Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"The world is perverse, but it could be worse." [0]

My friend Cotton recently (by which I mean, nearly a year ago), blogged about a non-glowing (that's an RDB-style understatement, in case you aren't yet familiar) review he was surprised to find in the first few pages of a book he was reading by Iain Banks. He asks the questions you'd ask: did someone with a conscience feel the need to warn the unsuspecting reader? Was the idea that potential readers would be so intrigued by the bad reviews that they'd be more likely to read the book? Equal time? Truth in advertising? etc.

One option that I considered that Cotton didn't mention was that it was actually an accident that those reviews were included in final printing, after maybe being in drafts as a spoof or a joke or whatever, and accidentally not having been removed.

I'm telling you this fascinating story because I just had reason to ask these questions myself. I read the fabulous Harper's Magazine and this month's issue includes an ad for the new book by Jonathan Franzen, The Discomfort Zone. Is the text in the image too small to read? The second review says, "[A] total lack of humor... perverse" and the fourth says, "Odious... incredibly annoying."

So, what's the deal? Is it a gimmick to catch my attention (it did)? Is it an inside joke style review, given the title and subject of the book? My theory of the mistaken inclusion is ruled out by the fact of this being one small clear ad, not pages of filler reviews that no one reads. Why'd they do it? Was it Franzen's idea? More importantly, have you bought me this book yet? I loved The Corrections.

[0] From the poem "Sonnet for Minimalists" by Mona Van Duyn.


The Trouble With Roy said...

I read "The Corrections" and have heard a little about Franzen -- my guess is he had that in the ad on purpose.

Are you going to read the book? I think I will.

Scot said...

What about "Odious...increadibly annoying"?

The mixture of reveiws probably does have to do with the subject matter. The fact that 3 call it funny/humourous, one one says it's without humor illustrates that it's not for everyone? Maybe there's an inside joke that the New York Times reveiwer is known for liking books that are crap and crapping on books people like?