The big book news is that BookSlut is shutting down. I was sad about this; I don’t want to dwell but I too worked on a book centered website that closed. But my sympathy just faded away when I read an interview with the founder of BookSlut, Jessa Crispin. Crispin has several book deals in the making, but in a recent interview complains about going to her publishers and “…it was a sea of 23-year-old girls in H&M sweaters — just being run by every stereotype I had in my head.”
Oh no! Poor girl, seeing those 23 year olds in H&M sweaters! Especially at her publisher’s office! Gee, never mind those girls are working their asses off, trying to break the publishing glass ceiling. But this paragraph really made me see red:
Part of the reason why I disengaged from it is I just don’t find American literature interesting. I find MFA culture terrible. Everyone is super-cheerful because they’re trying to sell you something, and I find it really repulsive. There seems to be less and less underground. And what it’s replaced by is this very professional, shiny, happy plastic version of literature.
Wow. Okay, since I’m going to be part of that MFA culture pretty darned soon, I’m offended. Let me tel you something Ms. Crispin: you want underground? Buy an ebook. A zine. Go to an open mike (I highly recommend Saturday Night Special held the last Saturdays of the month at Nick Lounge in Berkeley) The underground is still there, still going.
God knows the publishing industry isn’t perfect. Yet not finding American literature interesting? I don’t get it. The past five years I’ve read wonderful great books. Maybe Crispin hasn’t read them yet. Here’s some recommendations for her…
The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, by Caroline Preston: I adored this story about Frankie Pratt, a girl who wants to be a writer set in the twenties.Nothing new there, but Preston does something incredibly unique by telling Frankie’s story in scrapbook form with pictures: Frankie getting her hair bobbed. Posing for a semi nude picture. Dancing the Charleston. The pictures are absolutely gorgeous as we root for Frankie to be in her own words: “the girl who wants to write.”
Finale, by Thomas Mallon: By far one of my favorite novels of 2015. The book looks at Ronald Reagan, first in 1976 during the Republican convention, then jumps ten years to when Reagan is president right before the Iran Contra controversy is about to break. Mallon (a Republican) spares no one (except his old friend Christopher Hitchens who ends up being a hero in the book) Here’s Nancy thinking about the political scene and her stepdaughter Maureen:
“Enough, thought Nancy. She didn’t want to get on to the blacks, or have floating through the dining room a reminder that the still-Republican Senate would probably soon override Ronnie’s veto on this matter. But mostly she thought this was enough of Maureen, always a square peg, for one night. She was very pretty (Jane’s nose) and quite bright, but she’d never really found her way. She’d gained a smidgen of success in TV and then another smidgen in politics, but she couldn’t keep herself from overreaching (that run for the Senate nomination four years ago!), any more than she could keep from reminding audiences that she’d become a registered Republican before her father had. Yeah, yeah. And she was far too fat for a woman in her mid-forties. Strange, really, how she seemed more like Ronnie’s stepdaughter than the real daughter she was, from the first, wrong wife.”
Oh yeah, Mallon went there. You should hear what he thinks about Pamela Harriman.
Alligator Candy, by David Kushner: This is the most heartbreaking memoir I’ve read in a long long time. In 1973, Jon Kushner decided to go to the local 7-11. His little brother David wanted Snappy Gator Gum, gum that was packaged in a little plastic alligator. Jon went off on his new bike. He never came home. A week later, his body was found. His killers were captured, one killed by the electric chair. Years later, Kushner tries to piece together what happened to his brother. There were times I had to put the book down because it was so emotionally exhausting. It is so worth the read.
Dimestore, by Lee Smith: A wonderful essay collection by the famed novelist who remembers growing up in the South during the 40’s and 50’s. Her father owned the local dimestore in their small town, giving her a glimpse of how people interacted with each other. Other essays include: reading Eudora Welty and how it changed her writing. Coming up with the ideas of her novels. Teaching illiterate adults. Meeting one of her best students, Miss Lou V, Crabtree. The death of one of her sons. One problem though: Smith recommends so many good books that happen to be American lit. Dear me! Hope it’s interesting!
Yes, I’m being mean. I do wish Ms. Crispin the best. I guess what works my nerves is this fact: don’t be negative. Don’t make sweeping judgements that you don’t find American lit “interesting.” Don’t say after you switched from Amazon to Powell you “made no money at all” selling books on your book. Yes, Amazon is a big evil company. But why slam Powell’s? Keep reading. Keep writing.
And for God’s sakes, be grateful. Some people (like myself) would love having the privilege of seeing twenty-three year old girls running around in a publishing office in their H&M sweaters. You know why? Because you made it, lady.