Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fun Literary Caper Skewers the Publishing Industry. . .

Here is the perfect summer read for bibliophiles.

Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer takes on the New York publishing world in this tale of Ian Minot, a struggling writer working as a barista by day, and writing short stories at night about "small people living small lives". He is about to lose his girlfriend - who is on the verge of getting her own collection of autobiographical stories about growing up in Romania published - to an egocentric phony whose own memoir has just hit the bestseller lists.  Then one day Ian encounters "The Confident Man", a bitter ex-editor who haunts the coffee shop and who wants to get his revenge on the industry. He's written a novel about the theft of a precious manuscript of The Tale of Genji from a library that then went up in flames. He suggests to Ian that with a little re-working, the manuscript could be passed off as a memoir - as Ian's own story - and then he could sign a two-book deal that would allow his book of short stories to also be published.  At the appropiate moment, Ian could come clean, but the publicity would ensure not only sales of the two books, but also shame the publishing executives and agent who bought into the scam. The only trouble is that while Ian dreams of fame and money, he's a bit oblivious to the ulterior motives behind the scheme, and soon realizes someone is after not only the manuscript but also his life.  Librarians who know their Dewey Decimal system will have an insider's advantage to figuring out some of the mysteries that unfold, and of course this novel also skewers the recent self-righteous debates and hypocrisy over penning "the truth" in memoirs, directly recalling the controversy over James Frey's A Million Little Pieces.

This was a rollicking read, punctuated by some clever literary puns (if a little overdone) as Langer effortlessly substitutes writers' names with nouns that can be associated with them. So stylish eyeglasses become "franzens"; trains are "highsmiths" and curly hair is an "atwood". Would-be writers and fans of the literary mysteries of John Dunning will enjoy this one.

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