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July 13, 2013 6:43 PM   Subscribe

The pseudonymous author behind the critically-acclaimed mystery novel The Cuckoo's Calling has been outed. And it's J. K. Rowling.
posted by Rory Marinich (140 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Haven't read the book or even heard of this until now, so take this as you will: but the plot summary strikes me as very true to the detective-novel genre, classic in its tropes and setups, not a tour de force but a pastiche, featuring standard hallmarks and tropes. Which makes complete sense, as the Potter series was also not original in its conceits, settings, or storylines. What made them excellent, and what probably made this stand out from the pack, is Rowling's really unusual gifts as a storyteller and narrator. She's excellent at timing, detail, empathy, character painting, and visualization, and it would put her writing over the top under almost any guise.
posted by Miko at 6:53 PM on July 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


The opening pages can be previewed on the Amazon link.

As a completely neutral critic of Rowling whose entire youth just so happened to coincide perfectly with the arc of the Harry Potter series' publication I can objectively say that HEEEEEY YAAAAAAAAAY YAAAAAAAY YEAH YEAH
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:59 PM on July 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


This Amazon reviewer is sending around I TOLD YOU SO emails as we speak.

5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read! July 7, 2013
By Karen
This book is so well written that I suspect that some years down the road we will hear the author's name is a pseudonym of some famous writer.

posted by jacalata at 7:00 PM on July 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


From the amazon page:


About the Author
After several years with the Royal Military Police, Robert Galbraith was attached to the SIB (Special Investigative Branch), the plain-clothes branch of the RMP. He left the military in 2003 and has been working since then in the civilian security industry. The idea for Cormoran Strike grew directly out of his own experiences and those of his military friends who returned to the civilian world. 'Robert Galbraith' is a pseudonym.


Is it standard practice to make up a background for a fake author, then at the end reveal that the author is really a pseudonym?
posted by johnstein at 7:02 PM on July 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Today's episode of Wait Wait Don't Tell Me had a J. K. Rowling question. The answer to which was her last book is one of the most unfinished books ever, as in, people buy it, no one finishes it.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:02 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Reviewers have described it as an “exhilarating debut” and marvelled at how a male author could ever describe women’s clothes so well. "

I... what?
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:05 PM on July 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


I hadn't heard of the book until earlier today, but I'm likely to pick it up now. And actually, The Casual Vacancy wasn't bad, though it didn't compel quite as quickly as Harry Potter and I can see why fans of the latter would not have enjoyed the former so much.
posted by jeather at 7:06 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow! I just requested it from the library and there were 12 people on the list for it already. Wonder what that number will be up to by Monday.
posted by something something at 7:07 PM on July 13, 2013


That's really interesting, I wonder if she felt like she had to publish it under a pseudonym to get people to judge it fairly.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:10 PM on July 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


The Casual Vacancy was fucking excellent, but it was a slow read. I'm not surprised that people used to Rowling's mystery-novel format in the Harry Potter series found it off-putting, but for me it was proof that Rowling was as good a writer as her kid's books made me hope.

This is an actual mystery novel by a master mystery plotter. I am SO EXCITED (and the ebook is open next to me, still on the first page; I am forcing myself to take it slow because the second I finish the first paragraph I'll be up till four reading it and I've got business to finish)
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:13 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Reviewers have described it as an “exhilarating debut” and marvelled at how a male author could ever describe women’s clothes so well. "

Clearly they're unfamiliar with the works of the late Robert Jordan
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:13 PM on July 13, 2013 [23 favorites]


That's really interesting, I wonder if she felt like she had to publish it under a pseudonym to get people to judge it fairly.

Third link:
When approached this weekend, Miss Rowling said: “I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience. It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.”
posted by Sys Rq at 7:15 PM on July 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Wow! I just requested it from the library and there were 12 people on the list for it already. Wonder what that number will be up to by Monday.

Thanks for the idea -- my request is now in, only 7 people ahead. Wheee!
posted by feckless at 7:24 PM on July 13, 2013


"Reviewers have described it as an “exhilarating debut” and marvelled at how a male author could ever describe women’s clothes so well. "

Clearly they're unfamiliar with the works of the late Robert Jordan


Honestly, he does women's hair styles and hair manipulation much better than clothes....
posted by ish__ at 7:25 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


How can this be? There was something ineluctably masculine about the writing of Robert Galbraith.
posted by Justinian at 7:25 PM on July 13, 2013 [20 favorites]


Never paid much attention to Harry Potter, but I love detective/hard boiled/Noir fiction for some reason. I think this will be my next read.
posted by Golden Eternity at 7:28 PM on July 13, 2013


About the Author
After several years with the Royal Military Police, Robert Galbraith was attached to the SIB (Special Investigative Branch), the plain-clothes branch of the RMP. He left the military in 2003 and has been working since then in the civilian security industry. The idea for Cormoran Strike grew directly out of his own experiences and those of his military friends who returned to the civilian world. 'Robert Galbraith' is a pseudonym.

Is it standard practice to make up a background for a fake author, then at the end reveal that the author is really a pseudonym?


In the world of manly genre fiction, this kind of construction would lead me to conclude that 'Galbraith' was a real person with a real military history, most likely someone who believes that the use of a pseudonym would emphasize his (probably exaggerated) spec-ops/secret-agent street cred.
posted by box at 7:30 PM on July 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I find it interesting that she seems to have no interest in writing kid's lit outside of Harry Potter.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:32 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Genre fiction is rife with false identities. I don't think it's unusual at all.
posted by Miko at 7:37 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Cormoran Strike

How did it take so long to guess with character names like that? Wow.
posted by Gin and Comics at 7:39 PM on July 13, 2013 [16 favorites]


That's really interesting, I wonder if she felt like she had to publish it under a pseudonym to get people to judge it fairly.

I was pretty hardcore into Potter fandom back in the day, and either she made statements that her future books would be published under a pseudonym, or it was widely speculated that she would. I was shocked when A Casual Vacancy came out with her name attached.
posted by donajo at 7:42 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why the hell would you pretend not to be JK Rowling?
posted by Teakettle at 7:42 PM on July 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Because you want to know that people will enjoy your work whether or not it has a huge famous name attached.

Of course, the other edge of that blade is that you risk not selling very well--which is what seemed to have happened with this book before her identity was revealed.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:44 PM on July 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why the hell would you pretend not to be JK Rowling?

I pretend not to be JK Rowling all the time. It's kind of nice. People get to know me as a person, without all the baggage of being a famous writer. I also pretend not to be Stephen King quite a bit.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:44 PM on July 13, 2013 [80 favorites]


Why the hell would you pretend not to be JK Rowling?

To avoid being pigeonholed, to allow people to read your work with a fresh eye, to allow something of yours to be enjoyed on its own merits rather than compared with the Potter series.

And there's no downside. It's not like she needs the name to enhance sales so she can make more money.
posted by Miko at 7:45 PM on July 13, 2013 [18 favorites]


Why the hell would you pretend not to be JK Rowling?

