But first, a word on yesterday’s You Tell Me, which was one of the most fascinating discussions evah.
While I will leave it to everyone else to decide how they personally feel about the appropriateness or accuracy of King’s statement, I would like to address the broader question of who can and should decide what books are “good,” and push back a bit on the notion that “the reader” is or should be sole arbiter.
Yes, individual reader opinions are all valid in their own way. But I would not say that all opinions are equally valid, and if we as a culture completely devalue the role of experts and critics in shaping and helping define what we consider good I think we will lose a collective appreciation and elevation of artistic merit.
You would not value my opinion on particle physics, nor should you, because all I know about particle physics is that wave and particle duality makes my freaking head hurt. So would you value a particle physicist’s view on books equal to a book expert’s? Have we gotten to the point where everyone’s opinion on books, no matter their expertise, background, insight, and level of literacy, should be treated with equal reverence?
Yes, art is at least partially subjective, we all read different books for different reasons, and there is something to appreciate and learn from in every single successful book. But in terms of opinions and discourse, the American Idolization of culture can only go so far. Otherwise we might as well just do away with Oscars and National Book Awards and crown whatever books are most accessible and successful “the best” and scrap the notion of ideal books that, yes, not everyone might appreciate or find easy to read, but which advance the art form, represent an artistic ideal, and break new ground for those who follow.
Anon@9:37 this morning put it more eloquently than I could: “One of the worst things happening in public discourse about the arts is that there appears to be an attempt to bring criticism down to the level of mere opinion, with the further claim that everyone’s opinion is equal, and that all opinion is “just opinion” and nobody’s opinion is more valid than another’s.
This false conflation of criticism with opinion and the misguided egalitarianism in which it’s wrapped is leading to the death of informed criticism, which is being drowned in a sea of uninformed opinion.”
I hesitate to describe King as a critic because he’s primarily an author, and in no way should the preceding be construed as an endorsement or rejection of his views. Call me Switzerland. I also will freely admit that the “experts” sometimes get it spectacularly wrong both in the short term and from a historical perspective. But consider me a little nervous about the pendulum swinging too far toward an artistic elevation of mass appeal and the yes, “misguided egalitarianism” of treating all opinions as equally valid.
Now then. There was news in publishing this week, and I aim to bring it to you.
The big news today is that HarperCollins reported a 25% drop in sales in the last quarter compared to the final quarter last year. Let that sink in. 25% drop. I can’t even bang my head on my desk that’s so depressing.
Meanwhile a new website geared toward all things self-publishing has gone live, edited by one of the best self-pubbed authors out there, Henry Baum. His excellent book NORTH OF SUNSET was named one of the best self-published books by POD-dy Mouth in Entertainment Weekly.
It turns out that Pilot Sully, he of dropping a plane down smoothly in the freezing Hudson, had a library book in his luggage, which he lost in the crash. What was it? A book on professional ethics. OF COURSE IT WAS. Can we please appoint Pilot Sully to the Supreme Court or name him pope or something? My goodness. Also the library waived his fees. Which he then probably insisted on paying anyway.
HarperStuido had a (typically) great post this week: they asked an independent bookseller three things publishers could do better, and then dished right back on three things independent booksellers could do better. The answers were insightful.
Google and Amazon are making waves today as Google announced plans to bring Google Book Search and its 1.5 million public domain books onto the iPhone. Meanwhile, Amazon dropped a huge bomblet by suggesting that they’re going to make Kindle books available on mobile devices. (hat tip Pub Lunch)
Meanwhile, thanks to reader Jan Whitaker for a great article about the past, present, and future of e-books. Written by an e-book junkie, it’s really worth a look as it puts both the past and future in perspective
And finally, Anne and May (Dayton and Vanderbilt) have killed many characters over the course of their writing careers, and Anne recently wrote a hilarious look back at the poor saps who were edited out completely. RIP, suckers!
Have a great weekend!