But First, A Little Background:
When I was writing my own book I refused to read anything by any contemporary writer, because I didn’t want to be influenced or find out that some jack wagon was saying the exact same thing as me, only with much better grammar and less swears. Plus people kept telling me I told stories like Sedaris, and this I did not need to hear.
After I finished writing, I didn’t want to read anything because every time I picked up a book purported to be similar in genre (memoir-yeck), voice (Sedaris- riiight), or plot (Please. There is nobody weird like me.), I’d open the first few pages, read and immediately tell myself “Screw ‘Scoreboard’, I am way mothra faulking better than this clueless entitled snobby twit.” thereby allowing my ego to render the process of getting to know the competition utterly useless.
Over time, my defensiveness and blinding jealousy ebbed and in the last year or so I have read at least 15 humorous memoir type books. I can tell you this: less than a handful have stuck out as being worthy of publication/my time/your time. (For example: I just finished one by a guy who used to write for Letterman and it was dull as shite.)
Markley’s Publish this Book is at the top of the good bunch. Its charming, often hilarious and compelling. Publish this Book has something for everyone and despite its length, it is the quickest read of anything I have read by any current author. its probably a quicker read than this review, but I had no time to edit for length or grammar. Stick with me, I think its worth it!
I am not being compensated for this review and I purchased the book on my own. I truly do not know Mr. Markley personally. However, about 100 pages into this book, I liked it so much that I went looking for its Facebook page. And because I am good at social media, I mistakenly found Markley’s personal FB page and sent a friend request. I can only imagine what its like to get a friend request from someone you don’t know named “LA Juice”. Mr. Markley was gracious and did not abuse me, but instead accepted the request in a friendly manner. That is probably why I decided to review his book first.
And now my review:
Stephen Markley’s Publish this Book
Publish this Book is a memoir about Stephen Markley’s 20-something struggle to survive and succeed in his post-college years in Chicago as a writer by dreaming up a not-so-loony scheme to get a book published. Markley’s not-so-loony idea is to chronicle the journey from “Chapter 1” to publication while dodging the landmines and trip wires that life presents us all.
And it is great. SOFA KING hilarious. It’s funny and poignant if you are a member of his generation. It’s funny and charming if you are old enough to be his mother, slightly older sister. It’s relatable and interesting regardless of your gender and even if you yourself have not written a book and are not trying to get one published. Markley’s story is completely relatable no matter where we are in our lives, careers, successes. And it’s written incredibly well.
Mr. Markley approaches his story with all the enthusiasm of a 2 year old colt in the starting gates for the first time and his infectious energy moves the story along at a pace that will surprise you. He is able to blend a youthful tone and a boatload of less than serious material (i.e.: fart jokes) with some top-notch writing and insights about our world and life.
Most impressively, he writes about setbacks and misfires, personal tragedies and other life lows without sounding like he’s whining. And when the successes come, he manages to unbridle the joy without sounding like an entitled deuce. There are some critics who approached the book as though a privileged kid from the upper middle class is just whining (like they tend to do with Markley’s generation and they did to Doug Coupland back in the day).
I disagree with such a lazy brush off. Markley’s self awareness (and self-deprecation) tempers the manner in which he expresses his struggles. He’s a likeable, earnest kid. (Yes, I can call him a “kid”- I have a “baby” brother his age.)
To the detractors, I ask: why is it a crime to dream and hope and try to succeed if you come from an upper middle class background? Why can’t anyone who takes a risk, struggles to succeed in this ridiculous world be applauded?
(Side note: I have read some of his contemporaries, memoir writers of the same generation as Markely, and well- there are some seriously entitled nabobs getting published who grew up in suburbia and think that just because they went to a good college and didn’t die of a ruffie overdose at the Sigma Epsilon house that one time, the world owes them Prada. They are not nearly as self-deprecating or charming.)
Markley studied in school to become a writer, so he takes his literary craft more seriously than the typical “humor memoir” author. Happily, though he doesn’t get heavy handed with the intellectualism, or caught up in trying to show everyone just how smart he is. Naturally, I think this makes the book more relate-able and clever than if he were writing to try to prove his literary value. I mention this because there is a thread of tension throughout the book on this matter, as his mentor and former professor works with him. You can tell the mentor wants him to write for literary value and Stephen struggles with it, ultimately accepting that this is not the kind of story you over-write.
That is not to say there aren’t times when his need to shout “Sir, I exist” doesn’t take over. Occasionally it becomes apparent that he feels overwhelmed by the fact that tried to do quite a lot with the story and about 280 pages in you realize there is a boatload going on here and he’s got to try and wrap it all up. Maybe (maybe) there are a couple of late chapters he could have left out, but I really didn’t mind.)
In the end, if I have anything negative to say, its that he should be flogged and burned at the stake for footnote 211. 1
No, I really mean it. The final two words of Footnote 211 are unforgivable and totally unnecessary. 2 While we are on that subject, a stylistic feature of the book is a plethora of footnotes, including one full chapter written as a footnote. I realize some people are now glazing over at the mere mention of footnotes, I’m not one of them. I freaking love footnotes and think every book should have footnotes (and asides and stage whispers). Just trust me, these are not your professor’s footnotes, they tend to be funny- so don’t freak out when you see them.
My favorite thing about Markley’s writing is that when the intellect and academic training come out, you get a glimpse into the thought process and writing style that could eventually make this kid one of the more important writers of his generation. When he writes about politics or when he really lets loose and you see some of the inner turmoil he feels, you’ll get a glimpse of a raw fearless writer, along the lines of the late brilliant, great (but cowardly), Hunter S. Thompson. (Sorry. HST was my personal hero until he took his own life. And when we still needed him- inexcusable.)
Markley isn’t drug addled (he’s no where near Thompson in this respect) Markley’s suburban upbringing is still tightly wound around his psyche, so that he’s more of a Bill Clinton non-inhaler. Nor does he write with the pent up aggression and impotent anger felt in Dr. Gonzo’s work, but once in a while in Publish this Book you find trace elements of someone who could be a desperately needed heir apparent to the world of gonzo journalism. The impulse and instinct are there- that’s all I am sayin’. For now.
I first noticed Markley’s book on a table at Borders because it was ultra thick and because the author had the audacity self assurance to rip off pay homage to Abbey Hoffman in the title. I had to know how on earth ANYONE in this day and age got a publisher to print more than 300 pages/70,000 words. While some people might look at such a thick book and think “Hells bells, I might strain a disc carrying that bastard”, I knew that the sheer bulk of the tome meant someone was willing to take a huge risk on the writer and the material.
And now I know why. This was one of the best reads I’ve had all year. Totally satisfying, totally entertaining and worth pouring over every last page and almost all the footnotes. And for those of you terrified of footnotes and long books- let me tell you- it flew by, taking only days to read. Even without potty breaks.
When I finished Publish this Book, my prevailing thought was this: “I cannot wait to see what this kid does next and what he’s like at age 40, when he’s lost the self-consciousness of youth and the fear of the unknown. I think he will be an important writer for his generation.3
Publish this Book gets 15 minutes under the Buy-the-Book test and at least 3 Skip To My Loos. This means you should run, not walk, do not pass go, do not collect $200 and go pick up this book.
1. No I mean it, take it out.
2. Still mean it.
3. Plus he can tell a decent fart joke.