Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Presenting... Shelf Monkey!
You know, I don't really spend all day sitting in front of my television. By day I am an editor at a publishing house, signing up new books, working with authors, editing their masterworks, overseeing production, dealing with designers, choosing photos, managing cover production and design... in other words, if you thought writing about television was the best job in the world, I actually work at TWO of the best jobs in the world. Writing about TV is what I do in my evenings.

So I thought hey, you know, I should be touting some of the books of my brilliant authors here, to show just how proud of them I am, and how thrilled I am about these books. Not only that, but just as I'm trying to recruit people to watch Lost and Heroes and Veronica Mars and The Office and Rome and The Sopranos and Entourage and 30 Rock and... (ok, maybe I do watch a lot of television) I really REALLY want people to read these books. We're a medium-sized publisher -- no Random House here -- but we publish the authors who are the future of the literary world.

So without further ado, the first of these posts will be on first-time author Corey Redekop's fabulous new novel, Shelf Monkey. The book just came back from the printer last week and I was in awe. Our awesome cover designer came up with a sparse cover with no title, no author, nothing, which forces people to go, "Huh... cool cover... wonder what it's about?" and they pick it up and boom, potential customer. But because I can't stand beside every table in every bookstore, I'll tell y'all about it. And then you can go and buy a copy. :)

This book came to me unsolicited, and I still remember sitting and going through the pile of manuscripts that had been sitting on my desk for months staring at me and taunting me for not having gotten to them yet. After the fourth memoir of someone's German parents and the fifth memoir of dealing with alcoholic parents and the third memoir of dealing with some mental disease, I hit Shelf Monkey. At first I thought, "Do I think this is really good because of all the other stuff I was just reading?" But I kept reading. And no, it was REALLY good.

For the person who isn't in publishing, it's VERY rare for an unsolicited manuscript -- this is one where the author doesn't know the editor, never worked in publishing, doesn't have an agent, just writes something and sends it directly to the publishing house with nothing going for it but the quality of the work -- to be accepted for publication. But I accepted it, and I'm so glad I did.

Shelf Monkey is the story of Thomas Friesen. The book is largely written as a series of e-mails from Thomas to Eric McCormack, the real-life Canadian author of The Dutch Wife. Thomas believes that maybe Eric will understand what he did, and why he did it, so he reaches out to him as a kindred spirit. Between the e-mails we read television show transcripts, newspaper articles, psychiatric journals, and they all help us begin to piece together what Thomas is talking about. Through the e-mails, we learn that Thomas is an ex-lawyer who has suffered from depression and pill dependencies, and he bounces from job to job until he lands one at READ. This hypermegabookstore, as Corey puts it, is run by a dragon lady named Page, and it's where good books basically go to die. Thomas loves books, thinks working at a bookstore would be fun, and begins. His first day on the job, he realizes that everyone is just there for the latest piece of crap Da Vinci Code knockoff or Oprah-recommended book. His nemesis becomes Munroe Purvis. This slimy, sleazy man loved by housefraus everywhere has a talk show where he advocates that people shouldn't be wasting their time with behemoths like Moby Dick or downers like Catcher in the Rye. So instead, he begins accepting manuscripts from his viewers -- people who've never READ a book, much less WRITTEN one -- and publishes them. Then he tells his viewers to read them, and voila, makes millions.

At READ (the very name of the bookstore has that Orwellian dictatorial nature to it), Thomas discovers other bibliophiles like himself who realized long ago that the masses don't care that one Philip K. Dick book is better than all of the Star Trek novelizations put together, and they begin to figure out ways to get the readers to buy good books by making them think Purvis or someone else has recommended them. But then Thomas finds out this group of people harbours a bigger secret -- every few weeks, they get together in a cult-like group called The Shelf Monkeys, and -- gulp -- burn books. They burn the dreck that never should have been published in the first place, the "According to Jims" of the book world, but only after presenting each book to the group and getting someone else to back them up. At first, Thomas is horrified. He takes various members aside throughout the next few weeks and has serious discussions about how wrong it is to burn books. Through Thomas's doubts, we get some of the best passages of the book, where he struggles to compromise the fact that yes, some books are just wrong, but at the same time, is burning books ever right?

And then... the group discovers Munroe Purvis is coming to town. And they know that it's time to get their ultimate revenge.

I loved this book. If you love books, this is for you. This book is written for all of those people who don't read the latest bestsellers, who tend to read reams of books that no one has ever heard of, who trumpet little-known authors to their friends not because they want to look cool, but because these authors are awesome. This book is for anyone who actually read Tristram Shandy all the way through not because the professor told them to, but because when they read the first four volumes that were actually assigned, they thought it was hellishly funny. (Am I writing from personal experience here? Yes.) This book is for anyone who was horrified -- horrified -- to discover that a publishing company was going to be putting out abridged versions of the classics so people could read them faster. This is for anyone who's ever belonged to a book club and was the only person who actually read the assigned books and didn't just show up to gossip. This is for anyone who's ever despaired at a bestseller list, wondering why the Grishams of the world will always outsell the Klostermans.

I've read this book over half a dozen times, edited it, watched it develop, and I still love it. You can buy it here and here or in your local (probably independent) bookstore. I hope you go and read it and love it, too. You can read Corey's account of being published and his ongoing updates on the book here. If you do read it, come back and let me know!


Crissy Calhoun said...

I concur! Fun and funny and smart and dark and all sorts of things I like in a book. And then there's the cover. I have it sitting face out on my bookshelf so I can admire it whenever I pass by (i.e., frequently).

Kerry said...

I'm really looking forward to reading this one. Thanks for championing it.

Though I couldn't get through Tristram Shandy. Do you think I'll like it anyway?

Nikki Stafford said...

Crissy: I totally have it facing out on my shelf at home, too!

Kerry: Tristram Shandy is a COMPLETELY different book than Shelf Monkey, so I can assure you, you don't need to even stomach it to love Shelf Monkey. :) Let me know when you read it!