Gray Lady Turns Yellow?

I’m not sure if I buy the logic in this New York Times article about paperback originals:

Ms. von Mehren, the publisher, said that following the article in the Book Review, Mr. Mitchell’s novel sold “10 to 20 times better than he ever had here. It really reignited his career.” Next month, Random House will publish Mr. Mitchell’s next novel, “Black Swan Green.” In hardcover.

Au contraire, Ms. von Mehren. A quick look at certain dates will deflate this mistaken hypothesis. A moment, if you will, as we dig up the history:

August 29, 2004: Tom Bissell, a perfectly fine critic, reviews Cloud Atlas for the NYTBR.

August 17, 2004: Random House releases paperback original of Cloud Atlas to bookstores.

Now I’m no marketing expert. But it seems to me that 12 days is enough time for the most feverish literary folks to read Cloud Atlas in whole and then tell their friends and loved ones, “Holy shit! You have to check out this David Mitchell guy. This is the best damn literary fiction I’ve read in years,” which then inspires these folks to do the same.

But more importantly, there is the history, which indicates (in about five minutes of Googling):

Early 2004: Some guy named Edward Champion manages to get his hands on the UK hardcover and says “David Mitchell” in nearly every sentence he writes and speaks. Others soon follow.

August 17, 2004: Village Voice reviews book.

August 22, 2004: David Mitchell interviewed by Washington Post, as well as Cloud Atlas reviewed. He is also reviewed by St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

August 27, 2004: Cloud Atlas anounced as part of Booker longlist for 2005. Cloud Atlas is reviewed by Boston Phoenix.

October 2004: David Mitchell appears in many U.S. bookstores. He is interviewed by a guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing.

October 10, 2004: Cloud Atlas reviewed by San Francisco Chronicle.

In other words, not only did Cloud Atlas get a hell of a lot of publicity from multiple outlets, but there were many reviews other than the NYTBR reviewing it. I also think Random House was smart in getting Mitchell into the States in October to revive interest in it — in the event that some folks hadn’t heard of it already or the attention had flagged.

So for the Times to take exclusive credit (as much as I’ve mentioned Mitchell over the years, I certainly wouldn’t) for Cloud Atlas‘ success is not only laughable in the extreme, but highly irresponsible. Could it be that this is an in-house effort on the part of the Times to prop up their decaying Sunday literary offering? What can we expect next from the Gray Lady? A Sam Tanenhaus centerfold in next week’s New York Times Magazine? Propaganda isn’t working for the Bush Administration and it certainly won’t work for the NYTBR.

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  1. For what it’s worth, I got turned onto Cloud Atlas by a certain Edward Champion, whose barrage of informative raves about the book made it impossible for me to ignore. Though I never got around to writing a review myself (and, really, I didn’t see the need, since I linked to Ed’s links to better reviews than I would have had time or talent for), I certainly told everyone who would listen that they should read it. And I’m pretty sure they each told two friends, who told two friends, etc., etc.

  2. C’mon. Slop, slop, slop.

    The 2 lines you quote do not say, “Because of a review in the NYTBR, Cloud Atlas sold like hot shit.” It says, “following the article in the Book Review,” it sold like hot shit — which only means that after the article, which you point out came first in a long line of outlets plugging the book, the book did well.

    Quit reading your slant into things, or at least proclaim it to be slanted, far from enchanting, though. (And don’t tell me the “it” in the next sentence refers to the Book Review either. It refers to the sale of the book.)

  3. There is also the sentence I did not quote (partially excerpted here), “An August 2004 review of “Cloud Atlas” drew attention to that book…” This still implies an inference that implies exlusivity which I feel is irresponsible. A responsible journalist would note that it was one of many reviews and award nominations and words of mouth that allowed “Cloud Atlas” to sell like hot shit. The New York Times isn’t the only organ drawing attention to literary titles and yet, reading the article, one would think that it was the only newspaper that existed.

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