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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

After, Trout, and Litporn

Jenny Trout is an idiot. How do you throw away both your credibility and your integrity as quickly and easily as she did if you aren't an idiot?


Trout is the author who took exception to Anna Todd's WattPad book, After, and berated the publishing industry for basically applying a double-standard by signing her up on the basis of a very unprofessional "manuscript." While she was wrong in her attack on the industry -- the rules don't apply to people who can hand-deliver a large audience to the publisher -- I thought maybe she was on to something when she attacked the book.


She wasn't.


Not that the book is particularly good, but Trout's motives were much worse. Recently she admitted she wasn't attacking Anna Todd's book, but rather the author and her imagined motives for writing it. Criticizing the book was just a cover for her real agenda. Then, too, it's painfully obvious that her about-face was motivated by her own bottom line: all those Anna Todd supporters were killing her.


Normally this wouldn't bother me. Normally I wouldn't even be aware of it. But this time I found out about it and, because I thought maybe Trout was on to something that is important to me, I paid a little more attention. Well, as the Beatles said 50 years ago, I should have known better.




I've read all of four chapters of After on WattPad. It was enough. And it was enough that I feel safe in extrapolating beyond those chapters all the way to the end of the book.


After is immature, shallow, and monotonous, and I can  barely imagine the work that will be necessary to put it into publishable form. That said, Todd has a certain talent, and I can see how the book hooked a lot of people. It's unpretentious; and it's like the "literary" equivalent of an old Penthouse letter: the pull is built in -- not by sex (four chapters in, anyway), but by the whole fish-out-of-water / relationships thing. Its very naivete gives it a kind of simple truth. And she keeps it moving, hitting her points and moving on -- which isn't as easy as it sounds. In the reader, it evokes that all-important  question, What happens next?


Yet it's crap.


Todd may write a good book some day, but this one isn't it. I strongly suspect that the published version will be the equivalent of a Hollywood screenplay that gets credited to one author when in fact it was written by many. I certainly hope so.


What really makes the book so pernicious, though, isn't the book itself, it is the success it has enjoyed -- a success that is only possible because readers have been rendered so dumb and uncritical that "escape" is no longer the lowest rung on the literary ladder, but litporn is.


It's easy to celebrate the self-publishing phenomenon as a boon to readers: more choices, more voices, and, ultimately, more great books. The reality, I think, is not so rosy. The reality is lowered expectations, lower standards, and the dumbing down of the whole literary equation, writers and readers alike.


Remember when "reader" and "bookworm" were synonymous with "smart"? Or the stereotype of the reader as a thoughtful (if shy) guy or girl with glasses? It was better then, for like most stereotypes, it embodied a certain core truth. That truth is fast becoming a memory. Nowadays you can be a "reader" when all you read is self-published drivel that no legitimate publisher would ever touch.


"Reading" itself is changing. I called the new category of fiction "litporn" for a reason. Much of the new fiction, it seems to me, exists not to tell a good story in a professional manner, but to stroke the reader's predefined desires. The plethora of material available mirrors the hundreds of categories of internet porn: there's something to appeal to everyone. The shared experience of reading -- people reading the same book which was written for everyone -- is being replaced by niche reading, from which each individual takes what most appeals to him- or herself.


Quality is a secondary consideration, if that. Like porn, the presentation doesn't matter nearly so much as the content. And the content hardly needs to be original. Originality, in fact, is dangerous, it risks muting the core content, which is the reason the reader (or porn viewer) clicked on the thing to begin with. This is the problem with the niche philosophy: as new niches are added and existing ones become narrower, people come to expect more and more of the same content, with increasingly superficial differences.


Reading has always been like this -- it's why we have so many genres, for one thing -- but the situation is getting worse. Just as you wouldn't call a person who principally watches porn a "movie buff," so it is now becoming true that many people who focus on self-published fiction or follow the same reading philosophy aren't really readers at all. They're litporn addicts.


I see no way to spin the implications of this in a positive direction.