VIEWSrnA Hothouse of GoofinessrnThe American Book Industryrnby Tony Outhwaitern,rn/ Mrn• * t j jrn^ ^rn~’^=^rnmmi ^rn”^^W^wfesifi^lFrn^ ”’ I^BaiL^-^Jj—-rn•^^ggfESaiil^SrnX ugasHrn^% ^^^fl^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^h !^tfrn^ — frnIggtpi^fc, ^.^B^Ki^l^^^MrnThe renowned American jazzman Charlie Parker, introducedrnto Jean-Paul Sartre in a Paris club during the 1949rnjazz feshval, reportedly said, “I’m very glad to have met you,rnMr. Sartre. I like your playing very much.” According tornwriter Boris Vian, who also played trumpet and often served asrnmaster of ceremonies at the club, Sartre merely stared back atrnParker in silence.rnThe story is probably not apocrphal: Parker, the free spiritrnand inveterate master of the put-on, was not above tweaking thernhigh and mighty whether he knew who thev were or not; Sartre,rnpompons in his growing celebrity, was humorless and intolerantrnby nature. Still, this was essentially a trivial incident, thernchance meeting of two disparate creative soids on their way tornworld fame.rnWere this to involve members of today’s American bookpublishingrnscene, though, it would probably be turned throughrndescriptive hubris into something quite different: a protestrnagainst racist oppression and colonialism, perhaps, or a principledrndefense of artistic integrity. Unfortunatelv, such a perersernview would be all too typical of many of today’s publishingrnelites. Sad to say, many years past its glor’ davs as a business forrnserious well-meaning gentlemen like Maxwell Perkins andrnBennett Cerf or brilliant headstrong iconoclasts like AlfredrnKnopf and Horace Liveright, as the millennium approachesrnthe book business appears rudderless, adrift on a tide of ideologicalrnobtuseness and mean-spiritedness, leche-cul trendiness,rnand absurd operating practices, its communal values and com-rnTony Outhwaite is a literary agent in New York City.rnmon sense in tatters.rnRather than people of Cerf s droll gregariousness or of therndedicated gentilit}’ of top professionals like Hiram Haydn, CassrnCanfield, or Ken McCormick, the trade-book industr)- of thern1990’s has been infiltrated by people more influenced byrnmovies and other visual media. Preoccupied with the minutiaernof deal-making, obsessed with extraneous concepts like thernInternet, and desperate for a quick score to brag about, many ofrnthese moderns possess in equal parts an often hilarious blinkeredrnarrogance, self-infatuation, and an anti-Americanism thatrnalmost makes Bill Clinton look patriotic by comparison. It is nornwonder that the industry voted overwhelmingly for him twice,rneven held fundraising parties for him and the Vice Bubba, andrnpersists in the belief that he is brilliant; career liar, thief, andrnfraud he may be, but compared to many industry insiders he isrnbrilliant, and probably reads more books than any of them. Today’srnpublishing types may also be reassured that, like the President,rnsome of their own clever fakers can succeed big-time,rnand at industn’ cocktail receptions there they all are, crankv,rnbadly dressed, and on the make, complaining bitterly aboutrneach other, about America, and most of all about the industryrnthey have done so much to trash.rnWhen, the morning after the 1994 elections, news anchorrnPeter Jennings made his grave pronouncement that the countryrnhad had “a temper tantrum” the previous day, he might havernbeen describing book publishing in its current state, for theserndays the industn’ seems to carry a permanent chip on its shoulder.rnThere are indeed many perceptive, well-meaning folks inrnthe business, and yet they, too, have allowed a general attitudernMAY 1998/13rnrnrn