Tuesday, August 1, 2006

How to Not Make an Anthology

Of course that’s misleading: The way to not make an anthology is to not make it. This was really a faux-clever way of saying how to make a bad anthology, in specific Stephen Hyde and Geno Zanetti’s Players: Con Men, Hustlers, Gamblers, and Scam Artists (2002).

Here are their techniques:

1. Arbitrary Organization

The book is divided into four numbered but untitled sections. The first is the smallest so at first glance you’d think that would be an introduction and the other three devoted to some theme. On second glance, it’s nothing of the kind; in fact there doesn’t appear to be any reason for the groupings at all. They randomly group topic and approach though perhaps the point is chronological since section two has the older material (Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Baudelaire) but it’s not like they’re showing any progression.

2. Ignore Fact or Fiction Distinctions

It’s tempting to think that a book opening with a Borges story is trying to rub factual against fictional material (y’know, mixing genres and questioning “reality”) but the book reads like slopiness. Not just that the pieces aren’t IDed as one or the other since you can usually figure that out but the intermingling and general lack of purpose makes the book as overblown myth as, say, Guys & Dolls than as any serious investigation into the players’ world(s). It doesn’t help that some of the “facutal” pieces appear to be mostly exaggeration if not near-complete fabrication. The excerpt from Frank Abagnale’s Catch Me If You Can, for instance, is almost assuredly not true (I’ve taken the bar exam and don’t believe that anybody could fake their way through it), made even more suspicious when he stops providing concrete information.

3. Avoid Rudimentary Information

Why bother with simple things like a tiny introduction or even dates? Rufus Jarman’s piece on the Spanish Prisoner mentions how much is lost annually on the scam and you immediately wonder if that includes the Nigerian email that’s so clearly the same thing. But hey, maybe Jarman’s piece is a few years old and predates email; that makes sense. Then you start to suspect that it’s maybe 15 or 20 years old until he mentions American victims sometimes going through Havana and suddenly this whole thing has to be at least half a century out of date, maybe more. The piece isn’t mentioned in the copyrights page so who knows? Clearly the date is crucial to evaluating the information but no date is given, as would be the original publication that printed it since there’s enough vague stories that I wonder how much is real.

4. Poor Selection

Why anything by Robert Anton Wilson would be included anywhere is something of a mystery but even past that his piece here is fuzzy minded and misleading, actually something of a scam itself. Even more mystifying is an excerpt by Rodolfo Scarfalloto that’s about lying and truth but is so completely and obviously not true that it constitutes a lie itself. Such as “The ‘Heart’ (feeling) cannot be fooled, because it already knows the truth, irrespective of the external scenery.” Maybe these are samples of clever schemers who scam readers with books that have the intellectual heft of a Jerry Springer show. But considering some of the other tedious choices I think the anthologists just don’t know what they’re doing.