Thursday, August 27, 2009

Paris: City of Night

A couple days ago I reviewed David Downie's new book, Paris City of Night, at Collector's Quest. I tried not to rave about it too much — it's a good book, but not an awesome book — but I was taken aback by the quality in a rather generic suspense novel, by an author better known for cooking and travel books, from an obscure small press, with a rather unimpressive, nondescriptive cover. There's an inherent bias against books that don't premiere in a bestseller list, but that's an learned trait and I should know better than to make that assumption on my own.

Underlying this revelation is a disappointment in the publishing industry; there is an attitude that, unless a novel comes with a huge budget, larger advance, and a marketable name above the title, it must be crap. The film industry got over that showy bias with events like Cannes and Sundance, and, heck, the Fargo Film Festival — every mid-sized city devotes a few days in its arts calendar to celebrating the underfunded, experimental, and unmarketable films made by up-and-comers. There's a definite difference, since reading is a far less communal experience than watching films is, but if the Oprah Book Club is any indicator of how lesser-known books can benefit from singular public events, I wonder why there isn't more to support books this way. If you watch the higher-brow talk shows, including The Daily Show, interviewees are as frequently promoting a new book as they are promoting a new film, even if they're just a talking head they're introduced as "author of the new book…" The basics are there, they just lack that extra step into the public eye.

Cannes and Sundance benefit from backing by artists themselves, but so much of their provenance is marketing. Knowing Sundance exists and has a relevance comes before considering Sundance winners as quality art. I don't think book fairs do this: Sundance may have a tradeshow feel, but the premieres and exposure shows less of a corporate influence. Books have awards, and being nominated for the Man Booker, the NBA, even the Lulu Blooker, all have similar gravitas of getting an award at Cannes, but there is less pomp and circumstance, and fewer 'minor' rewards to books that place or show. Books don't have the same sort of exposure other media get at Sundance or sxsw, and the publishing industry, especially books like Paris City of Night, suffer because of it.

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