In “Publish This Book,” Stephen Markley claims to be writing about, well, nothing. His ambitious memoir is about publishing the very book he’s writing; an idealistic concept he’s sure has yet to be explored.
For every book accepted by a publisher, roughly a thousand are denied. As Markley swims against the tide of statistics, he takes us on the challenging journey of publishing his book about publishing a book.
And it’s not just about unveiling new ideas to create an audacious book; it turns out that this witty, sarcastic writer comes off with complete honesty in a humorous manner. Of course, the main focus of the memoir is getting it published. To depict this process as forwardly as possible, Markley records every detail pertaining to it as precisely as possible. He includes emails and conversations from agents and publishers alike, including those of his from college professor and mentor Steven, who proves to be a tough critic and a bit of an anti-fan.
The memoir starts off describing a friend’s genius idea for the invention of a machine which allows you to use the bathroom while shaving. Hence opens up a playing field of inside jokes and satire. His writing style is reminiscent of Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) and his consistent self-referencing. However, Markley’s stylistic elements of writing tend to be slightly more innovative and creative.
Markley goes against conventional literature by ignoring (and subliminally making fun of) standard methods. Throughout the memoir, he uses footnotes (that can tend to be as long as a page) as a means of sarcasm, often refuting things he has said and admitting when he is lying or highly exaggerating the truth. In one chapter, he completely defies proper grammatical usage by starting sentences with lower case letters and beginning new paragraphs mid-sentence.
In another chapter called Please Don’t Fact Check This Chapter, he mocks writers who have used fiction to create memoirs (James Frey, JT Leroy) by completely fictionalizing the events in this entire chapter. He finds himself entangled in a cross-fire between gangs, working with underprivileged children in New Orleans, and joining a rock band. These instances are intended to provide entertainment, as he believes most memoirs have strived to do instead of telling the truth.
When Markley isn’t being sarcastic, battling with his iD, or profusely making jokes related to sex or excrement in some form, his prose can be surprisingly touching and relatable. This is because, while the book remains true to its title, it also remains true to the genre. Markley talks about his life on such a deep level, it’s as if we are reading along as he discovers himself. From everything from politics to the loss of loved ones to the toil and trouble of being in a long distance relationship, we find pieces of not only a writer struggling to be published, but a man defining himself in the process.
At times, the book may seem quite dysfunctional and un-orderly. In one chapter, he may be talking about the hardships of unpublished authors trying to break into the industry, and in the next, he’s recreating scenes from an 8th grade episode and recounting middle school basketball days. However, in the end, the bumpy flow seems to, oddly enough, make perfect sense.
You’d be hard pressed to not find Markley’s sense of humor hilarious. Even if you’re not a struggling writer who could undoubtedly connect with his dilemmas, you will find this memoir filled with relatable experiences and laughs. Before you are through with this page-turner, you will find yourself rooting for Markley and his success.
The best part is, in the words of Markley, “You pretty much know there will be a happy ending.”