How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely is another book I picked up as a result of a session at the 2011 Melbourne Writer’s Festival. For those who are not aware, Steve Hely is part of the writing team on such hit television series as 30 Rock, The Office (the US version) and American Dad. So my expectations for this book were that this would be a funny book. What I got was not so much a laugh a minute side-splitting comedy, and more of a satirical examination of the world of contemporary literature, publishing and what it means to be a successful writer.
When Peter Tarslaw receives an invitation to the wedding of his ex-girlfriend, who unceremoniously dumped him, leaving him a broken shell of a man, he decides that the only way he can tolerably attend the event is if he is a success at something. At this time he sees an interview with one of his ex-girlfriend’s favourite authors, Preston Brooks. He is a frequent fixture on the New York Times Bestseller list. Tarslaw is not a fan of his work. However, in watching the interview Tarslaw decides that Brooks is in fact a genius having made a name for himself by writing what people want, and living up to people’s idea of what a novelist should be. He decides that if Preston Brooks can do it, then so can he. He then sets about writing a book that will make him famous.
As I said this book is a satire, and while funny at times, there are moments that are so close to how things actually are, that it is more scary than funny. He makes some uncomfortable observations about the publishing business, and the idea that books and reading have become commodities that are publicised and sold in the same way that other firms sell soft drink or hamburgers. That giving the masses what they want, and creating a ‘sensation’ are more important the creating a great piece of literature.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was especially meaningful for me since I have become a participant, through this very blog, in the ‘book industry’ that he describes. ( I can only hope that my contribution is for the good of books and reading, and not part of the greater problem.) I recommend this to anyone with an interest in books, reading or publishing.
- Conan O’Brien documentary director adapting HOW I BECAME A FAMOUS NOVELIST (geektyrant.com)
- The Coffee Story- Peter Salmon (bookblog76.com)
- Bossypants- Tina Fey (bookblog76.com)