Politics & Policy

The Unwanted Book

Readers suggest ways to dispose of The Fabulist.

What should I do with my copy of The Fabulist, by serial liar Stephen Glass? This was the question I posed to NRO readers in a piece last week, after the publisher sent me a “review copy” I had not requested. Having recently reread Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451, I confessed an urge to burn Glass’s autobiographical novel.

I’ve now gone through some 300 e-mails offering suggestions of what to do with my copy. A couple of people urged me to read it before passing judgment, and one even said it may contain a moral suitable for children. Please forgive me deep, deep skepticism about that one.

Many people urged me not to burn it. Most of them thought burning was too good for it. They had other ideas. I really liked this one: “I urge you to avoid burning, as this only plays up to the fantasies of liberals. Instead, I proffer this suggestion: shoot it, preferably with a high-powered rifle or a large-caliber handgun. … Mr. Glass used his First Amendment right to write this piece of trash, now you can employ your Second Amendment right to do away with it.”

The most popular suggestion was to make practical use of The Fabulist: “Use it, page by page, like they used to use Sears catalogs,” wrote a reader from Nashville. Another correspondent thought the book belonged in public facilities: “I was hiking the Appalachian Trail in PA earlier this spring. We stopped at a beautiful cabin way back in the woods during a snowstorm. We could have used The Fabulist up there, the place had a wood stove and an outhouse!” An e-mailer from Cambridge, Mass., invoked the famous quip from Max Reger: “I am sitting in the smallest room of my house. I have your review before me. In a moment it will be behind me!”

I had suggested using the pages of The Fabulist to line my cats’ litter box, and several readers kindly offered the services of their own felines in this regard. But a couple of people warned me off. “Don’t put it in the cat box. Your kitties might believe they’ve filled the thing up and find alternate facilities,” wrote one. Another cautioner: “Depositing in the cat box would cause your feline discomfort. That just may cause PETA to fire off a stern letter from their legal staff.” Good point, and I can’t stand getting junk mail.

One inventive reader from Georgia figured out a way to combine the gun and toiletry options: “There is a species of caterpillar known for their — and I am not making this up — ballistic defecation. They can shoot ‘pellets’ up to a meter. … Get some caterpillars and let them use the book for target practice. That maybe a little harsh treatment for the ‘pellets,’ but the book can’t be worth more than that kind of treatment.” Readers who wish to learn more about this particular corner of the animal kingdom may do so here>.

Plenty of readers brought up Jayson Blair, who until recently occupied the Stephen Glass Chair at the New York Times. “Send it to Jayson Blair and let HIM review it,” wrote one person. And another: “Send it to the New York Times, inscribed ‘To Jayson, from your good friend and mentor, Stephen. P.S. — Do you still want that law-school recommendation?’” Finally, a respondent from the Virginia hamlet of Purcellville suggested this: “Auction it on eBay and donate the money to the University of Maryland Journalism department.” Blair, of course, is a product of that department. The irony appeals to me, but I’m concerned I would just wind up throwing money at a problem.

Lots of folks encouraged me to review the book without actually reading it. Wrote one: “Follow the example of Stephen Glass and write a scathing review without reading the book. You can invent quotes from the book, excoriate the author based on fabricated details of his life, and save yourself the laborious task of reading an awful book. Surely you will be rewarded with your own lucrative book deal.”

How postmodern!

One e-mailer demonstrated familiarity with the Glass corpus of untruths: “I say throw the book in the trash, but then write an article about how you were forced to burn it by a group of Republican college students high on drugs (given to them by DARE organizers) who were trying to get converts for the Church of George H. W. Bush at a hacker convention. Just make sure you have the notes to prove it.”

And this was a clever idea for the review: “Explain how Mr. Glass experienced an epiphany after his third sex-change operation, etc.”

Several readers addressed the morality of book burning. Most didn’t have a problem with it: “One, it’s your book. Two, it probably sucks. And, three, it’s your book.” I enjoyed the perspective of a fellow from Calhoun, Calif.: “Destruction is the only answer. Several years ago I worked at a ‘school for troubled youngsters’ — i.e., ‘Poor kids nobody really cared about.’ Our library consisted of a thousand donated volumes, that nobody wanted, that nobody had ever wanted, but because our nation’s librarians do such a great job of teaching, people cannot seem to throw away a book, any book.” He continues: “My son-in-law has two books. I gave him both of them. They’re on the shelf in his house. Having delivered (with my daughter) three grandsons, his position in the family is secure; nonetheless he keeps the books. The Fabulist needs to be destroyed.”

A couple of readers said that I should ignore the novel rather than write about it. “Attention, it is clear — any attention at all — is oxygen for this guy. You’d be best off just letting it go,” wrote one. An e-mailer from San Francisco needed only two words: “Indifference kills.” Very good points — but isn’t this sort of fun?

Several correspondents thought I should give The Fabulist to a library — and a couple mentioned the Clinton Presidential Library as a worthy recipient.

I was most impressed by a note from an actual librarian — a quiet guardian of civilization — who offered this advice: “You should donate the copy to your local public library, and ask them to cancel their order for the book. Then petition all of your reviewer friends to do the same. That way, if someone really wants to read the book they can get it at the library, and no money goes to the author or publisher.”

So that’s what I’ll be doing — and I hereby urge everybody else who has an unwanted copy of The Fabulist to do the same. I’ve just checked the catalog for the Prince William Public Library System, whose services I use all the time, including, most recently, two days ago. There’s no copy of The Fabulist listed in its holdings. If that doesn’t change in the next week or two, check the dumpster out back.

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.


The Latest