Tag Archives: Lerner

To the future (of the book)

10:04 says something about publishing in recent times (see The very edge of fiction), but it might also say something about changing attitudes to books.

One of the many threads in the book concerns Roberto, a boy whom the narrator takes to the Natural History Museum and encourages to write down stuff about dinosaurs. As a surprise for Roberto he has fifty copies of the resulting four-page book – entitled, in case we are in any doubt, To the Future – produced using a self-publishing website: “It did not feel like a vanity project, but like a real children’s book”.

Roberto is not very impressed.

“Will we do another book?” He sounded as though he hoped we wouldn’t.

“You haven’t even looked at this one,” I said, trying to sound light, and not disappointed. “This is the product of all our hard work. We sweated over every sentence.”

“Because I want to make a movie next,” Roberto said.

The narrator tries to bring the boy round, suggesting that “maybe we can make a book trailer”, but there is no meeting of minds.

“The room had that particular quality of silence that obtains when many loud bodies have recently left.”

Is this the end of the book, and perhaps the end of publishing as we know it?

Ben Lerner, 10:04, 2014

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The very edge of fiction

Very near the end of Ben Lerner’s 10:04, the narrator tells us about a photograph of the Goldman Sachs building, the only one lit among the dark towers of the financial district. This is an image that he would use for the cover of his book: “not the one I was contracted to write about fraudulence, but the one I’ve written in its place for you, to you, on the very edge of fiction”.

The fictional book on fraudulence, based on a New Yorker article, has been sold for a significant six-figure sum even though the author’s previous novel “had only sold around ten thousand copies”. The agent explains that the “publishers pay for prestige”, which prompts questions in the narrator’s mind.

“Even if I wrote a book that didn’t sell, these presses wanted a potential darling of the critics or someone who might win prizes; it was symbolic capital that helped maintain the reputation of the house even if most of their money was being made by teen vampire sagas or one of the handful of mainstream “literary novelists” who actually sold a ton of books. This would have made sense to me in the eighties or nineties, when the novel was more or less still a viable commodity form, but why would publishers, all of whom seemed to be perpetually reorganizing, downsizing, scrambling to survive in the postcodex world, be willing to convert real capital into the merely symbolic?”

The agent has a ready answer to this.

“Keep in mind that your book proposal…” my agent said, and then paused thoughtfully, indicating that she was preparing to put something delicately, “your book proposal might generate more excitement among the houses than the book itself.”

10:14 is an intriguing novel about writing and the slitheriness of fictions, a great proposal that turned into a great book.

Ben Lerner, 10:04, 2014

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