I’ve been getting a number of emails about BEA. And by “number,” let’s just say that it’s not a big number. In fact, the number is so small that I have been spending hours trying to rebuild my dwindling ego and pretend that the number is actually greater than it really is. Keith Gessen probably gets more emails on the subject of BEA than I do. And he’s in Russia right now. And goddammit, that makes me so mad. Why should Keith Gessen get more emails than I do? I mean, I’m spending a good deal of my time burning pictures of Keith Gessen that I download on the Internet. Particularly the ones of him in which the top button or two of his shirt has been unbuttoned. He has replaced Steve Almond as my primary subject of hate. So fuck you, Keith Gessen. And fuck you, New York Post. (It seems to me that I should likewise throw a random newspaper into my sad mix of enmity and self-loathing. And, well, why not The New York Post? I will cut it out of my life from now on. It’s the only way to be sure.)
Before I tell you what my decision is about BEA, let’s talk about the world. After all, the world revolves around me — and by “world,” I’m talking about an extremely small part of the literary world, and by “literary world,” well, let’s just say that half of half of half of half of one percent of anybody who has had the good fortune to shake my hand in the past six hours really cares about any of this. But it is a world nonetheless. And it is an ego that must be groomed, trimmed, and otherwise packed into a precious valise.
But in thinking about the emails that are coming in and in thinking about how this relates to the solipsistic world I live in, it’s permitted me to think about the possibility of whether or not I might be attending BEA.
Let us establish my credentials: I have taken in every BEA that has ever happened like blow snorted off the top of a Hollywood hooker’s sternum. When it comes to BEA, there can be no better expert than me on how to attend, report, and take meetings. I am the BEA Master. There will be an area of the exhibition floor named after me. That is how much I matter.
But I am not so sure I can be coaxed to make a decision until BEA actually happens. Let’s just say that I welcome speculation on whether I will or will not be at BEA from anyone who cares to send speculations.
P.S. Please buy my paperback.
P.P.S. For something far less egotistical and commercial-oriented, consider the Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Boys.
[UPDATE: In case you haven’t figured it out by now, the narcissism being satirized in this post belongs to Mark Sarvas, not me. But to set the matter straight, I have added a 2009 introduction to the 2005 post I wrote about Steve Almond. Other than this preface, I have not altered that post or the comments in any way. Unlike Mark, I actually maintain history and I own up. I have also emailed an apology to Steve Almond.
To read all the boring sordid details, you can go to that post. I’ve learned, without even going out of my way to do so, that Mark has been meaner and snobbier to far more people in the publishing world than I could ever possibly desire to be spiteful to. (And I fully admit that I’m not always the easiest guy.) But, boy, was I wrong about Mark big time.]
You sir, are a literary saint of the first water, far above the roiling masses of writers who turn out their slapdash (or slopdish, poshtoss or whatever that fakelit thing is called — I’m not good with the terms) just so they can claim some assumed power of judgment in their personal literary kangaroo courts. They waste their energies while you, sir, you hop “downunder” (as it were) in the lit world to deal with lesser lights, who all fall beneath your literary lionhood like so many scared jackrabbits. Huzzah!
Of course, surely Steve Almond is just now breathing a sigh of relief, if not for his knowledge that he doesn’t have to face your fearsome handshake, than for the fact that he will not have to wear his Jonathan Lethem disguise to BEA. (He’ll have to use his “I’m From Brooklyn — Kiss Me” sweatshirt at another event. Or perhaps he can trade it for an “I’m A Believer” tee at the McSweeney’s store, where I hear everything is currently going “for a song.” Rush in!)
But your nonattendance is even more admirable in that one of your heroes, Paul McCartney, will be there to push his latest book, “You’d Think That People Would Have Had Enough Of Silly Literatis,” which will also surely be all the talk at bistros where media is discussed. And sir, I wouldn’t worry too much about the emails — like most of us minor lit celebs yours are probably sent from geeks anyway. And that’s fine…
But sadly you hit the nail on the head when you implied that Gessen gets all the good mail anyway. Pasternak had the same thing going on pre (sexual) revolution and now that Gessen is working the post-everything vibe, let’s just say I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a revolving door on order at the Moscow Хоум Депо.
