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The Man Who Wrote the Book Hardcover – May 9, 2000

35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

It takes a bit of doing to create a sad sack ingrate of a protagonist and then actually get readers to root for him. Erik Tarloff's second novel, The Man Who Wrote the Book, concerns a divorced college professor who teaches English lit at a Baptist college near Fresno, California. Ezra Gordon is in the disadvantageous position of being refused tenure by an institution he loathes. His love life isn't so much a wreck as a mere stall--he's lackadaisically dating Carol, a lawyer for the college who, not to put too fine a point on it, won't put out. Driving her home from a date, he muses, "Failed husband, failed father, failed poet, failed scholar, and any minute now, failed lover."

Ezra looks up a former college chum, Isaac Schwimmer, over spring break, and heads down to Los Angeles for an impromptu visit. Isaac, it turns out, is a wildly successful publisher of pornography, and he introduces Ezra to a world of parties, drinking, and easy lovin'. He also introduces him to Tessa, who rates this eye-popping description:

Her skin was the color of a perfectly roasted Thanksgiving turkey, her copious cascading hair the color of butter. Her body was at once so firmly toned and so bounteously voluptuous it seemed to belong to some other, more evolved species of primate than the people he knew; her abs alone were sufficient to force any thinking person to reconsider the eugenic advisability of passing on his own DNA.
Ah, Herr Professor in love. And under the influence of Tessa's tender ministrations, Ezra discovers the one thing he doesn't stink at: writing utterly filthy porn.

Of course, when he returns to his college, his seemingly frigid girlfriend, and his foundering career, Ezra has to reconcile his new self--happy dirty-book writer--with his former self--miserable college professor. The two do find common ground in the end: "Strange how much pleasure he'd found in writing a stupid little dirty book; it had actually reawakened his joy in literature, reminded him why he'd gone to graduate school in the first place." Tarloff has a swell premise here, and this book--like his first, Face-Time--is quickly, thickly plotted. The writing may occasionally think it's more amusing than it really is, and some of the plot never comes home to roost, but it's plenty of fun to witness mopey Ezra endure success. --Claire Dederer

From Publishers Weekly

The author of Face Time abandons the Beltway and sets his second novel in the seemingly pokier arena of academia. But in this entertaining, whimsical tale, the scholarly existence of literature professor Ezra Gordon is by no means free of chaos and surprises, as sex, secret identities and pornography encroach on and transform his life. The story begins on a downcast note, with Ezra in danger of losing his job at Beuhler, a tiny Baptist college, because he hasn't published articles in his field. His joyless relationship with the daughter of a college trustee is doomed; his doctor tells him he's going "downhill" physically, and he's broke. Depressed, Ezra calls his best friend from grad school, Isaac Schwimmer, who invites him to L.A. Isaac, who's a decadent and wealthy porn publisher, shows Ezra a hedonistic weekend involving rich food, excessive drinking, cigars, saunas and sex with a porn star. Ezra feels recklessly alive, and so when Isaac asks him to write a porn novel and cuts a generous check, Ezra agrees to create a dirty book under the pseudonym E.A. Peau. The book's unexpected success has him scrambling to keep his extracurricular project a secret. Irony increases when he learns that he's now the favorite writer of the unwitting prudes who would deny him tenure; it threatens overload when it's discovered that Peau's zip codes match those of Beuhler College and Ezra is made chairman of the investigative committee. Tarloff's brisk one-liners and graceful choreography of clashing personalities evidence his former occupation as a sitcom scriptwriter and happily contribute to this romp in its surge toward a fairy tale ending. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1st edition (May 9, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609604686
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609604687
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,292,496 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Erik Tarloff has been writing professionally since his college years.
Much of his early work was written for the screen, both large and small. His list of credits includes almost one hundred situation comedy scripts, including multiple episodes of M*A*S*H, All in the Family, the Bob Newhart Show, the Jeffersons, Alice, Room 222, Housecalls, My World and Welcome To It, and many others. For his television writing, he has been nominated for an Emmy Award, a Writers Guild Award, and an NAACP Image Award.
He has also been involved in the development of some fifteen or twenty long-form theatrical motion picture scripts for the major studios in Hollywood. These include an early draft of the animated feature Aladdin for Disney Studios, Cheetah for the same studio, and Car 54, Where Are You? for Orion Pictures.
He is the author of three plays, Something to Hide, Another Week-End in the Country, and Cedars. Cedars will be in production at the 2014 Berkshire Theater Festival, starring the distinguished actor James Naughton. Another Week-End in the Country was produced at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, Something to Hide at the Richmond Shepherd Theater in Los Angeles, where it won the Dramalog Award for Playwriting and First Honorable Mention at the Beverly Hills Theater Guild Awards.
He has had fiction published in The Paris Review, Penthouse, the online magazine Slate (a serialized novel written in collaboration with Francine Prose and Jefferson Morley), and anthologized in the volume Last Night's Stranger.
He has contributed reviews and articles to Earth, The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, The Washington Post Book Review, The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, Working Woman, Washingtonian Magazine, San Francisco Focus, Vogue, Salon, The American Prospect, and The Financial Times, among others. He has been a frequent contributor to the British magazine Prospect, where he is a contributing editor. He has also published music criticism (both popular and classical), literary criticism, a diary from the 1996 Democratic Convention, and an assortment of other features in Slate, where he was a regular book critic for several years. He is currently a blogger at Atlantic Online.
He has lent a pro bono speechwriting hand to the addresses of former President Bill Clinton, former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.
He is the author of the novels Face-Time and The Man Who Wrote the Book, both published by Crown. The latter was on the recommended summer reading lists of the New York Times Book Review, Long Island Newsday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,, and National Public Radio, and was named as one of the memorable books of the year by the New York Times. His new novel, All Our Yesterdays, is scheduled for publication in July of 2014.
He currently lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife, economist Laura Tyson.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By P. Meltzer on September 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book and thus was surprised to see all the heavy criticism it received. You know that a book is not going over too well when when only 10% or 20% of the readers find the 5-star reviews helpful, which seemed to be kind of a pattern here. Nothwithstanding all that, I loved this book, and would heartily recommend it, although I wonder if males may go for it more than females. Anyway, before I lavish a little praise on the book (which everyone will disagree with anyway), let me get to the flaw (which I will try to do without giving anything away).
In any novel, virtually by necessity, certain unrealistic things have to happen; things that are not quite right. If nothing unrealistic happened, then nothing would happen at all, and you wouldn't have a story. This pivotal aspect of a novel was well described by the excellent novelist Donald Westlake as follows:
"There are moments in almost any novel when it's necessary to move a character from one position to another, so that you can move on with the story...Once the character is moved into the new position, everything is fine, but in order to make the transition, the writer has to bend somehing out of shape. Some behavior is wrong, some reaction is wrong. It's a rip in the fabric of the novel, but it's necessary to get the story where it has to go...Other writers, reading the book, might notice the lump in the batter, but most readers won't."
The trick in any novel is to try and make this "rip in the fabric" as unnoticable as possible.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Grant McLean on September 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I enjoy a good laugh and this book made me laugh a lot. I saw some parallels with Grisham's 'The Rainmaker' - if you enjoyed that then you'll probably like this. Things start out bad for our hero and get worse as his world falls apart. Sure, some of the situations are barely credible, but that's the point and that's where the humour comes from.

