So this happened. And by this, I mean Tom Hanks happened. The New Yorker has published the actor’s debut into the literary world: “Alan Bean Plus Four.”
My initial reaction? To strangle a puppy. “This makes me want to strangle a puppy,” I told friends. “A puppy, guys.” It seems like every celebrity out there is venturing into publishing—Tina Fey, Jane Lynch, Hillary Duff, James Franco, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, Chelsea Handler, Mindy Kaling, Teri Hatcher, Brad Paisley, Lauren Conrad, Ricky Martin, Lena Dunham, B.J. Novak. Does that list sound exhaustive already? Because it’s not even the tip of the iceberg.
And you know what? Not all of these book are bad. In fact, some of them are quite good. Lena Dunham’s book Not That Kind of Girl has been getting a ton of press. Whatever qualms you may have about the actress, writer, and director, the girl can write. B.J. Novak’s children’s book The Book With No Pictures has been a hit with kids and an interesting take on a genre drowning in picture books. But these celebrities, and others, like Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey, or Amy Poehler, were already writing their own stuff. They’ve written for television shows, their own stand-up routines, college comic strips.
With that said, I gave Tom Hank’s “Alan and Bean Plus Four” a shot. But, it’s just not very good. And I say that, with all the love in the world for Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks the actor. Forrest Gump. That Tom Hanks.
Hanks starts out his story by writing “Travelling to the moon was way less complicated this year than it was back in 1969, as the four of us proved, not that anyone gives a whoop.” And as I read on, I found it more and more difficult to give “a whoop.” His prose is clunky. Each character flat, too many details given away all at once. Or at times, just plain awkward and drab, like “Steve Wong works at Home Depot, so has access to many hammers.”
Like when your dad is trying to be cool in front of your friends and says something like “Of course, we were all chuffed, as the English say, that we’d made the trek and maxed out the memory on our iPhones with iPhotos. But questions arose about what we were going to do upon our return, apart from making some bitchin’ posts on Instagram.” Only, it’s not your dad. It’s Tom Hanks. And that makes it even more awkward.
Listen, I love movies. I saw my dad every other weekend growing up, and the movies quickly became our “thing.” As an adult, I worked at a movie theatre for four years—and I took full advantage of my free pass. Acting takes skill, and the best actors out there are artists in their own right. But talent in one creative field doesn’t automatically translate to talent in all creative fields. As much as James Franco would like us to believe he can act, write, direct, and paint—we’re just not buying it.
I won’t issue a plea for the madness to stop, because, who are we kidding, there’s no end in sight. Instead, I’ll refer to Katy Waldman in her latest piece in Salon: “But the world is full of rich, interesting, funny, moving fiction by people we’ve never heard of. It’s a shame to see the high-profile New Yorker fiction perch occupied by a mediocre story that breezed past the bodyguards because of its Hollywood pedigree.”
I don’t think I can say it much better. The problem isn’t that celebrities like Tom Hanks try. The problem is that we keep letting them. That even publications like The New Yorker are turning down lesser-known writers, whose work might be compelling and fresh but whose voices we will never hear, in order to publish someone, who, quite frankly, is being ushered through the literary gates because of his fame. Because of his name.
Writing isn’t just a hobby. It’s a profession; it’s a way of thinking. Books, poems—they have value beyond measure. Culturally. Emotionally. Spiritually. And while I think there are exceptions to the rule (I’m already planning on picking up a copy of Dunham’s book), I think it’s important to not give in to the celebrity hype. Give a “nobody” a chance. You might like what you find.