Book review: Publish This Book

As soon as I heard about this book, or even just this title, I knew that I had to read it. A book about publishing that same book? How wonderfully Hofstadterian!

Disillusioned with the obstacles that publishers place in front of writers who have not yet established themselves, Steve Markley took it upon himself to write about his quest to get a book published. But unlike most people who write about such things, Markley stumbled upon a more clever idea: he would write a book about how to get that same book published.

If that sounds tricky, then, well, it is. If he were to write the book and then submit it to a publisher, then it wouldn’t contain an accurate description of his own publishing journey. And the reverse way would probably be unattainable for a writer just starting out: why would any publishing company wish to take a risk on a book that hasn’t even been thought out?

So, Markley did the only reasonable thing in his situation: bootstrapping. He started to write, and after he had made a bit of progress, largely talking about his previous writings and not managing to get them published, he started to contact agents and publishing companies.

Meanwhile, Markley continued to document his progress, and, more generally, his life. I don’t think I will break the suspense too much by saying that eventually he found an agent and, eventually, a publishing company to publish his book.

It’s unlikely that he would have been at all convincing to his publisher if that were all there were to this book. So, of course, there’s much more. Mostly stuff about his life. Sadly, his life is, to put it mildly, rather dull. His main interests seem to be getting drunk, sex, violence, invoking scatological references and vulgar language, and hanging out with his similarly unimaginative pals. After reading several hundred pages of such monotony, I found it easy to remember why having conversations with most people is so difficult. Are people in my age really generally only interested in such things? Do they have no sense of refinement? No interest in intellectual endeavors? No drive to learn about anything? No desire to help make the world a better place, or to shape it into what we want it to be? If so, I ought to be greatly concerned about the future.

And, to make matters worse, he’s advertising himself as the voice of his generation — my generation. Yes, I’m embarrassed to be associated with such puerile nonsense.

But from time to time, Markley demonstrates that his persona is at least something of a façade: he is really passionate about writing, and he does remind us of that from time to time. He had already written several novels before this book, including at least one when he was in high school, and he produced another one for his senior thesis or equivalent. His writing instructor, after initially dismissing him as a hopeless case, suddenly discovered that Markley was one of his top students and only somehow gave the impression of incompetence in class at first.

I concur; Markley does write very well. I just wish he’d devote more of his book to writing about things of content rather than yet another drunken bar episode. Or, at least, perhaps he could recognize that a 450-page book is quite long, and that the passages most amenable to being cut are the inside jokes with his friends that can only be properly appreciated when under the influence of large quantities of toxic and mind-altering substances.

Then again, if he’s trying to be honest about documenting his life accurately, and he actually does consider drunken bar episodes to be among the highlights of his life, then perhaps it does make sense to devote considerable verbiage to such occurrences. It is a shame, though, that his life is sufficiently devoid of ambitions that such things can be considered important.

I shouldn’t be too harsh on him though. I guess he’s just trying to paint himself as a normal guy, even if that picture isn’t very flattering.

Fortunately, he does occasionally demonstrate that he is an interesting person. For one thing, there’s his passion for writing. And, on top of that, he does point out some meaningful social observations. For example, when he was in college, he wrote for the student newspaper. Most of the time, he wrote vapid articles about the aforementioned topics, and he was generally rewarded by e-mountains of hate email. But on one occasion, he wrote a furious article about a rapist who was let off with only a slap on the wrist. He received a grand total of one letter in response to that article. He wrote in the book about his frustration with people getting so worked up about any deviation from conformity while not concerning themselves at all with actual instances of injustice. I can relate completely!

So, he isn’t really as boring as he likes to pretend he is, after all. Still, I will be sorry if his juvenile tone becomes the standard voice of my generation. I don’t think it’s asking too much for us to have at least a little bit of dignity. A clever and fun idea, to be sure, but it could have been written in a much more reasonable manner.


About Simon

Hi. I'm Simon Rubinstein-Salzedo. I'm a mathematics postdoc at Dartmouth College. I'm also a musician; I play piano and cello, and I also sometimes compose music and study musicology. I also like to play chess and write calligraphy. This blog is a catalogue of some of my thoughts. I write them down so that I understand them better. But sometimes other people find them interesting as well, so I happily share them with my small corner of the world.
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One Response to Book review: Publish This Book

  1. Pingback: Book review: Being wrong | Quasi-Coherent

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