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The Sleazy Chair By Steve Barthelme Austin For the earnest young fellow beginning his career in crypto-fascism, the book review was once the most suitable form. The field was open. It was better than driving a cab. If you drive a cab in a place like Austin, you spend many hours taking money from people who can’t afford cars, you spend a lot of time waiting in parking lots and by the side of the road, you spend the rest of the time listening to people tell you that cab driving is such good “experience” for a writer. Reviewing books was better. Like anything else, reviewing books is all right the second and third times you do it, but drops off quickly thereafter. You start getting tired. Maybe even a little bored. You might even get so bored you start thinking about it and by God, that’s what’s happened to me. Now where your bad luck comes in. Where your bad luck comes in is where the viciously desirable helpmate given me by God comes into the room and says, Look here BillyBob there’s this swatch of Quiana nylon at the fabric store which is sort of double green and white and I want it. Three yards at 5.50 the yard comes to 16.50 which is where your bad luck comes in. Having already sold the copy of Gravity’s Rainbow and the transistor radio and the Polariod, you go to the soul barrel in the closet and rummage around and come out with this here soul with the On Book Reviewing thoughts in it. Then you roll it on down to the nearest stable market for soul and turn it in. It’s that easy. NOW, THE FIRST thought you have about book reviewing is that it’s being done all wrong. It’s an obligation. It’s serious business. For instance, given the fact that the only people who read reviews are other writers and the reviewer’s and author’s friends and acquaintances, it should be permissible to put “Hi Tom!” in where the reviewer feels like it. It’s not. The New York Review allows it, but “Hi Tom!” usually takes four pages and is disguised as a rave review full of insights. Think what happens to your illusions when you discover that the four pages of epistemological trapclap you just forced your ,way through was no more than one writer waving at another. It’s dishonest, that’s what it is. Quickly other things occur to you about book reviewing. For example, it occurs to you how ridiculous it is to review books on publication and before paperback. The way things are now formulated, reviews “criticism.” This is also one way of keeping your teaching job. This is no help to the check. Take, for instance, Walker Percy. Walker Percy is real good. For the purpose of spreading interest in his work, right now is a good time to review his books. They’re all terrific. They have wit and charm and the human condition. Maybe you were on your way to buy the Gulag Archipelago in hard cover. Buy 15 copies of The Last Gentleman My advice. You are set for the rest of your life; you have a gift for each of the 14 acceptable people you are going to meet. Walker Percy lives outside New Orleans. The other two books were The Moviegoer More books are forthcoming. The only books that would suffer from delayed reviewing are ones that spoil rotten to start with. Books that shouldn’t have been reviewed anyway. Which brings up the relation between reviews and sales. It is generally agreed that there’s almost none. To .a large extent, that’s true. The farther away from the New York Times, the truer it gets. The judgment passed in a book review rarely sells or prevents sale of a book, but there is an additional factor which we will call “attention.” Attention sells books. The negative factor that which prevents sales is not hostile attention but no attention. You can hardly buy anything you’ve never heard of. My suggestion in this area is the wholesale elimination of hostile attention which would mean that if a book is bad, like , it would never be mentioned. This is an unworkable solution, for several reasons. Hostile reviews are easier to write and more interesting to read. Additionally, reviewers cannot distinguish between good and bad’ books. They get them backward with a certain deadly regularity. I suggest massive salaries and sexual bribes to attract capable people. Tpeople who wish to review books but are prevented by a lack of mediatorial openings. The mediatorial opening shortage. It’s undemociatic. The solution is of course a new publication which publishes their reviews. All of their reviews. Similar publications could .be created for film and music reviewers. These publications would be supported by subscriptions and by a publication fee exacted from each reviewer. It would cost say $1.00 a word to praise a book and $3.00/word to trash one. A stimulus to economy of expression. And if nothing else, such a publication would certainly create an impassioned critical dialogue; anyone willing to spend $100 for 30 words is either impassioned or out of his head. Another proposal so simple and so basic that it’s surprising it has yet to be implemented. Authors should be given some prominent space not currently in use in which to review their own books. The Book Review section of the Times would do fine. Writers, having written them, usually think a lot about their books. Secondly, they tend to despise reviews of their books whatever is said. And in the third place, skill and charm exhibited in this more or less obscene exercise could tell you whether or not you wanted to read his book. All of these proposals are open to modification. The first modification which suggests itself is broadening inattention to cover other phenomena. This could be arranged through subsidies to writers who agreed not to write, similar to those offered to farmers not to grow particular crops. A thousand dollars to the first author who agreed not to write an article about bisexuality, and diminishing scale thereafter. Seven-fifty to the author of the first lack of article about LBJ. Five hundred to the first ignorer of a Japanese terrorist. Two thousand to the first adolescent self-discovery novel \(must be bitter-sweet romance. Ten dollars apiece for deleted references to P.S. 109. And so on. Oct. 20, 1974 17 ALAN POGUE Photographer of political events & pseudo events, of people in their natural surroundings Rag office 478-0452/478-8387 Austin The Outpost Austin’s Best Barbecue 11:30-7:30 Daily, Except Sunday David and Marion Moss 345-9045 Highway 183 North MARTIN ELFANT SUN LIFE OF CANADA LIFE HEALTH DENTAL 600 JEFFERSON SUITE 430 HOUSTON, TEXAS 224-0686