Monday, April 6, 2009

Chump Change Published by Harper Perennial!

In a win for Dan Fante, fans of Dan Fante, and all literature of the lower life, drinking life, skid row, or otherwise down-and-out parts of America, Harper Perennial appears to be publishing a trade paperback of Dan Fante's Chump Change. According to amazon.com, the Harper Perennial Chump Change is due out in December 1, 2009 and will presumably be available "wherever books are sold." In fact, all three novels in Fante's "Bruno Dante trilogy" will be published by Harper then.

To me, the fact Harper is publishing his novels eleven years after Sun Dog Press published Chump Change (1998) is just another sign that American literary agents and publishers are not always the best judges of talent nor are they always in tune to what will sell. We can all see there is plenty of room on the shelf for Harry Potter, Terri McMillian, Stephen King, and other mainstream dominators of book markets, but I believe many, many readers are looking for more realistic versions of reality. So to speak. We don't have to read that 1 in 10 Americans receives food stamps or see 600,000 jobs lost each month to know that the other side or underside of America is more likely the one we live in, come from, or understand to describe the majority around us.

Fante is one of several American authors published in French translation even before his books were published in the United States. Iain Levison, talented and sardonic author of A Working Stiff's Manifesto, appears to have been in a similar position with his most recent book, Dog Eats Dog. Based on my research on amazon, Levison's third novel was published in French before English. I am not familiar with Bitter Lemon Press, but it seems possible this is Levison's own press, and like many other authors, he has determined to take American marketing and distribution into his own hands. The French have always had a taste for the sad side of the American Dream, and to some extent, it seems like we owe them thanks for alerting us to some top-shelf prose written by living Americans.

My sense is that literary agents and publishers are so certain that America demands an optimistic, palatable version of America that readers will shy away from titles like these that describe the grittier side of our streets. When one considers just how central failure is in the American literary canon (Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby, Herzog, A Fan's Notes, etc.), it doesn't make sense that these books would be ignored. For now, we can send kudos to Fante for keeping his books in print and do our rain dances for underdog book sales everywhere.

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