Writing about her youth in the ranchland of Alberta, Isabel Paterson said that in those days she would have “walked a mile” to see a writer — “and been disappointed, of course.” I’d say the same about my youth in the farm country of Michigan.
I’ve since learned a lot of things about authors, including myself, and I’ve often been disappointed. But I shudder to think of a kid who believes that authors must be as thrilling as tigers in the wild, and the first one he meets is Andrew Cuomo. Who happens to be one of the best-paid authors in the history of the world.
Cuomo’s lessons have sold only 48,000 copies. After their initial appearance on bestseller lists, their sales have plummeted.
Governor Cuomo is waiting to confirm any statistics about his winnings in the penmanship contest until he is legally required to divulge them. But it has been reliably reported that he was paid $4,000,000 for his book American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic (Crown, 2020).
It’s nice to imagine people having fun, nice to think that
somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
and somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout.
And it’s nice to imagine people learning things, people saying to themselves, in the words of another great poet,
Let my Lamp at midnight hour,
Be seen in som high lonely Towr,
Where I may oft out-watch the Bear,
With thrice great Hermes, or unsphear
The spirit of Plato to unfold
What Worlds, or what vast Regions hold
The immortal mind that hath forsook
Her mansion in this fleshly nook.
In the same way I delight to imagine the aspiring businessman driving the freeway in his Altima, wishing it were a Maxima, and listening, while stuck in traffic, to Governor Cuomo’s lessons in leadership. He hears the words, he admires the author, he chuckles to himself, thinking of all the ways he will apply Cuomo’s lessons to his own career. I delight to imagine the young mother, exhausted from a day of trying to educate her children, or at least to tie her children down, pending governmental permission for their schools to reopen, snatching a few precious moments to engross herself in Governor Cuomo’s book (320 pages, $15.20 paperback), consoled by the realization that there’s a big guy out there, taking care of people like her.
Somewhere in this favored land there may be such people. But not many of them. Cuomo’s lessons have sold only 48,000 copies. After their initial appearance on bestseller lists, their sales have “plummeted.” (By the way, most people don’t realize that you need to score with very few booksellers in order to get on a bestseller list.) One must also consider the fact that politicians’ books are routinely “purchased” and given out free to other politicians and their hapless employees, or bought in bulk at inflated prices by “supporters” (i.e. lobbyists) as a means of making contributions that are not identifiable as such. Subtract those “sales,” and what is left? Even if you don’t subtract them, you’re looking at a book that was peddled on TV by one of the greatest camera hogs of our time, a man who received a specially invented Emmy, just for him, for his allegedly inspiring and certainly incessant press conferences — and the book still didn’t sell any better than an ordinary romance novel.
Mighty Andy has struck out.
If you go on Amazon, pull up the book, click on “Look Inside,” and read the first few paragraphs, you may understand why. And if you’re old enough to remember serial comic strips — “Mary Worth,” “Rex Morgan, M.D.” — you will recognize the literary method. (When I was learning to operate a computer, my teacher, Karen Shabetai, sat at the keyboard and showed me how to process variations on “Mary Worth and Rex Morgan are the best of friends.”) Arriving at a strip like that, you might see, in the first panel, the image of a phone ringing: “R-I-N-G!” In the panel after that, you would see a hand reaching for the phone. In the third panel, you would encounter a face saying, “Hello! Who is this!” And so much for Monday’s cartoon.
You’re looking at a book that was peddled on TV by one of the greatest camera hogs of our time, and the book still didn’t sell any better than an ordinary romance novel.
Cuomo’s book goes like that. “I ordinarily don’t turn off my cellphone when I sleep, because the work of being governor is literally twenty-four hours a day, and my phone pings all night long. [My own phone simply rings, but Cuomo’s pings.] If I’m really tired, I will turn it off, but that doesn’t mean people can’t get me; it’s just harder. My office phone is always answered, at night by a New York State trooper. Callers must convince the trooper that their issue is really important. Some troopers are easier to convince than others. Some troopers decide that it’s safer to put all callers through, but as I joke to my team, those troopers learn quickly that it is not in fact safer when they are then assigned to different duties.”
That’s quite a joke, isn’t it? Note that the troopers and the team are playing in quite different ballparks. The troopers do the work; the team gets to laugh at them.
“When my telephone rang late on March 1, I hadn’t turned it off, but I didn’t get to it in time. Moments later, the land line rang. It was Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor and my top aide. Brilliant, tough, indefatigable, and widely respected, she is the quarterback on my team and is responsible for managing all the pieces.”
Players are pieces?
“‘Governor, I’m sorry to stalk you with the multiple calls, but we just received a confirmation from Wadsworth.’ This was the New York State Department of Health’s lab in Albany.”
Andrew Cuomo is one of those people who cannot conceive that he, he himself, could ever do anything absurd, stupid, or dumb.
So far, nothing has happened. And that’s the comic strip method, although here it’s being used in a way that would make any comic strip writer laugh out loud. An actual writer knows why he’s taking all that time to introduce a phone call: he’s cutting his workload. He knows he’s expected to fork over one complete story every six months, but the story doesn’t have to include six months’ worth of material. He has plenty of time to waste. But to settle down and focus on the phone — to go into all the details of Dr. Morgan’s answering service — that would be absurd.
