washingtonpost.com
Below the Beltway

By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, June 29, 2003

Have you ever wondered why TV interviews of authors tend to be so lame? One reason is that, what with their demanding tooth- and hair-care duties, TV talking heads seldom have time to read the books. Which means the interviews go like this . . .

Interviewer: So, what gave you the idea for writing a book about (looks at book cover) eggplants?

Writer: Actually, it's about nuclear disarmament. That's a picture of a warhead.

Interviewer: So, how do you get rid of the seeds?

Part of the problem is caused by the publishing industry itself, which caters to the laziness of the media. Here at The Washington Post, we constantly get promotional packets for new books in which the publicity departments declare that their authors are available for interviews, and then actually suggest questions to ask.

As you might guess, these are not Mike Wallace-type questions. They are Alex Trebek-like questions, but not the tough ones to win points. They are like the dippy questions Alex asks contestants between rounds to loosen them up because they're geeks who are wound tighter than a spitball. ("So, Marjorie, I understand you once ate ice cream with a fork!") Sometimes, the dippo questions will ooze their way onto big-time morning shows.

I have one of those new-book promos right here. It is for The Soul Support Book by Deb Koffman. The product is described as a "Smart, Funny, Profoundly True Survival Guide for the Temporarily Dazed and Confused," though as near as I can tell, The Soul Support Book is not a book so much as a series of Ms. Koffman's one-page drawings, each accompanied by a single, new-agey inspirational line, such as "Follow your intuition."

Now, a complete cynic might conclude that this is a shameful example of platitudinous pablum masquerading as literature. Fortunately, I am not one of those cynics. In fact, I have decided to cooperate fully with the publicists and review this book by asking the author precisely the questions they suggest I ask!

But because they are doing my job for me, I am going to return the favor and do their job for them. Since the questions will seem to be from me, but are really from them, I figure it's only fair that the answers seem to be by author Deb Koffman, but will really be from me. Let's go!

Me: Much of your work includes common phrases such as "Look at it from a new angle" or "Practice patience." Why do you spotlight these words in your drawings?

Deb Koffman: Because I am an idiot.

Me: You say in the introduction to your book that these cartoons can be "felt" and "tasted." What do you mean by this?

Deb: If you touch them, they feel like paper. If you eat them with mayonnaise, they taste like mayonnaise on, like, paper. If you grind them up real good, they can also be "snorted."

Me: I've heard you speak of "mindfulness." Could you explain what that is and how it influences your art?

Deb: You've heard me speak? We've never met.

Me: It says I'm supposed to ask you that.

Deb: Oh, right. "Mindfulness" means, like, when your mind is full.

Me:

Deb: Of stuff. Brain stuff.

Me:

Deb: This is hard. They didn't tell me it was going to be hard.

Me: What kinds of reactions and stories have people shared with you upon viewing your art?

Deb: One man told me that looking at my drawings made him think of giving naked piggyback rides to Alanis Morissette. But he said he also got the same thoughts when he looked at pictures of food. So I don't know.

Me: We all drew pictures as kids, and then most of us stopped. What would you say to someone who insists he or she is not artistic?

Deb: I would tell them that today is the first day of the rest of their life, that there is no I in team, that failing to prepare is preparing to fail, that when the going gets tough, the tough get going, that a stranger is just a friend you haven't met yet, and that if life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

Me:

Deb: I said I was an idiot.

Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is weingarten@washpost.com. He wishes to make it clear that the above interview is entirely made up, that he has not even read The Soul Support Book, nor spoken with Deb Koffman, who might be, for all he knows, a genius of Aristotelian proportions. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon at www.washingtonpost.com.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company