth is, I think, that "fine dining" is simply not on these folks' radar. I think if you got them out to a good pig roast, with plenty of trimmings, they would notice and appreciate the difference. Or, if you're talking about the kind of places that require formal dress to be seated, I'll just say there is a difference between "fine" and "pretentious".

You said -

"I'm not using the term "bestiality." I said bestial, or like an animal. And I'm not referring to a god of the male gender, nor have I. In fact, I am not arguing God's existence at all. What I'm saying is that if we believe there is no God, then humanity won't try to be perfect. If we stop trying to be perfect, then we settle for less."

Oddly, some atheistic systems, such as Marxist Communism, have been in the forefront of attempting human perfectibility. Also, Buddhism which is arguably atheistic, teaches a path of perfection. Moreover, it is a tenet of much Christian theology that sinful man can never achieve perfection, but rather that it comes as a gift from God. The early Middle Ages in Europe were overwhelmingly theistic, but they were hardly a hotbed of great art or literature.

Best wishes,
-Steve

Gina said...

Gordon -

I´m currently reading Daniel Levitin´s THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON MUSIC. He´s a record producer-turned-neuroscientist at Stanford.

Turns out that ´our brains are maximally receptive - almost spongelike - when we´re young, hungrily soaking up any and all sounds they can and incorporating them into the very structure of our neural wiring. As we age, these neural circuits are somewhat less pliable, and so it becomes more difficult to incorporate, at a deep neural level, new musical systems, or even new linguistic systems.´

I so wanna agree with you that after grunge the world ´n its wife went down the drain, but it seems we´re just getting old :-(

jjdebenedictis said...

Gordon: The great art of previous ages is the stuff that survives. The less-than-wonderful stuff is forever forgotten.

This decline in art you perceive might just be the fact that you're looking at skewed sample groups.

Diamond said...

1) Inartfully??? Artlessly, perhaps

2) Just as all Math teachers/politicians/lawyers can't be evil - there are some good ones out there - neither is it probable that all agents are good. That you've never met an agent who wasn't of surpassing integrity possibly says more about you and the company you keep than the essential nature of the profession

Anonymous said...

Truth is nobody reads classic books anymore. The "geniuses" pretend to read them just to be included in the circle of friends. Or let say they are just "collectors."

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