By Jack Engelhard
The upstairs literary crowd, Eustace Tilley types, are already sharpening their pencils for Dan Brown’s next book, “The Lost Symbol,” even though it won’t be birthed until September. I’m not here to defend Dan Brown except to say that he delivered as promised. His big book, “The Da Vinci Code” was exactly about that, the Da Vinci code.
Dan Brown is not adored by the literati and the sniping has already begun as meanwhile Haruki Murakami, one of their favorites, keeps getting embraced.
Murakami’s latest gem is titled “Kafka on the Shore” and I happen to be a huge fan of Kafka and nearly went ahead to buy the book until, doing the usual online searches, I found that this book about Kafka is not about Kafka. It’s about a character Murakami has named Kafka with no connection to the great writer Franz Kafka.
Cute trick and I’m all for clever marketing but someone should point out that warning labels ought to be attached to certain books. I almost fell for this cleverness. I should learn from it at the very least and perhaps my next book ought to be titled “Hemingway on the Beach” except that it won’t be anything about Hemingway or a beach.
In practically all the reviews about this book named Kafka but which is not about Kafka, there is only praise from penthouse reviewers and no mention that perhaps there is something non-kosher about this. Yet this is how it goes once the literary mavens have established a particular writer as “literary” as opposed to “commercial,” though I have never known the difference. Can’t a writer be both? Is Hemingway literary or commercial?
We can learn marketing tricks from Amy Holden Jones as well. This screenwriter wrote a movie titled “Beethoven” and those of us who tuned in for a film about the great composer Ludwig van Beethoven were stricken with disappointment. Dog lovers were happy because it was about a dog named Beethoven. The rest of us wanted our money back (though I also like dogs, really).
More recently, a writer of unknown pedigree tried to pull a fast one by updating J. D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.” Salinger, as we all know by now, stopped this from happening. I say kudos to Salinger for halting at least one phony from getting away with deception. Salinger is all about the sanctity of the novel and as for me, I admire this about him. He insists that it’s only the written word that counts, not the writer, and that’s why he went into hiding.
Is Salinger literary or commercial? I’m saying that he’s simply a damn good writer who writes strictly for himself because only his own characters can understand him. He sought no acclaim. The same goes for John W. Cassell, a brilliant writer who ought to be read by millions but is happy enough to have created his own private universe.
In “The Bathsheba Deadline” a newsroom novel otherwise about international intrigue and news media deception, I devote several chapters to Salinger to find, through him, what is real and what is fake. In writing about him (through the eyes of fiction) I found myself reconstructing him until I created an image of a man who left the world because so much of it is run by tricks, gimmicks and deceit.
Salinger took the cue from God Himself who looked around, saw enough, and left us to our own devices.
(Salinger is mystical. That’s for sure and that’s why the novel’s Lyla Crawford is gung-ho after him, body and soul, for the scoop of the century.)
Further into the writing about Salinger in “Bathsheba” – and letting my imagination fly –I began to understand why so many of us are in pursuit of this reclusive novelist and though the epiphany is incomplete, this much I take for truth: We send rockets to scale the moon and the planets and yet the most undiscovered planet is ourselves.
We don’t even know what truth is when we can’t trust a book by its cover.
Jack Engelhard wrote the international bestselling novel “Indecent Proposal” that was translated into more than 22 languages and turned into a Paramount motion picture starring Robert Redford and Demi Moore. His latest published works are “The Bathsheba Deadline” and “The Girls of Cincinnati.” He can be reached, and his Works can be viewed, at www.jackengelhard.com