In obscurity and close to poverty

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I found myself applauding Timothy Egan's guest column "Typing Without a Clue" from Saturday's New York Times. Not that I, as the author of a "riveting memoir" unsold "after 10 years of toil," feel any bitterness on the topic:

The unlicensed pipe fitter known as Joe the Plumber is out with a book this month, just as the last seconds on his 15 minutes are slipping away. I have a question for Joe: Do you want me to fix your leaky toilet?

I didn’t think so. And I don’t want you writing books. Not when too many good novelists remain unpublished. Not when too many extraordinary histories remain unread. Not when too many riveting memoirs are kicked back at authors after 10 years of toil. Not when voices in Iran, North Korea or China struggle to get past a censor’s gate....

With a résumé full of failure, he now thinks he can join the profession of Mark Twain, George Orwell and Joan Didion....

Most of the writers I know work every day, in obscurity and close to poverty, trying to say one thing well and true. Day in, day out, they labor to find their voice, to learn their trade, to understand nuance and pace. And then, facing a sea of rejections, they hear about something like Barbara Bush’s dog getting a book deal....  [full article]

There is something to the notion that anyone should be able to write a book and have his or her voice heard, but there's also something to the notion that hard work, persistance, and the constant honing of one's craft should count for something as well. This is why I don't think I'm owed a juicy part in a big Hollywood blockbuster, or a spot in the starting lineup for the Chicago Bulls, or a cushy union sinecure. I haven't paid my dues as an actor, or a ball player, or a pipefitter.

But more to the point, are people really going to buy Joe the Plumber's autobiography? I'd like to think the answer is no, especially in the midst of a recession and the aftermath of an election his candidate lost, but only time will tell if we're that discerning. Well, at least if those of us who still read books are that discerning.

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William Shunn

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on December 8, 2008 9:27 AM.

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