Laughing All the Way to the Bookshelves
A year after Bantam Books hit a gusher with Jerry Seinfeld’s “SeinLanguage"--1.2 million hardcovers in print and counting--the publisher this week stocked shelves with 500,000 copies of Paul Reiser’s “Couplehood.”
True to the formula that worked so well the first time, the new book presents the humorous observations of a major comedian whose role on a hit TV sitcom serves as a primary marketing strength.
In this case, Reiser’s breeze of a read mines the ever-shifting landscape of his own marriage and the silly turf wars that could have come right out of the TV show, NBC’s “Mad About You,” in which he plays a documentary filmmaker wed to another Manhattan yuppie portrayed by Helen Hunt.
That is to say “Couplehood” is more literary merchandise than real book--a way for fans to read the text of Reiser’s stand-up and TV performances and all but hear him speaking the words himself. No surprises. And with a cover-charge price of $19.50, it’s a chance to save on the two-drink minimum.
Reiser, for example, writes that he’s a chronically lazy guy:
“I’ll watch a show I’m not enjoying for 30, 40 minutes because I don’t feel like looking for the remote control. . . . Once we were watching TV and couldn’t find the remote control. . . . Now, I sensed that I was sitting on something hard that may very well have been the remote control, but I didn’t have the energy to get up and confirm. . . . Finally, my wife forcibly shoves me to one side and we find not only the remote control, but a pair of scissors, a glove she was looking all over for, and a tangerine.
“I realized I am either (A) really, really, remarkably lazy, or (B) I have no sensory receptors in my left buttock. Either way, it might be a problem.”
Last spring, before introducing Reiser to an audience of booksellers at Caroline’s comedy club, Bantam Publisher Irwyn Applebaum said that “SeinLanguage” had been such a hit that “suddenly comedians who had never read a book were talking about writing one.”
Among the other comedy books are two from Hyperion--the new “You So Crazy” by Martin Lawrence, of Fox-TV’s “Martin,” and the upcoming “Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man” by Tim Allen, the star of ABC’s “Home Improvement.” Hyperion has announced a 500,000-copy printing for Allen’s book, which has a publication date of Oct. 7. In addition, Bantam recently signed Ellen DeGeneres, star of the ABC’s “Ellen,” to write a book scheduled for release in the fall of next year.
Garry Shandling, Dennis Miller and Brett Butler also reportedly hold publishing contracts.
The Seinfeld and Reiser books have the same price, same look, same size and almost the same weight, 14 and 15 ounces, respectively. A big difference is that “Couplehood” begins with Page 145.
“It’s too overwhelming to know there’s so much left and you’re only on Page 8,” Reiser explains. “This way, you can read the book for two minutes, and if anybody asks you how far along you are you can say, ‘I’m on 151--and it’s really flying. It just sails, baby.’ ”
Unknown Writer Wins ‘Lottery’: Carol O’Connell, a failed painter and sometime proofreader, was out of work and fretting about the rent on her shoe-box apartment in Greenwich Village. Not only that, but New York publishers clearly were not even reading the manuscripts she had been sending them. On to the slush pile they went.
One day, the phone rang. London calling. Hutchinson Publishers told O’Connell that it would buy “Mallory’s Oracle,” which she had sent abroad in a bid to bypass New York resistance to a novelist without an agent. Hutchinson, which was paying 25,000 pounds for O’Connell’s thriller, then sold the American rights at auction last fall to G.P. Putnam’s Sons for $800,000--one of the largest sums paid for a first novel (and a sequel now being written). Deals to publish in more than a dozen other countries followed.
A jubilant O’Connell scheduled root canal, knowing that she could finally pay for the procedure.
“Luck, just a great stroke of luck,” O’Connell, 47, said over lunch this week in a voice that whispers, almost inaudibly. “It was like winning the lottery. I had crawled out of the slush pile.”
“Mallory’s Oracle” introduces former street urchin Kathleen Mallory, now a New York police detective with a super fluency in computers. Someone is cutting the throats of rich old women who live on stately Gramercy Park. After the slasher also kills the detective who had taken Mallory in as a child and raised her, she pursues the case on her own. She enters an atmospheric world of old money and oddball heirs, as well as a network of magicians and psychics.
The 25-year-old Mallory, as she insists on being called, is a cool, gorgeous and compulsively efficient blond. She comes across as such an original but elusive character that it may explain why film rights to the book remain unsold. Jodie Foster? Bridget Fonda? It’s hard to agree on who might play her.
O’Connell is pulling for an unknown. “When you get a piece of wonderful luck such as I did, you want to share it,” she said.
Meanwhile, Mallory continues to live on the printed page as O’Connell works on a sequel. That Mallory might return in a series of books was a prospect that obviously excited Putnam Editor in Chief Neil Nyren.
“I get millions of thrillers all the time,” he said. “Most of them are competent, but the character of Mallory seemed different and fresh to me. You have a handful of solid female protagonists, such as in the books of Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky, but none of them is quite as off-center as Mallory is.”
Indeed, the search for enduring female characters runs throughout the publishing industry. In recent months, for example, it has produced New York crime reporter Kate Murray, introduced in “Strangers in the Night” (Crown) by Peg Tyre, and Los Angeles stockbroker/sleuth Iris Thorne, the creation of Dianne G. Pugh, author of “Cold Call” and the imminent “Slow Squeeze” (Pocket Books).
Mallory has earned O’Connell the luxury of being able to write all the time--and still pay the rent on quieter Upper West Side digs.
“I’ve always been a natural hermit,” she said. “I want to go on being one.”
With Mallory for company.
*Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday. The Ink column will return in two weeks.