Aesthetic genius

By SHARON STEEL  |  August 30, 2007

The new iconography
In show business, it’s not enough anymore to simply have “actor” on the back of your headshot. There are endless side-projects necessary to reach It Status: a reality-TV show, a fragrance, a modeling contract, a record contract, and, whenever applicable, a book contract. Madonna, Nicole Richie, and Paris Hilton have them, and Victoria Beckham’s That Extra Half an Inch: Hair, Heels and Everything in Between will be published by Harper Entertainment this November. The cross-over from socialite heiress or has-been-pop-star-who-married-a-famous-soccer-player to published author is now an effortless one as long as you’ve got the benefit of name recognition and a decent ghost writer. A starlet’s lit-cred, in this sense, is in no way threatened, considering it never actually had to be built up in the first place. In our celebrity-obsessed culture, the way someone looks and the hype it generates is often more important than the work produced. A “real” writer isn’t looking for that sort of recognition — though there isn’t a chance in hell they’d say no to it.

“We’re not out there to perform. Well — most writers aren’t out there to perform,” says Katherine Taylor, 34, whose first book, Rules for Saying Goodbye, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (FSG) this June. “I think, though, that in the current publishing climate, readers — not the real readers but a certain type of reader — want more of an icon than they want the book. I think that only because I’m shocked at the coverage I’ve gotten. You write a book and you expect the book will get the attention. And it’s surprising how a lot of the attention — even in supposedly super reputable arenas — the attention’s been focused on me and not the book, really, at all.”

She’s right. On the strength of the Spring 2007 FSG catalogue alone — which included a page about Taylor’s forthcoming book, as well as a photograph of her that was taken by her brother — the New York Observer’s Spencer Morgan was assigned a profile on Taylor. When they met, she says, he told her he hadn’t even read her book, but that his editor had told him to write the piece. In his “Farrar Thinks Pink,” Morgan began by asking whether the catalogue ought not to have come with a warning sticker: “Va-va-va-voom!” he panted, noting that Taylor’s “curvy bodice is simply straining against a clingy T-shirt” in the picture. He fake-checked himself to make sure that the catalogue was FSG, not Abercrombie & Fitch, and inquired slyly whether FSG, regarded as one of the last old-fashioned literary publishers, was pushing Taylor’s book in an attempt to foster their own Marisha Pessl phenomenon. They had T.S. Eliot, Flannery O’Connor, Michael Cunningham, and a total of 22 Pulitzer Prize–winning authors. Where, Morgan pondered, did someone like Taylor fit in?

Just because Rules is a coming-of-age tome doesn’t mean it’s undeserving of a place in FSG’s catalogue. Rules is filled with austere prose — it’s an excellent satire, a post-adolescent digest lazily lumped into chick-lit for its subject matter. The themes are girly, the writing is not. The novel’s protagonist is also called Katherine Taylor, and they share both looks (blond and comely) and background (middle-class home in California). They both attended boarding school in New England, which prepared them for a lengthy post-adolescence in New York City: tending bars, getting an MFA in writing, attempting to write a novel, and falling in and out of love.

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