Writers call Weldon's new book an ad

October 02, 2001|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,SUN STAFF

Twenty writers, including cultural critics Mark Crispin Miller and Todd Gitlin, have signed a joint letter to book editors around the country arguing that best-selling British novelist Fay Weldon's new book, The Bulgari Connection, should be considered an advertisement, not a work suitable for review.

According to a copy of the letter made available by two nonprofit organizations, the writers say that because Weldon was paid by the Bulgari jewelry company to write the novel, it should be called what it is: advertising.

"Many complex issues confront us all these days," says the letter mailed to 85 book editors in the United States. "Fortunately, this is not one of them. When a corporation pays a writer to produce copy that features the corporation's product, the result is called advertising. Weldon herself acknowledged this when she called her work a `good piece of advertising prose.' "

A former advertising writer, Weldon was paid an undisclosed sum to mention Bulgari jewelry in the book. Last month, she told the New York Times that while her contract required her to mention the company name at least 12 times, she decided to have the novel revolve around Bulgari jewelry and the Italian company's store in London. This way, she told the Times, she would "do it honorably - without any pretense."

At Commercial Alert and the Tomales Bay Institute - two West Coast nonprofit organizations devoted to resisting the commercialization of American life - the prevailing view is that it's honorable enough if you call it an advertisement, not a literary work.

"If we don't call things what they are, we're lost," says Jonathan Rowe, the executive director of Tomales Bay Institute in Point Reyes, Calif., and co-author and co-signer of the letter.

"The Bulgari Connection is like a Kodak Moment or a Budweiser Whassup," says the letter, written by Rowe and Lewis Hyde, both of whom are nonfiction writers. "We should call it that and deal with it accordingly."

Judy Hottensen, director of marketing and public relations for Weldon's publisher, the literary press Grove/Atlantic, said: "Book editors, as they would with any other book, will have to decide whether they want to review it or not."

The Sun has not yet made a decision on how it will deal with Weldon's book, which is scheduled for release in November.

Weldon, the author of The Life and Loves of a She Devil, has appeared on best-seller lists and received quite favorable critical notice for many of her more than 20 novels.

Not this time, if the letter-writers have their way. They're urging editors who receive a copy of the 192-page book to pass it on to their business editors and "save your book reviews for writers whose poems and plots were not bought before they were imagined."

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