As such things go, the recent Random House/Modern Library list of the century's 100 major novels could have been worse. One last such roster (prepared by the British Waterstone book chain last year) proclaimed The Lord of the Rings the best-ever novel. Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho made the middle of the pack.
But there's at least one substantive ground for criticism of the list: its obvious, but unacknowledged, conflict of interest. While some ink has been spilled remarking on the vast number of books that are coincidently published by Random House, no one has noticed what tops the list. As presented by Christopher Cerf, who brings to his literary arbiter's task the double qualification of being the heir of Random House founder Bennett Cerf and a former eminence at the National Lampoon, the list is headed by James Joyce's Ulysses.
A fine and rewarding book, to be sure. But did anyone note that not only was Random House Ulysses' original U.S. publisher, but the Joyce classic was (and may still be) the Modern Library's all-time number-one best-seller?
-Marc B. Haefele
A Few Choice Words
Call it a battle for the last word. Guess Inc., the designer sportswear maker locked in a legal fight with union officials, has apparently opened a new front in its jihad, this time with the press. Attorneys for the jeans maker served subpoenas on several L.A.-area news organizations as part of an ongoing libel suit against the Union of Needletrade, Industrial and Textile Employees.
“UNITE has engaged in a vicious campaign against Guess, and put out a highly defamatory leaflet against the company,” says Daniel Petrocelli, the attorney representing the clothing manufacturer, but better known for representing the family of Ron Goldman in the civil lawsuit against O.J. Simpson. “They [UNITE] didn't want to provide us voluntarily with the information so we were forced to subpoena.”
UNITE, however, begs to differ. “We provided them with a copy of the press release and a list of media who received it,” says Steve Nutter, western regional director for the union. “This is an attempt to silence anyone who criticizes their labor practices or writes about their use of sweatshops.”
At the center of the latest literary brouhaha is a news release sent out to various news groups last summer that carried the headline “'Hot Goods' Seized in Sweep of Illegal Industrial Homework Operations Used by Guess? Contractors.” The release refers to a series of state raids that uncovered labor violations involving piece work. Among the items seized by inspectors during those raids were Guess labels. State labor officials, however, never linked the jeans maker to the violations, adding the labels could have been forged.
Among the newspapers subpoenaed were the Weekly and the Los Angeles Times. A spokesperson for the Times said the newspaper was notified late last month and as of Tuesday has not responded to the summons. The Weekly has declined to provide any documents. Petrocelli said several television stations are also on their list.
This isn't the first time Guess has gone to court over a few choice words. In January 1997 the company took legal action against a poetry reading at the Midnight Special bookstore. Guess officials said the reading staged by the group Justice for Garment Workers slandered the company.
It's a struggle, our ongoing quest to keep abreast of the exciting new changes that publisher Mark Willes is bringing to the publication formerly known as a newspaper, the Los Angeles Times.
Formerly, because the thing now is to think of the Times as a corporate “brand,” a concept Willes brought over from his former gig at General Mills.
Not that Willes hasn't been doing his best to get us with the program. These days, the paper is loaded with ads promoting one service or another sponsored by the Los Angeles Times. This is called (we think) “brand leveraging.”
So in recent weeks we have seen a plethora of “sponsored” ads for: the Small Business Strategies Conference, sponsored by the Times, GTE, Bank of America and Microsoft; Soccer Celebration, co-sponsored by Los Angeles Galaxy; Times Tix (ads for which also plug KKGO 105.1 FM and KGIL 1260 AM); START, an adult literacy program co-sponsored by Starbucks; the Mark Taper Forum; and countless pitches for its new partnership with Channel 4. Times online has its own array of synergistic relationships with, to name a few, Channel 2, Citysearch.com, Cars.com.
Take, for example, a recent quarter-page plug for “Shoot for Your Goals!,” a partnership sponsored by Times in Education, the Los Angeles Kings and Staples (as in Staples Arena, where the Kings will be playing starting next year). Ostensibly, the ad was a “salute” to sixth-grade teacher Susan Carlton from Redondo Beach. Now, we have nothing against saluting teachers. We were, however, curious to know exactly what Carlton did to deserve the accolade. Apparently her feat was to introduce the “Shoot for Your Goals!” curriculum package in her classroom teaching.
Here now is where things become a bit incestuous. The curriculum package Carlton used employed Times newspaper stories and hockey themes to “help the students set achievable goals and make plans to reach them.” In turn, Carlton gave testimonials about how effective hockey statistics are for honing math skills and wraps up her account saying how her students were “impressed to find many examples in the newspaper of people doing good things in society,” etc., etc.
So we have a newspaper saluting a teacher who signed on to a partnership that promotes a curriculum that plugs the hockey sponsor's core businesses in an ad that features a photo of one of the sponsor's key assets (Kings defenseman Rob Blake).
-Sam Gideon Anson