of almost adolescent, antagonistic willfulness to take hold, whatrnHunter Thompson might call “bad craziness.” Good sense hasrnyielded to a lunatic enthusiasm for pointless multiculturalism,rna tabloid appetite for scandal, trash, and weirdness, and continuedrnunreasoning support for peculiar, destructive ideas like revisionism,rnsocialism, victimization, and the petulant viewpointrnthat all who do not agree with them are somehow unclean andrnmust do penance. Thus the book business is in danger of beingrnforever stuck in a 1960’s time-warp of its own creation. Farrnfrom its traditional role as purveyor of ideas and literature or defenderrnof free speech, the industry has painted itself into a corner,rnurging too many of its insiders to waste valuable time andrnbrainpower in pumping up unwarranted contempt for conservatives,rnthe military. Republicans, WASPs, big business, organizedrnreligion, conventional marriage, and conventionalrnrecorded history. Not that they have not made good moneyrnpublishing many of the same people they sneer at so self-righteously:rnRush Limbaugh, Tom Clancy, and Stephen King mayrnbe hateful people, the feeling goes, but they certainly do pay forrnpublishing folks to eat at expensive bistros. High life in the “liverrnof the beast,” as the 1960’s radicals used to say, and howrnabout just a smidgen more lime in that margarita: more funrnthan Charlie Parker even could have imagined.rnOne gets the impression from watching publishers thatrntheir true mission, rather than marketing books to therngeneral public, is to please each and every special-interest tribalist,rnanyone who does not like the status quo as he defines it,rnand every desperate soul in need of the latest bogus diet-fadrnbook, self-help book, or save-the-pandas-and-you-too alternativernlifestyle book. The sales of trade books may have gone throughrnthe roof in recent years, but it would be difficult to make a rationalrncase that the industry itself is not a wreck, flounderingrndesperately in search of stability. When one reflects that manyrninsiders reserve some of their most colorful liberal-arts vocabularyrnfor the bitter denunciation of the bookstore chains whornhave made it possible for publishers to achieve a measure ofrnsuccess almost in spite of themselves, one realizes what arnstrange, self-destructive hothouse of goofiness the industry hasrnbecome.rnThere are many reasons, and many questions: How does anrnindustry that damages its own credibility by ferociously defendingrn—and paying huge sums to publish—dodgy characters likernKelly Flinn, Anita Hill, Donald Trump, and Dennis Rodmanrnpresume to pass itself off as a font of eternal wisdom? Did it occurrnto anyone that, even with the ouflandish hysteria over therntrial of O.J. Simpson, the payment of $3 million to Paula Barbierirnfor her gratuitous viewpoint was not exactly a top-flightrnidea? That Shaquille O’Neal may be a nice man but has nothingrnto say to justify an advance of $2 million? Coherent answersrnto such crafty publishing decisions are not easy to come by, butrna milieu whose prominent philosophes include self-absorbedrnshow-offs like Norman Mailer, Erica Jong, Jamaica Kincaid,rnand Harry Evans could stand a collective refresher course onrnwhat is reality and what isn’t. Thus several years ago, whenrnMailer denounced a campaign to remove graffiti as a sign ofrnimpending fascism, the book-business elites wagged their tailsrnin delight; when Kincaid huffed that she wanted Newt Gingrichrnto have died instead of legal finagler William Kunstier,rnmuzzles all around the industry grew moist with admiration;rnand when Jong wailed that she knew for a fact that Republicansrnwere plotting to take away a woman’s right to vote, there werernthose in the ranks who seemed ready to wet the carpet in approval.rnClearly publishing wisdom would prevail, set thernrecord stiaight, and get even with those meanies in the generalrnpublic to boot.rnMore recently, even normally clearheaded industry veteransrnlike Tom McCormack have gotten into the act, extolling thernvirtues of independent and regional publishers with shaky financesrnand litfle access to the national review media, while suggestingrnthe grand benefits of even higher returns and lower royaltyrnand commission rates —comments sure to give writers,rnmainstieam publishers, and agents terminal agita. It is tempting,rnthough, to suspect that McCormack, long a prominent industryrncontrarian but one of the shrewdest men ever to occupyrna corner office, may be indulging his own fondness for the puton,rnmuch as Charlie Parker did all those years ago. The dangerrnin this droll litfle game is that other book folks might think thatrnherein lies a surefire, painless, and—to use Ohver North’srnterm—neat plan to turn things around.rnThe thought of this is enough to make a sober man wincernand a tippler pass out altogether, for publishers, leaving asidernquestions of individual taste or their nearly hallucinogenicrndelusions about the CIA, the National Rifle Association, andrnRalph Reed, have been leaving their basic business sense at therncoat-check for some time now. If it is true, as columnist EarlrnWilson once said, that “experience is the word we use when wernrecognize the same mistake twice,” then this is an exceptionallyrnexperienced field indeed, where clever headstrong peoplernmake the same mistakes 10, 20, 50 times and preen about it torntheir buddies over cocktails.rnMany of the zanier ideas have now become so ingrained thatrnpublishers are almost proud of them, passing them off as houserninnovations or updated industry tiadition. Thus the fact that itrnnow takes weeks, even months, for a publisher to consider arn300-page novel or a 15-page proposal is presented as normalrnbusiness policy. One leading house tells callers that a final decisionrnwill require four months. Bad news, perhaps, for anxiousrnwriters, but very good news in that it will not be publishersrncharged with responding to a nuclear crisis or a germ-warfarernincident. More than likely, a publisher’s considered responsernto such horrors would be a measured, dignified call for “study,rnpatience, and understanding.”rnIn basketball, this approach would be seen as a classic stall,rnan endless choreographed dance of passing and dribbling to eatrnup huge amounts of time on the clock with nothing to look forwardrnto but a final score of something like nine to seven or,rnworse still, nine to nine, an overtime period, and more passing,rndribbling, and indecision. The inherent sloth and cowardice ofrntoday’s decision-making involves endless meetings and a shadowyrnand often spurious network of second and third, evenrnfourth and fifth, “readers,” all to disguise the fact that no onerndares make a final determination without a regiment of croniesrnto take the plunge, and perhaps later the fall, en masse. Everybody’srna critic these days, as some wag once said.rnIn 1971, Cass Canfield wrote in his memoirs that Harper’srnrejection of George Orwell’s Animal Farm due to a negativernreader’s report was such a disastious mistake that it taught himrn”to read a manuscript myself when there is the slightest questionrnabout its merit.” Many editors and other publishing peoplernact today as if this were some antediluvian notion akin to usingrna slingshot to bring down wild game. They frequentiy givernthe impression that they have not read much of anything. Instead,rnthey natter endlessly about the film screenings and con-rn14/CHRONICLESrnrnrn