Ladies and Germs, Your Summer ’09 Status Galleys!

If you need to be told what status galleys are, chances are you’ve never had the pleasure of owning one. Or, if you need a reminder, here’s the piece we did last summer. Basically the term refers to an advance reader’s copy of a highly anticipated book that hasn’t been published yet. If you have one it means you’re special: either a proud member of the exclusive club known as the publishing industry, a distinguished literary critic, a friend of the author’s, or in some cases even an intern at a cultural magazine. 

As former New York Sun literary editor Tom Meaney explained it to us last year, “If you’re reading a galley on the subway, and someone comes to talk to you, you’re going to share a lot of things in common with them. You can have the right jeans or the right purse or whatever … but if you’re reading How Fiction Works in March, you know, three months before the book comes out, and you get the one girl who is interested in James Wood, well …”

Well, indeed! How Fiction Works was without a doubt one of last year’s most sought-after status galleys. Others included Roberto Bolano’s 2666 and Philip Roth’s Indignation

Getting on the subway yesterday and spotting someone with a Penguin Group totebag, we wondered: what are this summer’s status galleys? Are there any, or is everyone just anonymously reading Kindles now, as suggested by James Wolcott in this month’s Vanity Fair

We made some calls this morning and turns out there are a bunch! 

Joshua Ferris’s January 2010 novel The Unnamed, of which Reagan Arthur Books handed out more than a thousand copies during Book Expo in May, is among them, as is Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs, which comes out in September. 

Consensus seems to be that the ultimate status galley this season has been Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, but actually it’s coming out in three weeks, and according to Tracy Locke, the publicist at Penguin Press, finished books are already being sent out relatively widely. But for a while there, only a very few people could claim to possess the ARC: per Ms. Locke, “They were … on a very, very, very limited galley distribution. Basically what I did was I looked at what people’s deadlines were, so I went to all the monthlies first, and I sent them out as late as possible. It certainly would qualify as a status galley—we did our best to keep it under wraps.”

Lorin Stein, the editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, said that his author Sam Lipsyte’s follow-up to Home Land has been getting a lot of interest. “People really keep calling me to ask when we’ll be able to show them Lipsyte,” Mr. Stein said in an email. “I’ve never had to answer that question so many times. The answer is: galleys by August 5. (And it’s really great-looking.)”

Other books people mentioned include Richard Powers’ September novel Generosity: An Enhancement, Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City and Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs, both of which come out in October, and Mary Karr’s November memoir Lit. Sloane Crosley, the publicist at Vintage, suggested Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun, which comes out next week but which was never distributed in galley, and the Otto Penzler–edited doorstop volume The Vampire Archives, which Vintage will publish in October and at this early stage is only in the hands of 200 people. 

Plus, Philip Roth once again has a new book coming out, this one called The Humbling and scheduled for publication in November. According to the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publicity department, there are 300 copies of that one floating around among critics and editors (500 if you include the ones sent to booksellers) but it’s already stirring buzz on the Twittersphere. Early last month blogger—and occasional book critic for The Observer!—Molly Young tweeted that she was about to go “wait near the mailbox till my galley of Philip Roth’s upcoming THE HUMBLING arrives.” 

We caught up with Ms. Young over email this morning and asked her whether it had ever come. It had! Would she describe it?

“The cover is a grayish-pebble color and the book is very, very slim,” Ms. Young reported. “Almost pamphlet-sized. With big type. The cover looks like a typical Glaser cover, unobtrusive but immediately recognizable.” 

How did she happen to be among the lucky few to receive the book?  

“A kind editor sent me the book as a favor,” she said. “He was aware that I like Roth a lot—especially short Roth novels with lots of sex in them—and agreed to let me have a peek. The provision was that I not review or quote from the book, since there were future changes to be (possibly) made.”

She said she hadn’t spent any time reading The Humbling in public, and so could not say whether it worked the way a status galley is expected to. 

“[I] read it strictly in private, mostly because the content was racy enough to make me squirm,” Ms. Young said. “It’s a very titillating book and I like to maintain a noble bearing in public, so this was not the reading material to support that goal.”  She added: “Plus, if I saw someone reading a covetable ARC in public I’d interpret it as a weird passive mating call. I guess it’s no worse than wearing an obscure band T-shirt—you’re advertising your taste in hopes of attracting the select few who value that same object. But romances predicated on taste are sort of doomed, no? It’s a flimsy pretext.” Ladies and Germs, Your Summer ’09 Status Galleys!