Monday news

Friday news hoard

On art and artists and becoming better people

An interesting piece in which the author examines the divide between artists (specifically problematic ones) and their work, postulating that we can accept and still consume the work of some jerks (Rowling, Michael Jackson, etc) because their terrible politics and proclivities don’t enter their work, while others (Louis CK, the Cohen brothers, etc), we can’t because their work is predicated on their terrible politics. But in the end all I think about is this: do I want my money ending up in the clutch purse of a child molester or transphobe (or their duly designated corporate heirs)? No, so I will not be spending any more money at the Rowling shop and my listening to Michael Jackson will be relegated to dentist office waiting rooms. End of story.

In real life, we increasingly expect artists to behave like the fictitious heroes they create. During interviews, I’ve been asked more and more how much of my stories are autofiction, i.e. veiled autobiography. Cancel culture (or consequence culture, as LeVar Burton recently called it) is an effort to hold people accountable for harmful actions—both artistic and personal—against the common good. In the manuscripts I read for my and my wife’s imprint Joy Revolution, it’s not just the characters that have a strong social justice bent to them—it’s also the authors themselves.

And just as artists are regarded as heroes, they’re expected to behave like angels, too.

But what do you do when they turn out to be anything but angels?

Wednewsday wrap-up

On the Roth debacle

So it looks like Roth’s estate is intent on destroying his personal papers — which would preclude future scholars using anything but dirtbag Bailey’s book as a source for them (he had full access). It’s an interesting conundrum — how much control should a public person have over their legacy after they’re gone? I remember years ago seeing Fred Astaire and Elvis dancing in commercials and thinking…. ew. As far as I’m concerned, we should follow whatever the person outlined in their will. Burn it all? Fine. Release it later? Okay. But having others make decisions for you based on their financial advantages around your reputation? Ew. (Bonus: here’s Salman Rushdie postulating that this whole business implies that people today wouldn’t have stood up for him like they did back then when he was a target. Dude, you’re too smart to not see the differences here, aren’t you?)

But a subject’s efforts – and by extension his or her representatives and heirs – to try to guide the writer’s hand, at least from this side of the grave, is to be expected, says James Fox, journalist and writer, co-author of the autobiographies of Keith Richards, David Bailey and, yet to be published, Damien Hirst.

“If you get into the area of family biography, there’s always somebody complaining about it, somebody withholding letters and so on,” says Fox. “Everybody feels they possess this character and they don’t want anyone else giving their own version of it because then they feel abandoned and don’t feel special.”

Questions underlying Roth’s biography revolve around efforts to orchestrate posterity. Robert McCrum, former literary editor at the Observer, recalls an interview he conducted with Roth, who died in 2018, in which the author made it clear he expected in death, as in life, to exert narrative control.

Who “deserves” a book deal?

I’ll shorten this up for you: no one. But going a bit deeper, Vox looks into the recent controversies surrounding publications (and cancelled publications) of various problematic figures. Anyone who thinks any of this has to do with “editorial” anymore are kidding themselves. Outside indy publishing, it’s all a corporate decision based on some unholy algorithm borrowed from the insurance industry. Risk vs reward. Books that are cancelled are almost always chopped because someone looked at the optics vs the potential sales and decided to play a long game betting against the works, and said works will almost always be picked up by someone else who wants to take the risk. It’s just business. I wish it wasn’t, but it is.

Book publishing is having an existential crisis. The industry is finding itself saddled with deals by polarizing political figures, and no idea how to handle them. Which, in turn, gives rise to some fundamental questions about the purpose of publishing.

Is the industry’s purpose to make the widest array of viewpoints available to the largest audience possible? Is it to curate only the most truthful, accurate, and high-quality books to the public? Or is it to sell as many books as possible, and to try to stay out of the spotlight while doing so? Should a publisher ever care about any part of an author’s life besides their ability to write a book?

These questions are becoming more and more urgent within the private realms of publishing, amid debates over which authors deserve the enormous platform and resources that publishers can offer — and when it’s acceptable for publishers to decide to take those resources away.