For the same reason Stephen King would pretend not to be Stephen King? Perhaps proving to herself she's still got it, not just riding on the strength of her own name.

About the Author
After several years with the Royal Military Police, Robert Galbraith was attached to the SIB (Special Investigative Branch), the plain-clothes branch of the RMP. He left the military in 2003 and has been working since then in the civilian security industry. The idea for Cormoran Strike grew directly out of his own experiences and those of his military friends who returned to the civilian world. 'Robert Galbraith' is a pseudonym.


They tell us the name is a pseudonym, but do not retract the biography. Apparently "impoverished single mother" was her cover story.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:46 PM on July 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


Gin and Comics: Cormoran Strike

How did it take so long to guess with character names like that? Wow.


Cormoran Strike is obviously a pseudonym; he's actually called Dave Smith, but adopted the fake name in honour of his downed comrades, killed when a stray bird flew into the engine of their helicopter in Afghanistan.
posted by Len at 7:46 PM on July 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


I pretended to be GRRM the other day but then I worried I wouldn't finish any books and stopped.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:47 PM on July 13, 2013 [20 favorites]


Why the hell would you pretend not to be JK Rowling?

Well, she doesn't need the money; presumably she wants to know how her books would do unrelated to the celebrity name, and the answer seems to be "good reviews, but no massive sales".
posted by jeather at 7:47 PM on July 13, 2013


And there's no downside. It's not like she needs the name to enhance sales so she can make more money.

There is for the publisher.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:47 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I thought Stephen King used the pseudonym to avoid flooding the market with too many books by the same author, no?
posted by jeather at 7:48 PM on July 13, 2013


I have to applaud her for pulling this off and getting the satisfaction of seeing her little fledgling fly without all the weight of having her name attached. Well played, madam. Well played.

Also, in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, I needed something small to hold on to and tonight it is this. Fucking Florida.
posted by Ber at 7:48 PM on July 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's not just "no massive sales." For a book that's been out since early May, 24 amazon reviews and 54 goodreads reviews is pretty pitiful. That and her amazon rank suggest to me that it was selling pretty terribly despite two starred reviews.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:50 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I did stop for a second to admire, because "Cormoran" is not a bad idea for a name. It's believable enough. I might be in favor of just going for the whole "Cormorant" , T and all.
posted by Miko at 7:50 PM on July 13, 2013


To me, Cormorant has always sounded like it should be a rank in the navy.
posted by Len at 7:52 PM on July 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


Stephen King said he enjoyed the freedom to write different kinds of books. His Bachmann books aren't so supernatural on the whole. They are quite good.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 7:52 PM on July 13, 2013


Is it standard practice to make up a background for a fake author, then at the end reveal that the author is really a pseudonym?

In the sort of reverse situation, John Francome had a coauthor whose name escapes me where the guy's actual background was described in vague terms: "X is a pseudonym for a barrister who lives in London and raises goats."

Actually, having written this, I agree with whoever said we are meant to assume Galbraith's background is the author's.
posted by hoyland at 7:53 PM on July 13, 2013


A similar approach turned out well, (or not, depending on your point of view), for Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing:


In an attempt to dramatize the difficulties faced by unknown writers, the acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing recently wrote two novels under a pseudonym. After a rejection by her longtime British publisher, the books were published in Britain and in the United States with little fanfare and few sales.

posted by Rumple at 8:07 PM on July 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's not just "no massive sales." For a book that's been out since early May, 24 amazon reviews and 54 goodreads reviews is pretty pitiful. That and her amazon rank suggest to me that it was selling pretty terribly despite two starred reviews.

Aaand suddenly the author's real identity is outed, just before the books head to the pulpers. Such a lucky coincidence.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:14 PM on July 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


"Reviewers have described it as an “exhilarating debut” and marvelled at how a male author could ever describe women’s clothes so well. "

Clearly they're unfamiliar with the works of the late Robert Jordan


Dude, nobody even mentioned braids.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:18 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Aaand suddenly the author's real identity is outed, just before the books head to the pulpers. Such a lucky coincidence.

There are quite a few Stephen King collectors who no doubt wish that they'd known about Richard Bachman while it was still possible to get a paperback first edition of The Long Walk or The Running Man.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:24 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


And there's no downside. It's not like she needs the name to enhance sales so she can make more money.

There is for the publisher.


Not any more.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:36 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Why the hell would you pretend not to be JK Rowling?"

I guess no one else answered this question because it's so obvious, but the reason is to avoid those harassing phone calls from Philip Pullman.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:49 PM on July 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


I wonder how much the low sales figures came down to Rowling being unable to do any in-person promotional stuff without giving up the game - book signings, interviews that aren't just text correspondence, etc. I guess she could have hired an actor but that would be weird, stunty and risk blowing her cover (each extra person involved is a potential leak). Doesn't seem like the sales were that bad for what was a reclusive unknown's first work.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:51 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have two hardcovers of thinner with author photos of Richard Bachman. He is mid to late 40s. He is wewring a flannel shirt.Looks like a guy everyone likes but he is a loner. Drives a beat to shit pickup truck half eaten by rust and makes his living doing odd handyman jobs. Probably Kind to animals.

I always wonders who he really was and how he got picked for a fake author photo. Was it someone King knew?

Oddly one copy is slightly smaller than the other, probably a book club copy.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:51 PM on July 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Picture was of an insurance agent

Man, Google and Wikipedia ruin everything.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:53 PM on July 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Doesn't seem like the sales were that bad for what was a reclusive unknown's first work.

Absolutely not - that's a phenomenal success for an unknown's first book. I'd wager that the percentage of first authors who do that well is under 1%.
posted by Miko at 8:57 PM on July 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


I guess she could have hired an actor but that would be weird

My memory is very foggy as it's long ago but I once met filmmaker Bruce LaBruce... after (I think) his debut film, he was invited on to Sally Jesse Rafael. He sent someone else to "play" him. In fact, if I remember correctly he sent a woman. Or a transgendered person. It did not go well.
posted by dobbs at 8:57 PM on July 13, 2013


A hundred pages in. Have not yet encountered any description of women's clothing. Am eagerly awaiting what will assuredly be a massive women's clothing description climax.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:08 PM on July 13, 2013 [26 favorites]


PhoBWanKenobi: "I pretended to be GRRM the other day but then I worried I wouldn't finish any books and stopped."

And that is why I pretend to NOT be GRRM so much. It also helps with the not having money thing too.
posted by Samizdata at 9:20 PM on July 13, 2013


OnTheLastCastle: "Stephen King said he enjoyed the freedom to write different kinds of books. His Bachmann books aren't so supernatural on the whole. They are quite good."

IMLTHO, better than most of what he wrote as King.

And we are not going to talk about stuff like Under The Dome and Cell.

I suspect all his talent got frustrated and jumped ship to his son.
posted by Samizdata at 9:21 PM on July 13, 2013


That's just not true, Samizdata. He has had some amazing short story collections in the past decade. Full Dark, No Stars and Everything's Eventual.

