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The Secret of Fame: The Literary Encounter in an Age of Distraction [Hardcover]

Gabriel Zaid , Natasha Wimmer

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Book Description

March 1 2008 1589880382 978-1589880382

Fame. Why do authors seek it? How does one acquire it? What are the consequences of attaining it? Gabriel Zaid examines the methods and motivations, from ancient times to the present day. He shines a critical, yet humorous, light on today's literary world, whose denizens find it 'more interesting to talk about writers than to read them,' and he takes a serious look at the desire for fame and the disillusionment and objectification that can accompany it. Along the way, Zaid pokes fun at literary and scholarly traditions, including the unwritten rules of quoting other authors, the ascendancy of the footnote, and the practice of publishing 'foolishly complete works.'

The author can manage his literary name like a brand, with a whole line of products: books published under his name (but not necessarily entirely written by him), with all their subsidiary rights; as well as a line of services . . . There's no reason that toys, clothes, and many other things should be the sole province of characters like Harry Potter and Mickey Mouse. At the Gunter Grass Museum, established with the participation of the writer, Gunter Grass t-shirts or Gunter Grass tin drums could surely be sold.

Gabriel Zaid's poetry, essays, and cultural criticism have been widely published throughout the Spanish-speaking world. In 2003, Paul Dry Books published Zaid's So Many Books, which The New Republic called 'genuinely exhilarating.'

Natasha Wimmer is an editor and a translator in New York City. She recently translated The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano (Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publishers).

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About the Author

Gabriel Zaid's poetry, essays, social and cultural criticism, and business writings have been widely published throughout the Spanish-speaking world. In 2003, Paul Dry Books published his book "So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance." He lives in Mexico City with the artist Basia Batorska, her paintings, three cats, and ten thousand books. Natasha Wimmer is an editor and a translator in New York City. Her recent translations include "The Savage Detectives," by RobertoBolano (FSG), "The Way to Paradise," by Mario Vargas Llosa (FSG), and "So Many Books," by Gabriel Zaid (Paul Dry Books).

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The squirrel wheel June 12 2008
By Kerry Walters - Published on
Reading the collection of essays that makes up Mexican author Gabriel Zaid's The Secret of Fame, I was reminded of an image conjured up a generation ago by John Kenneth Galbraith: the squirrel wheel. Galbraith used the image--one that most of us today would refer to as a "hamster wheel"--to describe the relationship between consumption and marketing. Marketers persuade us that we need to consume the commodities they're pushing, and our consumption of them encourages the marketers to push them even more strongly. And the wheel goes round faster and faster, creating the illusion of movement but actually getting nowhere.

Something like this goes on in the literary world today, says Zaid. To keep afloat, the publishing industry pumps out more and more books to fewer and fewer readers and focuses more attention on marketing its wares than in judiciously appraising raw manuscripts. As a consequence, publicity becomes more important than poetry; hobnobbing with authors is more desirable than reading them; and getting reviewed--even if the reviews are bad--is the barometer of success. As the old saying goes, even bad publicity is publicity.

All this puts the author in a precarious position. Most authors are already hungry for public recognition. They think they have something to say, and they want to be read. Fair enough. But the intense pressure on authors today to become celebrities, and to use that celebrity status as the hook for selling books to a celebrity-hungry public--is mutating normal authorial ambition into something darker and less savory. Authors pursue celebrity, celebrity (not artistic skill) clinches authorship. The squirrel wheel.

Zaid's book is an insightful and sometimes funny exploration of the way in which literary fame plays itself out in our contemporary culture. (One of my favorite stories is one he tells about Carlos Lohle. It seems that a publishing firm which Lohle worked for once published a book that all the reviewers agreed was full of egregious mistakes. It turns out that no one in the entire firm had actually read the manuscript before publishing it. Who had time? Everyone was too busy trying to fill the new list quota.) There are also wonderful reflections on the history of the footnote, the popularity and pretentiousness of quotes (quotations are "points to be accumulated for the benefit of the quoter and the person quoted"), and the publish-or-perish culture of academia (talk about your squirrel wheels!).

The essays are sometimes repetitious, and a handful of them could easily have been culled out. Some of the book's looseness probably comes from the fact that the essays were all occasional pieces in the Mexican journal "Letras Libras." But the book is well worth a bit of cherry-picking. When read alongside Zaid's earlier and excellent So Many Books, it's a good window into the modern world of literary (and publishing) pretensions.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Attacks many of the conventions that just seem questionable in today's world of books July 9 2008
By Midwest Book Review - Published on
Fame - to be known, and not just be another face in the crowd. "The Secret of Fame: The Literary Encounter in an Age of Distraction" is an examination of fame in the literary world through the ages, from Homer to Stephen King. Written in a mocking, sarcastic, critical tone, "The Secret of Fame" is not merely a tabloid for the writing world; it attacks many of the conventions that just seem questionable in today's world of books. A top pick for community library literary studies collections.

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