Joe the Plumber can read and write. Amazing!

I happened upon Mark Steyn’s web page today.   (I always mean to bookmark it and check it regularly but for some reason I never do.)    While there I found out something I didn’t know.    Joe the Plumber has written a book.   And not everyone is happy about that.

As an unpublished novelist who has been studying writing for a decade,  all I can say is that Timothy Egan is a twat.   (Trust me… it’s a literary term.)   He writes:

I have a question for Joe: Do you want me to fix your leaky toilet?

I didn’t think so. And I don’t want you writing books. Not when too many good novelists remain unpublished. Not when too many extraordinary histories remain unread. Not when too many riveting memoirs are kicked back at authors after 10 years of toil. Not when voices in Iran, North Korea or China struggle to get past a censor’s gate.

As a writer I was shocked when I read this.

Really and truly.

I’m tempted to post it (without the plumbing clue) on a writing newsgroup I frequent and ask the real, published, and even successfully so, authors what they think of this attitude.   The idea that any of those authors would ever express this sort of elitist tripe is impossible.   And why not?   Surely they view some novels and some books as more worthy than others.   So where does Mr. Egan fail so miserably?

He fails to respect *me*.

Not as a hopeful author, but as a reader. But it’s easy to see why. When your value and self-image is dependent on this noble profession, this higher calling, it’s necessary to dismiss the riff-raff. What do plumbers know? Housewives? Nurses? I recall a discussion long long ago, I think it was on misc.writing: “What is the best job to get if you want to write?” The answer, from writers, was that it was best to get a job as a laborer. Work with your hands, and your mind can consider the universe.

But Mr. Egan thinks that it’s more important to work at wordsmithing than to work at life.

He goes on to fantasize about an even greater horror:

Next up may be Sarah Palin, who is said to be worth nearly $7 million if she can place her thoughts between covers. Publishers: (…) can we set some ground rules for these hard times? Anyone who abuses the English language on such a regular basis should not be paid to put words in print.

Tim, sweetie, that’s what editors are for.

He’s equal opportunity in his disdain for people who buy books… he doesn’t say so, instead he names those unworthy authors of unworthy tomes. “Stop soaking up precious advance money.” he says. Perhaps people will read the worthy books, if only they have nothing else.

But one thing is true: People refuse to buy “literature” because “literature” disrespects them and their lives. With all the word-smithing and all the angst over the exact right sentence structure, pace and timing, it’s really all about exclusivity and driving people off, so only the worthy people remain to read those worthy tomes.

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2 Responses to “Joe the Plumber can read and write. Amazing!”

  1. on 15 Dec 2008 at 3:13 pm Mick Stockinger

    I can understand Egan’s frustration, although I don’t condone his arrogance and lack of civility.

    After observing the mania in my own family surrounding the Harry Potter series, I picked up a later volume in the series and began reading.  My perception was that the writing was, well–unsophisticated.  After reviewing other “modern classics” like Stephanie Meyer’s Mormon vampire series, I’ve had to conclude that the dwindling literacy of this generation has mandated a lowest common denominator approach to financially successful literature.

    I was greeted by a shipping pallet full of Stephanie Meyer’s latest oeuvre on a recent trip to Costco, and while in the checkout line, I asked the young woman ahead of me if she had read Anne Rice.

    “Who’s Anne Rice?”

    I was chagrined at the realization that as formulaic and silly as the Anne Rice Vampire novels were, they are a significant step up from the Meyer’s series, which is probably why no one reads them–too many big words.

    Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber have fine monetary prospects for their accounts precisely because their appeal lies in their quality of ordinariness.

    Crap is where the money is.

  2. on 15 Dec 2008 at 7:39 pm Synova

    Picking up a later volume of a famously famous series means that all you can judge is the writing.   Are there enough big words?    Does the author use complex sentence structures?   Those are the wrong questions.

    It’s all about story.

    It’s all about ideas.

    Many people aren’t all that literate.    If writing somewhat simply allows your story to be read by the unwashed masses and allows your ideas to resonate with the human experience unhindered by your own clever turns of phrase… you win.

    Making your story or ideas inaccessible is irrational, illogical, and…  well, all sorts of things like that.

    This is why I am convinced that literature (like much of fine art and other “elite” appetites) is designed not to be read by people.    The fewer people who read it, the more excellent it must be.    

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