Literacy Before the Revolution

Publishers Weekly must be the most depressing magazine published in the United States. Oh, there are others like Esquire that make us despair for the affluent numskulls who swap life-styles as if they were wives, or The New Yorker that makes us remember how really boring New York can be. But for the sick feeling in the stomach that threatens paralysis, the feeling Augustine must have had as he began the Civitas Dei, you must try the premier magazine of the book publishing industry. From the full-page ads promoting "A New Self-Help Profit Maker" by best-selling author L. Ron Hubbard, to news stories on Anna Porter's acquisition of 51 percent of Doubleday Canada or the copublishing plan of Basic Books and The New Republic, to interviews with industry leaders ("retailers and publishers are moving more toward making nonbook products available for consumers"), all the way to the back where we find names like Stephen King, Pat Conroy, Jackie Collins, Danielle Steel, Bill Cosby, Andy Rooney, Jim McMahon, Carol Burnett, and Robert Schuller. What do they all have in common—apart from fame, fortune, and bad prose? They all have top-15 hardcover best-sellers in the first week of 1987.

Please do not misunderstand. Publishers Weekly is a solid trade magazine. It can hardly be held responsible for what goes on in the literary marketplace, but many a writer and reader glancing...

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