THREE MYSTIFYING PUBLISHING PHENOMS EXPLAINED

Karl Ove Knausgaard (code name: KOK)

KOK

Karl Ove Gump. Or Chauncey Knausgaard? A little of each, cannily packaged as one smoldering Nordic pin-up. The craggy, sinewy smoker who writes with such little ambiguity or sophistication that he makes JK Rowling seem Pynchonian.  KOK’s texts are a near-blank canvas: project whatever you want (or need, but don’t really need to read) on them.  Conveniently, you can read KOK’s texts at the high speed at which he wrote them and, once you start, his texts become seamlessly continuous with the texts of everyday life: billboards, G-chat messages, cereal boxes, Yahoo News and traffic signs. Where do KOK’s books end and the instructions on your new shampoo begin? Experts call reading a collaborative effort but with KOK it’s 90/10, reader/Knausgaard. No, seriously, reader: you wrote these books and don’t forget you can’t write. Prop the cellar door open with them. Teach your toddler English with them. Certainly, no one can accuse KOK’s simple texts of getting in the way of anyone wanting a craggy, sinewy smoker in their inner life. Catnip for Anglophone readers living in grimy, scary, non-Nordic cities and long out of love with their chubby PC husbands.

Well, at least he isn’t James Frey.  I guess.

 

Paul Beatty (code name:  The Beneficiary)

The Beneficiary

It’s such an easy gig: White People (who generally don’t know very many Black People) need someone to tell them about Black People*. The demand for this service will never dry up (well, not until Black segregation ends, in the year 3045, when all Black People are finally mulattoes). The hardest part is getting  Liberal White publishers to notice you… to pick you out of the (small) crowd (of wannabe writers who are Black).  Book titles using stereotypical language (“The White Boy Shuffle”)  help, especially since most White Publishers enjoyed “jive talking” in college. The requirements are basic. You have to be smart enough to type but not smart enough to set off alarm bells. You must choose either the comic voice or the tragic voice (the tragicomic voice is too “white”; too sophisticated) or… if you can display or imply the proper credentials (prison record/ Afro hair style)… you can go with the Violent Offender voice. Beatty, wisely, went the “satire” route, having started out when satirical Black filmmakers (Spike Lee, Robert Townsend, Gary Coleman) and Blacks-ridiculing Black comedians (Eddy Murphy) were doing well at the box office: what could be safer? Beatty’s jokes are stolen (familiarity of content… aka, cliché…  is a good thing with writing-product in general and even better with writing-product-of-color) but the point is where Beatty stole them from: the playground. Spend an afternoon at a Ghetto Playground and you will absorb enough material to write all of Paul Beatty’s satirical books, past, present and future. But don’t go there, because it’s dangerous. Let Beatty go there for you.

*Conservative White People like to be told about Black People by other White People, whereas Liberals are more comfortable when their Black People Correspondent is Black. Unless the Black People Correspondent is writing for Television, in which case he should probably be Jewish.

 

 

Michel Houellebecq (code name: Medusa)

Medusa

The uglier one is, the smarter one will seem. How could such an ugly person get published unless he (ugly females: that would be taking things a bit too far, nowadays) were super-smart? Whatever a super-smart, ugly person writes will seem slightly dangerous and regrettably true, because the ugly are outside of society. They have no dogs in the fight: they are merely urgently-philosophical outsider-observers, serving the mercilessly higher cause of Truth.  It’s interesting how often those serving the mercilessly higher cause of Truth are adopted by Right Wing Regimes (F. Nietzsche, A. Rand) isn’t it? Ignore their urgently philosophical message at your peril. Especially if they’re French. Being French also means the original text will be translated into English, meaning that one’s English readers will mistake one’s translator’s literary style for one’s own: often a bonus. Especially if one’s translator is partial to the works of Milan Kundera.

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