Saturday, October 24, 2009

Why I'm Hopeful

I have a bit of optimism today due to the incredible turn-out at the Boston Book Festival in Copley Square. Despite some rain and intense wind, even the tents outside were crowded - and not just for the free coffee and ice cream hand-outs. There was a huge line for Ken Burns, who was signing books, and crowded booths for Symposium Books, the New York Review of Books, writers' meeting and training org Grub Street, and Brattle Bookshop (which has a nice Twitter feed on their site!). The events themselves, held in multiple venues in very close proximity throughout the day, were completely swamped. I tried to get into a talk moderated by novelist Jennifer Haigh and I was turned away because it was full. I ran into a former colleague who was standing in a huge line to see Nicholas Negroponte, founder of One Laptop per Child, and she reported that an earlier event she attended had an overflow crowd in a second, standing-room-only room.

It was incredibly gratifying. People in Boston care a lot about books, reading, and writing. 

It was particularly gratifying following the scene on CNN I witnessed while working out just before heading to Copley Square. Ivanka Trump was being interviewed in support of her new book, The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life, proudly published by Touchstone. She's 27 years old and sees this book as a peer-to-peer book to young people, especially (but hardly limited to) young women, just entering the workforce and going through all those early experiences - interviewing, entering an older workforce as a young person, etc... 

To put it mildly, this is not a book worth publishing. This is a privileged child who has followed in her offensive father's footsteps. There is something a little weird about a kid who doesn't rebel, but that weirdness becomes dangerous when the parent is Donald Trump and the kid is explaining that real estate investments a few years ago were a bad idea, but now as the economy is in the crapper, it's time to "shore up your resources and take advantage" of the low market. 

CNN mentioned that she's getting married this weekend to "millionaire publisher Jared Kushner." I'm always amazed to see words like "millionaire" or "wealthy" or "not mired in debt" next to words like "publisher" or "editor." Turns out, Kushner is publisher of the New York Observer, based of course on his family. These people live in an alternate reality. (The Wikipedia snarkily mentions that his family gave ample sums of money to Harvard and NYU, where Kushner "earned" his undergrad and law/business degrees, respectively.)

Later, I got home from the Book Fest only to have my partner emerge from the bathroom with a copy of the Oct. 19th issue of the New Yorker. (For the record, I do not condone reading in the bathroom.) He hands me the issue featuring an article titled "The Gossip Mill" by Rebecca Mead, all about Alloy Entertainment. It's quite a fascinating look into a seriously successful book packaging firm, which actually packages concepts for YA audiences, for books, tv, film, whatever. The guys running it and their female staff - a nice posited fact that is not pursued, as it needn't be - are portrayed as a bit vapid, which is probably fair. The meetings come across like a bad joke - pick something in the paper or randomly from pop culture and think about how it can be translated for kids, in the dumbest way possible. 

I don't know how worthwhile it is to complain about Alloy in particular, but the article does demonstrate the kind of short term thinking that passes for editorial process in some NY houses. These are not books built to last, they are books built to become trendy and sell. Let the idea run its course and, hundreds of Sweet Valley High books later, move on. But as the publishing industry reels from changes in the economy and the culture of reading, these kinds of products - Gossip Girl, Ivanka Trump's trash - seem unnecessary, clogging up the pipeline and making the books the rest of us low paid suckers are trying to publish that much more obscure.

But really, I'm optimistic! I promise.

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