I read in The New York Times yesterday that Joe the Plumber has penned a book. The news was in an op-ed piece written by Timothy Egan, in which he takes publishers to task on allocating what little money they have to giving voice to people who perhaps don’t deserve it.
Egan also writes of a possible book deal for Sarah Palin, projected to be worth $7 million—a lot of money for a would-be author who we have all seen possesses a tenuous relationship with the English language. And as these books come to our shelves, what great works of literature remain dormant in the desks of real writers?
Between Egan’s op-ed and Adrián’s post here last week, I’ve been sitting at my laptop today feeling pretty depressed. But the pieces also got me thinking about the validity of publishing one book over another, and the ways that we document the world around us. Would a book about the phenomenon of Joe the Plumber written, perhaps, by George Packer be more valid? Or were Joe’s 15 minutes of fame a mere anecdote in American history and worthy of only a few paragraphs in some political science book about elections? And in giving Mr. Plumber a public voice, are publishers defining history and validating that Joe is more than a simple anecdote?
Can we qualify the ways in which our world gets written about? I personally do not keep a journal. I have dozens of notebooks lying around my apartment, all filled with ideas, observations, and sentence fragments, but I don’t record my daily existence. However, I think about journaling all the time, and question the fact that I don’t. And the fact that I don’t has something to do with my belief that I don’t find the day-to-day worthy of recording.
Now, I understand I am revealing my own ambiguous relationship with my ego, but what makes something worthy of being written about publicly versus privately? Should different measures of value exist when publishing and money are involved? I’d love to hear how others wrestle with these issues, and if you have a second read Egan’s piece; it’s not often I find something so equally disheartening and engaging.