CJ: Dr. Bradley, in a recent interview you have held forth as follows:
Publishing is not something that should be discussed in public. A good book writhes with its own animation, causing good readers to forget it comprises bits of the alphabet arrayed on a flat surface. Why, then, would we burden our audience with the sordid details of how our objects came to materialize in their hands? The hiring of teen biker gangs to terrorize the local typesetters union; the busting of printer’s devils over green celluloid visors; the sexual coercion of sad bookstore employees; the doping of rival authors; the hacking of Amazon.com: this should all be hushed up, like our most distressing toilet behaviors. In the absence of a follow-up question, I assume you agree.
Being the contrarian that I am, I choose to take this opportunity to ask you about book promotion.
TB: That’s a toilet behavior that should definitely be hushed up, at least in the occidental first-world capitalistic context. But my years in Red China taught me the frank and vigorous way to go about it.
Say you have written a collection of poems and aphorisms. What you do next is to divert a large segment of the national economy away from farm subsidies and defense expenditures, and you print an edition of several billion (with a “bee”). You charge the People’s Liberation Army with the task of distributing your little red book throughout the length and breadth of the Middle Kingdom, Manchuria, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and Tibet.
You decree that every adult, starving peasants included, should buy at least four copies, to be kept prominently displayed among the joss sticks on the ancestor worship altars in their bamboo-and-rag hovels.
If Farmer Woo buys only one or two copies, you drag him, his parents and his children into the village square. You make them wear the dunce cap and beat the gong and shriek self-criticisms day and night, non-stop, till at least one of them drops dead of humiliation. The rest of the clan is sent to Qinghai labor camp and made to eat paper till their livers implode. An example must be made, to drive home the point that Reading is Fun-Damental.
There’s proper book promo. Anything short of that is liberal woosy half-measures and a waste of time.
CJ: I can see how, in your world, Dr. Bradley, publishing should not be discussed in public. But, in any case, the question seems increasingly moot. I am referring to statistics that distress many readers when they appear in FaceBook memes, as follows:
“Thirty-three percent of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives,” and “Forty-two pervent of college grads never read another book after college,” and “Fifty-seven percent of new books are not read to completion,” and “Seventy percent of American adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five hears,” and “Eighty percent of American families did not buy or read a book last year.”
TB: So? And? What’s the problem? In most times and places people like that would never have been taught to read in the first place. If you’re talking about interesting, complex literary books, these percentages sound about right, and have probably held steady since the invention of moveable type. It’s just like the old proverbial “threescore years and ten.” If you discount infant mortality, people have been hovering at the same basic life expectancy since prehistoric times. Stupidity remains constant in the human condition, as does the general physique.
CJ: Thank you, Dr. Bradley, for your measured response.
Advocate Magazine writer Cye Johan describes himself as “the world’s premiere Tom Bradley scholar.” He wrote the Critical Appendix to Bradley’s Fission Among the Fanatics (Spuyten Duyvil Press), and the Afterword to Bomb Baby (Enigmatic Ink). His reviews of Bradley’s books have appeared in HTMLGIANT, the Advocate, Exquisite Corpse and elsewhere.
His extensive profile of Bradley can be read at the Cyber Corpse.