The Big Books Bailout
A typical poet's mansion, after the bailout
A lot of people ask me how I can live in such opulence, given that I make my living writing award-winning literary fiction that nobody actually reads. Good question. I don't normally mention my behind-the-scenes role as cultural consultant to the Bush administration. For various reasons. But the big books bailout statement I recently drafted for Hank Paulson - the most important thing I've ever written - has just been printed in the New York Times, so I guess I should come out and take a bow.
Here is the text of our statement in full:
For Immediate Release:
Statement by Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., following Congress’s passage of today’s rescue package:
"As we all know, lax writing practices earlier this decade led to irresponsible writing and irresponsible reading. This simply put too many families into books they could not finish. We are seeing the impact on readers and neighborhoods, with 5 million readers now behind on their reading. Some are just walking away from novels they should never have been reading in the first place. What began as a sub-prime reading problem has spread to other, less-risky readers, and contributed to excess inventories.
These troubled novels are now parked, or frozen, on the shelves of libraries, bookstores, and other reading institutions, preventing them from financing readable novels. The inability to determine the worth of these novels has fostered uncertainty about novels in general, and even about the cultural condition of the institutions that own them. The normal buying and selling of nearly all types of literature has become challenged.
The role of the ratings agencies cannot be overlooked in the creation of this crisis. The Pulitzer, Booker and the National Book Foundation continued to award these novels their top ratings, even as unread copies piled up all over America.
These unreadable novels are clogging up our literary system, and undermining the strength of our otherwise sound literary institutions. As a result, Americans' personal libraries are threatened, and the ability of readers to borrow, and of libraries to lend, has been disrupted.
To restore confidence in our book markets and our literary institutions, we must address the underlying problem - the loss of confidence in our nation’s writers. That collapse in confidence is choking off the flow of ideas that is so vitally important to our literature. When the literary system works as it should, ideas flow to novelists and poets who create novels and poems, ensuring an uninterrupted flow of literature to households and businesses. But stresses in our leading writers have led to the current severe and systemic writers’ block that threatens to undermine access to books for working Americans.
This bill contains a broad set of tools that can be deployed to strengthen writers, large and small, that serve businesses and families. Our writers are varied – from large novelists headquartered in New York, to regional novelists that serve multi-state areas, to community poets and short story writers that are vital to the lives of our citizens and their towns and communities. The challenges our writers face are just as varied – from full-scale writers’ block, to restructuring failed novels, to simply facing a crisis of confidence.
We must implement these new programs with a strategy that allows us to adapt to changing circumstances, and attract the private inspiration which has always made our cultural system so resilient and innovative.
In these difficult times, leadership - and sacrifice - must start at the top. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and I are agreed it is imperative we take the bad books out of the system, and slowly work our way through these toxic assets. Yes, it will be painful; it will be difficult; but at times like this, the Government must step in and perform its duty, as reader of last resort."
I've got to say, there were tears in my eyes when Hank took to the podium and read out our statement. But the crisis is not over yet, and there's more hard work to come. Banks, insurance, cars, steel, books... the contagion just keeps spreading. I probably shouldn't tell you this, but we're currently putting the finishing touches to a fifty billion dollar bailout of the imperilled ballroom dancing industry...
Here's the link to the New York Times version of our statement. They've illustrated it with a cartoon by R. O. Blechman, which betrays a typically frivolous New York Times attitude to these serious financial matters.
And here's a link to the Treasury Department website. They haven't put up our statement yet, but they've put up plenty of previous ones just as good, like this one. And check out the Treasury's fun stuff, like their great auctions, for stuff like this seized yacht. Tip: I recommend the Florida auctions. Great yachts, furs, SUVs, Bentleys, and Rolls-Royces, all hardly used.
And... hang on in there, ballroom dancers of America. We are riding to the rescue... hold on...
(PS... I notice a sudden, almost alarming, surge of BoingBoing readers to my quiet internet backwater. Feel free to say hi, throw bricks, make suggestions, or share nostalgic tales of ballroom dancing in Schenectady, over on the blog, which is more set up for guests. Meanwhile, hi, and happy new year...)