Thursday, March 20, 2008

Nobody Knows Anything

While reading the newspaper this morning, I came upon an article comparing two recent memoirs by tabloid staples: LOSING IT by Valerie Bertinelli, and STORITELLING by Tori Spelling. The article noted how Bertinelli's memoir is a huge bestseller, while Spelling's memoir has not kept the same pace. And while Spelling's book has not flown off the shelves the same way Bertinelli's did, Bookscan numbers indicate that Spelling will likely end up in the top 5 on next week's New York Times bestseller list.

Now here's what perplexes me. Both of these books were offered on proposal while I was still working as an editor. I remember discussing them in editorial meetings while trying not to laugh. I couldn't take the discussions seriously. Valerine Bertinelli? Tori Spelling? Where's the proposal by Mario Lopez? How about Buddy Lembeck?

Granted, at 28 years old I'm too young to be overly familiar with Bertinelli's "resume," and am actually one of the few people my age who wasn't addicted to 90210 (I was a "Saved by the Bell" guy). Still, I'm a huge pop culture fanatic and am well aware that when these two names came up, my first thought was, "Wait, weren't they both just on 'The Surreal Life'?"

I have not read either book. And do not plan to. But from all the media hoopla, I can basically sum up their books like this: Bertinelli lost a lot of weight, cheated on her rock star husband and screwed Steven Spielberg. Spelling was born wealthy, doesn't get along with her family, and has had lots of plastic surgery. BTW my favorite tidbit from Bertinelli's appearances? Discussing her audition for the part of Marion in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," which she says I was so wrong for. Yeah. The old, 'it's not you, it's me' routine.

Anyway, I was shocked when I saw the massive media blitz Bertinelli received, culminating with a spot on Oprah. Again, I acknowledge I am the exact opposite of the book's target audience. Yet something was surprising. Bertinelli has regained the limelight for the most part by doing crummy, exploitative reality shows and airing her infidelities. Spelling has clutched onto her fame like a toddler who stole a piece of candy and refuses to give it back. To my generation, both actors are largely self-parodies, along the lines of Flavor Flav, Scott Baio and formerly Anna Nicole Smith. It shocks me to see that so many people are paying $25 to read their books, especially when the media has seemingly cherry picked all the "juicy" parts. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, though. Ashley Dupre is bound to reap a seven figure windfall for 'whatever.' And if a publisher signs her up, they're deluding themselves if they think they're publishing anything more substantial than a hardcover edition of Letters to Penthouse. And don't think those P&Ls won't include pricing for a 16-page color insert.

Decent people don't get publicity. We're too busy watching Tori Spelling and Valerie Bertinelli talk about their disorders, addictions and infidelities. Did I mention that Spelling sold the photo rights to her unborn child to OK! Magazine for $250,000? We're too transfixed by Margaret Seltzer to pay attention to literature, memoirs or otherwise, that is honest and genuine. Is it a coincidence that James Frey's A MILLION LITTLE PIECES has sold over a million copies after he was exposed as a fraud? Want to get your name out there? Do something terrible, then apologize for it. It's practically a winning lottery ticket.

When it comes to books, there's rarely such thing as bad publicity. If you don't think LOVE AND CONSEQUENCES would have been a huge bestseller had Riverhead not recalled the print run, you're kidding yourself. Sales of Kaavya Viswanathan's OPAL MEHTA went up the week after she was accused of plagiarism. Compared to other forms of media--movies, television, music--books are the redheaded stepchild of P.R. And nothing gets more ink than a scandal, something gross and tawdry. Finding a newspaper these days that isn't running topless pictures of Spitzer's hooker is like searching for a condom wrapper in a landfill.

It seems like in order to find the money you not only have to hit rock bottom, but you have to live underneath the stones.

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Blogger Bobby Mangahas said...

Well put Jason. I agree that now a days it appears what sells is people doing horrible or stupid things, then saying "Oops, sorry about that folks. Here's a 300 page story about what I did, with my apologies of course.

And I think it's sad that these "celebrities" get all this national attention. It seems like if someone does something that may help others and they write a book about it, the majority of reactions by a reading public would be "Who really cares? That's boring. Any good books about a the latest sex scandal or celebrity murder?"

9:45 AM  
Blogger Rachel Vincent said...

Wow. That's quite an impressive rant!

10:22 AM  
Blogger Graham Powell said...

Seems like there's a business opportunity for publicists here. "I'll put you on the front page of the New York Times! You can't buy publicity like this! All you have to do is sleep with the corpse of Joan Rivers."

1:46 PM  
Blogger Harry Markov said...

Love it. I think it's just that people prefer to be somewhat stagnated, when it comes to reading. They prefer not to contract their grey matter and that's just fine by them. I have to admit that sometimes I do to and that is just for balance, because all the seriousness and depth can wear me down, but I still think that people, who indulge that much and would give that kind of money for that is simply proof of how much intelligence has gone down to a point and how superficial society has become.

5:22 AM  

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