23 October 2010

Day 210: Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushie.  ISBN: 9780670838042.

This is one of those truly amazing stories that is so simple on the surface, but allows you to ingest a deeper meaning.  In Haroun, Rushdie refers to good story telling as being able to juggle multiple items without dropping any.  Rushdie makes this look completely effortless by weaving an incredible story on top of underlying themes about knowledge, censorship, the neglect of tradition, the need for opposites and contrasts, and what I believe is also commentary about the publishing industry "dirtying" the waters.

The fact that Rushdie is able to do this in a children's story without actually detracting from it or even pushing it on the reader is pretty incredible.  I can only dream of writing something like that.  I think I'm going to talk about the publishing industry a bit here, because lately I've been kind of disappointed with my reading options.

I don't really think there is a publishing industry anymore.  It's definitely more about marketing and Big Name Talent than anything else.  I believe that publishers are willing to and have published books purely based on how well they sell rather than on the quality or originality of the work.  And I believe as readers we are suffering for it.  I mean this.  We don't even get quality work from writers who are actually capable of producing it, because no editor wants to be responsible for having a Big Name walk just for the integrity of the work.

In the past these are the writers who would have produced only one novel because other publishing houses seemed to keep an eye on potentially troublesome authors.  Now you have people dropping publishing houses left and right for better deals or because the editors are too "harsh."  After reading some of the drivel that's actually been published, guys, your editors are there for a reason. Please, use them.  You may be able to produce amazing works with your eyes closed, but you still need someone to point out that you managed to spill soup on your tie and forgot to tie your shoelaces.  You can be a genius and just not see, "Oh, there's a continuity error that I must have missed because I've been working on this 500 page manuscript for the last 3 years with little to no sleep."

And I think this unwillingness for people Who Have Made It Big to actually listen to their editors has produced a load of less-than-what-it-could-be work.  Not to mention, publishers are buying what they think will sell in quantity rather than searching for quality along the same lines.  I will use the example of vampire novels and paranormal romance, because right now that is the big thing, and omg there is a lot of sparkling poop in that particular genre right now because people (for some reason unknown to me) keep eating it.

Paranormal romances are selling for the same reason that regular romance novels are selling: because they don't usually require a whole lot of brain cell activity.  You can just kind of read and absorb and when you're done, you still feel hungry and are willing to shove more junk in as many face-holes as possible.  There is no possible way that even a good writer is able to keep up with that kind of demand, so instead publishers try to find mediocre writers who can vomit stories faster than you can max out your credit card buying them all.

And just like in Haroun, as the Sea of Stories gets more and more polluted, as the old stories are neglected and tainted by anti-stories, the sicker we get as a people of storytellers and listeners.  What's worse is that it seems to be going by completely unnoticed.  Instead of reading something and saying, "Wow, that was a terrible book," it seems that people are instead shrugging and saying, "It wasn't as bad as the novel I read last week, maybe I'll pick up the next in the series."  Since when did "okay" all of a sudden turn into buying an entire series?  I rarely even buy books that are absolutely fabulous unless they have been so critical to my thoughts that I know I will want to refer to them again.  I also sometimes buy books based on what I want other people to read.  That's right, I'm more likely to stock my personal library for a guest (when I have a house that will accommodate guests) than I am for my own personal pleasure.

This probably has to do with the fact that once I've read a book, I own it.  It doesn't matter if I return it to the library or a friend, or drop it in the bath tub, or burn it, or sell it.  Once I've read a book, those ideas are mine to mull over and think about for as long as I want to do so.  The only thing the publishing industry does is provide me with what I hope are high quality ideas and stories, but if they don't start wowing me more often, I don't see the use of paying $5-8 for a paperback that I've already paid $.005 for in taxes.

I want more pure stories, free of anti-story poison.  And Rushdie is right, we are neglecting the old stories.  I am more than willing to retreat to those rather than read another crappy paranormal romance novel.  Dracula was a waaaaaay better vampire anyway.

An excellent review can be found at The Book Brothel, scandalous.


  1. Another factor in the amount of drivel is that, to make any money at all, publishing houses have to hit some kind of ridiculous quota for how many new books they put out each year. Again, that's money over quality, but I just wanted to point out the particular.

    One money-saving technique I think all publishing houses should consider is STOP WASTING MONEY ON HARDCOVERS. Especially with electronic media, $25 to $30 hardcovers are just extravagant. Considering also that sales of hardcovers drop dramatically once the trade paperback or pocket paperback edition comes out. I am basing this almost completely on the amount of hardcover genre books we recycle everyday at the store (literally hundreds).

    I would also encourage readers who are looking for more substance in their stories to search out small presses, who still have to make money but seem to surrender less integrity to achieve these financial ends. Spdbooks.org is a good place to start.

  2. I still say that Hardcovers are important and necessary for people who actually collect book and libraries, but perhaps they should be print on demand or publishing companies could farm out that task for special presses that only produce hardcovers. However,you may be on to something. They certainly don't need to produce as MANY hardcovers with the advent and adoption of e-Books.


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