Constant Reader by the Stranger

Constant Reader
Dead Author's Society

By Paul Constant
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The publishing industry excels at necrophilia, and this week there's a brand-new juicy corpse to plunder. By now, you've read (or ignored) all the Norman Mailer obituaries you can possibly stomach. Suffice it to say that The Naked and the Dead and The Executioner's Song—which is exactly the "nonfiction novel" that Truman Capote failed to write with In Cold Blood—are books that will last.

Soon, the post-Mailer books will start gushing forth. There'll be the requisite 1,500-page biography, possibly titled Mailer: A Life, and memoirs by hangers-on, filled with scandalous backhands and cash- grubbing gossip, and probably be some especially bad novels stitched together from Mailer's own half-hearted notes. Authors aren't allowed to die with dignity if there's any chance of money to be made.

There are precedents for this: At least three of Hemingway's novels have been released posthumously, and Harper Collins keeps dragging out new Bukowski poetry with disturbing regularity. A good recent example is Hunter S. Thompson. Just in time for Christmas, he's the subject of two new biographies. I can't attest to their quality, but one book that I have read is The Gonzo Way, by Thompson's widow, Anita. It's an easy book to read—110 pages, one-and-a-half-spaced type—but it'd be a lot more honest if every page was an invoice for a half-penny's worth of royalties to be paid to Ms. Thompson.

The Gonzo Way is formatted like a business management how-to book (like Jesus CEO or Buddha 9 to 5: The Eightfold Path to Enlightening Your Workplace and Improving Your Bottom Line, and, yes, those are both real titles) in that it includes easy-to-digest universal lessons culled from Thompson's life. Some examples: "It's Wrong When It Stops Being Fun" and "We Is the Most Important Word in Politics."

Still, Mailer and Thompson could've done worse. Anything published after they died is clearly not their fault. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, author of A Coney Island of the Mind (and not much else) has produced his own pre-posthumous gimme-money book. It's called Poetry as Insurgent Art and it's a collection of inspirational clichés for young poets: "Poems are e-mails from the unknown beyond cyberspace" and "Any child who can catch a firefly owns poetry." The greater lesson Ferlinghetti is teaching is "Grab the easy money before your estate can suck your corpse dry." Ferlinghetti probably shat out Insurgent Art in an afternoon.

When Mailer needed cash, he wrote Tough Guys Don't Dance in two months. The book became one of his favorites. recommended


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