Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What in the $$%@#&*%$# Did Binky Urban Mean?

Amanda "Binky" Urban

The acknowledgment section in Michael Pollan’s new book In Defense of Food is very curious.

After he thanks a long list of people, including his researcher and former student Adrienne Davich, (who is a friend of mine) he praises his literary agent Amanda “Binky” Urban. Now Urban is one of the most powerful agents in New York. She is so well-connected, so sure of her place in the publishing world, that she never puts a listing of any of her book deals in Publishers Marketplace. Many, many other literary agents and publishers list their deals, either to show the world what they are up to, get some buzz going for a book, or just to let aspiring writers know what books are selling.

Not Urban. Not Ever.

Pollan praises Urban for her “sage and unvarnished advice.” I’ve heard him talk about her and he says she is incredibly smart and very helpful in crafting ideas. “Binky is almost never wrong about anything,” he writes.

BUT … Pollan goes on to say that “when I left New England for laid-back California, she predicted I would never complete another book. Here’s number two.”

Now when I read that acknowledgement it made me wonder. Did Urban tell Pollan he would never write again because 1) there are no stories in California? 2) People are so lazy in California that can’t be bothered to write books. 3) Pollan would be too busy teaching at the UC Berkeley School of Journalism to have time to write another book. 4) California is a wasteland and all of the above apply?

Coming on the heels of the NBCC events in San Francisco, which were specifically designed to try and break down the notion of an East Coast bias, I find Urban’s attitude disturbing.

What do people have against California? How can everyone insist we are all just a bunch of vapid blondes? Even vapid blondes have an occasion interesting thought.

Of course, I can’t really know what Urban thinks just based on Pollan’s comments. I may be totally off-base. But I just want to insist to her and all the other East Coast-centrics that there are lots of good stories worth making into books in California. In fact, we think we start most social movements and then they move East toward New York City, not the other way around.


adrienne said...

I'm sure she was just teasing.

I can't help but think of 'California Dreamin' by the Mamas and the Papas, and any number of songs by The Beach Boys -- oh, and Otis Redding ("sittin' on the dock of the Bay, watching the tide roll away").


Frances said...

Maybe she was just joking. I rather it be that than meaning it.

Peter Richardson said...

This topic has a long history. One illustrative episode is Carey McWilliams's observation in the 1930s that westerners drawn to New York never write any worthy books after that move. (It proved to be true in his case.) He offered Mary Austin as an example of a writer who showed that the west was habitable for authors. But she thought her time in New York was well spent, and she encouraged Louis Adamic to move east. (Didn't turn out so well for him, either.)