9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2000
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. For me, the biggest rip in the fabric here was in fact a reaction, namely the public reaction to Ezra's work product (and I'm being vague here simply so as not to give anything away for those who haven't read the book, but those who have read the book will know exactly what I mean). That reaction just struck me as totally not credible, namely that such a product would ever, ever work its way into the public consciousness, much less at the speed of the light which this did. It would be one thing if an author was actually trying to be "high-brow low-brow" (like Nabokov's Lolita, Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover or some similar work by a reputable and known author), but Ezra's work (or should we say Isaac's work?) never had such aims for a second--particularly given that it was a paperback with a dopey title and a voluptuous woman on the cover. Thus, I could just never buy into that turn of events even for a second.
Despite that, I though the book was great anyway. Maybe I'm just not as sophisticated as those who almost snobbishly put down the writing in the book (or gave it backhanded compliments like calling it nice "light" reading or "summer" reading), but I thought that the writing was great, the characters were great, the book was fuuny, the dialogue was funny--in fact, except for the above problem, I liked everything about the book. It hooked me right from the get-go and didn't let go the whole way through. In short, I recommend it highly.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2004
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.
10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2000
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.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
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
8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2000
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?
on March 14, 2015
I've been searching NY Notable book selections of years past in hope of finding a few hidden gems that are now selling at a discount. 'The Man Who Wrote the Book' was on the notable list for the year 2000 and the Kindle edition is currently selling for $3.99.
Tarloff dials up a quick and easy read. There are elements of farce and satire, especially for anyone who has spent any time in publishing and or academia. The characters are enjoyable if not likable, though this isn't the type of book that you'll be thinking of weeks after being read. Things end a bit too tidily and all is happily ever after which seemed a bit contrived. That said, if you are looking for a light read with elements of humor, satire, erotica this could fit the bill. 3-3.5 stars
on August 5, 2014
Our hero, Ezra Gordon, is a teacher of creative writing at a small college in California. He is about to be denied tenure and has been falsely accused of sexual harassment. His girlfriend lives with her elderly father, who is also likely to agree with his departmental chair on the tenure decision. Ezra's best friend from graduate school has become a publisher of soft pornographic literature and invites Ezra to contribute a book for much needed cash (though Ezra insists on remaining anonymous for obvious reasons). The book is a smash hit, even with literary critics. Many surprises and twists in the plot along with colorful but believable characters make this an enjoyable read.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2003
I check every couple of months to see if Tarloff has come out with a new novel because I love his work. I picked up this book on a bargain table for $1.99. What a find! It's an easy read that is very entertaining. The main character's internal monologues are hilarious. I found myself envisioning the entire story on the big screen. I've already casted the actors. (I've been trying to get some of my friends in the entertainment industry to option it). Don't pass this up.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 27, 2001
This book is not one of the classics by any means. It is, however, a great piece of fiction. The story is engaging and the characters are likable. The plot also moves along nicely and doesn't present us with anything too incredulous. A nice, light read which everyone can enjoy.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 9, 2001
I agree with the Reader from Virginia Beach who enjoyed this amusing novel, but was slightly troubled at the implausible nature of some of the plot turns. Good summer reading sure, but Tarloff needs a little more polish as a novelist.
Protagonist Ezra Gordon is a popular assistant professor at a small Baptist college in California, waging an unsuccessful effort to gain tenure, and carrying on a lackadaisical relationship with Carol, a lawyer for the school who also happens to be the daughter of a minister and school official. The scene of poor Ezra's opening date with Carol, who pities him after a bogus claim of sexual harassment from one of his students, gave some early comic relief.
After his world seems to crumble around him at the University, Ezra decides, on a whim, to visit his old grad school buddy Isaac Schwimmer, who has his own publishing business in Los Angeles. Ezra was just looking to get out of town and commiserate with an old buddy, but he soon learns that Isaac is a porn publisher and is convinced (almost out of pity by Isaac) to write an erotic novel and pick up some "easy money." Of course, as the book jacket tells you, the anonymously published book becomes a HUGE hit, and Ezra has trouble preserving his secret moonlighting career when he goes back to his prim and proper Baptist college.
I know this is a comic novel, not to be taken too seriously, but some of the contrivances of the plot troubled me a little. Ezra goes to LA self-conscious about his looks, physical shape, wardrobe, etc. and yet gorgeous centerfolds just keep tripping over each other falling at his feet, with him in his corduroys and elbow patches. Why are they so drawn to him - cause they are all so sick of the phoniness of LA? come on! And the life of Isaac Schwimmer, Los Angeles' leading purveyor of smut, seemed pretty PG rated to me. We also don't get more than a nibble of Ezra's writing, so we have no idea what all the fuss is about.
Finally, when Ezra comes back and still tries heroically to preserve his anonymity as his book soars off the charts, you start to worry why he continues pushing for a career at a podunk school that doesn't appreciate him. Why not bask in your glory and get your 15 minutes of fame? There are some humorous moments back at the school, including the transformation of Carol. I thought the funniest thing I've read in awhile was Ezra's improvised recitation of an oral "Icelandic Epic Poem" to Carol, when she spies his dirty book manuscript and asks him to read her some of his writing, which he of course doesn't want to really do. Overall this was a quick, easy and enjoyable read, but the plot was pretty forgettable once you put it down.