How I Became a Famous Novelist – Steve Hely
I knew when I picked this up that it was a novel, a satire of our current pop culture where anyone can become famous regardless of how much (or little) talent they possess. But I’ll admit, I just might have been hoping to find the secret to getting published while making my way through it.

If only it was as easy as the title suggests.

Angry after getting an invitation to his college girlfriend’s wedding, Pete Tarslaw decides that he must do something to upstage her on the big day. His best idea? Becoming a famous novelist. He quickly develops a formal, based on careful review of what is on the Best Sellers list, that is guaranteed to accomplish just that. He cranks out a novel that ticks all the spots on his checklist, and, thanks to some good fortune, gets published. So far, so good. More good fortune finds Tarslaw and soon he is, if not the toast of the literary world, at least a famous author with a best selling novel to his credit.

As you would expect, it all unravels quickly and hilariously.

Hely, who has written for David Letterman and The Office, nails the vapidity of our entertainment world. Even when Tarslaw’s world is falling apart, his book climbs the Best Seller list. We are more interested in spectacle, controversy, and train wrecks than true art.

Maybe he did figure out the secret to writing success.

Last Night at the Lobster – Stewart O’Nan
Perhaps this is the book Pete Tarslaw wanted to write. Slim, less than 150 pages. Brief, taking place over a 16 hour day. And tidy, set in a single restaurant with a brief foray across the parking lot.

But this is Stewart O’Nan writing, so there’s nothing cheap or manufactured about it. As always, he somehow builds a group of deep characters with the barest of brush strokes. I wish I knew his secret.

This time it is the crew running a Red Lobster in Connecticut, four days before Christmas, in the midst of a blizzard. It also happens to be the store’s final day of operations before the corporate office shuts it down for poor performance. That doesn’t sound like much, but O’Nan weaves his magic and turns it into a beautiful little tale.

This is the fourth O’Nan book I’ve read. With one exception, they’ve all been exceptional. And the fourth was very entertaining. He has a way with language and pacing and stories that is unmatched, in my mind, by any other current author. I think one of my reading goals for 2013 might be to complete his collection.