April 12, 2013

It’s a shame that there are only five authors left in America


This is all of them, right? The American Men of Letters? I sure can’t think of any others.

It’s a sad day for literature here on the American continents. Where once we had a flourishing population of authors, somehow, overnight, we are down to just a handful. Where once our own neighborhood, Brooklyn, was bearded cheek to bearded jowl with hungry authors, now there are none.

Nobody knows for certain why or how they may have disappeared. Were our authors too sensitive to climate change? Did they write themselves into corners and starve to death, with none to come to their over-plotted aid? Did they, as with so many before them, succumb to the many hazards of the profession—Cursor Blink, Rank Refresher’s Finger, or most deadly of all, Having Read The Comments?

Whatever the case, the bulk of our authors have vanished. The sorry news broke yesterday in that renowned cutting-edge media organ James Salter’s Facebook Wall. Somebody operating the Knopf/Vintage Facebook page posted notice of something they called the American Men of Letters sweepstakes Thursday, in which they planned to give away copies of books by James Salter, Philip Roth, Richard Ford, Richard Russo and John Cheever.

While many on Facebook seemed excited by the chance to win free books, many others, including us at Melville House, were left to worry about our friends and authors, many of them men, many of them American, who no longer exist.

And, too, we wondered what had protected these five men when so many other American authors had vanished? Were the death rays reflected by their shiny pale scalps? But then what of Mark Doty and Ron Padgett? Was it only writers of long, sexually absurd and gleefully morbid late-life wish fulfillment novels that were spared? But then what of Sam Delany? Were only authors who have, at one point or another, been called Great American Novelists spared? Because in that case, why not Jim Harrison, Edward P. Jones, Stephen Dixon, why not Cormac McCarthy, why not ANY WOMEN AT ALL? Is it something about the limber joints of a man used to spending long hours on stage in a beige blazer and crisp blue jeans crossing and uncrossing his legs, sipping from water with a wry smile, as moderators heap encomia upon him, that allows an author to outrun the apocalypse?

Was there a bunker? Is that it? Was there a bunker somewhere, and these guys were all in it together? What was painted on the door, “MASTERS OF TWENTIETH-CENTURY PENILE LIT ONLY?” When do they send you the key? After your third book hits the Times DadLit bestseller rankings? Has Updike been hiding out in there this whole time?

Every single male author over the breadth of the Americas has vanished. It must be the case. The only alternative is that some poor marketing person over at Vintage is working hard to cement Salter’s space in a dubious pantheon of aging authors for the chortling class, and needed a reason to paste his sad-eyed photo beside the rest. But surely even someone trying to sell a few dozen hundred more copies of the new Salter book wouldn’t go so far as to take these five guys, already laureled to hell and gone, and literally crown them with this Title Cased and exclusive name. I mean, that’d just be absurd. And so we are forced to mourn every other male author in the hemisphere. At least we will have a wealth of brash, original new books about gymnastic sex and musing (always the musing) to see us through these hard times.


Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.