Friday, February 20, 2015

Poking fun at the literary world

Before I put William Kotzwinkle's novel The Bear Went Over the Mountain back on the shelf, I wanted to point out a few more of the author's jabs at the world of literature.

On publicists:

The interviewers she'd be wooing wouldn't have time to read the book either; they'd be working from her publicity release. Something so drab as the book itself wasn't much use to anyone.

And later,

In show biz, books were always a question mark, because books were just books, but buzz you could trust.

In my long experience as a book reviewer, my contact with book publicists was mostly by press releases, e-mail and telephone, with only a couple of face-to-face meetings. So I don't really know how committed these people were to the books they were promoting. Had they read them? Did they like them? Who knew? It would not surprise me, however, if Kotzwinkle were not close to the mark in his satire. Publicists, after all, are hired by publishers not because they like books but because they know how to promote them.

On professors of literature:

"Since my last book, the fact that Frost used the word like as a simile .54 times per page is common knowledge." ... "But," continued Settlemire as he stroked his goatee, "it isn't commonly known that he used as if .07 times per page. That's the substance of my new study on him. One needn't tell you the significance of this."

And later,

"Pernod places too much emphasis on the writer," said Ramsbotham. "Any real study of contemporary literature begins with those who teach it."

These pokes at professors and literary critics, if exaggerated, seem on target to me. Some critics, trying to be original when so much has been written about particular novels, do attempt to make mountains of molehills, striving to make significant things the authors themselves probably gave no thought to at all. And literature professors, and even book reviewers like me, often think they know better than the authors how their books should have been written.

Since its publication nearly 20 years ago, The Bear Went Over the Mountain has faded into obscurity. That's too bad. It is hardly a great book, but it deserves to be read, especially by authors, publicists, professors and others in the literary world who may take themselves a little too seriously. 

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