Reading and Weepingrnby George Garrettrn”If Stephen King, John Grisham, and Michael Crichton got together,rnthey’d become one of the top three publishers overnight”rn— Morgan Entrekin, quoted in The New YorkerrnTony Outhwaite’s article prett)’ much sas it all, a whole lotrnof it anyway, about the present state of American publishing.rnAnd he’s not only right on the money, he’s seriously funny,rnwhich is a pleasure for the reader and a problem for the writerrnwho comes along afterwards and whose last best hope and bet isrnto play the slow-witted straight man.rnStill, there are a few things to be said to complement Outhwaite.rnOver the past year or so the tactical and strategic battlesrnin publishing have been extensively covered, if only in bits andrnpieces, by the New York Times, New York Times Book Review,rnWashington Post, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, BostonrnGlobe, Wall Street journal, the Nation, even Time andrnNewsweek, and, of course, the sassy and arrogantly irreverentrnNew York Observer. Which is onlv to say the problem has beenrnon some people’s minds and agendas. Out of all this mostiyrnself-conscious and often self-serving coverage have come (in myrnopinion) three important articles: Outhwaite’s, without question;rnKen Auletta’s “The Publishing World: The hnpossiblernBusiness” {The NewYorker, October 6, 1997), which — if firmlvrnestablishment in its point of view—nevertheless does off^er thernsignificant numbers, some pertinent interviews, and somernthoughtful general judgment; and the essay that precedes minernin this forum by Texas novelist and teacher Clay Reynolds, arnversion of which appeared in the Spring/Summer 1997 issue ofrnthe Texas Review.rnTogether with the Reynolds article, the Texas Review publishedrn14 “responses” to it, written by writers, agents, and peoplernin publishing. Reynolds’ basic position closely shadows thatrnGeorge Garrett is the Henry Hoyns Professor of English at thernUniversity of Virginia. His most recent hook is Days of OurrnLives Lie in Fragments, New and Old Poems 1957-1997rn(Louisiana State University Press).rnof Outhwaite. Put simply: publishing has changed, and it’srnchanged quickly and dynamically. The business is no longerrnwhat it was, even ten years ago. Not to put too fine a point onrnit, but to state the problem frankly and honestiy, most publishersrndon’t want good books anymore simply because they’rerngood books. That is, they don’t want books that have been carefullyrnand artfully crafted, which tell a good story, which presentrnstunning characters, which amuse, scintillate, inspire, enthrall,rnwhich are, in other words, “literary.” They want books that sell.rnAnd for big bucks. The responses to Reynolds’ article varied accordingrnto point of view. I am going to cannibalize my own andrnuse it as a response to both Reynolds and Outhwaite.rnIf, as everthing indicates, many of the problems in contemporan-rnpublishing come from the attempt to make that old-fashionedrnbusiness fit in with present corporate conglomerate, andrnglobalized, practices, including the drive for unlikely, evenrnoutrageous profits, there are other equally important forces atrnwork. Outhwaite makes the point that the people in publishing,rnlots of them anyway, are simply not of the quality and characterrnof those editors and publishers who dominated andrnshaped the business a couple of generations ago. Ifs a strongrnpoint. I would modify it only slightly: Today’s editors makernpeople like Maxwell Perkins and Bennett Cerf and AlfredrnKnopf and Horace Liveright look good, better than they oughtrnto. These old-timers, in truth, share a heavy weight of responsibilityrnfor what has become of their stock-in-trade. Some othersrnthat he mentions —Hiram Haydn, Cass Canfield, Ken Mc-rnCormick (and I would add Cork Smith and SamuelrnVaughan)—were admirable and honorable professionals. Butrntheir decency and relative innocence rendered them virtuallyrnimpotent against the worst trends in American publishing andrnthe worst kinds of people who were rapidly coming to power inrnpublishing just as in so many other areas of our troubled societ}’.rn22/CHRONICLESrnrnrn