According to the people who track these things, there are roughly 170,000 new books published each year in the United States — an alarming percentage of which arrive, unbidden, at the L.A. Weekly office.
Each week, we'll offer a snapshot of a newish book that's caught our attention. Just as there's a lid for every crooked pot, surely, there's a reader for every one of these 170,000 books. This is our attempt to play matchmaker.
THE BOOK: Elimination Night
THE WRITER: Anonymous
THE BACKSTORY: This roman a clef is focused on the season of American Idol where Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler were brought in to replace Simon Cowell. Its publicists tell us that it's a “perfect addition to the 'assistant lit' shelf — sliding naturally between The Devil Wears Prada and The Nanny Diaries.” But we couldn't help but think hopefully of a third book: Primary Colors, the story of a naïve political operative who learns on the campaign trail that his boss, a thinly veiled version of Bill Clinton, is a user and an asshole. Why? Well, that, too was written by Anonymous. And unlike the other two books, that one was worth reading.
THE STORY: This Anonymous is described in promotional materials only as “a writer with knowledge of the behind-the-scenes working of a top TV talent show.” So what does that mean? A producer who saw all the excesses of Idol and had the chops to write the Great American Novel about it, much like Joe Klein (formerly Anonymous) set out to write a novel about Clinton and somehow captured his essence more than his real biographers? Or some low-level assistant on, say, America's Got Talent who wanted to cash in?
After reading the whole thing, we're going to go with a combination thereof: We suspect the writer had some level of access at Idol. But the Great American Novel this ain't. Frankly, the most interesting (perhaps the only interesting) thing about this book is trying to figure out what pieces could possibly be true. Is J. Lo a self-absorbed ninny? We're buying it. Is there “an unsettling … femininity about” Simon Cowell? OK, we buy that, too.
There's ostensibly a story arc about the protagonist, Sasha, aka Bill (don't ask), coming to terms with working for reality TV. Yawn. That plotline was bad enough in the flush Prada-wearing years; this is 2012. We have no sympathy.
DON'T READ THIS IF … You couldn't care less about American Idol. The opening three chapters had us shaking our heads in disbelief at the laziness of the “novelization” — Fox is Rabbit. Simon Cowell is Nigel Crowther. Ryan Seacrest is Wayne Shoreline? Gigli is Jinky?!? MAKE IT STOP.
READ THIS IF … You either love reality TV, or you work in the business. Or maybe you're just looking for a lazy hangover read and you're not particularly choosy. We will admit that this book grew on us — we meant to give up after the first couple of chapters, but somehow, we read the whole damn thing.
A KEY QUOTE … “This week, we're going to use N for a definite 'yes, they'll go on to Hollywood,' X for a maybe, and Y for a categorical 'no, but the kid looks like a crier or a psycho, so roll the cameras.' And remember: NEVER explain this to anyone. … Another thing. If someone has a good gimmick – y'know, dying kid, mom in prison, amusing facial tic — put a star in the top right corner.”