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Let's Capitalize on the Garth Risk Hallberg Thing for a Post

If you’re into book industry news and whatnot, you’ve probably heard the story about Garth Risk Hallberg’s novel, City on Fire. Just to recap though, before the book had a publisher, Scott Rudin, the movie producer behind Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and No Country for Old Men, optioned the film rights. That’s a pretty rare situation, and basically ensured that a book deal was imminent. Well, a couple days ago it was announced that Knopf had bought the rights for almost $2 million.

From the New York Times:

“City on Fire” was written by Garth Risk Hallberg, a 34-year-old who has contributed to The New York Times Book Review and The Millions. Publishers who had a copy of the manuscript — and said they could concentrate on little else until they had finished reading it — rapturously compared it to work by Michael Chabon and Thomas Pynchon.

The book drew an advance that is highly unusual for a debut novel. In a two-day bidding war, 10 publishers bid more than $1 million. Knopf emerged the victor, paying close to $2 million, said two people familiar with the negotiations. [. . .]

Sonny Mehta, the chairman and editor in chief of Knopf, said on Sunday, “It’s a large, spacious and extremely ambitious novel. It has a richness to it, and that was really what I responded to almost immediately.”

As much as I kind of loathe the “publishing industry,” it’s totally bad ass that Garth got this money for a book that was initially 1,200 pages long. And given that the last time I saw Garth, he was reading Péter Nádas’s Parallel Stories (and pointing out that most critic who reviewed this seemed not to have read it . . .), I’m guessing that City on Fire isn’t going to be 900 pages of vampire shit and semi-erotic bondage. In fact, this may be the first “Big Book Deal” book that I’m actually excited to read.

To go back a step though, and to indulge in some momentary online navel-gazing, the thing that’s weirdest to me about this is that I’ve actually met Garth, officially making him the first person I’ve coffeed with to earn this much cash on a single book deal.

More to the point, Garth was on a Three Percent podcast last year to discuss this article about some contemporary novelists (Franzen, DFW, Zadie Smith, Eugenides, etc.).

You NEED to listen to the opening of this podcast—it’s a harrowing thought (that you only have XXX number of books left to read in your life) followed by a bit of Garthian wisdom.

Also, I want to thank Garth for being the indirect inspiration for the funniest thing I ever wrote—a play-by-play recap of my battle with Skype/Moneybookers.

And for more info on Garth and what little is known of City on Fire, check out Boris Kachka’s FAQ on GRH.



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