Vanity Unfair?


Xlibris isn't alone; other services providing the same or similar services include, MightyWords, Authorlink,, and Time Warner's forthcoming iPublish.

Some of these have, or will have, more use for the traditional gatekeepers of the publishing world, but the competitive advantage will doubtless be to the more freewheeling. The world already has plenty of professionals deciding for us what we should see; who needs a bunch of new amateurs? Still, it would be impossible to deny that Xlibris, its ilk, and its unimaginable progeny, will be filling the world with more crap to wade through. However, unlike the offerings of traditional publishing houses that fill landfills, pulping plants, and the sidewalks of major cities, Xlibris's shitstream won't stain you unless you deliberately do a double-gainer in.

It would be easy to assemble a pretty funny Suck daily merely by presenting risible examples of just how shameful vanity can get. Xlibris offers you novels purportedly written by an oboe; the oboe's owner, Jud Barry, is also the author of a non-fiction work called Shhhhhhh! Happens: Exorcising the Censor Within. (He has clearly performed that exorcism.) Xlibris keeps dada alive with titles like The Annihilator of Diabetes: The Propeller From Hell by Maria Valdes, and this excerpt from Mother Vi's They Wanted Everything But God One Day: A Theory Set: "This book is a generic enumeration of the tales spun by the walking-talking books. Worst of all were the books in government employment in all levels except the local government. These people threw stones, attempted to sell bodies, threw their personal information and that of their employers, and then blamed their children for a long time."

It's also true that Xlibris authors aren't using their freedom to publish the serious literature that mega-publishers are afraid to touch due to commercial pressures. The great majority of offerings are crappy genre novels in areas like mystery, science fiction, and gay coming-of-age. (No porn allowed yet, an inexplicable choice we can only hope will be reversed pronto.) Still, some books labeled as literary/experimental are there, including such Joycean evolutions in prose style as this, from John Karrer's Idiots, Imbeciles, and Morons:

He and the Behavior Specialists (Bee Esses) launch into a choreographed dance number. Yusef takes two steps forward. Bee Esses take two steps back. Yusef moves to his right. Bee Esses shift to their left. One and two and dip and turn. Swing to your left. Swing to your right. Now ladies forward and return. Gents do the same. Shuffle shuffle shuffle. Stamp stamp stamp. Allemande left. Now allemande right.

Weeeeellll! Grab yer pardner by the hand/
Twirl her 'round and clap yer hands!
Grab her 'round that purty lil' waist/
And take a walk back to her place!
Deedle deedle dee dee domp domp domp.

There's plenty more where that came from, and more every day. Xlibris's CEO John Feldcamp predicts 100,000 titles a year by 2005, though there are fewer than 10,000 there now. The Web has undeniably unleashed the human imagination at its ugliest and liveliest and deserves the utmost respect of anyone who has ever been bored, or anyone who enjoys being horrified. Those who, like D.T. Max, fear having to work too hard to find what they might like, are just lazy. The kind of consumer-tracking software that frightens privacy fanatics will surely help; so will having friends.

Brutally transparent through the seemingly intellectual complaint of Harper's young scalawags Younce and Bissell is that pure sweaty fear of losing their phony-baloney jobs. As any sample of Xlibris's offerings will show, it's unlikely that the company will rapidly destroy traditional, we'll-tell-you-what-you'll-get-to-read, publishing. (Though anyone who thinks that venerable institution is worth preserving doesn't read many contemporary books.) As the guilty flee when no man pursueth, there must be a mighty feeling of inadequacy bearing down on the heads of publishing industry pros who believe that readers, faced with Xlibris as it exists, will hang the editors forthwith.

As a service sought out, gatekeeping is noble enough. As an impermeable barrier, it's a cultural crime. Only those afraid of what's out there, or convinced they can't defend themselves, crave impregnable gatekeepers. The rest of us won't begrudge authors a cheap bound copy of their work, and will occasionally enjoy dipping into postmodernity's dizzying bounty.

Xlibris multiplies options, in a way that those who don't care can easily ignore. Xlibris and its ilk destroy nothing. They just give us more, more than we could have hoped for or feared. Ever since Gutenberg, technology has made it too easy for pikers to aspire to literary status in the eyes of old world snobs. Better to stand with that great American Huey Long: Every Man an Author.

Do a double-gainer into the shitstream
in today's Plastic discussion.

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courtesy of Eugen von Bohm Bawerk


pictures Terry Colon

Eugen von Bohm Bawerk