Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The book that wasn't there

I am out of the house all day Wednesday with Husband and Serious Girl, so I'm scheduling this short and un-serious blog entry to post in the morning... I hope it works!

This weekend I got to thinking about fictional novels* thanks to an article in the NY Times Book Review, Titles Within a Tale. I think we've all at some point read a novel that described yet another novel as part of the story, and thought, "hey, now I want to read that book!" I don't have a book-within-a-book in my novel, but I always thought they must be so fun to write... all concept, no execution. Or, like the faux-novel excerpts in Steve Hely's recent work, there's limited execution with no pressure to maintain similar standards for 200 more pages. (For those who've read How I Became a Famous Novelist, tell me you don't desperately want to read Peking.)

What's your favorite "book within a book"? Besides the one I just mentioned, I also wish I could read The Rubber Slipper, a novel from within Lauren Baratz-Logsted's The Thin Pink Line. The actual novel is about a woman who fakes an entire pregnancy. The novel-within-the-novel is about finding the best dad (from a selection of one-night-stands who might be the biological dad) for the protagonist's yet-to-be-born baby. It's so insane, it has to be good.

Oh, and here are some bonus links! It turns out that at least one author actually did write a full version of a story that was originally just a book-within-a-book. Catherynne M. Valente wrote an adult fantasy book called Palimpsest, that contained references to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, "a part of the protagonist’s childhood, a strange novel for children written in the 1920s, about a young girl spirited away to Fairyland by the Green Wind, and her adventures there, battling the wicked Marquess, befriending outlandish creatures, and growing up."

Readers wanted to know if it was real. They wanted to know if she would write it. And she did. It's free online, with a request for donations. How cool is that?

* Not to be confused with "fiction novel," a phrase that drives most literary agents mad, due to its redundancy.


  1. I remember reading Misery when I was a teen and LOVING the book within that book.

  2. Rowling did it too, with the Tales of Beetle the Bard. I was kind of disappointed with the actual tales though.

    By the way... I finally pulled your novel back out and finished my little write up thing for you. Now I just have to remember to move it off the laptop to a computer connected to the internet... if you still want it. I still like the book, four times through.

  3. Melody, I want it! And, I am so glad you like it.

  4. Stephanie, I think one of the cool things about Misery was that the author hated his romance books, and we sympathized with the author's plight in the novel... and yet, like Annie Wilkes, I think I would rather have read the final Misery book than the "serious" novel he was hoping to publish to break him out of his genre! Very smart writing by Stephen King.