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How to Sell: A Novel Hardcover – May 12, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A Canadian in 1987 goes to Texas and gets crushingly corrupted in Martin's sexy, funny and devastating debut. Bobby Clark is 16 when he leaves a dead-end setup with his single mother and grass-is-greener girlfriend, Wendy, and heads to Fort Worth to get into the fine jewelry business under the stewardship of his salesman brother, Jim. In no time, Bobby and Jim are snorting lines, Bobby's moving in on (and smoking crank with) Jim's mistress, Lisa, and getting a crash course in amazingly crooked business. Scams, bait-and-switch deals, bogus jewelry and startling treachery are day-to-day at the jewelry store, until the store's gregarious owner gets into trouble at the same time Bobby tries to save Lisa from a massive flame-out. Years later, Bobby's back in Fort Worth, married to Wendy (and with a child) and still in the jewelry business with Jim when Lisa reappears, engaged in an equally questionable if older profession. Bobby's helplessly honest narration is a sublime counterpoint to the crooked doings he's complicit in. Reading this is like watching one man's American dream turn into a soul-sucking nightmare. (May)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

How to Sell, a teardown of the jewelry industry and a reflection on deception, is "a lesson in double dealing -- in business and in romance," said O. Certainly, the novel contains amoral -- though surprisingly insightful -- characters on uncertain paths to a vaguely defined "success." The New York Times Book Review asked whether, for all its hype, the novel would become "an inevitable classic." The writing, the philosophical inquiries, and the compelling coming-of-age tale, whose scams resonate in this day, are top-notch. "All in all, it's a winning combination," concluded the reviewer -- if not, perhaps, the Great American Novel. But just as The Great Gatsby reflected the corrupted ideals of the Jazz Age, How to Sell may come to represent the early 21st-century American dream -- and how we continue to sell each other and our souls for a tiny, unsatisfying glimpse of it.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (May 12, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374173354
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374173357
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,549,290 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Clancy Martin is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, where he has taught since earning his PhD from the University of Texas at Austin in 2003. (Robert C. Solomon and Louis H. Mackey chaired his committee). He is married to the writer Amie Barrodale, and has three daughters, Zelly, Margaret and Portia, and an unruly labradoodle, Simha Mukha. A Guggenheim Fellow, his work has been translated into more than thirty languages. He is a contributing editor for Harper's magazine and Vice magazine, and has published academic and popular articles, essays and Op-Ed pieces in such diverse places as The New York Times, The Atlantic, Ethics, The Wall Street Journal The Journal of the History of Philosophy, Elle, Details, Men's Journal, The London Times, The London Review of Books, De Repubblicca, and many others. He is also a contributor to the Teaching Company's "Great Courses" series. He is a recovering alcoholic, and has written and been interviewed extensively about alcoholism and addiction. He is also an actively practicing Buddhist.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Maggie Brasted on August 7, 2010
Format: Paperback
Bobby Clark is 16 and a thief when he drops out of school, leaves his demanding girlfriend, and follows his big brother to Texas and into the shady retail jewelry business. Fronting as respectable businessmen, the brothers live high and fast, scamming and charming their way through the fast-paced plot.

In the brothers' world, nearly everybody is on the make; the cheaters cheating each other as the chicanery goes round and round. Bobby is up to his neck in swindles and shady deals but never feels any culpability. He's always just doing what he feels he much to keep his head above water as he gets in deeper and deeper.

Martin's characters make their choices and take their chances, but frequently with blinders on. The brothers are too busy keeping their balance on the tightrope to look around and see where they're headed. Their father wears internal blinders but loves them in his own (crazy) way. Only one character sees and turns her back--taking up a profession conventionally considered less moral then selling jewelry. But we know better.

All in all, a dark but fascinating tale of moral choices that doesn't preach moral absolutes.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jessie Tromberg on June 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a tale sleekly told. It is not international in scope (not counting its Canadan roots) but deals with a specific American locale, the southwest, in that decade of excess, the 80's.
I've been in fine jewelry and for me the portraits had the ring of truth. Perhaps stronger black comedy and better dialogue would have made it a perfect gem.
It was a great read for a very long airplane trip.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ethan Cooper VINE VOICE on October 9, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Anyone out there enjoy the movie "Goodfellas"? Remember Henry Hill, the voice-over and eventual rat, recounting the details of his sordid life, which featured plenty of money, persistent drug abuse, marital infidelity, and constant scheming and scamming? Well, this is exactly the type of life that Clancy Martin captures in HOW TO SELL, where Bobby Clark describes the shenanigans that certainly occur at shady practitioners in the jewelry business. IMO, this novel is "Goodfellas" or perhaps "The Sopranos", recast as a tawdry drama in the luxury goods industry. Not that it's my concern; but Clancy, make sure your agent tries to sell this property and concept to HBO.

HOW TO SELL came to my attention at the recent Brooklyn Book Festival. There, Martin was on a panel that discussed the subject "Money in Fiction". In general, the panel, which was sponsored by Bookforum, was primarily interested in the distorting effects of wealth, not how wealth is acquired. Regardless, Martin was the panelist with the insider's perspective and his book does convey the shameless dynamics of close-at-all-costs salesmanship. Anyone considering a sales job might first read this novel since it reveals what is sometimes necessary to get ahead. It also conveys the values that will rise to the top in most sales organizations and the values that many sales managers will use to judge performance.

The strongest element of HOW TO SELL is the scams. I'm not going back to count. But I'd guess Martin describes more than a dozen schemes and scams that jewelers use to rip off their customers, thereby lifting or creating profits. The scams exist, by the way, because customers are naïve and believe what their jewelers tell them.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J. Bosiljevac on December 14, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
This is the sordid story of a young scam artist jeweler, Bobby, and his scam artist brother. They work at a jewelry store in Fort Worth, Texas, earning their living by cheating customers with fake diamond jewelry and fake Rolex watches. They trust no one, and cheat everyone, including each other. It is a depiction of life with no moral compass, where even blood forges bonds that break at the drop of a hat (or the passing of a long-legged looker, as it may be). The story is littered with drugs, cheating (of every sort), sex with prostitutes, violence and unkind words. It also contains an in-depth and description of the jewelry selling and swindling business.

This is all fine. At times it feels like Martin has gone out of his way to show off his research, and I actually got more into the characters when it got into the more typical relationship drama and away from the drama of the store. In general, I'd say this book was interesting, though not great. But in researching Clancy Martin, I realized that there was a good deal of back story that changed the way I thought of the novel.
Martin is a professor of philosophy at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He has written numerous books, the titles of which read like thematic notes for How to Sell. The titles include: Love, Lies and Marriage; Honest Work; The Philosophy of Deception along with translations of Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil. Is How to Sell meant to be an amoral microcosmos? Or perhaps one based on the Nietzschian morality that values wealth, strength, health and power over modern ideals.

It turns out, How to Sell is more autobiographical. It came across as extensively researched because Martin actually was a jewelry salesman in his youth.
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