Publishers Weekly had an article this week about a new business book to be published by Wharton School Publishing, an imprint of Pearson Education, entitled We Are Smarter Than We, to be written Wiki style. Almost 900 people have responded to an intial call to be authors, and the product manager, let's call him - Barry Libert, co-founder of wearesmarter.org - plans to be in touch with "as many as two million potential 'authors' later this month." That's ridiculous.
But the actual resulting book is going to be small and around 150 pages, which is quite confusing. From Libert: “In effect, we’ll be taking snapshots in moments of time.” I don't get how this will work but I'm not the editor, thank god. (For the record, a Donna Carpenter of WordWorks is - she'll "hone the text down to 35,000 words.")
So they plan on future books as well, all being this short, all being snapshots. Does this suggest an understanding that these kinds of collaborative books don't have as much to offer in the long run, but are only good to gauge the current thinking on a subject? I'm fine with that, even if the process is mysterious to me, and seems offhand like it would be horribly labor-intensive.
For my money, I'd rather have an astute observer and thinker articulate the zeitgeist in a way that will last - Allen Ginsberg's Howl, for example. I would rather that kind of art than a collaborative piece of art, in terms of art speaking to the current moment in time. This book is a business book, which is decidedly NOT art, but when we talk about novels as collaborative, or other non-fiction but creative books as collaborative, we might sacrifice that uniqueness, the character of the work by letting so many cooks into the kitchen.
As a final kind of PS, I just want to note how much I hate the title. It's too clever by half, it's condescending, it's snarky - I just hate it. And there's a whole website? It's like the gifted and talented kids in school. And in case you're wondering... FINE, I wasn't one. They would never have me.
Off to sulk.