Sunday, August 21, 2011

30 More Days Book Challenge: Day 12

Day 12: Books That, in a Perfect World, Would Be Bestsellers


Generally speaking, if I love a book, I mean go nutty over it, the book is doomed to not make it very high up or at all on a major bestseller list. The odds are not good. The last book I had right was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. For the most part my picks don’t become blockbusters. I don’t get angry anymore; I really have made peace with it (not really I just I take medication now). What I have stopped doing is declaring to the world that books are going to be huge bestsellers, or that a book is going to win every major award and change your life. Well I have almost stopped doing that.

In an effort to not repeat too much I won't pick books that I have already written about, but I will say that why Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon wasn’t a number one bestseller is beyond me. And why people can not just fall in line and read Gail Caldwell’s A Strong West Wind so they can bask in her artistry makes me nutty. Okay now that I have started…. was Lying Awake by Mark Salzman a bestseller? [Yes, and most deservedly so.] It should have been. Oh, and that book I wrote about a few days ago Nine Minutes, Twenty Seconds…oh man total bestseller had that not been released on 9/11/01! Horrible timing for that book. Do I sound too bossy and a tad angry? Who wants to date me? [...No one?] I also decided not to pick a book that won a major award because…isn’t that better than a bestseller list?

I am going to go back a few years for this book, oh and for sure I shot my mouth about how it was going to be a huge bestseller.  [You?  Flap your gums?  Never!] And while I think it did well…it just didn’t do what I thought. I am talking about Max Berry’s hilarious near future tale called Jennifer Government (published 2003).

In the near future the world is run by corporations (like that would ever happen) and employees take the name of the company you work for. Liz would be Lizzy Random House and I would be Gianna University of Texas Press (mine is almost long enough to sound royal!). So obviously Jennifer works for the government. The police are now a publicly traded security firm, so if you want a crime investigated, you have to pay them (oh, taxes are now illegal).

A guy named Hack Nike works in merchandising but is pretty low on the totem pole at work, so when his bosses John Nike and John Nike offer him a contract, a raise so to speak, he signs without reading it. He later finds out his contract involves murder to build up street cred for Nike’s new line of $2,500 sneakers. The idea is that if someone is murdered for the shoes they will be all the rage. Marketing baby. [If I kill Gianna over a book, will it be a bestseller?  Hmmm....] So Hack goes to the police and they assume he wants to subcontract the deal so they lease it to the NRA (also now a publicly traded security firm). Pretty soon Hack is being pursued by Jennifer Government who is a consumer watchdog and who takes her job very seriously (Jennifer, by the way, has a tattoo of a barcode under her eye – which you will see on the book’s cover).

So Jennifer Government is my pick for a book that should have been a bestseller. I loved it. Very smart, so very funny, and a little creepy. If this book were a tall man it would be perfect for Liz! [Hell yes.  And check out Max Barry's latest release, Machine Man.  Barry is uber-talented and cool.]


What does it take to make the bestseller lists?  Commercial appeal helps, and an unusual premise, and marketing.  Word of mouth.  Controversy.  Take, for example, American Psycho.  This book was a huge bestseller and still a popular read 20 years later.  Then there's my pick for this category.

Dirty Weekend by Helen Zahavi was written as a response to the gender violence presented as entertainment in American Psycho.  It's a novel of role reversals.  It's violent, controversial, darkly funny, commercial...and it's not even in print any more. 

I admit that I had a tough time with Dirty Weekend.  The first time I read it was for my contemporary gothic literature class in college, and I threw my book across my dorm room four times in the first thirty pages.  It disturbed and angered me....and then it turned a corner.  The book follows the main character, a timid woman named Bella, as she becomes the focus of a stalker.  Bella is the consummate victim, waiting for a violent fate (hence my frustration).  And then one day Bella has enough.  Like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, she develops her own way of lashing out at a culture, and Bella finds her inner strength through who degrade her.  It's sort of awesome, actually.  It's a shame that this book isn't even available in the US for purchase.

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