merci and mercy!

Critique by Jeff Bauer

Greed is alive and well in the writing and publishing worlds. Mass marketing has taken on a new approach, too. And I have proof.

No, it's not that I'm confusing success with greed; I have nothing against the basic premise of success. Success is a wonderful thing, provided there aren't piles of garbage, toxic waste, or countless innocent victims in the wake of said success. But sometimes enough is quite enough, and that is exactly the case with the Chicken Soup series of literary pablum that Jack Canfield, Steve Zikman and Health Communications, Inc. are cranking out.

A friend who hosts a radio program asked if I'd like to whip up a quick book review, as she was already buried in work, and the shipment of a dozen new books to read and review necessitated farming some of the work out. I agreed and a book of her choosing was shipped to me.

Upon receipt of and opening the package, it was obvious that I wasn't going to be of much help to her, having already been introduced to, repulsed by, and developed prejudice to the excessive blanket marketing of the original Chicken Soup for the Soul book series years ago. However, perverse curiosity had me in its grip, and "have another look" seductively called to me like the sirens to Ulysses.

The proposed and ill-fated review piece, Chicken Soup for the Traveler's Soul, is yet another marcher in the Chicken Soup Parade of Greed, joining such all-time inanities as Chicken Soup for the Golfer's Soul, Dental Soul, Gardener's Soul, Jewish Soul, Baseball Soul, and Prisoner's Soul. In the immortal words of Frank, and mortal ones of Moon Unit Zappa: "Gag me with a" (soup) "spoon!"

Canfield and Zikman's first chicken soup book was a huge success, a success of such magnitude that the excess material for the first book proved too much of a trigger for these two greedheads. Money is a powerful drug, and I'd venture to guess that Canfield and Zikman are both addicts. Their chicken soup behavior certainly suggests that. Let me explain.

Riding the crest of the success wave of their original book, Canfield and Zikman apparently made the decision to cash in on this success and milked the monetary teat for all it was worth with Chicken Soup for the Soul numbers Two through Six. The devolution process had begun, yet the renewed influx of cash and fame wasn't enough for the likes of these two maniacs, so they devised a formula to target every living soul on the planet, or so it seems, with their newly designed cookie cutter "writing" and publishing processes. They asked for submissions (for which remuneration particulars are unknown), then categorize, file, edit, entitle, print, distribute, promote and sell -- counting royalty checks all along the way. Over and over and over ... ad infinitum.

Curmudgeon-like instinct makes me suspect that contributors probably didn't receive a bloody thing, other than being listed as a co-conspirator, em ... contributor, except for perhaps a free copy of whatever particular chicken soup variation their submission was included in.

I visited the Chicken Soup website myself and therefore speak from experience when I don't suggest you make such a visit without being prepared for bouts of intense nausea that are sure to follow. For masochists and bulimics, and only brave ones at that, check it out . However, have an appropriate container close by to catch the projectile vomit that you'll undoubtedly spew forth in massive quantities.

The website lists 51 current releases and a whopping 41 upcoming works. And there is apparently no end in sight to this stream - no, make that deluge of mundane, sappy, and sometimes tear jerking stories. Has the American reading public become this desperate for happy-happy-joy-joy? Whatever happened to simply making a list of 25 things we're grateful for? It's a hell of a lot more personal, uses less paper and is considerably less expensive. And you are more involved in the process than plunking down $12.95 a pop at the local bookstore to catch a secondhand buzz off someone else's gratitude and joy.

Of the upcoming works, check out these beauties: Chicken Soup for the Auto Racing Soul, British Soul, Fat Free Soul, Fisherman's Soul, Global Soul, Hawaiian Soul, Hip Hop Soul, Midlife Soul, Ocean Lover's Soul, Olympic Soul, Outdoor Soul, Physically Challenged Soul, and Pre-Teen's Soul. So you thought I was exaggerating when I described the cookie cutter approach to this scam?

I have a few suggestions for the authors should they decide to continue on with this charade of greed-based literary diarrhea. How about doing some real stretching and consider the following for future chicken soup bowel evacuations: Terrorist's Soul, Heretic's Soul, Soul Singer's Soul, Crackhead's Soul, Soucon's Soul, Greedhead's Soul, Nazi's Soul, Slumlord's Soul, Priest's Pedophile Soul and the Soul-less Soul?

Go ahead, Canfield and Zikman: take the challenge!

I agree with the authors and the publisher on one thing, though, and that's that these books are inspiring. The "chicken soup phenomenon" inspires me to never buy, borrow, steal, read, peruse, or skim anything from the chicken soup collection. Being a staunch proponent of and believer in freedom of speech and expression, I don't think these books should be censored or burned, though another inspiration I've derived from these books is that it's the authors and publishers who should be burned - slowly, like simmering chicken soup. Painfully slow, so as to provide them with plenty of time to consider the consequences of their actions: the trees wasted and displaced wildlife as a direct result of the printing of these books, as well as the authors (and publishers) being major contributors to the Dumbing of America.

Copyright © 2002 by Jeff Bauer

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