Shelf indulgence

McConnell, Frank

MARKETING BOOH, LITERARY BUST Shelf indulgence FRANK McCONNELL WELCOME to the third annual McConnell - quick - association trivia contest. You may give one, and only one, answer to the...

...So why do you go to B. Dalton' s or Kroch' s or Brentano's or wherever and buy her latest breathless revelation that, bygolly, she may have been reincarnated...
...I do not believe that America is a country of unimaginative zombies...
...You may give one, and only one, answer to the following question: What do Priscilla Presley, John DeLorean, Lee Iacocca, Shirley MacLaine, and Phil Donahue all have in common that they do not have in common with, say, Norman Spinrad and William Gaddis...
...Silly in the sense that, while a human being cannot always act rationally, a human being can always act reCommonweal: 676 sponsibly...
...Yeah...
...But because B. Dalton or Kroch or whoever is shoving this bilge into your face and up your credit card while, on the back shelves, Robert Crumley and Maxine Hong Kingston and John Ashbery and a hundred other writers who deserve your attention and yes your friendship are panting like puppies in a pet shop window for purchases that will never be made...
...Huh...
...So, McConnell," you say to me (and you, on the ghostly other side of the typewriter, are always bigger and tougher thasi I), "so you don't wanna read Priscilla Presley's memories of Elvis...
...it means everything...
...Presley's lubricious reminiscences and Mr...
...If writing is not a religious act, then I do not know what is...
...Your first answer, of course, could well be that the members of the first group are not writers as such, while Spinrad and Gaddis are among the best living writers in America, men who have given their lives over to that most thankless, unnatural, and human of tasks, i.e...
...As Kierkegaard, I think, understood, in the realm of the religious the distinction is not between good and evil, but between sensible and stupid...
...No, not because you're dumb, because you're not...
...What they have most basically in common is that they are all Silly People...
...I return to Rahner...
...So you want fancy-schmantzy novels by your intellectual pals put where her book is...
...Or you could say this: Priscilla Presley is distinguished, mainly, for having married while yet a teenager one of the two or three greatest singers in the history of rock and roll...
...He was a great man, and it would have been a great thing...
...Then try to find the latest novel by Spinrad, or by Gaddis, or by Harry Harrison, or by Jim McConkey, or by any of the hundred other brilliant young storytellers, poets, and journalists America produces every decade...
...and Phil Donahue is distinguished, FRANK McCONNELL writes frequently on the media for Commonweal...
...Prefacing his Life of Johnson, Boswell observes that if only all of the great Doctor's conversations had been preserved, "we might have had him whole.'' With a sigh, one agrees...
...Because the people who run the big presses, like the people who program the big networks, decided a long time ago to Give The People What They Want, and then promptly forgot that there is also the moral imperative to Give The People What They Need...
...But wrong...
...In other words as good fiction tells us and self-stroking autobiographies don't we're only really silly when with eloquence we try to deny our own universal silliness...
...Good answer...
...Harlan Ellison, who writes great stories in the tradition of Poe and Kafka and Chesterton, has been saying this or something like it for years...
...John DeLorean is distinguished, mainly, for having become involved in a drug-dealing operation which made the FBI look like pre-law goons, but reflected no radiance on his own intelligence either...
...reissued by Penguin recently...
...Yeah...
...Western culture should not end up as the largest possible issue of People magazine...
...Karl rahner, in The Practice of Faith, describes the virtue of hope in terms very like the terms I would use describing the art of fiction: the imposition of order we force upon the chaotic pattern of our lives as we really lead them, in the expectation that sooner or later that chaos-turned-story will receive a cosmic validation, an intergalactic imprimatur, a simple utterance that yes, after all, it did make sense...
...If you're lucky and if it's a good bookstore, the lady behind the counter will probably know where to point you...
...Yeah...
...What do Presley - DeLorean - Iacocca - MacLaine - Donahue all have in common...
...When you break it all down, it's simply a matter of shelf space, baby...
...making the paper worth more after you have scribbled on it than it was before you started...
...But still not the right one...
...mainly, by the fact that he has parlayed a vapid mid-morning talk show into a springboard for what bids fair to become one of the more massively selfcongratulating egos in the history of white liberalism...
...There are two reasons you can write a book, one good and one bad...
...Nor, unless the vice-presidents in charge of marketing have their silly way, shall it...
...My life, I will say it once for all, is fully as interesting as that of Shirley Mac-Laine, and so is yours...
...That, also is a good answer...
...Anybody who tries to write for a living (by the way: nobody writes for a living, but a lot of people try to write for a living) will tell you that marketing a book doesn't mean much...
...So have a number of other writers, many as talented though most not quite as renowned as Ellison: and to no avail...
...Lee Iacocca is distinguished, mainly, for having brought a major automotive company into bankruptcy, having been bailed out by the same federal government that tried to bust DeLorean, and then having made his company once again solvent...
...Donahue's sophomoric sociobiology will probably go on for a long time, fueled not by the reading public's real interest, but by the fact that, thanks to the people who sell books, the reading public can't easily find anything else to read...
...Because, my dear reader, I stammer (edging nervously toward the Exit), you have completely mistaken my point...
...At any rate, the books you buy and the books you read may be as close as you come in this life to the apperception of transcendence: any scripture can become a sacred scripture if, through it, something other than the quotidian, something of the ineffability of language itself shines through...
...But not all religious acts are right...
...But Ms...
...Walk into any bookstore, as I did on the afternoon I began this piece, and you will see prominently displayed in the window and on the first-grab shelves books by Presley, DeLorean, Iacocca, MacLaine, and Donahue and, of course, a number of ghostwriters who get credit only at the whim of the celebrity "author...
...Spinrad and Gaddis, on the other hand, are distinguished mainly because they write fine books...
...29 November 1985: 677...
...and the first act of responsibility is to admit our irrationality...
...I'll explain...
...Remember my first question...
...But I am disturbed that the people who market books seem to believe that we are a nation of pmrient sheep who aerially care when Priscilla finally HAD SEX with Elvis...
...Biography, fiction, autobiography (which is maybe the most extreme form of fiction) can be written either as an organization or a justification of existence...
...Shirley MacLaine is distinguished, mainly, for a twenty-year series of self-indulgent performances <m stage and in film which established that she is not, really, very good as a singer or a dancer or an actress...
...So why dontcha go to another bookstore one where they cater to your kind...
...Well, I didn't give you the real answer yet...
...So don't, if you can help it, read Silly People...
...None of them, you see, ever tried to dance in Irma La Douce or married Mario Thomas...
...Carpenter's Gothic (William Gaddis's latest, and published by Viking, $16.95) is, I guarantee you, going to fall into the same vortex that swallowed up the author's first two books, The Recognitions and J.R...
...And here is a simple formula, from a simple-minded man: to organize your own existence is a good thing, but to justify it is usually a bad mistake, since that is work best left to Somebody Else...
...or a nation of nanocephalic lemmings who will pant in ecstasy at Phil Donahue's rather belated discovery that, by gosh, this theory of evolution is really neat...
...Looking at the gushings of the DeLoreans, MacLaines, and Donahues of the world, one sighs that so much has been preserved...

Vol. 112 • November 1985 • No. 21


 
Developed by
Kanda Sofware
  Kanda Software, Inc.