The so-called “status galley” — that is, a prepublication edition of a book, generally of massive size and/or literary challenge, possessed by an underpaid and often illiterate member of the publishing world who has no intention of reading beyond the first few chapters — is among the most vexing amalgams of materialism and literature that the 21st century has ever known. It is a relatively recent phenomenon, augmented by the Brobdignagian burst of journalists attending trade shows. The good ones are savvy enough to recognize a mini-Hubbert’s Peak among some publisher upon sight. I’m quibbling about those who take the galleys that they will never read or write about, who hector certain publicists and editors and peck away at the diminishing supply. This is admittedly a pedantic vexation, hardly commensurate with the junket whores in the film world or the predatory bastards who cripple working stiffs with a sneaky high-interest subprime loan that will cause them to toil unduly in their seventies, their eighties, and their nineties. But it bothers me nonetheless.
The status galley reduces a book not merely to a thing (let us accept that fetishism is ineluctable), but to a vapid item that is trotted around like a fashion accessory. And we’re talking about an item, often a work of art, isn’t even finished. If you have a status galley and boast about it, it is very likely that you have no particular interest in reading it. Nor are you courteous enough, like most avid literary people, to give it to someone who may be in need of it. You take a vital galley from the limited supply, horde some volume that has taken an author many years of hard labor and treat it like a bag of Doritos that you toss into the street.
This seems to me worse than the book pirate (largely mythical), who at least has some vested interest in reading a book or getting excited about an author. This seems to me worse than some guy at a book signing who asks an author the same question that she’s heard several hundred times. (At least, that hypothetical guy has enthusiasm.) Such actions may be executed through clumsiness or cluelessness, but they are at least sincere and enthusiastic in intent. However, to obtain a galley just so that you can have it is perhaps one of the most disrespectful acts you can perform. It does not come from a place of passion. It comes from a onyx sinkhole of consumerism. It comes from a place of needless competition, whereby you have the book that someone else does not. It works against the book’s undeniably communal nature. And it reveals you for the superficial con that you are.
Again, this is a highly pedantic concern. Probably nothing worth shooting up a post office over. But it bugs me.
Wahbiddy ish, Ed! You are a writer of unprecedented range and unwavering seriousness.
But, Frances, I bought you some nachos — not the best, I’m afraid; they were, after all, swimming pool nachos and, for this, I apologize — for this extra bit of nonsense to be complete.
You know me so well. I adore nachos, the worser the better. I loathe them when they’re afresh, afresh! While I’ll gladly take your gift of a sack of chips, I could never accept an apology from you. If I started down that road, I’d be accepting apologies all day long, wouldn’t I?
What was the best example of a status galley this year? The new Franzen or something?
I love status galleys. I still keep my unread Tree of Smoke and accompanying unplayed CD under my pillow. The book still has that new car smell! If I can get DJ to sign it then I can die happy.