He is such a prolific writer that he certainly has hits and misses, but I feel like the strength of his craft later in life has been really strong overall.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:26 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I suspect all his talent got frustrated and jumped ship to his son."

Hill certainly writes like vintage King. But it's fucking creepy. Which I guess is appropriate. But NOS4ATU has a jacket photo and he's on a motorcycle, with a beard, and glasses. So, at this point, I'm pretty uncomfortable. I mean, horror novelists taking us on a tour of their neuroses is pretty much par for the course but they're usually to delightfully bizarre locales, not banal bungalows in Uncanny Valley.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:33 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


OnTheLastCastle: "That's just not true, Samizdata. He has had some amazing short story collections in the past decade. Full Dark, No Stars and Everything's Eventual.

He is such a prolific writer that he certainly has hits and misses, but I feel like the strength of his craft later in life has been really strong overall.
"

Well, I do agree his overly prolific output has been a weak point, but I can NOT see travesties like Cell and Under The Dome coming from the same person that gave us tasty treats like The Mist, and IT, and Tears of the Dragon, and, hell, even Cycle of the Werewolf.
posted by Samizdata at 9:45 PM on July 13, 2013


Ivan Fyodorovich: ""I suspect all his talent got frustrated and jumped ship to his son."

Hill certainly writes like vintage King. But it's fucking creepy. Which I guess is appropriate. But NOS4ATU has a jacket photo and he's on a motorcycle, with a beard, and glasses. So, at this point, I'm pretty uncomfortable. I mean, horror novelists taking us on a tour of their neuroses is pretty much par for the course but they're usually to delightfully bizarre locales, not banal bungalows in Uncanny Valley.
"

Haven't read that one yet. Is it worth the time? (Found a promo photo with beard but no glasses.)

As I mentioned above, I think Hill's selling point is that he doesn't have so many irons in the fire.
posted by Samizdata at 9:49 PM on July 13, 2013


"Haven't read that one yet. Is it worth the time?"

I think so. I've been impressed with all three of his novels, but I think this latest one is the most well-rounded.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:53 PM on July 13, 2013


Just kindled nos4@u. Couldn't pass up a book written in l33t.

Also kindled Cuckoos's Calling.

And ordered Joyland.

Thanks for making me buy books metafilter.

Yes, I am being sarcastic.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:54 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


(I screwed up the title of the Joe Hill book, if anyone is having trouble finding it. It's NOS4A2, no "T".)

Well, I'm pretty sure I'm going to read The Cuckoo's Calling. I've thought that Rowling is generally a middling genre writer, but with a few rarefied talents thrown in. So I'm not exactly eager to read the book, but I'm curious and I expect to enjoy it at the least.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:04 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Page 142! At least a description of a woman's outfit has been provided, and I'll admit that it's a hell of a description.

(It's really more a description of a body BENEATH said shirt, which is merely described as "her thin silk shirt". But it is still damned descriptive.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:07 PM on July 13, 2013


Pseudonymous humility seems to run in King's family - his son Joseph wrote and even *pitched* his books and comic series (Locke and Key, go read it, it's fantastic) as "Joe Hill" to avoid coasting on his father's name.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:13 PM on July 13, 2013


Hey! Robin has the same engagement ring as me! "A sapphire with two diamonds".

BBL. Reading.
posted by jonathanstrange at 10:18 PM on July 13, 2013


I've thought that Rowling is generally a middling genre writer, but with a few rarefied talents thrown in.

In complete fairness to Rowling, which is hard for me because I am truly an enormous fan, she has a writing style that tends to be overly concerned with flowiness. It's kind of longwinded, though I think she has a knack for language that makes the style charming rather than insufferable. She lacks somewhat when it comes to varying her rhythm, with a couple of wonderfully notable exceptions ("NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!"), but the effect overall makes her very satisfying for extended reading sessions. You can bury yourself in her writing for hours and come out of it still wanting more.

There's an affect that her writing achieves, though I don't know whether it's deliberate on her part or purely accidental, where attention to detail in some areas mixes with her knack for painting broad portraits to give her worlds a slightly unreal effect. It's less noticeable in Harry Potter than it is in this book and her last, but it's definitely recognizable. She gives you details that do help illustrate characters and scenes for you—I had a near-exact idea in mind of how her Strike looks only a paragraph or two after he was introduced—but those details seem like just that, brush strokes for the sake of an illustration. Some authors are obsessed with capturing particular aspects of a world, whether it's David Foster Wallace's meticulous and alienating documentation of every quirky detail in the world around him or Don DeLillo's constant metaphysical tie-ins by which short moments reveal profound thoughts. Rowling's illustrations serve plot, by keeping characters interesting and memorable, by keeping locations distinct, by keeping conversations bouncy. I think she's worst-served by non-serial fiction, because it means you don't have thousands of pages to slowly absorb a world and feel like it's home, but here she does a damn good job of making her detective's office a memorable and fitting place for her characters to reside.

But I'm uncomfortable with calling Rowling a genre writer, despite her focus on plot and entertainment and form, because Rowling's got something that precious few literary writers have got: a genuine interest in the world around her, a curiosity to explore the way things connect to one another, a need to capture why people think and act the way they think and act. It gives her plots a weight that their more conventional aspects might not seem they'd deserve; it makes her worlds seem realer and more interesting. It also makes her characters as lovable as they are, or as despicable as they are: with all her warmth and understanding, she can make somebody you've been reared to hate seem lovable in a flash, or she can use your compassion for one character as a way to make you despise another one, without being unfair to the latter. That, for me, is what defines exceptional writing, and Rowling, for all her simpler style, is quite exceptional.

Recently I told a MeFite that of the Harry Potter books, the first and second are easily the lightest and skimpiest, which they are. But even then, there are moments that truly shine through: the moment when Harry and Ron, smuggled into the teacher's lounge or wherever, hear that Ron's sister is presumed dead, hits harder than a kid's book series usually hits—hell, it hits harder than most adult fiction hits too. And that sets up the detestation you feel for Gilderoy Lockhart when he proves to be a fraud, or the creepiness of what Harry finds inside the Chamber, all of which turns what would otherwise be a pretty generic fantasy fight scene finale into a memorable climax... actually, thinking back on them the first two Harry Potter books were exceptionally good. It's only in the wake of five more books that each outdid the last that the start of the series seems poor. By books five through seven you're legitimately dealing with some of the best children's literature ever written.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:31 PM on July 13, 2013 [17 favorites]


Oh, and the first chapter of Sorcerer's Stone is hands-down one of the best-crafted openings to a story that I have ever encountered. The genius of opening the Harry Potter series with a day in the life of his Uncle Vernon and his drill manufacturing company is just. Yum.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:36 PM on July 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am 3 chapters in and I like it very much.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:46 PM on July 13, 2013


I adored The Casual Vacancy, actually, as someone who was really slow to warm to the HP books, I liked how slow moving and vicious it was. I always think of something mightygodking wrote about Rowling, which was something like "when she gets a good idea, she can execute it really cleverly" and that's always been my take. I'd love to read a Rowling mystery novel, so ...listed.
posted by The Whelk at 11:06 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I thought The Casual Vacancy was excellent too, and in fact it's on the strength of that book rather than the Harry Potter series (though I enjoyed HP just fine) that I'll be picking up The Cuckoo's Calling.

