My paperback publisher asked me to write a short "reading group guide" for them to use for the paperback. I suggested maybe I could write it in the voice of Anonymous Lawyer. This probably won't end up being the final version, but here's my first crack at it. At the end of this, I wrote a dozen multi-part questions about the book, but I'll save those for another post.
To: Picador Marketing Team
From: Anonymous Lawyer
Re: Anonymous Lawyer Reading Group Guide
Dear Picador Marketing Team,
In response to your request that I create a “Reading Group
Guide” for Anonymous Lawyer, I
respectfully decline. Haven’t we given
the readers enough help already? There’s
a cover on the book, the typeface is readable, and (despite my objections)
you’ve decided to include page numbers. To offer any more assistance would be absurd.
Frankly, I’m more than a little bit fed up with this entire process. You coddle your readers – by spellchecking the book, copyediting, making sure all the pages are in the correct order… this would never fly at the law firm. An associate comes to me looking for help, and I send him right back out there to find the answer on his own. When I give them an assignment, it’s their job to read my mind, not my job to waste time repeating myself. If they can’t figure it out, they should just learn to listen better. And if it takes a couple of hundred-hour weeks doing research I don’t really need and didn’t really mean to ask for, so much the better and at least the lesson will sink in.
In addition, I’m still a little sore that you rejected my suggestion
for the book’s subtitle. I still don’t
understand how you can say that “a diary of my experiences as a kind-hearted,
tolerant law firm hiring partner dealing with the incompetence of everyone
around me” misstates the whole point of the book. This is EXACTLY the point of the book. Maybe in the publishing industry you’re
fortunate enough to have diligent, competent, well-medicated worker bees
willing to cater to your every whim, but in the legal industry it’s a little
more complicated than that. My
associates, almost unanimously, are incapable of even the most basic
tasks. I prefer my staples to be
horizontally aligned with the paper margins, not vertical. This isn’t that difficult. And yet… at least once a month, someone hands
me a document that’s vertically stapled. So I fire him. He deserves
it. And then it happens again, a month
later. And people wonder why law firms
are hemorrhaging associates?
You insist that there are readers out there who would benefit from a series of dicussion questions about the book, as if the text itself is not sufficient to provide weeks of discussion and debate. I simply cannot bring myself to aid the readers in this most basic task of coming up with things to talk about. Should we include a pronunciation guide as well, in case any of the readers need help with the bigger words? Maybe some pictures in case anyone can’t read? How about a cracker, wedged in between pages 134 and 135, in case someone gets hungry halfway through?
It’s like the time we decided to give the associates chairs
in their offices. Until then, we made
them stand, and it all worked out pretty well. No one could complain that his chair was less comfortable than someone
else’s, we didn’t have to deal with having to replace broken ones, and there
were no idiots wheeling down the hall to the copy machine because they’re too
fat and lazy to stand up and walk. But
give someone a chair, and they start to get greedy. First they wanted an associate bathroom, so
they wouldn’t have to hold it until they got home. Then they wanted elevator privileges so they
wouldn’t have to walk up and down the thirty-six flights of stairs. Then they wanted doors on the offices so we
couldn’t spy on them. What kind of work
environment allows people any measure of privacy? It’s ridiculous. Who do they think is paying their salaries?
My concern is that if we give the readers discussion questions, they’re going to want even more. They’re going to want answers. They’re going to want a message board where they can discuss the book. They’re going to want daily blog posts with content completely unique from what’s in the book. They’re going to want to be able to e-mail the author and actually get a reply. For obvious reasons, we can’t have that.
But I’m a flexible person. I understand you have standard practices that you must enforce for your lesser works of fiction, the books that simply can’t be understood without a set of discussion questions, the inferior manuscripts that are so inaccessible to readers that they need their hands held as they walk through the pages. And I don’t want to seem like my book is better than that, even though we all know that it is. So, out of the kindness of my heart (Remember my suggested subtitle? See? I’m kind-hearted, damnit!), I’ve put together a list of questions. I’d prefer you see things my way and keep these to yourselves. I think I’ve presented a compelling case here for why they’re dangerous. Share them at your own risk, but don’t come crying to me when your readers ask you to pick up their dry cleaning.