COLUMN

The favor of Erik Nielsen’s silence

STEWART MacLEOD September 11 1989
COLUMN

The favor of Erik Nielsen’s silence

STEWART MacLEOD September 11 1989

The favor of Erik Nielsen’s silence

COLUMN

STEWART MacLEOD

The decision to shun interviews about the book allows people to get back to news, weather and sports

We’ve been thinking about this, and, in his own sweet way, Erik Nielsen may have rendered the country a gargantuan service with his sizzling book, The House Is Not a Home. And since the sentiment of that first sentence may cost us the vast majority of Tory readers, an explanation is in order.

No, it has nothing to do with what’s in the book—nothing whatever to do with the acidic assessments of former cabinet colleagues; the condemnatory conclusions about the government’s performance; or even the hugely entertaining counteroffensive that certain people have launched to discredit his tome. All that can be left to others.

What we’re talking about is Nielsen’s diligent decision to shun all interviews about his book. No paid-by-the-publisher tour, no interviews with the monstrous Ottawa media and no bellying up to radio “morning men” to sip coffee and explain what it’s like to be an author. And if that’s not good news, we don’t know what is. Now we can get back to news, weather and traffic and all the latest from the world of sports.

Let’s make it crystal clear that book reviews are not the problem in this country. They are, as the Prime Minister might say, a sacred trust. They are also very valuable. Critics actually criticize. It’s the damned interviewswith-the-authors that are the problem—a problem that has contaminated our airwaves with the same relentless repetition as in the United States, where interviews-with-entertainers have usurped the entertainment industry itself.

In Canada, we can have an author interviewing another author—then panels of authors discussing the individual author who’s just been interviewed—while in the U.S. there are entire television and radio programs devoted to telling us all about the people in shows that we could otherwise be watching. Sure, there are

Stewart MacLeod is Ottawa columnist for Thomson News Service.

authors and entertainers worth interviewing— but all of them?

If just once we’d hear: “Well, let’s talk about your book, which, frankly, I found boring ...”

Some considerate publishers are good enough to enclose cheat sheets, directing interviewers to helpful paragraphs, presumably so they won’t have to wade through the whole book.

“On page 171 I was fascinated to see you originally didn’t intend to write your memoirs. I know our listeners are eager to know why you changed your mind.”

You bet.

In the States, things are more predictable because it’s become blasphemous for an actor or actress to admit they sought a role. “Actually, I was looking forward to a break from a very heavy schedule when my dear friend [insert famous name] came to my beach house and said, ‘Please, please, just do me a favor and read the script.’ Never thinking for a moment I would succumb, I did [insert famous name] a favor, and the rest is history.”

Smiles all round for the commercial.

In Canada, it’s usually a case of “Actually, it never occurred to me that my experiences were worth recalling, although all my friends

have been urging me for years to sit down and put pen to paper. I was eventually talked into it.”

Some day, God willing, some author is going to go before the microphones and blurt out that he’d been peddling that yellowing manuscript for 14 years before a publisher would even read it. And we might get some American actor who is willing to tell Entertainment Tonightthat his agent had been knocking on every door in Hollywood for the same 14 years looking for any spare parts.

Wonder how British actors have survived over the years, working in the anonymity of the silver screen and floodlit stages? Most Brits don’t even know what famous actors have for breakfast or how they were cajoled into their latest role.

And how did that country’s authors ever sell books without the promotions we’ve come to expect? “Jolly good, now, right after the news, weather and traffic and all the latest from the world of sports, we’ll be back with Winston Churchill to ask when he first acquired an interest in English-speaking people.”

Shakespeare must have gone door-to-door.

A national tour for an author, we are told, will generally double the sales of a book. A “hit” with Barbara Frum on The Journal will do the same. The next step down is Peter Gzowski’s Morningside, where the host knows a thing or two about book-writing. From there we descend to small community stations, where the author might well arrive before the book.

After his brilliant, detailed account of RCMP activities in Men in the Shadows, author John Sawatsky was handed this irresistible invitation in Halifax: "Would you like to tell us about your novel?” Sometimes, the authors, and therefore the listeners, are subjected to twohour talk shows—all about one book. If one can’t get a complete condensation in that time, rendering the purchase unnecessary, it suggests a lack of concentration.

Should Erik Nielsen’s one-man silent crusade against book-launch interviews fail to inspire others to similar ideals, it’s probably only a question of time before books are written expressly for the promotion, rather than the other way round. Perhaps an editor’s note: “Full details of the Governor General’s vasectomy, mentioned briefly on page 166, will be described in detail by the author during a Dec. 23 TV interview.” Could American TV shows end prematurely with an invitation to enjoy the epilogue on Entertainment Tonight?

If there’s a vested interest here, it’s minuscule. Yes, once a shadowy publisher suggested a book, but only because I had painfully described my one unique experience of how, during the “formative years,” I stepped into darkened bushes, stood in a puddle, and inadvertently provided a urinalysis to an electric fence. No, sir, I’d never he about a thing like that.

“There’s a book there,” he announced. Apart from not having a second chapter, it was the thought of a promotional tour that killed the idea.

Allan Fotheringham is on vacation.