It's eZ

essay by Melpomene Whitehead

The new book by Ted Friend, Lost In Mongolia, is just bad and annoying enough to get my attention, but I wouldn't devote so much of our time to a collection of mediocre essays you could have read elsewhere (and you may have). No, it's the novel format: Lost in Mongolia will first be available as an ebook, and in February 2001 you will have the privilege of downloading this detritus for a whopping $9.95. Friend's no Stephen King. Why, he's not even Neal Stephenson. So what would make you (or me, or anyone) want to drop an e-10-spot on this? Are we trying to save the trees here?

The Friend book starts off promising enough--a very humorous intro and a funny, if not remarkably insightful, essay on sitcoms. From there it quickly degenerates into Vanity Fair style writings about celebrities (such as a deeply perceptive essay about River Phoenix. Guess what? He was just a guy! With problems! Who knew? All along I was thinking Phoenix was Jesus.), about which celebrities won't give him enough material to use in articles, about fights and lawsuits between celebrities that nobody cares about (Garry Shandling--ok? You thought I was being hyperbolic, didn't you? But I wasn't! Nobody cares!). Then he has essays on easy targets such as 'white trash,' (they're very different from you and me, you know. They live in trailers and wear t-shirts that say 'I'm with Stupid.' They watch Jerry Springer. Hell, they're on Jerry Springer. We, those of us who are Friends of Friend and hang out with big names like Martha Plimpton and Garry Shandling, we're so much better than they are.) and total throwaway pieces about girlfriends taking his clothes (he claims all women's closets contain histories of their exes in garment form. If I took any clothes from the guys I've dated, they couldn't make it through the week.) As I've already said, nothing here is funny or insightful, so it's all pointless and superfluous.

So who would pay $9.95 to download this? It remains to be seen, I suppose. Judging from the list of new and upcoming titles from AtRandom, I'm the target audience. Well, a stupider version of me, anyway. Elizabeth Wurtzel (author of Prozac Nation, wherein she brags about giving head to Gibby Haynes, something I'd be embarrassed to admit, and Bitch, a rambling tome clearly written under the influence of peroxide and juice fasts) giving advice, a book about male pattern baldness, and yet another autobio of a failed dominatrix are among the choice picks of ebooks available. Please, go see for yourself! I couldn't make this stuff up! Check out this choice excerpt from Wurtzel:

This is the essence of life. This is the only reason to get out of bed in the morning (besides a sale on shoes at Barneys or a very intriguing lunch date). Every day is a new opportunity to ask more questions and see what happens. If you do nothing else with your day, at least make many inquiries and feel free to demand good and satisfying answers from the powers that be, or just from some slightly nervous human being who is a bit put off by your forthrightness. Be especially demanding of those people: They are the ones who are standing in your way, whether they mean to or not."

What??? Slightly nervous people are standing in my way? How? What sort of drugs wasn't Liz on when she wrote this? Get this girl a prescription!

And this from the dom book by Robin Shamburg:

"At this point, I've spent much more time writing about S&M than I actually spent practicing it. Working as a mistress-the ultimate contracted labor-taught me how to deal with the financial uncertainties of freelance life, and so my transition from the dungeon to the desktop was fairly smooth. Ironically, it was Barkley the Smart Dog who rescued me yet again, with a series of appearances that paid my rent as I expanded my journalistic empire. Eventually, I started earning more money as a writer than as an inspirational canine. "

I have no idea what this girl is talking about. She must have been a terrible, terrible dom if she's earning more as a writer. I know the paper she writes for, and I couldn't live on what they pay.

Would anyone pay $9.95 for either of these? Even if you had one of those ebook readers? I've never even seen anyone reading an ebook! I know from my own personal experience that I don't want to read anything on a computer monitor that took longer than a day for someone to write. And I don't want to pay $200 for a 'device' that does nothing but allow me to read treasures such as these.

Since I'm not a Random House editor, I can't say whether or not these titles would have been considered for 'normal' publication. I got the impression when I read the initial press release that they were specifically picking provocative titles and authors in order to generate interest. And, I think all of these will be published in paperback form shortly after the premiere of the ebook version. Still, the future of the ebook looks pretty grim if companies like Random House think I'll to pay money to download trash like this. I can get much finer trash for free!
Copyright (c) 2001 Melpomene Whitehead