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Steal This Book: When Best-Selling Authors Provoke Others to Write Their Own Books

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Some artists create something that is actually a direct response to another artist’s work – think how Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville was a song-by-song reply to the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street. Similar occurrences have been happening recently on the literary scene. That is, instead of coming up with a completely original premise (if that even exists), an author writes a book, usually non-fiction, as a response to another author’s book. Typically, the book provoking a reaction is a best-seller, because why take the time to craft an entire book as a response to another book no one read in the first place?

Some examples include:

Think: Why Crucial Decisions Can’t Be Made in the Blink of an Eye by Michael R. LeGault. This directly addresses Malcolm Gladwell’s best-seller Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Think’s cover blatantly echoes Blink’s spare, clinical design. Even the subtitle seems to be an unsubtle bitch-slap to Blink’s premise. The whole approach feels counter-productive: wouldn’t you have to read Gladwell’s book first so you know with what LeGault was disagreeing? Way to go LeGault – your book is not selling nearly as well as Gladwell’s and you’re actually promoting his book with your own. So could you write a book explaining why my blog is bad for people? That would sure help me out a lot.

Be Honest – You’re Not That Into Him Either by Ian Kirner. I like the title of this response to the hugely popular He’s Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo. I always thought the “He’s just not that into you” catchphrase from Sex and the City (where Behrendt was a story editor) was a touch snarky. Instead of wasting your time trying to “understand guys” (an ineffective, almost offensive generalization that’s up there with figuring out “what women want”), Kirner focuses on what the female reader wants for herself, a goal much more attainable and desirable.

Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat by Naomi Moriyama and William Doyle. It seems Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat was either so popular or so provocative (or both) that it spawned two bandwagon-jumpers. The second is Mediterranean Women Stay Slim, Too by Melissa Kelly and Eve Adamson. The point of all these books is basically this: American women, you’re all fatties. Apparently, every non-American woman is holding the key to eating healthy in her size 2 jeans. The answer seems pretty obvious, ladies — move…to another section of the bookstore before you cry or hit someone.

I’ve been searching for that book inside me, the one that only I could write. Maybe I should take a hint from these books (even if they don’t sell a fraction of their source material) and write my own reaction book…

Donny & Donnie & Donny. That’s right, Julie Powell. You may have used your year-long pseudo-apprenticeship with Julia Child as the basis of your book Julie & Julia, but I’m going to bask in the mentoring glow of not one but two famous Donnie/y’s: Donnie Whalberg and Donny Osmond. (Unlike Julia Child, they may not be technically “dead,” but they are definitely not famous any more – isn’t that the same thing?) Over the course of a year, I can learn the funky choreography and ripped-jeans style (including the bound-for-a-comback rattail) of ex-New Kid on the Block bad boy Donnie while studying the former TV/pop singer Donny’s 100-watt smile. I’ll be a body-rockin’ pop star with Chiclet teeth that makes Justin Timberlake look like Joey McIntyre (Joey who? Exactly).

Oslo & I. Marley & Me may be about the world’s worst dog, but I don’t have the world’s best dog — or any pet, for that matter — to respond to John Grogan’s book. I do however, have a squirrel that joins me when I eat on my back porch. Living in the city, he’s so comfortable around humans that he walks right up as if expecting his own Eggo. I named him Oslo because he’s urban and a little worldly – I can tell by his eyes that he’s been a few places and seen a few things. Follow our hilarious hi-jinks as he runs up and down a tree! Appears nervous! Gives me rabies! Of course, after I’ve learned everything Oslo, in his infinite squirrel wisdom, has to teach me, a tear will be shed and inner peace will be realized. I smell a Pulitzer…wait, that’s just the rabies talking.

The Da Vinci Solution. I’m breaking the mold and replying to a fiction book. Don’t waste your time putting any more cash in Dan Brown’s overstuffed, gold-plated pockets. I’ll cut right to the chase and offer the answers to whatever this high-fallutin’ “code” is so you don’t have to actually read his book (I know you don’t really want to; you just want to keep up at cocktail parties). Think of it like Cliff Notes by an author who hasn’t read the real book, which doesn’t need Cliff Notes to begin with. Deal?

All right! I’m off to rock the best-seller charts. Who knew it could be so easy?

(P.S. Dear Dan Brown – I know, based on the sales of your book, that you have a deal with either God or Satan, so if you read this, please don’t hurt me. Sincerely, Donny…um…Osmond. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Donny Osmond.)

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About Don Baiocchi

  • http://chantalstone.blogspot.com chantal stone

    Great Piece, Don…you so funny! ;)

  • http://donbaiocchi.blogspot.com/ Don Baiocchi

    Thanks, Chantal. Even when no one else reads my articles, I can always count on you for kind words.

  • Steve

    Don’t worry, Dan, as far as books go, only about 10% of the population read anything more than the TV Guide or a magazine, so unless your article is about a top ten bestseller, chances are low you’d get much response anyway…don’t take it personal.

    I like reading articles about lesser known books, lots of interesting topics out there being covered in the book world. You made some interesting mentions and connections. Well done.

  • http://donbaiocchi.blogspot.com/ Don Baiocchi

    Hey, thanks Steve. I don’t take it personally anyway. If anything, it’s been very interesting to see which articles get feedback and which don’t. It’s not always what you’d expect.