Lots of public noise about the new book American Dirt. Mostly seems centered on the author not being an authentic voice for the places and people she wrote about. This is a common complaint when someone of another background/race/ethnicity/or whatever writes about a certain group of people. How can you know anything about being _____________, when you’re not? Well, of course, if you’re writing a fiction book you can just make shit up, so what if I’m not authentic enough for you; I don’t have to be. If you could only write fiction about what you had a personal experience with, there would be no science fiction books and probably a lot fewer romance novels.
The complaint I saw the most about American Dirt, which also had the most meaning to me, was that the book was full of stereotypes and did not reflect accurately the locations of the story. Now, that has meaning. But that sounds like a “bad book”—there’s lots of those; why the hub-bub?
Apparently the author received a huge advance (seven figures) with extensive pre-publishing marketing. Some of the marketing was in poor taste at the very least and potentially offensive. On top of that Oprah selected the book for her book club. What this is about is a relatively unknown author receiving amazing money and hype for some reason—that’s enough to piss off a lot of people in the industry.
I haven’t read the book so don’t know if it is any good or not. Even if I did read it, all I could say would be whether I liked it or not. Some of the criticism sounds valid; but a lot sounds like jealousy.
A very recent reader review of Santa Fe Mojo said, “It’s not a deep thought provoking book, but really entertaining.” Thank you Mr. Reader. Plus, it was a five-star review.
I think there has been a trend for some time that books need to be of substance (and not just entertaining). Let me readily admit that I write books to be entertaining. That is my goal; my entire focus. If you find deep meaning, or hidden insight; that’s wonderful, but that will have more to do with you, the reader, than me, the writer.
American Dirt might also be entertaining, but it was marketed as something else. It was a serious book that had more meaning than just story telling. It was insightful, inspiring, important. With that foundation, the criticism feels more appropriate. It is a fictional book with attitude. You better have your act together on all fronts if you expect no criticism with that sort of approach.
If I write a reasonably entertaining murder mystery for no reason but to provide you with some (cheap) entertainment, the bar of approval is set pretty low. If I declared this is the most amazing detective story every written with insight into the inner workings of a sex-starved, Sherlock Holmes level genius and delivers the best surprise ending of any book written in the last five-hundred years—the likely criticism will be vicious (or humorous).
Ms. Cummins, the author of American Dirt, had written three other books; all of those appeared to be based on her life in some way. Then she wrote a book about a Mexican woman making a treacherous journey with her child across Mexico to the United States—she isn’t Latino and evidently has little experience with Mexico. You wonder why she chose that subject? Trendy? Marketability of a struggling immigrant story?
Most of my wild ideas for books get shot down by me. Although I’m still struggling with Doctor Hightower which involves a very, very old man who appears middle age. Even with that unusual premise, I placed the story in Denver so I was at least familiar with the story locale.
I would be the last person who would want to criticize the approach of Ms. Cummins, after all she got a million dollar plus advance. She’s a genius! And all of the controversy and ugly words directed at her and her book will no doubt boost sales and once again prove the worth of publicity– whether it’s good or bad.
I would imagine Ms. Cummins doesn’t have to worry about scheduling ads for her book, but I do. The ad plan is usually about two months out. While I was working on my ad plans, I had reason to go to each book’s page on Amazon. The description that appears on each page, which some people say is one of the major elements that can contribute to increased sales (although I’m not completely sure about that), had changed. The description for several e-book versions had reverted back to an older version. Now, of course, the new version was by far the best and this obviously was tragic news. (Okay, maybe more annoying than tragic).
Still not sure why that happened. The Amazon system that supports both buyers and vendors must be a nightmare to maintain and keep from blowing up; but sometimes it seems like the simplest things go wrong with no explanation. Now, there’s something else to add to my list of things to check on a regular basis.
I mention this in case you visited one of my Amazon pages and didn’t buy the book because you didn’t like the description, you should go back; the new description is fantastic and no doubt you will want to buy the book, or at least admire the new book description. Thanks in advance.