They helped me set up interviews with writers last year, and perhaps will help me set up more later this year.
But, alas, I am usually the wrong reader for the free books they offer bloggers.
The email press releases go something like this:
Gibbon, Terrier, & Fowl has published a sensitive, pitch-perfect, passionate novel, An Alliance of Half-Wits, which is a romance and may win the Pulitzer Prize. Ainsley Ames, a bigamist and ad man, flees from Morgantown, West Virginia, to Cannes and moves in with Lark, a screenwriter who wears a negligee and smokes marijuana in her Gothic castle. It is Anna Karenina crossed with Valley of the Dolls crossed with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes…
Some bloggers love to write about free books from publishers.
At first it seems wildly exciting to receive a free book in the mail.
But, as my husband says, we have no room for books we’ll never read. Last year I received a sports book. I think it was about basketball. I would never read such a book.
And I still have five or six “free” first novels which I haven’t even looked at. I do feel obligated to read at least one of them, though it’s probably too late to help the publicist.
In the last year I have read and written about books by Nancy Mitford, Ursula K. Le Guin, Jonathan Lethem, C. S. Lewis, Dickens, and Mrs. Humphrey Ward.
Does anything about this scream that I want to read An Alliance of Half-Wits?
Okay, I made that book up.
I am simply the wrong reader for many of these books.
AND NOW LET ME WRITE ABOUT A PRETTY GOOD BOOK FOR WHICH I AM THE WRONG READER.
I recently read Jason Porter’s novel, Why Are You So Sad?, a gift from a publicist. At first I thought I was being offered a self-help book, but then I read on, and, according to the blurb by Colum McCann, “Jason Porter could find a place on the shelf beside Richard Brautigan, George Saunders, and David Sedaris. This is a quick, odd, wonderful book, one that pinned me back on my heels and made me laugh.”
Despite the fact that I do not read books by Richard Brautigan, George Saunders, or David Sedaris, I thought it sounded pretty good. I told the publicist to send it.
And, you know, it is pretty good.
This comical novel is about an obsessive depressive ilustrator of furniture-assembly manuals. He writes and distributes a very funny survey he makes up to measure his co-workers’ sadness. I know I would have laughed madly at this when I was 20 or 30. It is well-written, and has many wittily surreal moments, but is not as funny, say, as Robert Irwin’s The Limits of Vision, a favorite novel about an obsessive housewife fighting dust and dirt.
The narrator of Porter’s book, Raymond Champ, is suicidally depressed, only in a droll way, and decorates his cubicle with dismal photos of a dying bull and a child soldier pointing an automatic weapon. He is in traffic one morning when he decides he needs “an emotional Geiger counter that could objectively measure other people for sadness.”
I looked at the woman in the car next to me. She was applying makeup during the stops, opening and closing her mouth like a feeding fish, staring at her red lips in the rearview mirror. I imagined holding a Geiger counter to her forehead. I would ask her a question about her children. Were they an accident? What dreams did they make impossible? She would say, ‘They are the best thing I ever did,” and the readout would expose her lie with a pixelated frown.
And so he makes up his survey in the car.
Each chapter starts with an answer to one of the questions on his survey. For instance,
If you were a day of the week, would you be Monday or Wednesday?
I would be a Wednesday, but in a week that went Wednesday, Wednesday, Wednesday, Wednesday, Wednesday, Wednesday, Wednesday, and repeat.
It is a bit like a literary version of the cartoon Dilbert.
He does have encounters with his co-workers, but most of it is in his head.
There is not much text on the page.
I might like it if it were twice as long.
I am just the wrong reader.
There are some remarkable new books out there, but in general at my age you read War and Peace twice in a year and are also hooked on Zola’s Nana.
If anybody would like Why Am I So Sad?, I would be happy to send it on, because there is a “right” reader for it. Leave a comment if you want it, and if more than wants it, I’ll have a “drawing.”
Please take it! I have too many books.