It used to be the author photos on the flap jacket. That’s what killed some books for me.
I’d pick up a novel, feel its heft in my hand, survey the cover design, read the front flap copy, then turn to discover the author photo. Gasp. He’s wearing a corduroy jacket and a smug expression; she’s holding an albino cat! Immediate dislike. I dropped the book and hurried away.
Call me superficial, but it’s hard to read a book written by a face like that. So, generally speaking, I didn’t.
Nowadays, it’s book trailers. I suggest you avoid them at all costs, particularly when produced by the “Cult of Personality” school of cinema, starring Oh, Clever Me and His Special Guests, “The Me Toos!”
The real super sad true story here is, sixty pages in, I had been impressed with the book.
Shteyngart is a singular talent, funny and absurd in the tradition of Gogol and Kafka, razor sharp and contemporary. He’s already been called “our greatest satirist” (Edmund White), “indispensable and important” (Jay McInerney), “exhilarating,” “hilarious,” “heartbreaking,” and “ingenious” (the rest of the world). That is, he’s been lauded with seriously great press, either implying or outright stating that the future of American fiction is in Gary Shteyngart’s hands.
And truly, I’m fine with that. I was, as stated previously, enjoying the book. But I made the mistake of watching the trailer and my stomach turned. The video featured a particular brand of inner circle pretentiousness and uber cool I’ve come to loathe. We see the author and his/her famous/fabulous friends crack wise, all immensely pleased with themselves (and cross-promoting, too!), and I had to run. This kind of thing seems everywhere these days.
And I’m sorry to say it, but this style of self-promotion has become teeth-grindingly true in children’s books, too. The top cats from the It Table gather around to pat each other on the back.
I’m sorry I saw Mr. Shteyngart’s book trailer. I’d rather not hate, you know. Because ever since, I’ve found it hard to find my way back to the book.
A part of me pines for a time that likely never existed, as vapory and soft focus as Reagan’s “Breakfast in America,” before shame died, before we lived in this culture of relentless self-promotion, of book trailers and blogs and Facebook pages and Twitter feeds and on and on and on . . .
When there was just the book, not all the other crap.
On a related note: I so want to buy J.D. Salinger’s toilet!