After having read The Casual Vacancy, I definitely felt some of the harsh reviews were negatively influenced by the knowledge that the author had written Harry Potter. I can see why Rowling would want to publish a book under a pseudonym and see if it could stand on its own merits. Sounds like it did.

That said, I can also see why the publisher would want word to eventually get out about the author's real identity.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:57 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


It looks like The Cuckoo's Calling is now sitting at #1 (with a bullet -- "1 day in the top 100") in Amazon's Best Sellers. Apparently sales have not been hurt by the recent revelation.

My enjoyment of The Casual Vacancy was perhaps enhanced because I hadn't read any of her Harry Potter books: I had no particular expectations. Now, I suppose, my expectations for Calling will be based on my experience with Vacancy.
posted by fredludd at 1:15 AM on July 14, 2013


I'd like to read it so as to judge for myself but it's so not my kind of book I really don't think I can. I only read Potter out of nil humanum me alienum puto, which is not a spell, btw.
posted by Segundus at 1:38 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


dont think much of JKR as a writer, but as a person she's awesome.
posted by wilful at 1:40 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Where was it reviewed, btw? I don't think a short puff in Publisher's Weekly amounts to 'rave reviews'.
posted by Segundus at 1:44 AM on July 14, 2013


When I read the HP series the first time, I was like yeah, they are exciting but pretty meatless. But reading them the second time to the kids, I"ve been blown away. They are really good as both mystery novels and coming-of-age novels.

The magic- and game-design are atrocious, though.
posted by DU at 2:57 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I suspect the prescient Amazon reviewer is connected to the publishers. The whole thing has an "OK, Joanne, you've had your little joke, time to make some money." air about it.
posted by epo at 3:07 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


But I'm uncomfortable with calling Rowling a genre writer, despite her focus on plot and entertainment and form, because Rowling's got something that precious few literary writers have got: a genuine interest in the world around her, a curiosity to explore the way things connect to one another, a need to capture why people think and act the way they think and act.

Oh god, please. The whole "it can't be genre because it's good" meme should have died, like, yesterday. See Le Guin's "calling a utopia a utopia." Rowling wrote books about wizards. She fits any reasonable definition of a genre writer.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:42 AM on July 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


Where was it reviewed, btw? I don't think a short puff in Publisher's Weekly amounts to 'rave reviews'.

PW reviews are trade reviews, not puff pieces.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:43 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


But reading them the second time to the kids, I"ve been blown away. They are really good as both mystery novels and coming-of-age novels.

I agree DU. Well, I should say, I adored them the first time around, reading them in my 20s and 30s, but I also had a new appreciation going through them with the kids.

But curious--do you find them difficult as read-alouds? I just finished Deathly Hallows with my 7yo and 10yo. It took us about 10 months to get through the whole series (finally! yay!). Anyway, the kids found it hard to keep up with the sentence length and complexity at times. Also the shifting perspectives--in the dialogue and with Harry's thoughts/visions--are so much easier to keep track of when you're seeing them on the page rather than hearing them read aloud.

My older two kids read the books on their own starting around age 7, and I think they had less trouble. I kind of think they work better inside a reader's own head than as read-alouds.
posted by torticat at 4:59 AM on July 14, 2013


Oh god, please. The whole "it can't be genre because it's good" meme should have died, like, yesterday. See Le Guin's "calling a utopia a utopia." Rowling wrote books about wizards. She fits any reasonable definition of a genre writer.

Okay, then let me revise my statement to "'genre writer' is a stupid and unnecessary classification." Until we call Shakespeare, Wodehouse, and Austen genre writers, I don't see the need for the distinction whatsoever.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:19 AM on July 14, 2013


As a genre writer who is currently at a genre convention surrounded by wonderful people who read, write, and edit genre books, I beg to differ. It is a tremendously useful term which helps those of us who enjoy it to actually find work that does stuff that we like
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:35 AM on July 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Le Guin says it better than I can
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:37 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ha. Well, I will keep on thinking it's stupid, whilst acknowledging that it nonetheless serves a valuable purpose for many very good writers. Is that an acceptable compromise?
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:38 AM on July 14, 2013


I mean, I also think that 'literature' and 'art' are stupid classifications, and would much love for more writers to be blurring the line between book and non-book, so it's not JUST genre that I have a beef with.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:40 AM on July 14, 2013


I agree with you, Rory, that genre writers are often marginalized and not given the respect and acclaim that they deserve. I even agree with you that I like to see work that plays with the limitations of genres and formats and stuff.

But genre and format classifications exist because they're useful. Classification is a finding aid, and it was invented by people (and genres like e.g. New Adult fiction or urban fantasy are being invented almost as we speak). When someone comes into the library and says 'Where are the Western books?', I want to have a better response than 'They're, uh, in the broader set of things that are made of words.'
posted by box at 6:47 AM on July 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


You can think whatever you want, but saying that Rowling is not a genre writer because she cares about human emotions reveals a paucity of reading experience in modern kidlit genre work and does a disservice to the many writers who are creating genre works of lasting value (read Patrick Ness! Read Greg Van Eekhout! Read Justine Larbalestier or Meg Rosoff!) Insisting that useful designations of genre are nonexistent is not really a fresh or insightful or illuminating thing to do--see the prof at my mfa program who insisted that scifi didn't exist for her. It is, instead, a tired line of near ancient pretension.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:50 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The names Cormoran Strike and Lula Landry are so Potterish I'm actually surprised no one twigged to the secret earlier,
posted by Rock Steady at 6:55 AM on July 14, 2013


(Took the genre conversation to MeMail. Apologies for the derail!)
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:00 AM on July 14, 2013


I'm pretty certain I remember an interview with Rowling where she said that she would never write under a pseudonym as it would be impossible to keep secret... guess she changed her mind there.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:35 AM on July 14, 2013


I just finished Deathly Hallows with my 7yo and 10yo. It took us about 10 months to get through the whole series (finally! yay!). Anyway, the kids found it hard to keep up with the sentence length and complexity at times.

I'm reading to a 8 and a 12 but I stopped at book 4. The books get more complex in multiple ways (another sign of Rowling's writerly excellence, btw, since each book is perfectly targeted at an age group) and also I really hate Harry in book 5.
posted by DU at 7:37 AM on July 14, 2013


The books get more complex in multiple ways (another sign of Rowling's writerly excellence, btw, since each book is perfectly targeted at an age group) and also I really hate Harry in book 5.

Or, some say, a sign that she stopped writing them herself....

As to the new book, well, the opening sentence would be enough for me to be on guard:

"Though Robin Ellacott’s twenty-five years of life had seen their moments of drama and incident, she had never before woken up in the certain knowledge that she would remember the coming day for the rest of her life."

