There are two souls within me as Goethe once pointed out; this is true not only of people, but of entire communities. Publishing is no exception. The National Book Award nominations have ignited a discussion that exposes the duality of a business that wants to blend art and commerce without splattering the kitchen walls.
I’d offer an overview of the book business this way. You’ve opened a restaurant that offers subtle sophisticated food; the portions are small and beautifully presented. The chef is tempermental, but that only adds to the ambience; you’re going broke because, on average, you’re drawing three people a night to your place. So, you start selling pizzas out the back door. The pizza guys can’t make enough of the stuff. Pretty soon, the cash register is ringing. The place is profitable. Your accountant will take your phone calls.
But you didn’t want to sell pizza. The editors at Gourmet turn up their noses. You want to sell tornedoes of lamb in plum sauce reduction, but the Phillistines, your customers, want spaghetti and meatballs.
Here are my nominees for the NBA. Plum Sykes for Bergdorf Blondes. Her treatment of the language almost defies description. I wept. Pamela Anderson for Star; sure, go ahead and laugh. Pam loses points for her ghost writer. Faye and Jon Kellerman for Double Homicide; reading this can destroy brain cells that won’t regenerate, much like a pepperoni and sausage pizza. Metro Girl by Janet Evanovich; eviscerates the canon like a house on fire. Brimstone by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Hilarious with undertones of magical realism, outdoor scenes in Tuscany, and philandering RV salesmen; a juggernaut that grabs you by the throat, kicks you in the gut, bends your thumbs.
Oprah, just move it on over.