Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On book publicity

I was originally going to be good and pick a book that didn't already have loads of Internet argument, commentary, publicity, and frothing reviews; this one caught my eye initially because the cover is basically a stock photo with outer-glow Zapfino slapped on top of it as if it's 2006 all over again. But I am weak, and I am also not particularly nice, so I give you


My Father's Daughter

by all-around superb human being Gwyneth Paltrow. Those of you who have better things to do than read gossip websites may not realize that Ms. Paltrow is not only an actress and a singer but also (in the words of eater.com) a lifestyle guru and cleanse practitioner. She's been foodie-ing for years; back in 2005 she claimed she would rather her children die than consume Lipton Cup-A-Soup. In 2008 she and chef Mario Batali, who wrote the foreword for My Father's Daughter, came out with a companion book to Batali's series Spain...A Culinary Road Trip. Her next foray into telling people what they should be doing was the online lifestyle newsletter GOOP. Now, with her own cookbook, Paltrow continues her rise to culinary superstardom.

Naturally, with an author of this prominence, the book publicized itself pretty efficiently. I doubt Paltrow had to do much calling of bookstores and offering to do signings if they had some spare room for a book table, or hiring publicists specifically for this purpose. On the face of it, the phenomenon of celebrity-with-book-deal isn't anything new; what sets My Father's Daughter apart from any of the other celeb books out right now (see Tina Fey's Bossypants, for example) is the amount of energetic, polarized, in some cases viral commentary on the Internet.

Back in December, Eater.com got hold of a preview copy of the book, and gave a precis of what we could expect. Tellingly, they offered only a little comment on the excerpts themselves, letting Paltrow's prose stand on its own:

"In the last ten years or so, cooking has become my main ancillary passion in life."

"I can still hear [my father] over my shoulder, heckling me, telling me to be careful with my knife, moaning with pleasure over a bite of something in the way only a Jew from Long Island can, his shoulders doing most of the talking."

"The stove is really the epicenter of my house — I am never far away from it and most of the time there is something atop it, simmering away for my family."

"I am constantly thinking about ways to give my children something filled with as much nutritional value as possible."

Now that the book is out, they've revisited it and are giving more of a review--while still allowing Gwyneth Paltrow to say everything about herself that they would be tempted to say about her. Here are Eater's sixteen best lines from the book. My personal favorite is

"I first had a version of this at a Japanese monastery during a silent retreat—don't ask, it's a long story."

But it's not all snark. The Atlantic offers a balanced view of the book, including commentary from an actual nutrition expert on the claims Paltrow makes. The overall impression is that My Father's Daughter has some decent recipes in it and does in fact offer useful advice in some cases, and once you strip away the hilarious permission given the reader to substitute actual pig bacon for duck bacon lest you find yourself unable to locate this latter substance, is written in good faith.

Finally, and perhaps most amusingly, Epicurious.com features a column by Julia Turshen, who assisted Paltrow with the book. Without meaning to (I have to assume), Turshen's chat with "the wonderful, supremely talented food stylist Susie Theodorou and her assistant Rebecca Jurkevich," who worked on the book with Turshen and Paltrow, illustrates everything about the world of the foodie that drives the rest of us nuts and makes us not want to buy My Father's Daughter (note that they can't spell cappuccino):

1. How do you take your coffee?

Susie: If I'm in Italy, a cappucino. Everywhere else, black.

Rebecca: It depends on the day. Either a good cappucino or an Americano. But my favorite is a cortado at Abraço. (Ed.: I couldn't agree more.)

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