But then, I'm not much a one for mysteries. Glad that others are enjoying it.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:51 AM on July 14, 2013


Samizdata: I can NOT see travesties like Cell and Under The Dome coming from the same person that gave us tasty treats like The Mist, and IT, and Tears of the Dragon, and, hell, even Cycle of the Werewolf.

Well, per this old comment of mine, I think that some of that has to do with significant changes in his personal life resulting in significant changes in his work (although whether or not it's a "travesty" depends on your personal taste, I think; even though I've been a fan of his for coming on *gulp* four decades now, I still don't own copies of It and The Tommyknockers). Cell was kind of weird, and I have yet to read Under the Dome, although I've been meaning to because of the new series; frankly, I've got a big backlog of reading to do, not to mention movies and TV series to watch, games to play, etc., and I have other things going on in my life now that need attending to as well, so I'm not sure if I'm in the mood for another thousand-page monster.

Also, WRT King's latest work, I could probably amend my linked comment above to include Post-Post-Accident work, as his books (based on 11/22/63, The Wind Through the Keyhole, and Joyland) seem to be going back toward his older style and are less concerned with dreamlike, semi-abstract horrors as in Cell and Duma Key.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:48 AM on July 14, 2013


On page 180, Rowling proves that she has either a) read comment sections on web sites or b) written every Internet comment for the past 10 years (which I would not put past her)
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:09 AM on July 14, 2013


And—ohhh shit, there it was. There was a chapter involving somebody trying on a dozen different dresses and Rowling described the shit outta all of them.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:23 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or, some say, a sign that she stopped writing them herself....

Huh? The problem with Harry in 5 isn't that he's written badly, it's that he's a super-annoying teenager.
posted by DU at 9:37 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


> The whole "it can't be genre because it's good" meme should have died, like, yesterday.

I won't be the one to tell PhoBWan that Gaudy Night and The Name of the Rose aren't murder mysteries, because when you come right down to it they are murder mysteries. But just knowing the genre type of the great majority of mysteries, romances, westerns, action-adventure novels, sword'n'sorcery fantasies and sci-fi paperbacks tells you pretty much everything you need to know about them. Really, even for fans of a given genre there isn't much to add except "Can read, if you're stuck waiting at the dentist's" or "Can not read, even if stuck at the dentist's."

But there is a short list of genre titles about which just knowing the genre tells you virtually nothing, compared to what is worth knowing about them. The two whodunits I already mentioned. Treasure Island [YA, sea adventure for boys]. Ozma of Oz [kids' list, little girl visits fairyland]. Alice in Wonderland [kids' list, little girl visits fairyland]. LOTR [medieval fantasy with elves]. His Dark Materials [YA coming-of-age]. Harry Potter [YA, teenagers at boarding school].

I don't mind that other genre books catch some reflected glory from these. But just knowing their genre category is of such little use in describing or (urgently!) recommending them to others that it's not the first (or the second, or the fifth) thing I recall about any of them. Thus if someone else calls one of them a genre book I admit you'll get a blank look from me for a few beats until I go "Oh. Yeah. Technically." They can be described as genre books the way China can be described as a country south of Russia.


> nil humanum me alienum puto, which is not a spell, btw.

Still, lots of us could usefully have it pronounced over us. In hope, like.
posted by jfuller at 10:23 AM on July 14, 2013


On page 180, Rowling proves that she has either a) read comment sections on web sites or b) written every Internet comment for the past 10 years (which I would not put past her)

That explains the updated post-reveal cover design, which gives the author as
Robert Galbraith
(j/k, rowling)
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:06 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


his son Joseph wrote and even *pitched* his books and comic series (Locke and Key, go read it, it's fantastic) as "Joe Hill" to avoid coasting on his father's name.

Well, that and to avoid what surely must have already been a lifetime of "Joe King" puns.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 4:06 PM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


But just knowing the genre type of the great majority of mysteries, romances, westerns, action-adventure novels, sword'n'sorcery fantasies and sci-fi paperbacks tells you pretty much everything you need to know about them. Really, even for fans of a given genre there isn't much to add except "Can read, if you're stuck waiting at the dentist's" or "Can not read, even if stuck at the dentist's."

I get that you guys do not believe these to be inflammatory statements, that you, in fact, see yourself as championing good works of merit but you do realize that you are moving the goalposts of these definitions over and over again so that, by default, any work of literary value cannot be genre, right? And that there are those of us who make our life's work from this? And that these generalizations about most doorstopper fantasies are based on stereotypes and not, in fact, a fair view of the genre? I spent the last four days at readercon, where there were panels on metanarrative and unreliable narration and framing devices and performances by authors like Cat Valente of their beautifully crafted art. I chatted with editors from tor and penguin about the works they champion, about myth and fable in storytelling. And I can tell you that these genre professionals care deeply about both the art and craft of writing.

Which isn't to say there isn't crap. Of course there is, in any genre. But to act like this is unique to genre is just wrong. If you want to talk about the quality of work, you are welcome to do so (there was plenty of talk about crap books and great books at readercon). But speaking as a genre writer, if you feel inclined to defend our work by uplifting it from the genre ghetto, save your breath. By trying to exclude it from the genre where it rightfully belongs, you are actually making it much, much worse for us, and are actively contributing to the perception that our work, filled with dragons and aliens and wizards, cannot possibly be good.

In other news, I saw on Twitter that this Rowling novel had only sold 449 copies before her identity was announced. Pretty poor, even for an unknown debut.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:24 PM on July 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


In other news, I saw on Twitter that this Rowling novel had only sold 449 copies before her identity was announced. Pretty poor, even for an unknown debut.

That figure appears to be for hardback copies sold in the UK, as recorded by Nielsen Bookscan. The publishers claim 1,500 hardback sales, but in either event that would appear to leave out e-books and non-UK purchases. Are debut crime novels often bought in hardback?
posted by Shmuel510 at 4:56 PM on July 14, 2013


Man, I wish I had a bookscan account so I could see (except not, because expensive.) I do find it interesting that she really seems to be craving anonymity and the normal author experience, rejection and all. Of course, she can afford a flop like few can.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:03 PM on July 14, 2013


I was thinking, "Critically acclaimed? I've never heard of it." I guess that does answer her question of what would happen if she wrote a book anonymously. I wonder why they pointed out it was a pseudonym in the publishing though--doesn't that kind of give it away? Or was that to explain why the author wasn't doing public appearances?
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:05 PM on July 14, 2013


I was thinking, "Critically acclaimed? I've never heard of it."

Also the claims of critical acclaim are a bit odd, because at least one article about it cited GR and amazon reviews, which again, were really low in volume (I have seen oft-unread self-pubbed novels with a similar rating average and number of reviews). The way this was rolled out screams marketing ploy, frankly.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:08 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was thinking, "Critically acclaimed? I've never heard of it." I guess that does answer her question of what would happen if she wrote a book anonymously. I wonder why they pointed out it was a pseudonym in the publishing though--doesn't that kind of give it away? Or was that to explain why the author wasn't doing public appearances?

