Furthest Right

Publishing: awash in its own excess, without direction

As we’ve covered before, the publishing industry is in hot water because instead of finding insightful things to say, it rehashes the same shallow crap in a million facets, essentially drowning itself in its own excess and producing no real persistent sellers.

This should come as no surprise, although an affirmation of our prediction:

The Rosenblats were interviewed twice over the years by Winfrey, who has called their romance “the single greatest love story … we’ve ever told on the air.” They have inspired a children’s book and a feature film adaptation is scheduled to begin next year.

Unlike such fake Holocaust memoirists as Misha Defonseca (“Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years”) and Benjamin Wilkomirski (“Fragments”), Rosenblat is indeed a survivor and records prove that he was at the Buchenwald camp.

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The cancellation is sure to outrage survivors and scholars, who have worried that Rosenblat would encourage Holocaust deniers, and likely revive the debate over why publishers don’t fact check books. Even after such fabrications as James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces,” another Winfrey favorite, publishers have said that with more than 100,000 books coming out each year, fact-checking is too time-consuming and too expensive.

Penguin has already had to break ties with two authors this year.

In March, the publisher pulled Margaret B. Jones’ “Love and Consequences” after the author acknowledged she had invented her story of befriending gang members in South-Central Los Angeles. One month later, Penguin parted with romance writer Cassie Edwards over allegations that she had lifted numerous passages from other sources.


Ouch! But this pattern isn’t new:

A recently-published novel by Harvard undergraduate Kaavya Viswanathan ’08, “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life,” contains several passages that are strikingly similar to two books by Megan F. McCafferty—the 2001 novel “Sloppy Firsts” and the 2003 novel “Second Helpings.”

At one point, “Opal Mehta” contains a 14-word passage that appears verbatim in McCafferty’s book “Sloppy Firsts.”

In that example, McCafferty writes on page 6 of her first novel: “Sabrina was the brainy Angel. Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: Pretty or smart. Guess which one I got. You’ll see where it’s gotten me.”

Viswanathan writes on page 39 of her novel: “Moneypenny was the brainy female character. Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: smart or pretty. I had long resigned myself to category one, and as long as it got me to Harvard, I was happy. Except, it hadn’t gotten me to Harvard. Clearly, it was time to switch to category two.”

The Crimson

But “Opal Mehta” was the archetype of our new publishing: depressed character gets funky and finds a way to succeed through the wisdom of crowds, democracy, sex, drugs or something else that’s easy and not integral to his/her character. It was widely praised. And now? And now…?

The publishing industry is in a quandary because all but a few people will tell it that they really like their David Sedaris, Jodi Picoult, Jhumpa Lahiri, Barabara Kingsolver, etc. but these people, like most rock fans, don’t understand “like.” They have vague memories of something they didn’t analyze and didn’t choose to read again. That’s all you need to know: nothing is firmly and deeply connecting with your readers.

But the publishing industry in all forms — audio, video, books, magazines — continues to drown us in excess because it can afford to, hoping that something in its random barrage will stick.

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