08 November 2005

The latest from my favorite FPLA

It has been an evil day filled with many gradations of malevolence--from finding out about the death of John Fowles to having to extract a wad of gum from the lovely black tresses of one of my students (the work of an infatuated seven-year-old boy).

So what do I do? Stay in and read the John Hodgman interview at One Story, of course (and offer thanks to The Elegant Variation).

Many moons ago when I was barely out of college, I stumbled upon Hodgman's "Ask a Former Professional Literary Agent" columns in McSweeney's. As this was before I discovered the marvelous universe of litblogs, I would email friends with the links so they, too, could bask in the seasoned wisdom of Mr. John K. Hodgman.

Later, I moved to Brookline, Massachusetts and became a proud patron of the Coolidge Corner Theatre myself. (Every word he has written about it is lovingly true.)

Now I discover he has just released a new book, The Areas of My Expertise. Or, as he so aptly explains,
Everything you need to know about my book is contained within its title: THE AREAS OF MY EXPERTISE. That is actually the shorthand title. The full title is:

"An Almanac of Complete World Knowledge Compiled With Instructive Annotation and Appranged in Useful Order by Me, JOHN HODGMAN, a professional writer, in THE AREAS OF MY EXPERTISE, Which Areas Include Matters Historical, Matters Literary, Matters Cryptozoological, Hobo Matters, Food, Drink, and Cheese (a Kind of Food), Squirrels & Lobsters & Eels, Haircuts, Utopia, What Will happen in the Future, and Most Other Subjects."

Which is to say that it is a handy desk reference and book of interesting trivia in the tradition of THE BOOK OF LISTS or THE PEOPLE'S ALMANAC, with the distinction that in MY book, all of the historical oddities and amazing true facts contained within it are entirely MADE UP, by me. This, paradoxically, allows it to be more true.
Of course it does.

So for old time's sake (and because I needed a laugh), here is a glimpse from The Best Column Ever (or in the immediate case below, "Ask A Brilliant But Eccentric Sleuth Who Is As Mysterious As The Many Legendary Crimes That He Has Solved, And Who Has Since Gone Into Hiding"):
Lisa L. F. asks: Marcel Duchamp once remarked that no book should be longer than 99 pages, but still most seem to be much longer. Why?
JKH, WOWAD: Because pages are printed in groupings of 16 or 32 (called "signatures"), the longest a book can actually be is 96 pages long. Most are much shorter: "One Hundred Years of Solitude," which many believe to be a very long novel, is actually only ten sentences long. There are two explanations for the phenomenon, called "page inflation," that you have observed. Wide margins are partly to blame. But more commonly the fault lies in the conjuring of an evil magician, as magicians are the sworn enemies of logic, literary brevity, and, of course, detectives. Electronic publishing will change all this.
And for good measure:
Monica S asks: Is it ethical for a writer to say that she has been published on the website of a literary journal, even if said writer has merely contrived to have a letter printed in that journal's Letters section?
JKH, FPLA: Oh, absolutely. This is common practice in publishing, just as it is entirely acceptable to say that your novel is "being seriously considered" by a publishing house so long as you have not yet opened the rejection letter.

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