A Year for 'Year Of' Books Writer Steve Almond discusses a flurry of "year of" books. The trend has authors spending a year focusing on trying something out or giving something up — books such as Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously.
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A Year for 'Year Of' Books

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A Year for 'Year Of' Books

A Year for 'Year Of' Books

A Year for 'Year Of' Books

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Writer Steve Almond discusses a flurry of "year of" books. The trend has authors spending a year focusing on trying something out or giving something up — books such as Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously.

A Y: Welcome to the program.

STEVE ALMOND: Yeah, thank you.

: This seems to be like every third book. Where does this come from?

ALMOND: Several years ago, there was Peter Mayle's book, "A Year In Provence", which did quite well. And then more recently "Julie and Julia," the book you mentioned by Julie Powell, "My Year of Cooking Dangerously," which came out a couple of years ago and was a huge national bestseller.

: And this was someone you tried to cook like Julia Child for a year. That was the concept.

ALMOND: She did. And as you suggested, all these books follow a certain formula. It's an - actually, if you think about it an inversion of the normal memoir pattern, the normal memoirs written while a bunch of events happened to our protagonist, and they decide to write about them. These books schtick lit is the inversion of that.

: Does this kind of memoir bear the same relationship to a traditional memoir as reality programming on TV does to reality? You're going to produce a year of interesting events and then write about your experiences.

ALMOND: That is exactly right. I will say, though, that really you have to take it on a case-by-case basis. So for instance, you know, if I undertook my year without cheddar cheese, well, you know...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ALMOND: ...I might be able to. That's my next (unintelligible)...

: Don't assume that you will not suffer without that cheddar cheese. There could be something in there.

ALMOND: Well, that's thing.

: Yeah.

ALMOND: Steve, actually my relationship to cheddar cheese is long and complex, and I won't go into it here, but you'll get to read it in the book. So, obviously, you have to choose a premise that's got some legs, as we say in the business. A great example of this would be A.J. Jacobs. He's kind of the reigning king of schtick lit. He wrote "The Year of Living Biblically." And (unintelligible).

: And "One Man's Humble Quest" - I'm just looking at a subtitle here, "One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible."

ALMOND: I'll read a little bit so you can get a flavor of it.

J: 30, three hours after he arrived, Michael, the Jehovah's Witness, says politely that he should let me get to sleep. I'm about to say, no, I could keep going, but his Palm Treo rings, it's his wife.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ALMOND: (Reading) Yes, we're just finishing up here, I'm about to leave. Michael stands up to shake my hand, and then it hits me, I have just done something few human beings have ever achieved. I have out-Bible-talked a Jehovah's Witness.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ALMOND: That's what these books boil down to. They're stories that people are telling, and sometimes those stories sound labored and contrived, and other times, they're really fantastic and, you know, entertaining.

: Is there anybody who you think has done the genre in such a way that they rise above it? There's a really great book in that stack that you've read, even though, it's not a great concept?

ALMOND: Well, I don't know if I would say there's a really great book. I mean, when I think about really great non-fiction, I think about, "Let Us Now Praise - you know - A Famous Man," the James Agee book, which if it were cast in this genre would be something like My Year Amid the Truly Poor Sharecroppers of Alabama," you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ALMOND: So, for instance, you already know if your friend is somewhat of a foodie, like a kind of an inept foodie who's going through some issues. She's going to love "Julie and Julia."

: I don't want to suggest that your statements about doing a year, doing without cheddar cheese that you're joking.

ALMOND: Don't do this to me, Steve.

: I don't want to suggest that you're joking.

ALMOND: I need the gig, yes.

: But is there something that you seriously considered doing as a year of book yourself?

ALMOND: That having been said, I don't think I would ever do it, and I certainly wouldn't do it for the purposes of a book. I think good books. I think good books come from people's obsessions and from the things in their lives that they've gone through that they can't quite get past in some way.

: Well, Steve Almond, go watch some ball games.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ALMOND: I will, and I have plenty of cheddar cheese with me.

: He's the author of among other books, "Not That You Asked."

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