Andrew Cuomo is one of those people who cannot conceive that he, he himself, could ever do anything absurd, stupid, or dumb. He imagines that his audience is really, actually, up-front fascinated by his telephone. He imagines more. He believes that no one will recognize his casual admission of a relentless dedication to “the work of being governor” as the self-advertisement it transparently is. He can’t perceive that his “joke” will be taken as the menacing snarl of an office bully. If he had any empathy, he would have sensed these things, but he has no empathy. No one with empathy would have shut down an entire state, and kept it shut down for over a year, with no visible regret about the consequences of this act of “leadership.”
Neither would any person with empathy, or common sense, have sent the indefatigably brilliant Ms. DeRosa to tell the Democratic members of the state legislature that his administration had been stonewalling their requests for information about the deaths resulting from his COVID-19 leadership, for the quaint reason that he was scared the Republicans would find out about it. No person with common sense would have thought such remarks would not be leaked. But of course, no person with common sense would have made a ferocious ninny like Melissa DeRosa his top aide — or an author of his book, which evidence suggests she was.
Maybe it was she who had Cuomo say in one draft of his masterpiece: “I have experience and a skill set that qualifies me as a good governor. I have accomplished by any objective standard more than any governor in modern history.” Aw, shucks. I’m not braggin’. I’m just showin’ my objectivity. This part was taken out, perhaps because somebody realized that it sounds like a sample memo from a book about How to Get a Raise. Or perhaps it was taken out because the next sentence was: “But I am not a superhero.” Aw, c’mon. Why deny it? Of course you are!
Cuomo’s publishing deal is now being investigated for violation of state laws in respect to the use of office personnel in producing the book. His final response may be, “I don’t know anything about it; the thing just appeared on my desk one day.” Which is probably true — the part about his not writing it, anyhow. He certainly approved it, advertised it, and cashed the check for it. But we know that countless employees had a hand in the thing. It’s fun to think of all these “aides,” “counselors,” “representatives,” and office boys shuffling draft after draft, insert after insert, back and forth among themselves, while their boss cracked the whip, demanding “Words! Words! More words! Make that telephone ring again!” Literary genius knows no rest.
If the priests of Apollo in residence at Crown had wanted to investigate the heroic deeds of Cuomo, two minutes of googling would have taken them to the relevant information.
In March, when Cuomo’s scandals started to multiply, his publishers — a “division” of the Borg Penguin Random House — let it be known that they were ceasing to “publicize” the book. Immediately, searches of their website could discover no trace of the document’s existence. It was another example of the into-the-memory-hole practices of postmodern media. I hope the dumping of Cuomo means that his publishers were ashamed of the publicity — and the money — they had already lavished on him. Four million dollars could have financed hundreds of good books, written by hundreds of good authors. That the dough wasn’t used in that way — that it was used instead to finance a bad book that lost money — should be a cause of shame for any publisher.
Not that it was, however; and not that I feel concern for the publishers’ sudden embarrassment. No, not at all. Cuomo’s nursing-home slaughter was known to me and millions, months before Crown gave him the book deal. Recently the abrasive Mark Levin was on the radio replaying one of his broadcasts from last March, in which the agonized manager of a nursing home told of her failure to get through to anyone in Cuomo’s administration, to get anyone even remotely connected with him to summon enough empathy to investigate or even imagine what may happen when you order infected people into places where other fragile people are dwelling, with no chance to escape. If the priests of Apollo in residence at Crown had wanted to investigate the heroic deeds of Cuomo, two minutes of googling would have taken them to the relevant information. That’s how long it took me, many months ago.
Nor are these people to be excused because they were led astray by Cuomo’s record of authorial success. The first Cuomo masterpiece was something called All Things Possible. It was published by HarperCollins in 2014, and it sold 3,100 copies in its first year, 100 in the next two years, combined. For this obvious dog Cuomo was paid at least $783,000. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s memoir made him $245 a copy (lohud.com)
Back in January, before DeRosa inadvertently tore off her emperor’s new clothes, a reviewer noted that American Greatness was already fading: “Word must have spread that the governor’s self-aggrandizing account of New York’s pandemic management was far less ‘riveting’ than promised by the publisher’s blurb.” Of course, anything would be more riveting than the gospel according to St. Andrew — including the mysterious story of publishers (and there are so many of them, as many as the politicians’ books they so vastly reward) who continually strive to lose money.
Four million dollars could have financed hundreds of good books, written by hundreds of good authors.
How can this be? Might it be, as many people have suggested, that they think they’re buying access to the politicians’ next books? But that assumes an audience that will want to buy those books. This isn’t an assumption I’d put four million bucks behind. So might it be that the publishers actually — hold onto your hats — actually believe there is something valuable buried in this trash? That they think Hunter Biden (to cite the most recent instance) really has something to say?
The bum who goes through your garbage is better at his job than that.