Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Prime (Writer's) Real Estate

A recent thought that keeps crossing my mind is whether works deemed particularly "literary" -- as opposed to your Grisham or Steele bestsellers -- are doomed to failure at times because of literature's reputation for being, in a word, pompous. However, today's rant is more about the dreamworld of distribution.

A quick browse of the New York Times bestseller list reveals a little bit more Dan Brown than I'd like to see. (Dan Brown, of course, wrote The DaVinci Code, that book I love to hate, if you'd refer to recent posts.) Nice to see that what is, in my opinion, such a poorly written book could manage to launch his entire body of work into the public eye and make that man rich, rich, rich. My sarcasm is, of course, intended.

A friend of mine noted that the entire beginning of the aforementioned book really functions as a giant ad for "prequel" Angels and Demons. Anyone who loved his protagonist that much ought to save themselves a lot of time and go rent "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

At any rate, again, there are bright spots on the list -- page down past #20 and you'll find my previous recommendations, Life of Pi and Middlesex. It's good to know but also interesting to note that those books are carried in bookstores with a limited selection of titles, like Books-A-Million. Maybe distribution -- and the sign proclaiming "Summer Reading" -- is everything; God knows it's a lot. It's still heartening to see, but on a recent cheapskate trip to Books-A-Million, as opposed to local dealer Olssen's or ubiquitous but satisfying Borders or Barnes & Noble, I couldn't find Eugenides' previous book, Virgin Suicides, on the shelves. I would imagine tons of Dan Brown would have been easy to find of course.

Another bright spot? Tolstoy's classic, Anna Karenina, has found its way back onto the bestseller lists. Go Leo! That's pretty awesome. Actually, thank you Oprah, for that one.

So anyway, getting great reading into people's hands may be as easy as distribution and information -- prime real estate in Books-A-Million or a plug from Oprah. (One day, maybe, the Internet will help as well, of course, but so far it seems the masses are still mostly downloading tunes or reading news, as opposed to frequenting lit mags.) Literary magazines in a store like BAM? Nor hardly. Scan those shelves and the closest you get is The Atlantic and The New Yorker.

Nobody ever said being a writer -- and actually getting read -- is easy, that's for sure.

Thanks for reading,



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