Saturday, February 25, 2006

Book Doctor (Esther Cohen)

I have to begin with a major disclaimer. I am not a fan of books about writers writing books. That said, there are sometimes exceptions to this (such as John Irving's The World According to Garp, which was the first book I read in high school that completely wowed me because it was considered "literature" even though it was so amazingly good).

One of my first jobs was as a managing editor for a national literary magazine. Our circulation was small, but we were listed in The Writer's Market (think of it as the yellow pages for a writer aspiring to be published), and we received a good deal of submissions. The best part of the submissions (from my point of view) were the cover letters, not the ones written professionally, but the ones who were trying to "grab our interest." It didn't help that, at the time, the example cover letter in The Writer's Market was so humorously off-target as to what magazines/journals were really looking for.

The query letters Arlette, the main character in Esther Cohen's Book Doctor, receives reminded me of the especially priceless cover letters we received. While they may seem over the top (such as the lawyer who has an idea for a book Firm: A Lawyer's Exercise Guide), she's nailed the tone and content perfectly. The letters are interspersed among the narrative, and to me they are the most entertaining and interesting part of the book.

Arlette is a book doctor, helping others write their stories, but of course she has a novel in her that she's trying to write. For me, the book wasn't visual or descriptive enough, and the characters did a lot of talking about big questions in big ways that didn't really ring true to life to me. But again, remember my disclaimer above.

There was also this really funny joke in a query letter Arlette receives. It's from a man who wants to write an Alzheimer's Joke Book:

"George Bush was upset. He hadn't been the President for a while, and he craved attention. A friend suggested he visit an old-age home in California. A guest appearance. The friend arranged for the visit. George got there and the people in the home were thrilled to see him. He shook hands all around, and listened to their praises. He felt much better very quickly, and was about to leave when he noticed an older woman in the corner, sitting all by herself. He walked over to her, intending to cheer her up. He smiled at her kindly, then said, 'Do you know who I am?' 'No,' she said, looking him in the eye. 'But if you ask at the front desk, they'll tell you."

Next book up: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

1 comment:

Ashley said...

This cracks me up. I enjoyed your perspective on this book with all of your inside experience into writing and publishing. I don't think I picked up on it as an "outsider"...here I was thinking it was just quirky and humorous entertainment. Okay, no more recommendations for books about writers writing books :).