13 November 13 | Chad W. 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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