Very engrossing. I was completely entranced by the book to be sure. The only reason I gave it only 3 1/2 stars was because of the ending. I thought the ending was a cop-out. A little deus ex machina for my taste. Still, well worth the read. Great stuff!
The first few pages were difficult to read - it's like he wrote it with a thesaurus next to him - but the story is fascinating and then I couldn't put it down - what if someone wrote the perfect self-help book and everyone was cured?
Author: Will Ferguson
ISBN: 1841952338/Canongate Books, Ltd.
Protagonist: Edwin de Valu, low-level editor for Panderic Press
Setting: present-day, an unnamed city that's the publishing center of the US
First Line: Grand Avenue cuts through the very heart of the city, from 71st Street all the way to the harbourfront, and although it is eight lanes wide, with a treed boulevarde running down the middle, the Avenue feels claustrophobic and narrow.
Edwin de Valu, a low-level editor for Panderic Press, is usually stuck editing the self help books for the publishing house's catalog. He's also responsible for slogging through his fair share of the slush pile--all the unsolicited manuscripts that come to Panderic daily. Just before a meeting with the chief editor, Edwin takes a look at a gargantuan thousand-page typewritten manuscript. Not finding a self-addressed, stamped envelope in which to put the form letter turndown, he simply dumps the manuscript in the trash. At the meeting, he's told that the very foundation stone of their self-help catalogue, "Mr. Ethics" himself, has been arrested for income tax evasion (and for burying IRS agents in his backyard). Edwin is given the task of finding a self-help book to replace Mr. E's, and the only thing he can come up with is the monster he threw in the wastebasket. After all, there may be a way he can prune it down to 300 pages. He has no idea what he's about to unleash upon the country.
Canadian Will Ferguson credits a book publicist with the idea for his first novel. The publicist said, "I'll tell you one thing. If anyone ever wrote a self-help book that actually worked, we'd all be in trouble." I have to admit that I read the entire book with one particular friend in mind: one who openly expresses a loathing for self-help books. (It's not a favorite of mine either.) By page 27, I knew I was hooked: Panderic publishes the "Chicken Broth" series of books, and book #217 is titled Chicken Broth for Your Fallen Arches. The chief editor of Panderic gathers awed looks and hushed whispers: he spent six years as a fact-checker for Tom Clancy.
Ferguson's thoughts on how a country could collapse if given a self-help book that actually works are funny and also very thought-provoking when carried through to the idea of what happiness really means. Although it bogged down a bit after the book was published and became a runaway success, I still found it a hilarious satire on the world of publishing and the human condition.