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Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

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Fri 29
Jun
2007

Max’s Spectacularly Unhelpful Book Review, or: My 7,000 Pages of Shame

Max Max's Tower of ShameNow what we’re going to do is ignore the whole “What the Fukk is happening to Max’s new book?” question. Because it’s going to take some time to resolve, and me posting regular updates on my blog is going to freak everybody concerned right out, and for my own mental health I should probably start thinking about something else.

But thanks to everyone who wrote in with kind words. That means a lot. I’m sure this book will be published. It’s a good book. You’ll like it. The question is not if, but when and how.

So instead of alternating between maniacal cackling and weeping into my sleeve, I will write you a book review. This review is not of books I’ve read. That would be Helpful, because I could tell you if they were any good. This is an Unhelpful review, because all I’m going to say is how these books got onto my bedside table, where they have sat, neglected, as centuries turned.

  • On top is “Maisy Likes Driving” by Lucy Cousins. Fin brought this in one morning and wanted to read it. So I have actually read this one. It’s about 6 pages long and has pictures of Maisy driving things, which she enjoys. I can recommend it if you’re into Maisy and like to know everything that happens in a book from the title and are aged two.

  • Next is “Unpolished Gem” by Alice Pung. I met Alice at a writers’ festival and everyone said her book was good. Alice herself is so polite and smart and cute that I want to take her aside and say, “Stop that. You’re making the rest of us look bad.”

  • American Hoax” by Charles Firth. This I also picked up at the Sydney Writers Festival. Charles and I did a panel together, and afterward he bought my book and asked me to sign it, so I was forced to buy his, even though he was a complete tosspot. I say that because I know that’s the type of humor he’ll appreciate. Actually Charles I liked a lot, even though he’s not as polite and cute as Alice Pung. His book is a satire on… well, America, I guess. I haven’t read it.

  • Phineas Poe” by Wil Christopher Baer. I keep seeing Baer’s name pop up in connection with mine on places like Amazon. If that was enough to get me to buy something, I’d own a copy of this, but Baer came recommended, so I bought this collection of three novels. Unfortunately I discovered that it’s so heavy I can’t read it in bed without breaking the bones in my wrist. I got about four pages in and needed a rest. I think I might relocate Phineas to the bathroom.

  • The Contortionist’s Handbook” by Craig Clevenger. Actually, I have read this one. That shouldn’t be there. I liked it a lot, although not as much as “Dermaphoria.” This puts me firmly in the minority of Clevenger fans, though, so you shouldn’t trust what I say. See? Still Unhelpful.

  • The Art of Funerary Violin” by Rohan Kriwaczek. My Aussie publisher, Scribe, gave this to me, telling me it was hilarious. I thought it was a novel, but on closer inspection it really does appear to be about funerary violins. And I’m really not sure how hilarious that can be.

  • The Life of Pi” by Yann Martel. In LAX, about to board my flight to Melbourne after my 2007 American book tour, I had some leftover cash, and bought this because it’s meant to be good. I dunno, though. It looks very literary, and the problem with literary books is that if you don’t like them, you can’t even extract minor enjoyment out of the gratuitous sex and violence. You just have to sit there and wade through mind-numbing wave after wave of symbolism, eloquence, and character development. I hate that.

  • Third Class Superhero” by Charles Yu. I think I got asked to give a quote for this. It’s a short story collection. I liked the first story, then got distracted and never finished it. They sent me a second copy, perhaps thinking the first had gotten lost, and this bumped it right up to the top of my pile, but unfortunately just before I left on tour, and returned with Life of Pi.

  • Einstein Never Used Flash Cards” by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff. This was very kindly given to me at a 2006 reading I did in Mountain View, CA, in by a guy named Peter, who thought I needed some parenting advice. Now that I think about it, that’s kind of insulting. Anyway, I read a little, but then Jen stole it. I recently got it back, which is why it’s relatively close to the top of the pile.

  • Heyday” by Kurt Anderson. The bookstore I read at in Phoenix, AZ, offered me a book for my trouble, and I chose this because I liked “Turn of the Century.” In retrospect, it was clearly the most expensive book in the store. I may not be invited back to Phoenix.

