Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Forgotten books remembered

The Man Who Wrote the Book
By Erik Tarloff
(Crown, 2000)
     Every reader must have a list of books that they loved, but which disappeared without a trace: no paperback reprint, no e-book, no movie adaptation.
     Sometimes the reason is a terrible cover, sometimes it’s bad timing, most of the time it’s inexplicable (although you might suggest that the reason is that the book is terrible).
     One of my favorite recent (as in the past 15-20 years; “recent” stretches the older we get) such titles is Erik Tarloff’s “The Man Who Wrote the Book.” 
     I found the book at Borders Books in Farmington Hills, after a meeting of a singles reading group. I’d read no review of it, and was completely unfamiliar with the author (he currently writes for the Atlantic magazine, and had published one previous book, “Face Time,” which I haven’t read), but the title (what man? what book?) and cover caught my eye,
     Beneath the title was a retro-style, pulpy paperback cover, with a reclining, lingerie-clad female such as Gil Elvgren might have painted, and the title “Every Inch a Lady” by E.A. Peau; “Peau,” of course, is pronounced “Poe,” so that caught my eye, too.
     The plot concerned a once promising poet, now teaching English literature at a small, academically unexceptional Christian college. Tenure seems unlikely, his on-again, off-again relationship with the dean’s repressed daughter is going nowhere, when an old college buddy invites him to L.A. over spring break. Said buddy turns out to be a  publisher of pornographic literature now, who gives him a contract to write a "dirty" book for $5,000. Inspired by his vacation experience, he does. To keep his identity a secret from his employers and colleagues, he adopts the “E.A. Peau” pseudonym. Then the book turns out to be a surprise, breakout hit, garnering mainstream reviews and accolades, and prompting a nationwide hunt for E.A. Peau’s true identity.
     Parts of the novel read like a Penthouse letter, but mostly it’s well-written and funny, and there are numerous side characters and complications. Another member of my reading group (a woman) borrowed it and also loved it. I hoped it would be a hit, and that Tarloff would write more in a similar vein.
     Alas, as I already revealed, it went nowhere. Although it has a four-star average on, it only has 31 reviews total, and is long out-of-print (although it is still available there through its associated sellers, for between 1 cent and $8, plus shipping). Tarloff has published no books since.
     Maybe it was too dirty for a general audience, not dirty enough for a prurient audience.  Maybe the academic intrigue only had resonance for a former English major such as myself. 
     I’m not suggesting that everyone reading this blog should go out and buy this book, or even read it (though there is a copy at the Sterling Heights Public Library, also available to members of the Suburban Library Cooperative), but if you have a favorite book that no one else knows and that didn’t do well, tell me about it.


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