By Edward Nawotka
The outsized influence New York, and Brooklyn in particular, has on the current literary scene is undeniable. It is the center of publishing in the United States.
But is it good for the other 99% of the country?
New York publishers have been accused of publishing books for each other – and the writers, for writing for each other. Has a kind of group-think has set in where people — consciously or not — are perhaps working to impress each other rather than a wider audience?
You often hear publishing personalities and literary journalists on the coasts moan that “the rest of America” doesn’t read books. To this I say, the rest of America does read, they just don’t necessarily want to read the books New York sometimes publishes. How many novels can someone in, say, Chicago or Atlanta, read about a twenty-something Manhattan editorial assistant, junior Wall Street trader, or cupcake shop owner in Cobble Hill looking for love?
But isn’t some of this our own fault. After all, with the end of the year lists, how is it that book critics in Denver, Minneapolis, Kansas City and San Diego all manage to come up with basically the same “top ten” book lists? Shouldn’t they be looking at more worthy regional titles? Nah, cause if they don’t weigh in on the big important books of the year, they won’t be taken seriously by their more-influential colleagues in New York.
Even Jonathan “Brooklyn is my Borough” Lethem agrees there are some issues. After decamping from Brooklyn for a teaching gig at Pomona College, he told the LA Times earlier this year:
I do love New York, but it’s also unbearable to me in some ways, and I compulsively leave it behind. It’s not the best place to write. The mental traffic level is very high here. Here, you have traffic problems; there, you have mental traffic problems. Brooklyn is repulsive with novelists, it’s cancerous with novelists . . . That can sometimes be too much when you need to also be inside yourself, exploring your own meandering feelings, not dictated by your environment, but dictated instead by what you read that day, or something else.
Would the rest of the United States buy more books were there a stronger regional publishing community? They just might.