Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Brain: The Man Who Wrote the Book that Changed the World by Dermot Davis
Brain: The Man Who Wrote the Book that Changed the World is a self-published book and I just about never say "yes" to self-pubs for review because [deep sigh] I read a few too many truly appalling self-published novels in my early blogging years and quit accepting them entirely, for a while. Occasionally, the intriguing synopsis of a self-published book keeps me from even noticing the fact that it's a self-pub, though, and I'm truly glad that happened when Dermot Davis asked me to read Brain.
At the beginning of Brain, you're introduced to its hero, Daniel Waterstone, as he accepts a literary award that a young woman nicknamed "Crazy Mary" believes she deserved. Rather than just accepting the award politely and returning to his seat, Daniel gives a lengthy speech that clearly highlights his arrogance.
A few years later, Daniel is living in Los Angeles, where he has been attempting to launch his fabulous literary career. After completing the sequel to his Great American Novel, Daniel prepares to meet with his agent. He has been published but his novels are too literary for the average American and aren't selling well. Daniel is nearly out of money, his car is a beater that's likely to stop for good at any moment, he's late on all of his bills and he's hoping his agent, Suzanne, will spring for lunch. When Suzanne tells him she can't sell his Great American Novel, much less a sequel, he begs her to tell him what he should write. What will sell? Whatever it takes, he'll write it.
Daniel settles on writing a satire, feverishly researches satire writing and then begins to write obsessively. Starving because he can't afford groceries, he becomes crazed and delirious but he finishes his novel and sells it. Unfortunately, it's marketed as a self-help book and the "advice" Daniel gave in the book -- never intended to be serious -- is taken as instruction. Daniel finds himself stuck touring and doing seminars for a bestselling book whose principles were meant to take a stab at all the people who are making him wealthy.
"Mr. John Fox, Tutorsfield, Wisconsin," Daniel read from the envelope as he opened it. "Walking backwards blindfolded while banging two sauce pan lids together and singing If I Were a Rich Man at the top of my lungs really helped me improve my concentration, as your book said it would. I fell over a couple of times and needed to be treated for a mild concussion and some minor cuts and bruises but the weeklong stay in the hospital was a small price to pay for the heightened awareness which I felt as a result of the exercise. If you're ever in the Wisconsin area . . . " Daniel stopped reading and looked at Suzanne with a mystified expression.
"Read some more," encouraged Suzanne, handing him his refill.
"How to be a forest fairy, as described in your book, was a hard exercise for me at first. However, as I followed the exercise further and yelled out for all the other forest fairies to come gather round, sure enough, they did reveal themselves from their hiding places and I soon felt myself as one of them. My view of life has changed dramatically as a result." Daniel stopped reading and picked up another letter.
[. . . ] "These people are nuts," said Daniel. "We have names and addresses here . . . we should call the mental health services or something."
"Don't be ridiculous, Daniel," Suzanne said casually. "These are your fans. You've earned quite a following with just one book."
"Yeah, I'm king of the loonies."
"It's the follow-up book that always sells even better."
I won't give away anything else that happens because Brain is quite a wild read and I'd hate to ruin any of its surprises. The writing itself could stand some tightening but the story is so delightful that it's worth ignoring Brain's shortcomings for the sheer entertainment value.
What I loved most about Brain -- besides the fact that the author kept surprising me -- was the hero's growth. Daniel's book is not just a bestseller but a book that changes how people think and, in the long run, changes the world. And, yet, the author knows what the book really is about and in his inability to simply accept his success and continue playing the role of the self-help guru, he shows his humanity.
There is a romantic subplot and I confess to not quite understanding whether the female is (as I suspected) "Crazy Mary" reinvented and, in fact, much more stable than Daniel or if I misread that entirely but I liked the romance. Before I accepted the book, I read a few reviews and there were a lot of complaints about the ending so I was expecting a far-fetched end to the romantic subplot. But, I had no problem with the romance at all. There is also a lovely character, an elderly librarian, whom Daniel considers his only friend. I loved where the author took that relationship.
Recommended - A delightful, humorous satire that pokes fun at the world of publishing via a flawed character who, in becoming a success for all the wrong reasons, emerges a better person. There are quite a few crazy, slapstick scenes in Brain; it is nothing if not wildly creative. Like most self-pubs, Brain could use a bit of editing for small mistakes like misspellings and larger ones like excessive description (particularly at the beginning of the book), but the pacing is excellent and, in the end, it's just rollicking good fun.
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