  • Persuasion & Healing” by Jerome D. Frank and Julia B. Frank. I read half of this as research for my latest novel. It’s an overview of modern psychotherapy. It’s written by a father and daughter, which must have been interesting. Imagine arguments in that house.

  • The Sleepers Almanac 2007.” A short-story collection. Apparently one of my stories will be published in this next year, so the publisher sent me this to help me figure out if that’s a good thing.

  • Prodigal” by Marc D. Giller. A sequel to his very good first novel, “Hammerjack,” which arrived just before a particularly busy time and got hammered down in the pile before I could read it.

  • The Cubicle Survival Guide” by James F. Thompson. I have no idea where this came from.

  • Alien Sex in Silicon Valley” by Dave Alber. The author gave me this at a reading in 2006. I think he was self-publishing. I read the first chapter and quite liked it and then got distracted. This book is now so far down the list I will never reach it. If only I had stayed with it, I might have loved it, given a rave quote for the cover, and helped it become a national bestseller, thus changing Dave’s life forever. Although probably not, since I raved about Paul Neilan’s Apathy and Other Small Victories, and did that become a bestseller? Shockingly, no. That’s out in paperback now, by the way. If you respect me at all, you’ll go buy it.

  • Raga Six” by Frank Laura. Frank is my media escort in San Francisco. He gave me this book in 2006 and I hadn’t gotten to it by the time I went back there a year later. I wasn’t sure which was worse: to admit this, or to say nothing and have him think I hated it. I went with saying nothing.

  • Pendulum” by Nathan Provence. Pretty sure this is another self-published book given to me by an enterprising author who came up to me at a reading, although I’m not sure which year. By now it has been crushed for so long under the weight of other books that all its pages have fused together.

  • The one I’m actually reading is “The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil” by George Saunders. I’d never heard of this book or the author before, but I saw it in a bookstore last week and liked the first page. I started reading it because my wrists were aching from attempting Phineas Poe. That’s my system, you see: last in, first out. It makes no logical sense, but has the advantage of being easy. I use the same system for my email. Anyway, I’m really loving this book so far. It’s fantastic. So if you made it this far, there you go: that’s a little helpful.

By the way, in the course of writing this review, I moved the books to see what was on the bottom, and the pile fell on me. I nearly died.

Fri 22
Jun
2007

The Response

Writing I heard back from Bill, my editor, about my new book. It wasn’t good news. It wasn’t bad news, either. It was kind of inexplicable news. I’m still trying to digest it.

My fear, of course, has been that Bill would say, “Max, you know this book you’re so excited about… well, it’s not so great.” Every time this has threatened to overwhelm me the last couple of weeks, I shooed it away, because I knew in my heart that surely that could not be true: this was a great book, my best, even.

And it turns out that Bill does think it’s great. So too, apparently, do other people he’s shown it to. I pushed him on this, in case he was doing that thing where you say only nice things to the author because my God they’re temperamental, but no: I really think he considers it quality.

That’s the good news. The bad news is he can’t publish it.

It’s hard for me to explain why. It’s hard for me to understand why. I think it has a little to do with the nature of the story, and a lot to do with the nature of the publishing business. I can’t relate the details here without being immensely unprofessional, even for me, so that will have to do, sorry. But the situation is incredibly bizarre, like something out of one of my books. (One of the published ones, ha ha.)

Bill is a genius editor. When he says there’s a publishing problem, I completely believe him. I know he’s looking out for me and my career. He’s proven his skill and dedication over a couple of books.

There are options. I have to believe I can get this book out there somehow. Surely we’ll figure out something.

Surely.

This is a very weird feeling.

Fri 08
Jun
2007

Buying Crap

What Max Reckons You can buy paper made from elephant feces. It’s called Poo Poo Paper. I know this because I saw it mentioned in DailyCandy, which is “the ultimate insider’s guide to what’s hot, new, and undiscovered.” At first I thought DailyCandy might be scraping the bottom of the hot, new, and undiscovered barrel when they reached for the Poo Poo paper, but then I read more and discovered a profound insight into modern consumerism. Here:

Kid 1: Wow. Look at that elephant. He really thinks his sh*t don’t stink.

