Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Tab Lit": publishing trips down another slippery slope

Autumn is a silly season, bringing new attempts at snagging the public's lingering summer-doldrum attention spans with new twists on everything from television to politics to publishing.

Sometimes it's all connected in one glorious publicity moment, as when CNN captured an eager author at a weekend rally tossing his own book onstage to -- or at -- President Obama in the hope it would wind on the bedside table at the White House. As a Presidential commentary it says a lot: apparently we've moved on from shoe-tossing to book-throwing, which may only be fodder for those who claim Obama's book-reading elitism.
At least the writer wasn't naked, as was someone else at the same rally to cash-in on an advertising stunt.

A streaker at a Presidential rally seems hardly out of bounds these days when it's becoming more difficult to differentiate between reality and reality TV. Maryann Yin at GalleyCat at MediaBistro
this week reports on the other trend of the moment, the book mash-up that combines Jane Austen with vampires, Anna Karenina with androids, and now Chekhov rocks the mash-up ... with Lindsay Lohan's mother.

Over at The Daily News last week, Frank DiGiacomo writing as The Gatecrasher dubbed Celebrity Chekhov "tabloid lit," and the perpetrator, New Yorker editor Ben Greenman, makes appropriate throat-clearing remarks about the "similar pressures" shared by celebrities and Chekhov's characters, though he does frankly admit Chekhov is a little out-of-date with "a lot of coachmen and gas-lamps."

The trend is obviously becoming all very Hollywood high-concept -- If there is a real, disturbing factor in all of this, it may be that the slippery slope downward in mash-lit has already been tripped over. It's going to be a short way down to Captain Ahab meeting Arthur Fonzarelli jumping the Whale -- you decide, but I'm securing those rights to Fonzie's character ASAP. Yin writes:

Russian short story writer Anton Chekhov has joined British novelist Jane Austen on the mash-up victims’ list. New Yorker editor Ben Greenman has published Celebrity Chekhov, taking Chekhov’s writings and adding celebrities. Not to give away too much, but actress Lindsay Lohan receives a flogging on the command of her reality star mother, Dina Lohan.

The Daily News explained how Greenman conceived this idea for “Tab Lit:” “Greenman determined that the best way to update Chekhov’s dramas of love, loss and pride was via our national obsession with fame. ‘Aren’t celebrities fictional characters anyway?’ he asks. Besides, he points out, celebrities face ‘similar pressures’ to Chekhov’s characters: Many of the stories deal with the divide between public and private.” Earlier this year, Greenman released What He’s Poised To Do, a collection of fourteen short stories about love and letter-writing.

Chekhov was renowned for his short stories and plays, especially his four major plays:
The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard. He also practiced medicine and maintained a busy career as a physician. According to the publication Letters of Anton Chekhov he once said, “Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress.”

The publisher Quirk Books gained quick success with its line of literary mash-up titles. The first came from the release of Seth Grahame-Smith‘s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Soon the sequel Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters followed. Moving away from Austen meant a poke at the expense of Russian author Leo Tolstoy with the release of Android Karenina. They followed up with Night of the Living Trekkies, which is described as “Galaxy Quest meets Dawn of the Dead when all hell breaks loose at a Star Trek convention.”

And for readers who prefer to read about real historical figures doing battle with the undead, there's Grahame-Smith's Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. You really, really can't keep a good man down.


Danny said...

I read an interview about this book a few weeks ago and thought it was interesting. Just to clarify -- I don't think the author invented the phrase "Tablit." I think that was the reporter. Also I am not sure I will like this book but in the interview it came off as a real attempt to analyze celebrity.

The above fore-mentioned. said...

It reminds me of Jean Baudrillard's notion of the simulacrum. There is no reality.

Standford have published his essay on it here:

M Bromberg said...

Thanks to both. Danny: my impression of the writer's intent is obviously a comic one, and I believe he means it as such in the quotes. The Daily News reporter, as I read from the article context, came up with the term originally. I've corrected the post to reflect your suggestion.

The Baudrillard suggestion is a good mention in this increasing age of electronic manipulation and the increasing "appropriation of images" now in fiction. I also like his observation, “Illusion is the fundamental rule,” from "Impossible Exchange" (2001). I came to realize this idea years ago working in television, often expressed as "appearance is reality."