BOOK REVIEW: Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century Edited by Travis Kurowski, Wayne Miller, and Kevin Prufer

A series of essays – most published originally somewhere else. A major theme of half of them is Amazon is the devil and crushing our voices. Especially Steve Wasserman’s essay (page 57) that  says “Amazon ought no longer to be permitted to behave like a parasite that hollows out its host. A serious Justice Department investigation is past due.” When, ironically, Amazon is giving diverse voices a megaphone that traditional publishing has never given them. The essays like that were laughable.

Not saying that Amazon isn’t a capitalist monster. I’m just saying that Amazon is a better monster to root for. *Searches for Godzilla GIF*

Also, there’s lots of criticism of the “white male gatekeeper” in the industry in these essays. Which I liked, but their points failed miserably. They keep pointing out the speck in the publishing eye while missing the log in their own. For example: Daniel Jose Older’s essay talks about the response to the need of diversity saying: “No one is demanding more tokens though. We’re talking about systematic upheaval.”

Systematic upheaval. Hm. Says the man who publishes within the system. Gets his essay published in a book ABOUT the system. Also, I thought he was a fantasy writer? Why is he in a book about Literary publishing? I have questions.

Older goes on to say: “Maybe the word hasn’t been invented yet — that thing beyond diversity.” But I’m here to say that word has been invented. A word that will bring about/has brought about “systematic upheaval.” That word is self-publishing. Getting rid of traditional publishing by the root (READ: Black Authors and Self-Publishing and Self-publishing offers hope for diverse authors shut out by traditional publishers).

I didn’t hear much about the James Patterson effect on publishing — the capitalist damage he’s done — or the slimy grey area of book packagers. Those issues weren’t addressed in this book (READ: Why Literature is no longer Art and The New Vanity Publishing: Traditional Publishing).

Moving on.

Jessa Crispin’s essay on ‘The Self-Hating Book Critic’ is very interesting in its spastic coverage, yet doesn’t land on any clear answers: “So I will keep at it, never quite getting it right.” I feel you, but try harder.

Her essay’s highlights:

“I want to tell them: this world is not for you, you are better without it. Outside the gates, not in. This world was in fact, in part, designed specifically to keep you out. It does not want you. It will not nourish you.

And just because you gain entry for one fleeting moment, do not think for a second that you haven’t stomped all over the even less desirables on your way in, don’t think the system has suddenly become tolerant… More interesting would be to exist outside the walls, and learn how to raid the city [traditional publishing literary critics] for whatever you need.

Literary critics have value. And yet sitting here I cannot come up with a single name of a critic who has played some sort of role in my life…I’m struggling here. And yet surely there have been some.

…There were books that got into my hands thanks to critics, and there were books I was able to think my way through thanks to some assistance.”

OK, but maybe you’re thinking about criticism all wrong. Too much from the perspective of the New York Times. Criticism/reviews, to me, are just a part of a conversation. Conversation always has meaning. For sure, though, the ultimate criticism of literature is just another book of literature — for doesn’t all literature build upon itself — respond to itself? Good literature should. It’s pretentious to think your “art” of reviewing is equal to writing another novel. It’s not. But it does have meaning.

The essay on “The View from a University Press” by Donna Shear had a good quote on authority I might use for my library instruction-ing:

“Notice that no mention is made of ‘peer-reviewed publication,’ or reference at all to being published by university presses, as there would be in other disciplines. This is because publication with a commercial or independent press is its own recognition of the value of the work. That work has beaten out thousands of others, risen from the slush pile, and has been rewarded with publication by a major or well-respected independent press. Essentially, this stands in for peer review. And after publication, reviews and sales act to further validate the success of the work.

So, yeah, this book. Interesting conversation, but one that clearly listening to “outside” voices.


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