And anyway, there’s nothing wrong with having geeks for fans. Is there?
Nothing wrong with geeks, dissenters, “lowlifes,” fans, or anybody else. Civil disagreement is welcome here. Even if people want to call me an asshole. Mark Sarvas is an asshole, and, as I’ve learned, he’s been meaner and more assholic and more narcissistic than I could ever hope to be, and to far more people than I would ever strive to be. So yes, I owe Steve Almond a big apology. Steve Almond was very right in his Salon essay, and I was very wrong. (I am often wrong. And unlike Mark, I own up.) I was used by Mark so that he could use this space to pimp his book and so that Dan Wickett and I could slave for hours to help hold the LBC together while he took all the credit in the newspapers. (But I’m the crazy. And I’m the asshole.)
I recently re-read the N.Y. Times review of Mr. Sarvas’s novel and I have to say that I don’t remember ever before seeing the sort of thing the reviewer threw at him in those pages. It was truly one step beyond; potentially life-scarring, I would imagine. It was a great example of how thick one’s skin must be to survive in the lit biz. And more than enough to make any writer think about what could possibly be in store if they follow that path. http://tinyurl.com/qnnqyd
Yeah, that was a pretty vicious review — one totally undeserved and one that I likewise responded to. The upshot is that the NYTBR hates anything that runs counter to its New York establishment-centric Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. The NYTBR has gone after Neal Pollack (before Gawker went after him just as viciously) and Nicholson Baker with similarly hateful (if not, more so) streaks. The literary world, as a whole, is vicious. I could tell you many stories about how some jealous souls have slandered good people. Which is why it’s important to do your own thing and help other people do their own thing, and not let anybody stand in your way.
The Litblogsphere just doesn’t work as a nest/web/circlejerk of buddies… not *literarily*, at least. Maybe it’s for the good if the chumminess wears off and the Insiders stop wagon-circling, intra-linking and recycling each others’ tastes and opinions. Ideas should trump affiliations, and the vitality of the battle is energized when the swords are truly sharp.
Logrolling and arse-eating only make *sense* if there’s money involved, anyway; let’s take the absence of any real money in this game as an opportunity to jetison this pissant-Machiavelli “networking” paradigm. How we can all really help each other is to elevate the standards and police the level by being frank with others and meticulous in our own work.
That’s the ultimate problem with the American Kult of Nice, in the end, isn’t it? “Nice” is almost always a mask.
“I recently re-read the N.Y. Times review of Mr. Sarvas’s novel and I have to say that I don’t remember ever before seeing the sort of thing the reviewer threw at him in those pages.”
Beg to differ (and bear in mind that Amis on his worse day and with the better half of his brain removed writes rings around Mark):
“Martin Amis, enfant terrible turned grumpy old man of Brit lit, whose recent anti-Islamic pronouncements have excited feuds in Britain, has now come in for a savage kicking in the US courtesy of the New York Times’s star reviewer Michiko Kakutani.
“Writing about his collection of journalism, fiction and deep thoughts The Second Plane: September 11: Terror and Boredom, Kakutani dismisses Amis’s arguments as “pretentious and formulaic”, accuses him of “prattling on” and brands the collection of essays “chuckleheaded” in her very first sentence.
“More damaging still for the author is Kakutani’s contention that Amis’s stance on radical Islam isn’t even original. “On the irrationality of religion, he leans heavily on the work of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris,” writes Kakutani. “Amis adds nothing illuminating to these writers’ thinking, while blindly accepting some of their more debatable assertions.”
I don’t know who any of these people are, but I too am preoccupied about what will happen with the BEA at the end of the month. I hope the preliminary first-quarter GDP they report on May 29 will be better than the 6.1% annual decline in the “flash” number they announced at the end of April. But I’m worried it could be worse.