It's traditional (and for all I know, it might be legally necessary) for ex-special forces personnel to write openly under a pseudonym, such as Andy McNab and Chris Ryan.
posted by dng at 5:19 PM on July 14, 2013


Which isn't to say there isn't crap. Of course there is, in any genre. But to act like this is unique to genre is just wrong. If you want to talk about the quality of work, you are welcome to do so (there was plenty of talk about crap books and great books at readercon). But speaking as a genre writer, if you feel inclined to defend our work by uplifting it from the genre ghetto, save your breath. By trying to exclude it from the genre where it rightfully belongs, you are actually making it much, much worse for us, and are actively contributing to the perception that our work, filled with dragons and aliens and wizards, cannot possibly be good.

Can I just point out that using the word "genre" is pretty much by definition a major part of the problem?

They are books. All of them. The "genre" and the "literary".
posted by DU at 5:21 PM on July 14, 2013


The way this was rolled out screams marketing ploy, frankly.

What would be the point of keeping her identity secret, though, from the publisher's view? I doubt they're going to get more sales out of the deal this way than they would have if they'd published it under her own name initially. I can absolutely see her genuinely wanting to do it this way, if for no other reason than wanting to get an honest opinion from critics and readers on her ability to write adult fiction. I can also see her publisher being disappointed with sales and leaking the authorship after the fact, though, for sure.

It's out of stock on Amazon right now, #1 on their best seller list. Pretty amazing for 24 hours. Last night when I requested it from the library I was #13. Now there are 148 people behind me.
posted by something something at 5:21 PM on July 14, 2013


Can I just point out that using the word "genre" is pretty much by definition a major part of the problem?

To be fair, it's mostly the people who dislike sci-fi and fantasy who call it "genre fiction." "Spec fic" or "ess eff and eff" is what most of my bronies use unless we're talking about a larger umbrella of commercial literature that also encompasses horror, romance, westerns, etc. in which case it's "commercial literature."

But also terms are useful and most of us know what we mean when we say "genre" or "literary." It's not the categories that are problematic but the connotations.

No one is saying they're not books.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:25 PM on July 14, 2013


What would be the point of keeping her identity secret, though, from the publisher's view? I doubt they're going to get more sales out of the deal this way than they would have if they'd published it under her own name initially. I can absolutely see her genuinely wanting to do it this way, if for no other reason than wanting to get an honest opinion from critics and readers on her ability to write adult fiction. I can also see her publisher being disappointed with sales and leaking the authorship after the fact, though, for sure.

That's pretty much my read on it. Rowling is in a position financially to not even take an advance if she wants, but a flop loses money for the publisher either way and it makes sense that they want to take advantage of her fame before having to pulp her books or before they (eventually) quietly go out of print. I do think this is to Rowling's benefit, too, in the long term because eventually publishers wouldn't want to take on the next Galbraith novel if they don't sell. Part of me wonders why, if she craves anonymity and doesn't need the financial security of traditional publishing, she hasn't self-published, though of course she seems very traditional about e-books and seems like an author who enjoys being edited as well.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:32 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


"To be fair, it's mostly the people who dislike sci-fi and fantasy who call it 'genre fiction.'"

I've been reading science fiction and fantasy all my life and I call genre fiction "genre fiction" and I'm going to continue to do so while also continuing to find the snobbishness of the literary fiction types and the sad defensiveness of the genre types to be incredibly tiresome.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:02 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Isn't it easier to call it whatever genre of fiction it is? Or at least clearer.
posted by dng at 6:16 PM on July 14, 2013


FWIW, I'm okay with the term genre fiction--it's just not what's commonly used in spec fic circles and a term I heard far more when I was in my MFA program than within "genre" crowds. Because, as dng points out, there are many genres, and if you're talking about spec fic, or mystery, or horror, it's clearer to be precise.

Anyway, sorry if it seems tiresome. But I'm a person who does this for a living, who went through a graduate program where the writing I loved was continually belittled, mocked, and marginalized in exactly this way, and it becomes hard not to get defensive when these arguments crop up over and over again. It's like . . . if we kept telling librarians that they're not really librarians because they do more than just shelve books, or something. Because we all know that most librarians only shelve books.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:32 PM on July 14, 2013


she seems very traditional about e-books and seems like an author who enjoys being edited as well.

Not for Harry Potter books 4-7, which begged for much more aggressive editing.

But just knowing the genre type of the great majority of mysteries, romances, westerns, action-adventure novels, sword'n'sorcery fantasies and sci-fi paperbacks tells you pretty much everything you need to know about them


But this isn't at all true for the genres I read (and probably not for the others, either). I agree, there's a lot of crap in all these genres -- but there's a lot of crap in "plain/literary fiction" as well.
posted by jeather at 6:40 PM on July 14, 2013


There's a Stephen King quote somewhere where he says that the sucess of Harry Potter is due partly to them being structured like classic mystery novels.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:47 PM on July 14, 2013


Not for Harry Potter books 4-7, which begged for much more aggressive editing.

I've seen her acknowledge this, though. In fact, I do wonder if her unhappiness with the Harry Potter hype machine and rush to get those books to print has something to do with her desire to do smaller books.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:47 PM on July 14, 2013


If reviewers keep silent about a book is it critically a-clam'd?
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:12 PM on July 14, 2013


Very shortly after this news broke, I put the ebook on hold at my public library. I was 47 of 47 at the time (I was obviously not terribly fast at getting onto the hold list) and my library had 2 ecopies. Now I'm 46 out of 141, and my library has 5 ecopies.

I'm kind of impressed by their responsiveness over a weekend -- picking up new licenses to meet the demand. I wonder if Overdrive/the library has software functions for automatic licensing adjustments based on demand?
posted by jacquilynne at 8:33 PM on July 14, 2013


Not for Harry Potter books 4-7, which begged for much more aggressive editing.

I've seen her acknowledge this, though.


Isn't she talking about self-editing there, though? What's your reason for thinking she likes being edited by others, PBWK? Not saying you're wrong, just that my impression has been that she's rather possessive/protective of her work.

My feeling was that all seven books could have used more aggressive editing, the later ones for length and all of them for things like repetitive descriptions and sentence structure. You really notice it when you read the books aloud!

Over the decade that the HP books came out, my husband and I read them and had an ongoing debate about whether Rowling was a just a very compelling storyteller or a great writer. I believe she's a great writer but still think that the books could use some polishing. She's a bit like GRRM in this respect, though GRRM's problems are much more grating.
posted by torticat at 9:29 PM on July 14, 2013


Books get pushed through the editing process when they're very successful at every stage, from the deadlines for drafting (which wouldn't let her go over a book that needs it again) to being rushed through edits and copyedits. In an ideal situation, you'll have as many rounds of editorial as you need, and be able to address any errors or streamline the prose during this time, but a compressed publishing schedule means that stuff gets missed--by both the author and the editorial staff. I have a friend who has been on the Times list whose second book was riddled with typos, for example, because it was rushed through copyedits.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:47 PM on July 14, 2013


Alrighty! I was twenty-three hours and fifty-one minutes off from my original prediction, but it's close to four in the morning and I've just finished.

