Many of you are already aware of the Twitter uproar over Barry Eisler’s guest post on Joe Konrath’s blog, in which he compares New-York (or “legacy”) published authors to house slaves, victims of Stockholm syndrome, and abused spouses (Eisler and Konrath have moved to self-publishing). Some of you have even weighed in. I’m not commenting on that one–all that needs to be said has been–but if you want to rubberneck at the kerfuffle, feel free.
No, I wish to draw your attention to a less-noticed analogy (though at least one person I follow tweeted this earlier in the week). It appears in the opening paragraph of Glen Duncan’s review of Colson Whitehead’s new zombie novel, Zone One, in today’s New York Times Book Review.
A literary novelist writing a genre novel is like an intellectual dating a porn star. It invites forgivable prurience: What is that relationship like? Granted the intellectual’s hit hanky-panky pay dirt, but what’s in it for the porn star? Conversation? Ideas? Deconstruction?
Dear readers, the next time someone tells you romance is “just porn for women,” you can smile smugly, knowing that all genre fiction is porn. Porn for stupid people, apparently, the kind who will find it a “moral affront” to have to look up some of those fancy-pants words Whitehead uses (like “cathected”; dude, I may read genre fiction, but I’ve also read a lot of Freud. I don’t have to look that shit up).
Honestly, I can’t work up real outrage over this stupid analogy (which makes some awfully big assumptions about porn stars), but I do wonder what’s behind it. You might assume Duncan is just embarrassed to find himself reviewing a zombie book. In the remainder of his (postive) review, he keeps reminding us that Whitehead is a “literary” writer, and name-drops Orwell, Freud and Sontag. Obviously, he doesn’t want to be tarred with the moronic-porn-star brush.
Except . . . Duncan is the author of a “literary” novel about a werewolf. Which was (positively) reviewed in the Times by Justin Cronin, who
whored himself out cashed in wrote a best-selling vampire book after a couple of “quiet” literary works. Poor Cronin only rated a review by some editor from the New Yorker; I guess there are only so many porn-star-dating-intellectuals to go around. It seems the Times either enjoys rubber-necking at these mesalliances or knows its readership will jump at the chance to read genre fiction stamped “literary” and therefore not requiring shame (is that like dating someone who starred in art-house porn?).
So what’s Duncan up to with this analogy? Pandering to the imagined prejudices of the Times’ readership? Poking them with a sharp stick? Expressing some self-loathing? Maybe he’s just annoyed that the Times keeps asking porn-star daters to review each other’s work, as if they don’t rate a real intellectual’s attention. Let’s not even mention the fact that, except for regular mystery mini-reviews, the Times ignores porn star books unless they hook up with intellectuals. Nor the absence of intellectuals (excepting perhaps A.S. Byatt) willing to be seen dating the porniest genre of them all: romance.