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funny ha ha

The lovely people at Penguin sent me a big package containing the new "women's fiction" titles in their Red Classics imprint. Leaving aside the whole division of the original Red list into the initial "manly classics" (25 out of the inital thirty books were by men, and the ones by women are mostly all about men) and the new pretty lady ones, it seems a bit foolish to do all of the Jane Austens at once. Why not throw in a Mary Elizabeth Braddon, or a Nancy Mitford, or a Stella Gibbons? Do we really need new Austens (even though they are truly lovely editions, and are much nicer than my own battered old '60s Signet ones) rather than some other, under-rated authors whose titles might actually need this sales boost?

But anyway, the point of this post (if there is one) is the cover blurb on Pride and Prejudice, in which Meera Syal (whom I quite like, by the way) declares that the book is "the funniest book ever written." Now, I love P&P and have done so ever since I first read it about 16 years ago - it's one of my favourite books - but it's simply not the funniest book ever written. It's very witty, it's got some great jokes, but it's not the sort of book that makes you weak with laughter - or even laugh out loud. P. G. Wodehouse, The Compleet Molesworth, Arthur Marshall, gideondefoe's pirate books - all these things make me laugh so much I can barely speak. But surely no one has that reaction to Pride and Prejudice? It reminds me of the critics going on about how hilariously funny Zadie Smith is - not only is she not enormously funny, but I don't think she's even trying to be most of the time. I am mystified. I was talking to a bestselling Irish author about this recently (who is very funny herself, and whose new book made me laugh out loud too) and she has noticed the same thing - "good" books that (intentionally) aren't particularly funny being hailed as hilarious. I'd say that book reviewers have different standards of humour from the rest of us, but then, I am one myself. So I dunno. Has anyone else encountered this bizarrely inaccurate praise?

Comments

stephencass
Apr. 6th, 2006 08:36 pm (UTC)
Well, given the subject matter of most of the book reviews I print, 'funny' is not a word I see very often :)

Why not throw in a Mary Elizabeth Braddon, or a Nancy Mitford, or a Stella Gibbons? Do we really need new Austens (even though they are truly lovely editions, and are much nicer than my own battered old '60s Signet ones) rather than some other, under-rated authors whose titles might actually need this sales boost?

This is the conundrum of the book industry: the authors that need the most promotion from publishers get the least, while the Dan Browns, Micheal Crichtons and Terry Pratchetts, who are guaranteed fantastic first-day sales even if they published a book containing white pages[1] get the lions share. I found Rabiner and Fortunato's "Thinking Like Your Editor" to be very interesting about this, as it discusses how relatively recent changes in the book retail industry have deeply changed how editors approach books and their marketing.



[1] Not to diss on these authors, it's just that, f'r instance, I've happily bought the latest Pratchett without so much as a glance at the jacket copy, let alone a review.

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