Sunday, June 27, 2010

You Can't Tell a Book by Looking at the Cover

(apologies to Willie Dixon)

Sunday's Statesman Journal carried a piece by Bob Minzesheimer of USA Today entitled, "Glenn Beck's latest a political thriller." I didn't have to get too far into the article to learn Mr. Beck doesn't actually write his own books. And how could he find the time, what with his TV show, his radio show and spending all his spare time looking for Nazis under his desk and in the cupboard?

Minzesheimer wrote that Glenn Beck "is not only a bet-selling author; he's an Oprah Winfreylike force in publishing."

The article goes on to report that "Beck and 34 employees have built a $32 million-a-year media empire that includes books such as Glenn Beck's 'Common Sense,' and his own magazine (Fushion)."

But–and Mr. Minzesheimer doesn't conceal the fact–Beck doesn't write his own books. Mr. Minzesheimer marvels at Mr. Beck's honesty (this is the part where I reach for the air sickness bag).

(Beck) "takes a team approach to writing his own books, including his first political thriller, 'The Overton Wiindow'. On the title page, Beck shares credit with three contributors. He calls the conspiracy novel 'my story,' but he said Jack Henderson, one of his contributors, 'went in, and he put the words down."

Uh... putting "the words down" is called writing.

The article went on. "Other novelists might not acknowledge such help, but Beck, a self-described 'fiscal conservative and common-sense libertarian,' said, 'I'm a team kind of guy."

Teams play sports. They don't write books. For Minzesheimer to claim that Beck has an approach to writing while having "contributors" is disingenuous. To praise him for admitting he has a "team" is downright sleazy. Glenn Back is not a "best-selling author"-- even though "The Overton Window" is number one on the New York Times bestseller list for hardcover fiction.

For the record, Minzesheimer goes on to point out that the book isn't even Beck's idea: "The novel was inspired by two other ideological thrillers: Michael Crichton's 'State of Fear,' which challenged conventional science on global warming, and Brad Thor's "The Last Patriot"... and so on. Brad Thor refers to Beck as the "Oprah of right-wing fiction," which implies Ms. Winfrey doesn't write her own books, either. If I was the executor of Dr. Crichton's estate, I would sue Beck's plagiarising ass. Fortunately, for Beck, I am not.

I should be wearing hip boots when wading into this subject. It's like slogging through pond scum. No one else's name is credited on the bestseller list for "The Overton Window." The fact that it is number one on the list is more of an indictment of those that buy books than on the alleged author. The unwashed masses may buy the book, but they may not actually read it. It looks good on their book shelf, with Bill O'Reilly's books and, of course, their signed copy of "Going Rogue."

* * *

Half-Governor Palin, may still smart from being asked by "the Perky One" (Katie Couric) what periodicals she reads. She brought it up in her bestseller. And her defensive response at the time was "all of them." She, of course, couldn't name one. It was Randy Rhodes, who pointed out on the radio that "Going Rogue" was a bestseller "written" by someone who didn't write it and doesn't read. And she made $12 million on it and the signing tour? She and the morons that bought it should be ashamed. But they, like their idiot heroine, don't have the intelligence to even grasp the concept of shame or, for that matter, depth of any kind.

In 1972, the National Lampoon produced a spoof of a piece by then radio personality Les Crane, called Deteriorata. It is still funny, even without foreknowledge of the original. One of the lines I have always liked and find particularly appropriate in this day and age is "a walk through the ocean of most souls will barely get your feet wet."

I won't belabor the point of Mrs. Palin's non-acheivement. It is just too obvious.

* * *

And while we're on the subject of bestselling authors who don't actually write their own books, allow me to vent for a moment on the head of James Patterson.

When he did write his own books, they were't very good. I read "Along Came a Spider" and stopped there. I am a fan of crime fiction and suspenseful stories. Patterson was merely formulaic. You could tell he was writing to sell the story to Hollywood. And he did. Grishom did the same thing with "The Firm," but he has gotten better as a writer. Patterson has gotten rich, and lazy.

Caroline Leavitt, novelist, screenwriter, writing mentor and book critic, (among other self-admitted areas of interest and addiction) asked on her blog (, "Is it wrong for James Patterson not to write his own books?" Her answer was simply, "yes."

She wrote, "I just finished reading the NYT Magazine article about how James Patterson no longer writes his own books, but does the outlines and hires different co-writers. He does credit the other writers, and he probably does pay them handsomely, but the whole thing is coiled up in my stomach like bad diner food."

Ms. Leavitt is kinder than I.

I read the New York Times Magazine piece when it first came out. Patterson is like Warhol in the factory, but instead of a loft in lower Manhattan, the article reported that Mr. Patterson has the biggest house in Palm Beach and is building a bigger one. And in the background I hear Mark Knopfler. Money for nothing.

The shame of it is that there are some very good writers out there who can't raise spit, never mind get published. The publishing houses are no better than Hollywood, churning out sequels and the same shit in a different container season after season. I recall not that long ago Random House holding a contest to find a writer to come up with a sequel to Mario Puzo's "The Godfather." Is that really necessary? Are there no new ideas left?

I could rant on. The point has been made. I'm reading Stieg Larson at the moment. It's a bestseller.

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