LIKE A GOOD READ? I just had lunch with a guy who has written the next Harry Potter, a book so brilliant that it will catapult the world out of recession and usher in a golden age of prosperity for the whole solar system.
Unfortunately no one will publish it.
“My agent said they were only publishing books by celebrity authors these days,” he told me, weeping a much-needed soupcon of salt into his carrot and coriander soup. “Have you ever heard a tale so tragic?”
“Only about six or seven times a day,” I replied.
The following day, he showed me a news item about a book which HAD won a publishing contract. The autobiography of George Obama had been commissioned by a top international publisher.
Who? Surely the US President’s first name is Barack? And polite, genteel columnists (I am not one) are careful never to mention the humiliating fact that he used to call himself “Barry”.
So who’s George?
My informant told me that George was a sort of surplus son of the man who engendered, but did not raise, Barack Obama.
Gulp. So maybe it WAS true. Maybe celebrity status, however minor, is now the ONLY criteria for getting in print.
“But let’s not make over-hasty judgments,” I said. “George's intimate tales of how he and his brother Barack grew up in poverty together could shed fascinating light on the president’s early years.” The disgruntled author said: “Fair point. Except George never met Barack. One grew up in Kenya and the other in Hawaii. They only met, briefly, as adults.”
I continued to defend the publisher: “Maybe this George guy is such a brilliant wordsmith that it’s worth commissioning him to write a book anyway.”
The author replied: “Another fair point—if it was true. But it isn’t. George is no writer. The publisher is paying a journalist to write the book for him.”
The number of legs I had to stand on was diminishing. “Maybe the story itself is great. George was raised by farm chickens but grew up to win a Nobel prize for Africa.”
The author said: “Er, not exactly. George is a 27-year-old ‘community organizer’ who has often been in trouble with the police, usually for drugs offences.”
At that point I gave up. Celebrity status IS now the only criteria for getting your book published.
The next morning I saw a news report in which the publisher specifically denied that this was the case. “Even had George Obama not been our president’s half brother, his story is moving and inspirational,” David Rosenthal of Simon and Schuster said.
Okay, everybody who believes that the commissioning of this book has nothing to do with George being related to the US president, raise their hands now.
Anyone? No? Just as I thought.
Okay, all young community organizers in Africa who have been offered US$100,000 to allow ghost writers to pen their biographies, raise your hands now.
Anyone? No? Zero again.
There is only one possible reaction to this horrible discovery. I have to change my name. All emails should from now on refer to me as John Obama.