Literary Snake Oil

For decades, I have tried to publish my varied works to no avail, while being constantly assailed by unimportant, incompetent drivel hacked across editorial tables and into the pages of this commercial world. Perhaps my work is not top-quality, or timely, or more likely it’s too angry for most, but my need to publish is also less money-driven and derives more from a “soapbox” passion. The Internet has given me my first chance at publishing, and it’s going fine. Though I dirge upon seeing the ultimate death of the printed work, perhaps due to the influence of the Internet, perhaps because of the impatience of our community as a whole, I rejoice at the option of publishing my work for all the world to see. Perhaps writing is ultimately more driven by ego than economics. Perhaps that is the way it should be . . .

The National Book Review’s recent decision to include “E-Books” in its yearly competition for the best of the best seems pedantic, at the very least. To submit for consideration, one must pony up a $100 entry fee and be recommended by an “established” publisher. Furthermore, the “E-Book” must be submitted in a bound print matter, extending the already deep chasm between the Old School and the budding contributor. These Internet “E-Book” authors wear many faces, from frustrated, unpublished dilettantes (such as myself) to angry prophets (again, like myself) decrying the horrors of our selfish world, to self-help gurus with promises of wealth, health and success, to renderers of pure genius.

The promise of Internet publishing, that of a level playing field for the scions and the Grandmasters of intellectual property, has yet to consummate the relationship between creative idealism and the community of the modern world. Some minor success with dubious experiments, such as Stephen King’s “Riding The Bullet,” have only proved the capitalistic value of the new medium. Unfortunately we are still beset by the “money” factor. Is a book well-written because it sells well, or does a book sell well because it is well-written? The answer is neither. Most books sell well today because of artificial promotion. Very few people seem interested in anything outside their particular tunnel-vision. Books are hawked like patent medicines daily on television, radio, and the Internet, and none of these are declaimed as “so-so,” “second-best,” or “not for some tastes.”

Media personalities such as Oprah Winfrey have become the new snake-oil salesmen. The very nature of their position gives them the ability to steer public opinion and consumer choices. To pick on Ms. Winfrey, she seems less concerned with literary merit and more concerned with her personal agenda and paradigm. The power of the press or pen has been supplanted by the power of the cultural personality. Important books address the ages, not passing fads. Let children’s books tickle the fancy. This is their rightful niche and they often do this amazingly well.

Books, stories, essays, reviews are important enough to win awards only when they contribute some lasting import to the human condition, not because they will make a million in Hollywood. Insightful, literate scripts delving into the human psyche, or a new perspective into the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” and most importantly the “why” deserve mention when assessing merit. I do not suggest that only non-fiction technical tomes blueprinting the rise and fall of some-such or some-other are the only candidates for consideration. When an author can interest the reader, entice the explorer, thrill the seeker, and impress wonder and awe into his audience, it is then he should be remembered. Books that imbue the reader with a love of reading, a desire, a curiosity — these are the important works. These are the canon. These are what Man leaves for those who come after. These are our legacies.