If nothing else, this book ought to put to rest any claims that Rowling was making up the plot to Harry Potter as she went along; this is a hell of a tight-packed book, with a good dozen characters all lying and misdirecting and being confused at once, a whole ton of misdirection, all of which ends in a reveal that is suitably surprising.

It also, I think, goes a long way towards suggesting that Rowling is a great writer, albeit one whose prose style is still a bit ungainly, and not simply a competent one. A part of it has to do with how well she treats all her characters: a lot of the book revolves around supermodels and celebrities, and does a wonderful job of capturing the absurdities of that world while still rendering people who are real, believable, and entertaining. I happen to know plenty of people like her fashion designer, her model, her make-up artist, her musician, and the voices she gave each of them rang true to me; hell, after reading this I'd want to see her write an episode of Girls. She could pull that off.

But equally impressive, and this is a talent I think is even rarer among writers, is that she manipulates the tone of her book in very subtle ways such that the first third of the book reads almost like a satire, or a cartoon of a mystery story, presenting all these characters so humorously and bombastically that it feels like something out of Wodehouse or Douglas Adams, and then gradually moves the tone as you get involved with these characters until you've come to know them enough that everything reads as quite serious. After I post this I'll be reading it again, and one of the things I'm curious to know is whether the shift is something noticeable in the craft of the writing, or if the only thing that changed throughout was my perspective.

One thing that I noticed in The Casual Vacancy, and which I'm delighted popped up here as well, is that Rowlingv has an absurd appetite for knowledge and facts and detail. You get this in Harry Potter somewhat, but it's one thing to realize how much she understands various myth and fantasy archetypes in the abstract and another to see a novel whose execution relies on four or five different worlds colliding, and to see how well Rowling not only captures those worlds, but does it in a way that never feels exhausting. It's all very light on its feet, even as it gets into these fleshed-out descriptions of what certain people are like and how they react to one another.

She insists on saying "internet" instead of "web" and it feels very strange. People keep talking about "doing internet searches" and "reading about things on the internet".

As was made obvious in The Casual Vacancy, she is quite deft at throwing fucks and cunts about, which I appreciate. She also has an impressive understanding of what various recreational drugs are like and how they affect their users, which, similarly, I appreciate.

I haven't read a mystery novel in years, I'm afraid, but I'm curious: how many mystery novelists focus almost entirely on one-to-one conversations between their detective and various people? I recall the ones I read involving much more clue-checking and internal monologuing, not to mention busting through red tape, but it's possible that that's entirely due to my limited experience with the genre. In any event, as a fan of both people and talking, I much appreciated that.
posted by Rory Marinich at 1:08 AM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, and also: not only does Rowling know how to describe both women and men's clothing, she writes a heck of a sex scene. Tactful yet provocative. Further backs up my theory that her original plan for Deathly Hallows was to have Ginny and Harry fucking on his seventeenth birthday.

(Seriously she had several very nicely-written kisses in prior books plus allusions to sixteen-year-olds having Naked Time together, and then Harry's girlfriend's only action in the climactic end to the series is to... make out with him? I call Shenanigans)
posted by Rory Marinich at 1:12 AM on July 15, 2013


Oh but people do say "Internet." I've seen it, even on the web.
posted by Namlit at 1:33 AM on July 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


JK Rowling recorded two dubstep albums as Burial
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 1:37 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rory Marinich: I haven't read a mystery novel in years, I'm afraid, but I'm curious: how many mystery novelists focus almost entirely on one-to-one conversations between their detective and various people? I recall the ones I read involving much more clue-checking and internal monologuing, not to mention busting through red tape, but it's possible that that's entirely due to my limited experience with the genre. In any event, as a fan of both people and talking, I much appreciated that.

The mysteries I like to read feature a lot of dialogue and interaction between people, not so much clue-checking and internal monologuing. If you're interested in checking some out, one author I'd recommend is the late Reginald Hill. He was truly one of the best and I was very sorry to hear of his passing; he wrote with intelligence, humour, and compassion. His penultimate novel, A Cure for All Diseases, is a clever, affectionate homage to Jane Austen's unfinished novel Sanditon. It's not necessary to know that to enjoy the book, but if you are familiar with even the broad strokes of Austen's story it is extra delightful. And just as Austen was fond of people and talking, so too was Reginald Hill.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:15 AM on July 15, 2013


I'm not sure I say "the web" at all, don't know if this is a British thing or not. I haven't read Casual Vacancy or this one, and will really get round to it at one point. Having read some Harry Potter fan fiction recently, what gets me about the books is Rowling's grasp of childhood and crushes at that age. Going back to Order of the Phoenix I remember being annoyed with Harry, but on reflection I think I'm happier to see the hero go through a proper emotional arc which a lot of teenagers do. Rowling makes bold choices all the time: look at the way we never get to see James Potter redeemed. We get excuses for his juvenile behaviour, but we (and Harry) never get to see him as the man he grew into, we just get that vision of him as a bully.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:38 AM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I think everyone in Britain would say they were using the internet rather than using the web. I think I'd only say web as part of website.
posted by dng at 5:05 AM on July 15, 2013


I'd use internet, too, so I'd chalk that up to dialect differences.

I agree that she didn't get to do enough self-editing for the Harry Potter books, but also external editing seemed to get less and less effective in later books. I don't know if it's because she had more power, because they were more rushed, or a bit of both.

I never understood the arguments that Rowling hadn't planned out the plotting of the books beforehand. Yes, she changed some things on the way (I remember the deaths in book 7 being something mentioned), but if you look at the parallels between books 2 and 6 it's quite deliberate.

Time to get back to reading this book; I was busier yesterday than I had imagined, so I am only a few chapters in.
posted by jeather at 5:32 AM on July 15, 2013


Robert Galbraith would probably have felt pleased had he sold 10 more copies since the weekend.

I'd be fascinated to see what would happen if an unknown author were allowed to publish a book under the pseudonym JK Rowling. Perhaps, in effect, this has happened and the weekend's revelations are themselves the deception.
posted by epo at 7:43 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I say internet too. I don't like "web." It might be because I was using the internet before there was a web; I perceive it as an add-on.
posted by Miko at 9:16 AM on July 15, 2013


Any the library situation now has me at 43 out of 204 and the library has 26 ecopies. Which is also interesting. It seems like if I was 46 before and they picked up 21 more copies, I should now be down at more like 25. But maybe they only count someone as off the hold list once they've actually checked out their hold?

I'm intrigued by the book (I think Rowling is an interesting storyteller, and I read a lot of mystery novels) but I have to admit that in the meantime I'm sort of fascinated by this little peak at the way my library deals with ebooks.

By comparison, they have 298 holds on 17 print copies, though obviously that's not something they can ramp up nearly as quickly to meet demand.

