Our Books Are Morbidly Obese

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Today in literature and publishing: God's memoir won't be sold at Walmart, the rise of the giant novel, and Kurt Vonnegut's cautionary tale.

  • Walmart and Target are refusing to carry former Daily Show executive producer David Javerbaum's new book The Last Testament, a jokey as-told-to memoir of God. Javerbaum was one of the writers on The Daily Show's America: The Book, which Walmart also refused to carry back in 2004, because it contained nude images of nine people who clearly were not members of the U.S. Supreme Court. So he knows levity is the way to respond to a parody you wrote being banned by several major American retailers. "I’m not sure why they’d sell Keith Richards’s memoir but not God’s," he tells Vulture, "especially since they’re contemporaries." The excerpts on the book's Web site are hardly blasphemous (though at one point God does refer to Bob Costas as "Bob friggin' Costas"), but Simon & Schuster's UK imprint was sufficiently concerned that it declined to publish the book after seeing Jovenbaum's final version, so the tone concerns are not just limited to large American retailers.  [Vulture]
  • It's not just that authors are writing more big, honking thousand page novels this fall. It's that novelists of all stripes are going long. George RR Martin's A Dance with Dragons is 1,040 pages, Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 is 924. "That's what's changed about the size issue today," writes The Guardian's John Dugdale. "[I]t cuts across publishing's class system." Dugdale argues the bulkiness boom began as a reaction to the early 20th century modernist movement's "anti-bulk bias [which] lasted, with some exceptions, until the 1960s." The turning point for big books, according to Dugdale, came with Dune in 1965. At 600 pages, Dune cleared the way for 15 years of "saga-size literary novels that included Gravity's Rainbow, Midnight's Children and The Name of the Rose, with postmodernism (feast on past literature!) and magic realism (feast on your country!) both encouraging authorial indulgence." This in turn gave rise to the "class-neutral obesity epidemic" we see on shelves today. Which raises the inevitable question: will the rise of e-books force authors to write tighter or give them total freedom to go long? Dugdale is unsure. On the one hand, the "disincentive of having to lug heavy novels around and rest them on your tummy disappears." But there's also the possibility readers will become "aware of the eye-fatigue associated with e-books the longer a book continues" and clamor for brevity.. [The Guardian]
  • Author Charles Shields publisher is touting his new biography Kurt Vonnegut: A Life as "a definitive biography of an extraordinary man," along with being a gossipy look at the author's unhappy home life. Writing in The New York Times, Janet Maslin says what's remarkable about the book is the way it corrects "misconceptions about Vonnegut's writing" that earned him a reputation as one of America's great authors. That overlooks the fact, that, according to Maslin, "the books that followed Cat’s Cradle, The Sirens of Titan, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, and Slaughterhouse-Five became increasingly unreadable." Rather than puffing up Vonnegut's legacy by lingering on these early successes, Shields offers his career as a cautionary tale, about what can happen to an author who runs out what Maslin terms "writerly inspiration," yet has to go on writing. Maslin concludes, not unreasonably: "Twitter might have suited him perfectly if he were still here." [The New York Times]
  • Christopher Paolini was 19-years old when Eragon, the first installment in his bestselling Inheritance Cycle series, was published in 2003. With the fourth and final installment arriving in stores next week, Publishers Weekly offers a look at what it takes to get the last book in a series with a well-defined mythology ready to ship. Without a doubt, the copyeditors sound like they have it the hardest. Copyediting a series is tough under any circumstances, since there are continuity issues from earlier books that must be factored in  In Paolini's series, "there are several hundred characters, and sometimes auxiliary characters will appear two books apart" and "four languages Paolini coined for the series." The fact Paolini's a stickler for accuracy means checking the dialects is very labor-intensive, and also very important for the narrative. "Within these languages, Christopher has created extensive rules of grammar, so it isn’t just words that one has to keep track of, but it’s an entire syllabus of rules that challenges any copy editor working on the series," explains Random House executive copy editor Artie Barrett. "Christopher has an affinity for accents on words and characters and that poses a challenge to anyone working on a series." [Publishers Weekly]

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.