June 05, 2006

When Is a Note of Congratulations Not a Note of Congratulations?

Recently, one of the junior editors here at “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly”—let’s just call him “Chip”—browsed through the latest number of The New York Times, in search of all the news that’s fit to mangle. Searching in the beloved arts section of the May 22 issue of the Gray Lady, among pieces with titles such as “Dystopia, Windows, Da Vinci and Sex,” he happened upon a curious advertisement.

As you might well imagine, “Chip” doesn’t take the Paper of Record’s art section very seriously. For every discussion of, say, James Levine, one finds three on, say, Eminem. Or five on how one illiterate rock star is superior to another illiterate rock star.

And then there’s the matter of their whitewashing of the Danish Muhammad cartoons: The Gray Lady’s arts section can print all manner of desecrations of Jesus, but depictions of Muhammad are apparently beyond the pale. According to some experts, the Times offers the perfect blend of pusillanimity and political correctness.

Yet the ad in question struck us as sufficiently interesting that it stuck out even amongst the usual detritus that besmirches the arts columns.

The advert in question reads as follows:



on receiving the 2006 PEN/Nabakov Award

for a “body of work…of enduring originality and consummate craftsmanship.”

Taking in this ad, “Chip” first thought: Oh, Philip Roth has won a lifetime literary award. Isn’t that nice. Although his latest novel is supposed to be a clunker, Portnoy’s Complaint was quite good. And, hey: At least the award didn’t go to some left-wing politicized hack or Italian terrorist. Take that, Toni Morrison.

Then a very obvious realization struck “Chip.” Houghton Mifflin isn’t really congratulating Philip Roth. After all, if they wanted to offer him some kind words, there’s no reason why they couldn’t just send him a letter. They’re his publisher, for crying out loud. They must have his telephone number somewhere.

Rather—and rather obviously—Houghton Mifflin is congratulating itself and attempting to drum up some book sales by pretending to congratulate Philip Roth. This isn’t exactly a surprising thing to do, but it struck “Chip” as so smarmy that it made him wonder. How can Houghton Mifflin get away with such an obvious demonstration of bad faith?

We mean, come on: Whom does Houghton Mifflin think they’re fooling? Who would actually believe that they have eschewed their normal concern for advertising and spent a bundle on a selfless demonstration of congratulations to Philip Roth? They’d applaud the doofus who wrote The Devil Wears Prada, or some other piece of chick-lit palaver, if it would help their bottom line.

It is in a similar spirit, then, that we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” present our own latest advertisement:


"CHIP" , Senior Editor of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly”

for realizing that Houghton Mifflin’s hearty congratulations is a phony attempt to boost sales, and that they don’t really care if Philip Roth writes impressive novels of intellectual depth and clarity or child pornography.

Posted at June 5, 2006 01:01 AM | TrackBack