Thursday, October 27, 2005

Books, You'll Be in the Movies Someday

In a way, book publishing is a glamour industry. I imagine it’s similar to working for a movie studio, only if most movie stars were camera-shy and self-loathing, and if no one ever went to the movies.

It’s easy to be saddened by the book industry wanting so baldly and desperately to mimic Hollywood’s production techniques and media blitzes, but of course, that’s only if you believe books are capable of serving a fundamentally different purpose than daytime talk shows or Sex and the City DVDs. If one doesn’t feel that way, then applying Hollywood techniques is just a guilt-free way to raise profits. It’s hard to argue with success.

The New York Times profiles one cutting-edge imprint today, Simon Spotlight Entertainment. The president that oversees the imprint is quoted in the piece saying of his staff, "They live and eat and breathe the demographic." Eating the demographic -– sounds just about right. Stultifying the demographic, bootlicking the demographic, and vitiating the demographic would also be accepted.

"The thing that impresses me most about our editors is that they understand that it’s not all about the book," the publisher boldly says. "It’s about the money you can make from that book."

Now, I’m hardly an anti-capitalist type, but this is pushing things.

"It is not exactly a formula," the publisher goes on to say. "But we usually know what we want to publish," she said. "It's then a matter of wrapping the right author and spokesperson around it."

Sounds like a formula to me. It’s the literary equivalent of a studio head saying, "I want to make a movie about a roller-derby star who cat-sits for an army general and falls in love with his video-game-addicted son. Together, they uncover a secret plot to nuke Australia. See if Angelina Jolie and Elijah Wood are available. Oh, and find a writer." (Note: If a movie with this plot is made, I want a healthy cut. No joke. And if Simon Spotlight "novelizes" said movie, I want a cut of that, too.)

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Blogger magnoliasitar said...

And there is a not unreasonable argument to be made for television as the vangaurd of stories with depth and originality.

I know it sounds crazy, but the series format of television can allow time for an exploration of character and theme that more akin to the great tomes of Dickens and Victor Hugo, than it is to today's novel, where length seems to either be a death nell or an annoucement of pretension so extreme as to be almost unreadable.

Of course, there is also a large community that blame the decline of books not on commercialism, but on the decline of the editor.

10:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep posting - you're awesome.

The Baron

5:33 PM  
Blogger Catsmeade said...

The reasons for the death of the tome are many and varied. Some are related to the business and editing side, but aren't those just reactions to marketing. People don't need tomes to to find entertainment or enlightenment these days.

But i don't really know what i'm talking about, so just ask myself,"Catsmeade, why don't you want to read a giagnatic tome?"

Because my free time is so limited and precious to me that any book choice must be looked at as a major investment. Is that tome worth it compared to that other book.
Books play a different role in the lives of the populace now than they did in the age of tomes when people who could read and afford pleasure books had a lot of leisure time, and limited choices of how to spend it. You could only spend so much of your day retightening your petticoat, beating your servants or sleeping with 16 year-old mistresses. Take it from me.

Because, most of those tomes, beloved though they are, were not pure gold on EVERY page. War and Peace is historic and blah blah, but, in a vacuum, as an absolute value, with no literary/historical context, is it as great as it is long? The greatness/length ratio approaches zero for me at about the 700th page of parlor politics.
Speaking of Victor Hugo,

Le Miserable was tomeriffic, but i'm not convinced that it's lenght and greatness are not mutually exclusive. It's romantic literature - it's a soap opera. A damn good one of course.

Moby Dick, a dense symbolist tome with an entire chapter on the color white.

The Right Stuff was a long story to tell. And what a story.

Wait a second, these are some of my favorite books! damn, what was my point?

It's interesting that someone pointed out that length equals pretention these days. Well, it seems the definition of pretention to expect people to invest a huge amount of time, mental energy, and some money in your tome. The author says "It's worth it people."
Still, if nobody tries there'll never be a long book worth reading again. So i say go to it and good luck.

Stay in school


2:08 AM  

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