If you're inclined to use condescending phrases like 'light summer read' or if you're likely to be offended by sexual references, you might be best to skip it.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful By William L. Scheffler on May 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Every once in a great long while a book comes along to restore my faith that fiction really can take me off to another world for awhile: this book is one, and it does it stunningly well. The plot -- I should ask Professor Gordon if anyone uses such archaic notions any longer -- is, for want of a better word, twisted enough to draw you in, but where the author shines is in his characters and in his style. You already know these folks -- indeed, how did all these people you know so well, at least anecdotally, get into one book? -- but I, at least, was surprised, and interested, to see how they act when adversity strikes. Tarloff's writing is erudite, though, happily, not pretentious, and he makes many of his points through humor and the genuinely adroit use of language. This is great stuff, and absolutely worth your time, but only if your bedtime is elastic enough to permit just one more chapter, and then, perhaps, one more.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Debra Hamel VINE VOICE on September 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have long maintained that any book that includes in its first sentence a reference to chiroprocty is likely to be a rollicking read. Happily, I now have a data point to support my theory. Erik Tarloff's The Man who Wrote the Book starts well: "A deep, dispiriting despondency, an oppressive enervating angst, settled over Ezra Gordon around the time Dr. Jacobs put her hand up his bum." The mood having thus been set, the rest of the book does not disappoint.

At thirty-five, Ezra Gordon's better days are behind him--or so his doctor informs him after having withdrawn from his rump. Ezra, at least, is in no position to argue with her. Divorced and deprived of access to his daughter, he is involved in a seemingly pointless relationship with Carol, the sanctimonious spawn of the blustering Reverend Mr. Dimsdale, chaplain at Buehler College. Ezra himself teaches at Buehler, a Baptist cow college in California, but with too few articles under his belt and no stomach for further deconstruction, his upcoming tenure decision does not look promising.

Broke and miserable, under suspicion of sexual harassment, with his life falling apart, Ezra escapes during spring break to the hedonistic realm of his old friend Isaac Schwimmer, one-time graduate student turned successful publisher of pornography. There he consents to write The Book, a fast bit of anonymous, lucrative porn, which turns out to be likeable by the likes of John Updike, and which consequently turns Ezra's life upside down.

The Man who Wrote the Book is a good read, fast and funny, with amusing, well-written dialogue. Ezra's internal dialogue, the caustic or ironic comments he leaves unsaid, is even funnier.

Reviewed by Debra Hamel, author of Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
OK for a light, very light, summer read; some very funny situations and dialogue; but then again, the sheer cuteness of much of it was embarrassing, and the implausibility, if that sort of thing bothers anyone anymore, was . . . incredible. I found myself irritatedly screaming at the protagonist through a couple of hundred pages: Just do the obvious, what's stopping you, why hang around a go-nowhere podunk small-minded college nursing an utterly hopeless tenure case if you've got the publishing world on a string? And why didn't the author, the real author that is, make some effort to flesh out, as in let us read, some of that phenomenal best-selling porn book the whole thing was all about? I mean, only one non-descript line was reported: Nora patted her hair into a perfectly concentric bun. Hmm . . . maybe he knows his limits?
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