This is my last posting for this guest blog, and I have to say that it's been great. I want to thank all of you out there who have responded, and all of you who are readers. I've never had the privilege to get to Powell's, but I would gladly come in a heartbeat. Many thanks to Dave, and everybody at the bookstore who made this possible.
I want to say in the same vein that, for all the various complaints and issues I've raised this week, it is a privilege to be able to do this for a living. It's what I always wanted to do, and it took me a long time to get to the point where I could make a living at it. I wrote fiction nearly every day for fifteen years before I sold a lick of it and now here I am, doing it fulltime. I am well aware that there are plenty of talented writers out there who for whatever market reasons have to hold down other jobs, and all I can say again is that I am incredibly grateful.
Which is not to say that I'm through complaining! It is, after all, the public duty of a writer to be critical; that's the whole purpose of freedom of expression. And I would like to clarify and expound upon a few of the week's rants, in answer to the comments you cared enough to post.
To Hayley, who wrote sarcastically: "On book tours — I wish I had such a torturous existence. Touring around in support of my work. Sounds like such a drag."
Yeah, I hear you. We all talked the same way when we heard other writers complaining about their tours???until we got out there. I love traveling around the country, seeing new places, staying in great hotels. Hell, we were poor as church mice when I was growing up, off and on public assistance. I think of room service as a gift from the gods.
But when you find yourself out there, in some store space full of empty chairs, with maybe five or six people on hand — knowing that you are expected to speak and read to them for at least a half-hour — knowing how embarrassed they're feeling for you; how embarrassed they're feeling themselves, to be in such a situation; what a pitying look the bookstore assistant night manager is probably giving you — it's not a pretty situation. It feels, in fact, more like some kind of elaborate practical joke, designed to prove to you just how insignificant you really are.
One more thing. I'm not a rock musician. My "existence" does not consist of book touring. It consists, mostly, of writing, reading, making some laughable attempts at working out, and spending time with my wife, my family, and my friends. It's a pretty good life. Like anyone else, I don't enjoy having it interrupted if you're just going to waste my time.
I am, first of all, completely opposed to almost all censorship this side of child pornography. But the WSJ is not an infinite newspaper. It does not publish any and all viewpoints and it has, presumably, standards for reviews and reviewers. It chooses — as we all do — not to consider certain viewpoints because they are too loathsome, ridiculous, and thoroughly discredited by history and rational analysis. In the particular case of Mr. Kauffman, I really don't see how you can review any part of a series of books celebrating the triumph of a multicultural America when you believe, for instance, that our foreign policy is dominated by "Jewish intellectuals shrieking for war." (An actual quote of his from America First!.)
One of my ulterior motives in posting that blog was to draw out some response from the WSJ regarding just what its review standards are. No dice, I guess. But contrary to what "him" wrote I did not direct any epithets that I'm aware of toward the paper (at least, not until now!). And there was no equivalence between what I was writing for Powell's, and what Mr. Kauffman was writing for the Journal. Powell's very kindly gave me a guest space to write whatever I wanted. The Journal probably violated its own standards and practices to let this anti-Semitic gentleman, with a clear conflict of interest, review my book.
Mind you, I don't put this down to any particular political agenda on the part of the Journal. For one thing, the paper's notorious editorial page does not influence its outstanding news and features reporting, and I have in fact received very good reviews there in the past. For another, not even the WSJ editorial page shares Mr. Kauffman's bizarre, isolationist ravings.
What I suspect really happened is something else that I find depressingly common in the book world: an editor carelessly tossed a book to an unqualified reviewer without bothering to learn anything much about his past. I see this all the time, unfortunately — good books thrown to literary thugs and punks by the very people who should be the guardians of our literature. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the Journal really has a good reason why it would let a loony anti-Semite onto its review pages. If so, I'd like to hear it.
To Miriam, Aaron, Vladmir, and others who wrote such nice things about different posting: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Writers can't get enough positive reinforcement, in case you haven't noticed. But thanks as well to all of you above, for at least engaging with what I was writing. This happens all so rarely today, and it's the first step away from our long, national sleepwalk toward the abyss.
One final note that relates, weirdly enough, to my amazement last time out that anyone could have ever taken seriously Jim Frey's passages about reading War and Peace to his fictitious cellmate, "Porterhouse." A friend of mine, who is part of an anarchist group dedicated to getting books to prisoners, informs me that in the Oregon state prison system, inmates are not allowed to receive books, ostensibly because it is too easy to hide weapons in them. Instead, they are limited to a maximum of ten, loose-leaf pages of printed material a day — just one more instance of the gratuitous, self-destructive cruelties that our governments on all levels now seem so bent on pursuing.
My friend's group claims to have actually received a request for War and Peace from an Oregon inmate. They went and did it, copying the whole book, mailing out ten pages a day to the inmate, on the condition that he pass on those ten pages to other inmates, once he had read them. I don't know how all this worked out, but it seems to me a better story than any of Mr. Frey's prevarications.
Good-bye for now, and thanks again for having me.
Books mentioned in this post
Kevin Baker is the author of Strivers Row