Unfortunately, vanity publishers still exist.
A few months ago, I somehow received a spam-like email message advertising I Call Him Christopher: My Letters to Chris Matthews of Hardball by Edward Eugene Baskett. My first instinct was to dismiss this work without any further thought, as this was obviously a work coming from a vanity printer. Upon reconsideration, though, I realized that this was actually a clever book concept. The advertisement promised that this work would chronicle a dedicated, outspoken television viewer who thrust his unique, progressive perspective upon Matthews, a talking head whom I personally consider smug and hardly insightful. Should such two opposites converse and exchange perspectives through their letters, an interesting bond and/or understanding could be reached. And had I not just read in a local newspaper that a self-published work from a Laurel, Maryland author was recently reprinted by a top-name New York publisher? I decided to take a chance on Baskett and request a press copy of his collection of correspondence.
Unfortunately, I Call Him Christopher is merely a bad collection of simple musings. Much of the content actually consists of Baskett’s infatuation and flirtation with the MSNBC host and one-time Carter speechwriter. He constantly fusses over Matthews’s appearance, insisting “in order to keep your ‘Joe College’ look[,] that hair has to be cut;” on other days, he insists “your hair looked great tonight.” I do not find this infatuation objectionable in any way; it just doesn't add up to anything nearly intriguing or amusing. The biggest disappointment is that no one ever emailed poor Mr. Baskett back in response to his fan letters. Sure, the author mentions some email from the Hardball staff, but they sound like typical fan-club mailing list dispatches pretending to sound like ‘behind the scenes’ news.
To be frank, the book’s layout is insulting. The soft cover, 8.5”x11” page size, and white-background cover makes this publication look like a rejected economy order from Kinko’s. The “chapters” hardly average an entire page, filling the book with blank white space. (The entire work can be read within 60-90 minutes). Following a brief (one-page) introduction and a Table of Contents are the emails, with hardly any comment in between. This is offensive for three reasons. First, it appears that no effort has gone into the production of this work. The emails could have been merely collected and sent off to the printer with little thought. Second of all, we have absolutely no context for the words nor any back-story or narrative to follow. Baskett even refers to obscure situations that will fly over the head of even the most die-hard political junkies. (Exactly which “oil crisis” or “tragedy in Texas” of the last five years could he be referring to in these undated emails?) Third and finally, observations such as these already have a place in our contemporary society, and there is a common name for it: the blogosphere. Unlike this book, it is free of charge.
There are at least one or two slightly thoughtful comments in Baskett’s outbox. (Reacting to conservatives’ gay-bashing, Baskett speculates that “about 85% of what this world calls ‘culture’ has been given to us by gay men.”) But comments like these are really nothing you couldn’t solicit from a coworker during a short elevator trip in your office building. Would-be pundits of America, save it for the water cooler or Blogspot – this reader’s bookshelf is already too full.