My buddy Warren Adler, the author of "War of the Roses" and "Random Hearts," isn't happy about the little thief, but he reserved his most caustic commentary for the book media, such as the New York Times, which hailed Viswanathan as a fresh new voice (funny, since it was somebody else's voice.) Adler says the Viswanathan scandal shows exactly how today's successful authors aren't necessarily our best writers ... they merely have been molded into "great" writers by marketing hacks, who care more about market demographics than plot.
"It makes my blood boil when I think of the legions of literary wannabes working their hearts out in isolation or taking creative writing courses in the nearly 200 universities, some costing as much as $100,000 for the full program, to suddenly be confronted with the real skinny on how so-called literary reputations are made out of thin air and bullshit."
Personally, I don't blame the New York Times as much as I blame the book-publishing industry, where brilliance is in short supply. First-readers, the gatekeepers who look at all submissions before real editors see them, are largely young college grads chosen for:
A) their youth,
B) their speed-reading, or
C) a back-channel relationship to the publishing house.
Their job is not to truly assess the literary merits of stories, but to ferret out stories that might appeal to a hip 18-to-34 demographic. This is an educated guess, as someone who has had manuscripts in hundreds of first readers' hands: Half of them have probably never read a Pulitzer Prize-winner published before 1980. Then the manuscript goes to a committee of editors, who often employ the same shallow values, looking for something that kids will like -- kids who don't (as a group) read voraciously, mind you. Book-publishing has utterly surrendered its storytelling values to Hollywood.
How sad it is to think that the next Hemingway or Joyce or Twain is out there in the middle of America someplace, creating great work that you'll never have a chance to see. But, by golly, you'll see 19-year-old plagiarists (Viswanathan), outrageously dishonest drug addicts (James Frey), and imaginary teen truck-stop hookers (J.T. LeRoy) -- because that's what New York publishers think kids want to read. Through their marketing dollars -- which go to only a handful of authors, leaving the rest to shill books on their own -- publishers too often elevate the wrong writers and show their disrespect for serious readers.
Face it, folks, if you like a truly good piece of literature and you're older than 34, you simply don't interest New York publishers.