I must make a note to pick this one up when it comes out on this side of the pond in September. Even curiouser than the book's science and the card trick in the video is the name change: Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things. Hmm. What does this say about the American book buying public? Are we turned off by science?
A few posts ago, I mentioned being interested in reading Alex Mindt's Male of the Species. The book is a collection of short stories about fathers and their children, and it explores several themes of interest to me. I have a sometimes strained relationship with my father, am often befuddled by men, and identify with the immigrant experience. Recently, I also started paying attention to book trailers.
As I watched the video, I zeroed in on the line: "A Vietnamese immigrant—a boat person, an Elvis impersonator—tells the story of how his father helped him escape Vietnam." The accompanying image is of an Asian man, with an anguished expression on his face, running through a field as an American soldier watches from behind. My first reaction was, "Well, isn't that typical." Most Americans can't tell Asians apart by looking at them, whether they be Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, etc. The photo in the video, of a running Asian dude and an American G.I. onlooker, literally screams Vietnam War thanks to Oliver Stone and the media.
Being the child of a Vietnamese immigrant, I can generally pick my ethnic brethren out of a crowd. However, I was raised in the United States and still have trouble distinguishing between the Japanese and Chinese, for example, since my experience with them is limited. My Vietnamese mother, on the other hand, can sort Asians with 100% accuracy because she innately sees subtle differences in eyelid and bone structure. To this curious child, such an ability seemed like a magical power so guessing ethnicity became a kind of a game between us, with her always being right and me usually being wrong. Even today, I often ask her to use her "power" when we see an Asian on television or in a movie. She amazes me every time.
Anyway, after watching the trailer for Male of the Species, I tore through the book looking for the Vietnamese names. "King of America" is told by Tran Nguyen, a Vietnam War refugee cum American immigrant cum Elvis impersonator in Vegas. He loves a Vietnamese woman, a showgirl who is pregnant by another Elvis impersonator, and offers to raise her biracial child as his own. Intertwined with the present day storyline, Tran shares memories of his father's murder by the Viet Cong and his family's subsequent escape to Malaysia on a fishing boat.
"King of America" is loaded with cliches. Tran Nguyen's name, written surname first in the Vietnamese way, is roughly equivalent to "Bob Smith." The Viet Cong murders an American sympathizer. A family escapes on a fishing boat. Rape and starvation run rampant in refugee camps. Although I would love to read about something other than the usual fare, the sad truth is that such events are the shared Vietnam War experience. Furthermore, some details felt inauthentic. For one, I have never heard anyone refer to the language as "Viet." Tran also names each of his relatives, but the Vietnamese actually use numbers. I call my cousins, the children of Auntie Three, Number Two, Number Three, Number Four, etc. Unlike the fictional Chinese detective Charlie Chan, we Vietnamese have no "Number One Son" so the count always starts at two regardless of gender.
Yet, "King of America" packs a lot of punch into a few pages. Its overarching grand themes make up for slips in the tiny details. Tran's desire to do the right thing for the pregnant showgirl complements his own father's nobility in helping others escape the war. The abject racism of his co-Elvis impersonator contrasts against the American G.I. who carried his father to safety amidst flying bullets. Forbidden by the Viet Cong, the King and his music symbolize freedom, dreaming of a life beyond war, and the endless possibilities of the American experience. Alex Mindt has crafted an ambitious short story, and I look forward to reading the book in its entirety.
When I blogged about John Barlow's book trailer for Intoxicated, I mentioned that I haven't spent much time paying attention to them. My nonchalant attitude has been changing because a) new videos keep coming out and b) some of them make me laugh. A lot.
For example, BookSlut recently linked to this (not safe for work or children or Puritans or anyone who is quick to cry, "Misogyny!") video for Chad Kultgen's The Average American Male. I do not fall into any of the aforementioned categories, so it made me spew coffee out my nose.
Other videos for Kultgen's book, all along the same vein, are available here.
Like most book bloggers, I get e-mails from authors. In a crowded marketplace, it's difficult for an unknown to get noticed since big publishers are more likely to throw money toward big books by big authors. As a result, little authors need to spend more time being marketers than working on their craft. It's a shame, really.
Last month, I received an e-mail from John Barlow promoting the trailer for the reprint edition of his novel Intoxicated:
(Advice to John Barlow: Edit for grammar and typos before hitting send. Also, don't forget to mention the name of your book. Although you did include a sentence about its content, the title is nowhere to be found.)
Under normal circumstances, I throw such e-mails into a folder called "book press" with the intention of going back and reading them as I find time. Time is hard to find, so those e-mails never see the light of day again. Occasionally, I clean out the folder by deleting but never looking at the super old stuff. But why did I notice Barlow's book and not the many others?
First of all, the e-mail didn't come across as a form letter. Not only did it read and look like something from an actual human rather than a marketing machine, it mentioned BookBlog in the body. Including the name of the site or person you're writing to might take a bit of research or extra time, but it's worth it. I'm a person, and I like personal attention. Recently, I received several e-mails from a PR firm to promote products that would fit into what we do here, but they were all addressed to "Jesse." I was tempted to write back and ask, "Who the eff is Jesse?" but it takes less effort to ignore carelessness than confront it.
Barlow couldn't have known, but I recently acquired Drinking, Smoking & Screwing: Great Writers on Good Times from Bookins. The older I get, the more nostalgic I become for the days of my youth. I used to have lots of fun doing naughty things and damning the consequences, but these days the suffering lasts longer than a morning hangover. (I recently was invited to a bar for a birthday celebration that started at 10:30 p.m. My response was, "Uh, no thank you. I go to bed around ten.") Reminiscing and reading about wild fun is mostly what I do now, so Barlow's Intoxicated, about a cocaine-based Victorian soft drink, hit the right target market.
Did the trailer do anything for me? Not really. Although it's the latest trend in book marketing, I haven't paid much attention. Others have. Watch the Book is a new blog dedicated to book trailers, albeit trashy ones. (I'd never read any of the dreck they've promoted so far.) Book Trailerpark highlighted more diverse titles, but they are apparently defunct because of whatever is going on inside The Book Standard. The future is likely to see more and more titles being promoted via trailers, and I expect it's just a matter of time before they hit the flat screens that have been going up in my local jumbo Borders. To that end, Big Bad Book Blog has offered a few useful tips for would-be trailer producers. The best ones are stylish, short, imaginative, and fun.