Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Shittiest Book Ever?

How shitty does a book have to be to sell roughly 105 copies a year? (Hell, a lot of ebooks score much higher numbers in one month!)

Well, shitty enough for one reviewer to say only the author is to blame if readers fling the book aside "like so much trash," because said author is obviously "disdainful of learning the craft of an artist." Shitty enough for another reviewer to judge the book infinitely worse than two of its predecessors, one of which was characterized as "a stupid failure" and the other as "hopelessly dull."

Ouch. Now that's shitty.

That's also Moby-Dick, not only the greatest American novel, bar none, but the greatest novel written in English in the entire nineteenth century. (This is not open for debate.) In its first 36 years in print, Moby-Dick sold 3,797 copies. Thirty-six effing years! And when Herman Melville died in 1891, his masterpiece wasn't even mentioned in his New York City obituary.

Today, as I type, the first first edition (expurgated, published in England in three volumes, and titled The Whale) is being offered for sale by one dealer at $95,000. And to think one critic complained that its original U.S price of $1.50 was too much!

Why did I post this? Beats me. Maybe because I'm writing a story called Mobry's Dick. Maybe it made me think about this classic I used to read once a year for about ten years straight, because there was/is so much wealth to mine in the book. Same is true for Melville's shorter novel The Confidence Man and his short story "Bartleby, the Scrivener."

Herman Melville was a freakin' genius, and it saddens me every time I realize he died in relative obscurity, without his genius having been recognized by his contemporaries. What's really galling, and appalling, is the likelihood that other truly shitty scribblers received considerably more recognition (and money)-- even though their mediocrity made them quickly fade from the annals of American literature.

Yikes, I wonder how many twenty-first-century Melvilles are laboring away, turning out brilliant fiction, while Stephenie Meyer rakes in the dough and secures herself of a big, splashy obit in the New York Times. (I'm grimacing with ya, Herm!)

There's no lesson here, I'm afraid. Just a kind of depressing bit of cultural trivia.

(P. S. Sheesh, hashmark romfail is again rolling through Twitter. I don't know what book they're eviscerating this time, but those broads really need to get a life.)


Jeanne said...

Romfail -- even the name...that's why I don't tweet or twitter or cheep, cheep.

You get the most interesting word verification words..

A Scotsman ho's into BDSM

Jeanne said...

That shoud read "who" otherwise I've got a Scots ho...;~D

wren said...

You are scary, KZ. Read Moby Dick once a year? Writing Mobry's Dick? *snort*

I do have to say, though, that "I would prefer not to" is one of my favorite quotes of all time.

My verification word was gympuph. Is that like a gym bunny, only softer?

K. Z. Snow said...

Well, y'see, it's like this. I studied pre-WWI American literature for nine years, and Melville was far and away my favorite author. (Glad you're familiar with Bartleby, wren!)

I haven't read M-D in quite a while now. In fact, I haven't read much classic literature at all. I think Madame Bovary was the last piece (which reminds me, Flaubert's "beta readers" suggested he scrap the novel).

Word Veri is getting ever more creative. I'm thinking of hiring it. ;-)

Jeanne said...

Wren - LOL
okay, the word thing is getting weirder and weirder:


a Japanese speedo?

Clare London said...

No sense from me today, except to say I love anyone who uses 'eviscerate' LOL.


Tam said...

Is it bad that I've never read Moby Dick? I don't even know what its about besides a giant whale?

It's like that with artists too. Once you're dead your paintings are worth millions, while you're alive they are pretentious crap and yet pretentious crap rakes in millions while the artist is alive. Go figure.

No good word verification today.

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi Clare! I thought for sure you'd leap to the defense of 19th c. Brit authors. (Oh, how I used to argue with my fellow grad students!)

Congrats on your good reviews for A Good Neighbor!

Jeanne, I think you need to compile a Word Veri Dictionary. ;-)

Jeanne said...

Word veri dictionary....hmmmm
Tempting, very tempting.
And simple to research :~D