Any Exposure Is Good Exposure
Often when it comes to publicity for a book or a product, the publicists repeatedly tell me that any publicity is good publicity. They contend that no matter what is written about the book that ink translates into sales for the book.
In some regards, I believe it because of the massive amounts of books which are continually released into the marketplace. I see it happen in the area of movies all the time. A much promoted film will come out and be slammed with a poor review. The public will ignore the reviewer and it will be the most attended film of that particular weekend.
Several weeks ago, I wrote a bit about a new book, A Writer’s Life by Gay Talese. I still have yet to read this book but it’s on my wish list and will be something I will read eventually. When I was in New York City last week, I relish picking up a New York Times and reading it every day. The Sunday Times is always a great reading experience for me and especially their well-crafted book review section.
In the center fold of the April 30th book review section and spanning two pages was an in-depth review of A Writer’s Life. Because of the positive spin from the Publisher’s Weekly profile, I was surprised with the large amounts of space and the negative tone about parts of the book in this well-written article. I know The New York Times encourages honest evaluations of the book but here’s a couple of paragraphs from Kurt Andersen that stood out to me:
“But his personal life as an adult remains largely blank. A brief account of eloping in Rome is charming — but then he retreats, archly, declaring almost everything else about his family off the record. Although Nan Talese is an important book editor as well as his wife of 47 years, we learn almost nothing about her. Her professional accomplishments are glossed over in two cursory paragraphs. He is so reluctant to tell his own story that he reprints 800 words from a Vanity Fair profile of himself. Friends and children scarcely appear in “A Writer’s Life.”
It’s one thing to rummage through the files and cut and paste together enough material to fulfill a very old book contract. Talese has hustled enough over the years to be permitted a punt. But a great deal of the prose in “A Writer’s Life” is shockingly, inexcusably bad.
Some is ungrammatical, some is clumsy (Tina Brown “was particularly compelling and seductive when dealing with men of means or other assets who were close to the age of her father”), and much is simply imprecise and amateurish — like his 1965 Selma memory of “wooden clubs and rifle butts pounding with muted audibility the demonstrators’ clothes-covered flesh,” and his conviction that in the newsrooms of his youth, unlike today, “Journalism was . . . performed with resonance and impartible vivacity.”
There are many other words about rambling sentences and poorly crafted storytelling. You can read the entire article but here’s Kurt Andersen’s kicking conclusion, “Better luck next time. “A Writer’s Life” is only a failed book, not a failed life. One hopes that Talese has purged himself, and can start anew, with a fresh story he’s passionate about telling honestly and clearly. And maybe stew a little less, and write a little faster.”
Does this type of book review hurt or help the sales of a book? In some ways, I can see the jaded New York audience reading the review, then rushing out to purchase the book and see for themselves. Because of my long-term reading of Talese, it’s a book I’m still eager to read.