My bookclub has found, as a rule of thumb, that with print books that have a hold backlog, they turn the whole set of books on average once every 3-4 weeks. It takes a couple of days to send a hold to the new library, people have a week to pick it up and then the lending period is 3 weeks. Then, of course, some people are late taking things back.

Ebooks, on the other hand, we generally find will turn the whole set of available copies in just over a week, on average. There's no transit time, only 4 days to pick up your book from the hold queue, the lending period is still 3 weeks, and no late returns, plus it's much easier to return the book as soon as you finish with it, rather than needing to go to the library, so I suspect people hang on to books they've finished for much shorter times before returning them.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:52 AM on July 15, 2013


"Web" sounds like antiquated slang to me, as in something brand new being said a long time ago. I always hear it with a pause for effect and some quotation marks around it. I get my news on the ... "web" (if my ... "tee-vee" isn't working).
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 12:05 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


But maybe they only count someone as off the hold list once they've actually checked out their hold?

Usually, it's not when they've actually checked it out, but when it is ready for them to check out.

Digression about how libraries do holds: generally, libraries create one 'bibliographical-level' record for a given book. This is a database entry that contains the author, call number, publication information, etc. Then, for each copy purchased, an 'item-level' record is created. This record mostly contains an identifier for the individual copy, a corresponding barcode and a bunch of information copied from the bibliographical-level record. That way, if the library decides to buy more copies or replace an existing one, the person doing the cataloging does not need to start from scratch.

And generally, when you place a hold, it's placed on the bibliographic-level record. When you place the hold, one of two things happens. If there are copies of the book that are currently available, your hold is automagically transferred to one of those copies. If, however, there are no available copies, then your hold remains on the bibliographic-level item until one becomes available (that is, when you're at the top of the list and a copy is checked in), at which point your hold is converted from a bibliographic-level to an item-level hold.

So, since you last checked (when you were #46), three copies have been marked ready for pickup by the three people at the top of the list. Even though the library just bought a whole bunch more printed copies, there are still just as many people in line ahead of you as there were before. And that's why you're #43 now, instead of #25 or something.
posted by box at 1:02 PM on July 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Today I learned that I say things weird.
posted by Rory Marinich at 1:15 PM on July 15, 2013


The additional copies I mentioned were ebook licenses, not printed copies, so I assumed they'd be available for additional people to have as holds almost immediately. They're up to 60 ecopies now, and I got my hold available notice about an hour ago, so those ecopies must have gone out to people pretty quickly.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:11 PM on July 15, 2013


And apparently they just ordered 166 additional physical copies, some of which are destined for libraries that don't yet exist.

The Toronto Public Library website is surprisingly informative about such things.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:14 PM on July 15, 2013


Articles claim that sales at Amazon went up 507,000% since the announcement and the book is out of stock everywhere online and in local stores near me now. (My library has a surprisingly low 11 holds on the book, and it was zero until the day after the annoucement.)

I still haven't finished the book, so I should probably stop posting here and read instead.
posted by jeather at 2:18 PM on July 15, 2013


Minneapolis/Hennepin County ebooks:
Available: 0
Library copies: 1
211 patron(s) on hold list

Minneapolis/Hennepin County actual books:
179 Copies On Order
Reservable copies: 100
Current Requests: 629
Bestseller Express (Rental) Copies: 85
(Reservable copies some of the copies on order. I'm guessing they own six and just ordered another 179.)

I'm tempted to put a hold on each just to see which comes first. I would bet the actual book. Our ebook hold waits are ridiculous. I expect it's at least partly because most people can't figure out how to return an ebook, since you have to do it from stupid Digital Editions, rather than the website, so very few 'copies' get returned early.
posted by hoyland at 2:39 PM on July 15, 2013


There was a chapter involving somebody trying on a dozen different dresses and Rowling described the shit outta all of them.

I finally got to that scene (and finished the book) and seriously, this is on the low end of clothing-description. She does it very, very well, which is why it seems nearly excessive, but if you've read anything set in the Regency or faux-Regency especially, there was little clothing description in this book, but what was there was effective.

I really enjoyed the story, too, though I didn't find the ending all that surprising -- but then, to a certain extent, that was never the point of her books. Yes, "Sirius Black is good" was a surprising end to book 3, and "Snape kills Dumbledore" for book 6 (it wasn't surprising that Dumbledore died, just who killed him), but "Harry escapes, kills Voldemort, everyone ends up happy" and many of the major beats in the series were entirely predictable, and this book was similar in many ways.
posted by jeather at 2:42 PM on July 16, 2013


Having just finished it, I'd say it's quite good. It manages a noirish tone without being pastiche, and modernizes it without just amping up the violence. It's not super dark or edgy, and it isn't trying to be.

There are plenty of potential suspects and they're all in play for a considerable portion of the book. The person you're most supposed to have thought did it twirls his moustache a little hard, so you know it must be someone else, but there are so many other options. The reveal is neither totally obvious nor a huge surprise, which is how it should be in a fair play mystery.

She hits the dialects pretty hard in some spots, but she also does a reasonable job of voicing the characters that have more mainstream accents. There are also some characters that are a bit more of a type than a well drawn individual, but pretty much everyone of importance gets at least one moment in the book where they really feel real. Even the discomfort of the unnamed hostel worker as he edges out of the wake feels real.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:48 PM on July 16, 2013


Turns out that one of the lawyers at a firm she uses (probably "used", now) failed to understand the phrase "client confidentiality" and blabbed to a friend of his wife, who promptly tweeted it.
posted by tavella at 3:27 PM on July 18, 2013


There's a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Although can you show damages if you made a lot more money because of the leak than you would have without it?
posted by Justinian at 1:54 PM on July 20, 2013


Torts generally work on the principle of no harm, no foul, so unless there was a specific penalty laid out in the contract she will probably have to be satisfied with a very public firing. Maybe seek sanctions from the bar?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 4:57 PM on July 20, 2013


I doubt she'll bother suing, but money isn't the only value that you can sue over. For example, if someone dumped a valuable resource all over your land, something that could make you a lot of money but kills all your long tended plants and trees, you could still sue over that loss even though cash-wise you are richer than before. She pretty clearly valued her ability to write future books in the series without having them be known as Rowling books more than the cash.
posted by tavella at 5:00 PM on July 20, 2013


A little discussion on the linguistics analysis. 'Nothing in the analysis constituted "proof" of Rowling's authorship; it was at best "suggestive" or perhaps "indicative."' See also this article, which discusses both authorship tests.
posted by jeather at 5:21 AM on July 21, 2013


And the law firm has paid her damages. Annoyingly, the BBC article doesn't say on what exact grounds she sued.

The damages are to be paid to a UK veterans' charity, ABF The Soldiers Charity (ABF being short for the older name, the Army Benevolent Fund). She further announced that she will be giving all her royalties from the book to The Soldiers Charity, making it very clear that for her this was not about the money.
posted by Azara at 4:29 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


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