Politics & Policy

Book Burner?

What to do with my copy of Stephen Glass's novel.

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 has a great opening line: “It was a pleasure to burn.”

I was reminded of those words yesterday. A package had just arrived at the National Review office in D.C. from Simon & Schuster. It was addressed to me. I opened it, and a copy of The Fabulist by Stephen Glass fell into my hands.

The publication of this book is a scandal. Glass was a promising young journalist at The New Republic — until it was discovered that many of his articles were the clever inventions of his own mind. He was fired (of course) and his offenses are only now being overshadowed by those of Jayson Blair at the New York Times.

Glass’s book is an autobiographical novel. As the press release from Simon & Schuster states, “The Fabulist is a novel inspired by Glass’s own story, with a narrator who shares his name. It is the story of a young journalist whose life starts to unravel when he is caught fabricating stories…” Etc.

Erich Eichman had an excellent column on the novel in the Wall Street Journal last week: “By its very existence, ‘The Fabulist’ is a strong argument for some form of socialism, since only the profit motive could induce the thoughtful executives at Simon & Schuster — who scold their children, no doubt, for lying — to offer a contract to a man who is almost universally reviled for deceiving his editors and his readers, for inventing ugly details about real people and for perpetrating a sort of burlesque on the whole idea of reported journalism by skipping the truth part.”

Eichman continues: “One might have welcomed a book by Mr. Glass titled, say, ‘My Decision to Withdraw From the World and Do Good Works in Deserved Obscurity.’ But this is something quite different: It is a new piece of journalism that aims to exploit notoriety itself.”

When I first learned of the book, I condemned it on The Corner, citing the words of The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier: “Even when it comes to reckoning with his own sins, [Glass] is still incapable of nonfiction. The careerism of his repentance is repulsively consistent with the careerism of his crimes.”

I didn’t post a link to Glass’s book on Amazon.com then. I won’t post one now, either, because I still don’t believe anybody ought to buy it. But I didn’t think I’d have one sent to me, free of charge, as a review copy. My first instinct — forgive me, gentle reader — was to burn it.

I’ve never felt that way about a book before. I once leafed through a copy of Mein Kampf — at the gift shop in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, no less — and didn’t feel the urge. Yet it was the first idea to pop into my mind when I held The Fabulist in my hands.

Here’s an irony: Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal printed an article of mine on Fahrenheit 451 — a book about book burning. This year marks the book’s 50th anniversary. Ray Bradbury is 82 years old and still writing. (And he’s a great interview.)

So maybe that’s where the idea came from — Bradbury on the mind. Whatever the case, I’m stuck with The Fabulist and wondering what to do with it.

That’s why I’m calling on NRO readers for advice. What should I do? Burn it? Throw it in the trash? Put it in the cat box?

I welcome your suggestions at orwinst@aol.com. If they’re good, I’ll publish them on The Corner or in a follow-up article soon.

If not? Then don’t be surprised to see a few puffs of smoke rising from my chimney, even though it’s supposed to be in the 70′s here all next week. Another line from Bradbury: “It was a pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.”

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.


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