Top 10 (or so) reasons this is funny

If you love books, or know a little about the publishing industry, here are 10 reasons why Steve Hely's first novel, "How I Became a Famous Novelist" (Grove Atlantic/Black Cat: 322 pp., $14 paper), will hit you like "This Is Spinal Tap." In fact, in honor of Spinal Tap, let's crank that number to 11.

1. Hely has written for David Letterman and has a dry, sharp wit.

2. If anyone can write a rollicking satire of the publishing world, this is the guy.

3. Hely's protagonist, Pete Tarslaw, is an underemployed, underwashed liberal arts slacker who cooks up the idea of becoming a famous novelist to make his soon-to-be-married ex-girlfriend jealous. Could there be a worse reason to go into writing? If so, I have yet to see it.

4. In preparation for his opus, Tarslaw atomizes the genres and conventions of today's bestsellers and literary prize winners with striking clarity. He makes a lot of lists.

5. Tarslaw's Rule 5: "Must include a club, secrets/mysterious missions, shy characters, characters whose lives are changed suddenly, surprising love affairs, women who've given up on love but turn out to be beautiful."

6. "The Tornado Ashes Club," Tarslaw's novel, is designed to bring joy to lonely middle-aged women who devour baked goods. That's almost how things turn out.

7. That Hely can keep readers from throwing the book against the wall while reading Tarslaw's calculatedly awful prose is a significant achievement, facilitated by his decision to keep such passages very, very short.

8. Hely, by contrast, writes taut, funny sentences, such as: "Writing a novel is pathetic and boring. Anyone sensible hates it. It's all you can do to not play Snood all afternoon."

9. As almost every aspect of publishing -- bespectacled young literary geniuses (Jonathan Safran Foer, anybody?), the post-publication influence of Oprah -- gets satirized, true insiders may wonder about who escapes unscathed: notably, powerful agents. Perhaps Hely's is too big to annoy.

10. I found this entirely charming, but I am a book geek. Then again, who knew about the Westminster Kennel Club before "Best in Show"?

11. It is possible to write a good book about writing a bad book; Hely has done it.

-- Carolyn Kellogg


Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World