Monday, August 14, 2006

You Know What Makes America America?

Jeans. Or maybe not. Jonathan Yardley takes exception to a recent trend in book publishing:

Book publishers are like wolves: They travel in packs. One gets an idea, and everyone else rushes to imitate it. Thus it is that of the eight books I've reviewed in the past month, three have been about something alleged to be "an American icon." First there was rum, which Wayne Curtis in "And a Bottle of Rum" called "classically American." Then there was the popular music guru John Hammond, who, according to Dunstan Prial in "The Producer," championed "uniquely American music." Now we have bluejeans, which James Sullivan would have us believe embody "two centuries' worth of the myths and ideals of American culture."

Hey, the plane's still at the gate. Anyone else want to get on board? What about Coca-Cola? Jambalaya? Alice Waters? Little Richard? Boston baked beans? Warren Buffett? The Chevy Corvette? Newt Gingrich? Paris Hilton? Buddy Holly? Parson Weems? Lizzie Borden? Aren't they "American icons"? Shouldn't all of us be reading books about them, books that show how they "changed America" and "made us what we are today" and embody "everything it means to be American"?

1 comment:

dcat said...

I agree with Yardley on this. I'll admit, I am shopping some ideas with agents and so I am seeing up close the ennui and inertia involved in major trade publishing. I've been told on a number of occasions that X won't sell or Y is hard to market, and then I see these books about Salt or Cod or jeans or whatever that go on to become smash hits. I see first-time writers getting major advances based on nothing more than an idea that gets hot. I'm not sure if it is lack of courage from agents or from the major houses or what, but it seems as if there is an utter lack of ideas, imagination, and in some ways courage in the whole industry.

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard about one of my ideas that I am shopping "I think that sounds like a great project. But I do not know if it is sellable." What happened to well written books on interesting topics? The cynical part of me wants to turn this project into something about "An American Icon," but I feel as if that would be little more than cynicism and I doubt I could pull it off.

Cheers --