an open letter to a snotty lady

i went to BEA a few months ago and, rounding a corner near the Perseus Group booth, nearly smacked bodily into a large yellow pantsuit inhabited by Nan A. Talese. you don't know who she is, unless you are the sort of person who breathes gawker like air, or works in publishing, or watches Oprah and retains every episode.

Nan Talese was James Frey's editor, and by most accounts the woman who insisted that he repackage into a "seriously, it really happened" memoir a book he was trying--unsuccessfully--to sell as fiction. Everyone knows what happened next. Oprah picked A Million Little Pieces for her omnipotent book club, it sold a million little copies, everyone got all weepy over the ravaging horrors of addiction and this poor man's struggle with pain and misery and how powerful love is and how sweet and humble poor James Frey was when he appeared on Oprah all curly-haired and soft-spoken.

And then it turned out the book was, um, fiction, and Oprah had James and Nan on her show, and she ripped them both new excretory orifices, and she was so, so, so angry. And there was lots of media coverage and now if you send in page 24 of a copy of AMLP, you get a refund from its publisher because they lied about its truth. And I posted about truth in publishing, and blah blah blah.

This is a long intro to a short point: Dear Nan Talese, please get over this.

An AP wire piece that came out, like, four minutes ago (an aside: not only does Nanhave a hilariously dated name, her husband's name is Gay. as in, I am not using that word to hilariously insult his name, the word "gay" is actually his name.) has Nan saying she is still mad at Oprah for her "fiercely bad manners," and that she - Nan - would still have done everything exactly the way she did.

I wonder about the psychology behind this. For all that I am bothered by Oprah's pervasive brand of mediocrity, I agree with pretty much everyone that her book club is a really good thing. And part of the desire of publishers everywhere to have Oprah pick one of their books for her club is that, um, it will cause the book to sell forty-seven billion copies and become a touchstone of cultural awareness. Basically Oprah is agreeing to shill your book in exchange for you agreeing that the book you let her shill is not, to put it mildly, a sack of crap and lies.

What did AMLP turn out to be? A sack of crap and lies. And Nan, sweetheart, when you knowingly misled Oprah, when you knowingly allowed her to use her godlike powers to get your book onto the nightstands of every third housewife in the United States, you knew what you were getting into. Oprah exercises her influence in an admirably conscientious way,* and when you lied to her you made her less credible. And credibility is her currency. When she reamed you on her show, she was just strengthening the Oprah dollar, which you had caused to take a serious hit.

Anyway, since the publishing world is what it is, you haven't lost too much of your power and influence. Lucky you. So you know what I would advise? Shut up, please. Lay low. Stop trying to poke the dragon in the snout. Remember what Oprah did to the beef industry? I'd be wary. She has a beef with you.

*except that moronic recent embrace of The Secret. ugh.

prediction: i will one day be up for a position working with Nan Talese, and i will be googled, and I will not be offered the job based on this post.


A is A said...

As a journalist...come marketer...come law student (sigh) I am compelled to comment. But I can't because my many perspectives are unfortunately merged into one confusing emotion that I fear, when furiously typed into your comments section, will reveal itself as an incoherent rant. I hate incoherent rants, the only ones worth reading are coherent. And since this is a highly valuable skill I have yet to master and you do such a lovely job*...I will leave the ranting to you. Thusly, I have just one (perhaps two) thing(s) to say...although Oprah does kind of suck sometimes, Nan sucks harder. I fear she is perhaps a publisher come marketer come asshole.
That is all.

*seriously dude, you have such beautifully organized rants.

Jonathan Bailey said...

I'm not what one would call an Oprah fan, but it was nice to see her stand up for honesty in literature. However, it was frustrating that she dragged her heels on it a bit.

Still, she came around. Took care of business and, I agree, time to leave it alone...

RW said...

An real opinion instead of the usual jokes...

Considering the pile of unremitting tripe Oprah has foisted onto the reading public I kind of looked at this whole incident as a form of justice. Skin deep is as skin deep does.

When she features a collection of Bukowski, or revives Gogol, or touts Mahfouz or Achebe, I will alter my opinion of her and her housewife ladies' book club.

Reading in and of itself is a good thing, but at some point a person has to draw the line between good writing and writing that is a pandering mess.

In the meantime allowing her the power to determine the direction of the reading public is like giving up the trend of American cuisine to Applebee's.

She probably never heard of Mencken.


Anonymous said...