Editor's Desk

Smiley Faces

Some authors want to be liked. But you tend to like those who don't care if they're liked.

By 4.9.02

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HUCKSTERS: It lands close to home, though that's only one reason to read Robert Bartley's Monday column in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. Who else but Bartley would have the clarity of mind to label David Brock "the John Walker Lindh of contemporary conservatism"?

Has Brock peaked? His book disappeared from Sunday's Washington Post bestseller list. Nor has the Brock brigade at Media Whores Online hyped any further climb on the upcoming New York Times list, which is known in advance ten days before it appears. The books's meteoric rise and fall suggests the left just isn't what it used to be. So much attention -- New York Times Magazine, the Today Show, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Washington Post, the Nation, the New Yorker, CNN, CNN, CNN -- yet such an abbreviated half-life. Contrast that to Ken Timmerman's treatment of Jesse Jackson, which the above have ignored but is scoring high and settling in for a long run on the bestseller lists (if the success of its fellow Regnery book, Bernard Goldberg's "Bias," is any indication).

But let no one claim Brock's book hasn't made its mark. It certainly accelerated New York Times in-house fanatic Paul Krugman's ongoing crack-up, and, even better, inspired this letter from the precious and devout liberal novelist Jane Smiley, who better than anyone understood that Brock's book is useful only if it can be used as weapon in the ongoing struggle against architects of the Florida putsch. You'd have to pay to read the whole thing on the New York Times' archive, so let me reproduce it here, as it appeared in that paper's March 31 edition:

"To the Editor:

"What's another name for the vast right-wing conspiracy that Paul Krugman writes about (column, March 29)? It is 'coup d'état.'

"Some of us liberal haven't been complacent at all over the last 25 years. Instead, we have done what we could (in addition to fuming and fearing) to alert others that the right wing is systematically destroying the political infrastructure and all sense of community in this country in the name of profits and power.

"The election of 2000 was a naked power grab that allowed the right to put its programs in place as quickly as possible. David Brock's new book, 'Blinded by the Right,' does not signal the end of this coup d'état, but is more like a bulletin from the front-lines. The American people would do well to heed it."
"JANE SMILEY
"Carmel Valley, Calif., March 29, 2002"

To be fair, not having read her fiction I can't say whether Smiley limits her fuming and fearing exclusively to her nonfiction. Six years ago she did attract quit a lot of attention for an essay she placed in Harper's entitled, "Say It Ain't So, Huck." Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," she argued, was morally flawed, accepting of racism and thus guilty of a "deeper racism." Claiming the novel was neither great nor serious, she dismissed it as another of those overrated works by "white, Protestant, middle-class male authors." Always good to know where a writer is coming from.

SIGNINGS: It's also good to know where a writer is going. In Bob Knight's case, that would have been Bloomington, Indiana, his bastion for some 29 years before a non-right wing coup ousted him from what he'd turned into the best coaching job in the college universe. Sunday evening he spent some three hours signing copies of his new autobiography for some 1,200 readers who bought out the Bloomington Barnes & Noble's supply of a book the local Herald-Times reports has already broken into Publishers Weekly's top ten. (PW's site confirms it's at # 3 in its first appearance.) Earlier in the day, he signed 1,322 copies at the Waldenbooks in nearby Terre Haute, according to the store's general manager. For the first two hours he averaged 10 books a minute, before slowing his pace a bit over the remaining 90 minutes. Bloomington was coming up, and he needed to be ready for the second half.

So what did the national press report about Knight's return to his former home? If the Washington Post is any indication, it would have been that Knight initially groused about the sloppy penmanship of store employees who'd prepared a list of signees' names to make Knight's work a little easier. That's a story? What other famous author would have spent more than six hours of his Sunday signing thousands of books?

As it happens, Post editors chose not to report on a Knight book signing appearance in nearby Arlington in late March. Though barely publicized, the after-work event drew hundreds to an Olsson's near the Courthouse metro. The store sold out the 500 books it had on hand and Knight signed every last one. Shortly before his arrival an Olsson's employee told customers that while Knight wouldn't be making any formal remarks, "he said he'll be nice to everyone." Which he was, moving along at a 10 book a minute clip, signing and focusing with the same efficiency and concentration he expects of his players. Despite what might have heard, you could see right there why he has so many admirers.

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About the Author
Wlady Pleszczynski is editorial director of The American Spectator and the editor of AmSpec Online.