April 12th, 2011

What’s this book about?

Bookstore employees, librarians, students and teachers answer this question with aplomb–accurately, succintly, and without hestitation–but I think anyone who has actually written and published a book knows how baffling it is. Something 200 pages, or even less, full of people and places and thoughts and ideas, is not easy to sum up. Even if there is in fact a spy, a grim police investigator, a hooker with a heart of gold, and a car chase through the Andes, the guy who spent a year or two of his life writing it is not going to say, “Classic spy novel,” and leave it at that. Once you’ve spent hours and days and weeks poring over the minutiae of the characters’ lives, you’ll never be able to boil them down to quick descriptors–they are far too human and complex and difficult and weird and…oh, if you really want to know, why not read the book?

Basically, when someone asks me what my book is about (either one), I am extremely tempted to say, “Everything.” Because though the characters and situations in the stories are deeply specific, unique, and definite, the book itself represents my way of seeing the world: what I think is important, worth noticing, worth dismissing, funny, strange, exciting, stupid, boring, and/or cool. A book is a world view because a book is by its nature a microcosm: what get left in versus ignored constitutes what the writer sees as important.

I can’t say for sure, having not gotten very far down the road yet, but I think this might be more pronounced in writers early in their careers. You have so many years (nearly 30, in my case) to work up to your first book and then–well, most people’s first books aren’t satires of European governance. First books are usually very personal, which is not at all to say autobiographical (though many are, of course): you can tell who people are through what they care about, just as easily as through what they’ve done.

And all this is to say: I’m having trouble coming up with a decent summary of The Big Dream. I had this problem with *Once* too–it took me months *after* the book came out to work up a competent summary of what one might expect in reading it. This necessity shouldn’t have taken me by surprise–I wouldn’t read anything that had offered no clue what it was about. But it’s only being on the inside that has shown me how hard it is to offer that clue.

So, here’s what I’ve come up with so far–what do you think? Sure, I’d like people to want to read the book after reading this paragraph, but even more important is that they have some sense of what they would experience if they did. After all, there are people in the world who would just *hate* this book, based on who they are and what they want when they read–they might as well be able to flag an inappropriate choice from the outset and not get involved. So, do you think this gives you a clue?

The Big Dream is a collection of short stories about life at the Canadian offices of Dream Inc., an American lifestyle-magazine publisher. In a tough market, the staff is struggling to do their jobs well–or even to keep them. But they’re also trying to have friends, to be good parents and good children, to eat lunch and answer the phone and be happy. The Big Dream is a book about how life doesn’t stop on company time. It’s about how the “dream job” and dream life that is supposed to accompany it do not necessarily happen, but the joys and sorrows and sandwiches of waking life are more than enough to occupy our minds and hearts. The Big Dream is a book not about jobs, but about the people who have them.

8 Responses to “What’s this book about?”

  • Frederique says:

    you are a master of the book blurb. They should just copy/paste this right onto the back cover. Is the cover on the amazon link *the* cover? or is it like the “Once” apple? hope all is well!

  • Kerry says:

    I would like to read this book.

  • Rosalynn says:

    Yes, I would like to read this book too. :)

  • Rebecca says:

    Thanks for the support, guys. I guess people likely to hate the book probably don’t read this blog!!

    Fred, the cover on Amazon is likely *close* to final, but I don’t know if the details (font, etc.) will be exactly the same in the final version. But this is no apple, at least far as I know–the post-its are for keeps!

  • Nathalie says:

    I had the same problem with the “elevator speech” for my thesis: the 30-second summary prepared for meet and greets at conferences and intended to get someone’s attention and open doors for academic jobs. Yikes! I think your summary sounds amazing. I particularly love the last sentence.

  • AMT says:

    this is a book i would read, and it is also a book you would write. so i think we have a double win here.

  • Scott Watson says:

    Are you looking for specific critcism or general stuff? I like the paragraph’s content, but I would flip it and lead with the last sentence. Do you need to say short story or can you use other terms (e.g. a collection of tales? Interweaving stories)?

    That said, it’s got everything in it. I would read it. :)

    Someday I will get to read about a car chase in the Andes. :)

  • Rebecca says:

    Thanks, everyone–so much! And to Scott, the flip you suggest makes sense–I’ll try it! And I like “interweaving stories,” too!

    I’m sorry about the car chase; next time!!

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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