Contrary Thoughts

January 3rd, 2006 · No Comments
by Booksquare

Now far be it for us to suggest that a clearly scientific project lead to the wrong conclusions, but, well, we’d like to make a small case for subjectivity. Recently, in the name of Needing Something To Do, The Sunday Times sent opening chapters of V.S. Naipaul’s In a Free State and Stanley Middleton’s Holiday to a group of editors and agents.

These timeless classics of great authors (or something like that) were rejected.

The exercise by The Sunday Times draws attention to concerns that the industry has become incapable of spotting genuine literary talent.

While our first tendency is draw comfort from having our worst suspicions confirmed, there is a stronger tendency to explore the idea that while Naipaul and Middleton are fine authors, they do not appeal to every reader. Thus, when it comes to make business decisions (and one must recall that representing or publishing books is indeed a business decision), different criteria are used to judge work. The authors naturally take the high road:

Middleton, 86, whose books have a devoted following, wasn’t surprised. “People don’t seem to know what a good novel is nowadays,” he said. Naipaul, 73, said the “world had moved on” since he wrote the novel. He added: “To see that something is well written and appetisingly written takes a lot of talent and there is not a great deal of that around.”

“With all the other forms of entertainment today there are very few people around who would understand what a good paragraph is.”

We would beg to differ — we know people who go into raptures over good paragraphs.

File Under: The Business of Publishing