Kid 2: Actually, it doesn’t always smell bad. Just yesterday I was trying out my new Crayolas on paper made from elephant poop.

Kid 1: Cootie alert.

Kid 2: No, no. It’s totally clean.

Kid 1: Keep talking.

Kid 2: So these people collect the dung, dry it out, and wash it, leaving fibers from the grass, bamboo, and fruits the little guy’s ingested.

Kid 1: Grody. To the max.

Kid 2: I’m not done yet. Then they boil the fibers so they’re super clean, add banana tree and pineapple fibers to thicken the paper, and dry it in the sun. You’d never even know it was made from caca.

Kid 1: Okay. Kinda rad.

You see the genius. Regular non-hot, un-new, and already-discovered people might think that paper made from elephant crap is kind of disgusting. But for that very reason, ultimate insiders find it hot. The selling point is the repulsiveness.

I think marketers worldwide will find this a pleasing development. Until now, they’ve been hamstrung by the need to make their products useful, or at least non-awful. But if leading-edge shoppers are willing to buy the opposite—and not just willing; already eagerly seeking such products out—then the doors are wide open. For example:

Consumer 1: Hey look, shoes made of razor blades. They actually inflict injury on you while you walk. What a stupid idea.

Consumer 2: Actually, some of the hippest Hollywood celebs are wearing these now.

Consumer 1: Keep talking.

Consumer 2: According to Variety magazine, there’s nothing hotter than leaving a little trail of blood spots from your mangled feet. The pain is what makes it outrageous.

Consumer 1: Okay. Kinda rad.

Incidentally, I noticed the slogan on the Poo Poo Paper web site: “WE TAKE THE ‘OO’ OUT OF POO!”. Following that is: “TM”. Someone actually came up with that phrase, then thought: “Gee, that’s some gold right there. I’d better officially register that before anyone steals it.”

Tue 05
Jun
2007

Festive

Max On the weekend I went to the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Many years ago, before I was published, I went to one of these big festivals and hated it, because it was full of self-congratulating blowhards trying to crawl up each other’s butts. But now that I’m one of those butt-crawling blowhards, it was awesome.

I did three panels and got to meet lots of other Aussie writers, which I hadn’t done earlier because until recently I was completely unknown here. Now I’m exactly the right amount of known: enough to get invited, but not so much that I qualify as a commercial sell-out whom everybody bitches about. It was a perfection distraction for a guy waiting to find out if his publisher likes his new novel. (Not that I’m, you know, completely freaking out or anything.)

On my second night I pulled a muscle in my leg. I was asleep at the time. I dreamed that a tiny, blue, jelly-like alien invaded my kitchen and tried to kill me. I stabbed it with a fork and it squealed and staggered around, then it tried to make a run for it so I kicked it as hard as I could against the cupboards. This is where I think I injured myself. Then the alien looked up at me and said, “Mom-my.” I was so shocked I woke up. I think this must be a side-effect of having an active imagination, or doing a lot of drugs before bed.

For my last panel, “Laugh Out Loud,”, I opened with a bit where I pretended someone close to me had just died, then revealed it was just a character in a story I was working on. This probably would have been funnier if moments earlier the host hadn’t paid tribute to Anna Politkovskaya, who attended the Festival last year, and was assassinated for political reasons five months later. If I was a little more professional, I would have junked my opening right there. But I’m not, so I didn’t. Fortunately not too many people seemed to think I was making funny at Anna. And you know, I’m told she enjoyed a laugh.

I read a couple of blogs from this site, which went down very well. It was also terrific to be on stage with my old high school buddy, Wil Anderson; I felt like I was back in 1990, only with no hair.

On the plane ride home I noticed they’re still advising us to brace our heads against the seat in front of us in an emergency. This made sense ten years ago, but now that location is a small, solid screen. If I’m preparing for impact, do I really want to carefully position my face against a rectangle of glass and metal? To me, that really confirms that the whole procedure is there purely to give you something to occupy yourself with other than running around screaming and clawing at flight attendants.

I got home to discover Fin had grown up. I swear, I was away three days, and she learned a hundred new words, got attitude, and her face changed. I am not 100% certain my wife didn’t replace her with a similar-looking child.

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