I am actually reading a book.
Okay, that is not such a usual occurrence in the research that is my on-ramp to understanding a world unfamiliar to me. This is not the non-fiction that is de rigueur at this stage of the work; it is a novel by a well-known man that deals with the subject-matter I need to know. What is told me surprises me. And not in the way I expected.
The thing was on the best-seller list. It is a work of some charm. It offers intelligence and a deep knowledge of its subject. It has a few breathtaking turns of phrase. It also has a couple of graceless errors that would have been excised, had this been a high-school paper. The characters leave me cold. I am given every chance to understand what motivates them, but I have not been made to feel them. Still, I’m enjoying it more than I am not.
But did this work belong on the best-seller list? I wonder.
Finishing the thing took only a couple of days (I am about two chapters from the end; the prospect of those chapters was not enough to warrant staying up past my bedtime.) As reading-compulsion began to turn to chore, I began to wonder. Who is being published and why?
The BS list (I’ve presented those incendiary initials deliberately) is full of crap. So much that it terrifies me. The book that everyone touted as such a must-read wonder? Really? I have thrown two books against walls in my reading life. I have left books on subways. I have given them (with fair warning) to people on planes. I have (I hate to admit this) thrown a few away in ceremonies of disdain. All of them were on the best-seller list.
Understand me: I am not against “popular fiction”. I like it. I aspire to it (although, perhaps, with a deeper, stranger twist.) Perhaps I am too tough a critic. Perhaps I am merely resentful of these books’ successes. But the eagerness, the ease, with which these works were picked up and published? Yikes.
It is just this situation that gives the self-publishing phenomenon such street cred with me. The works that rise to the top are unsullied by judgment by an industry that seems unable—and okay, let’s pick the crude, cruel image—to find its own ass with both hands and a flashlight.
And here’s the worst thing: Would I mount the steps to that BS List scaffold? Yes. But here’s my saving grace…I would not whore myself out on my way there. Or so I tell myself now.
That is, perhaps, my own particular genre of BS.