“Do books really need Hollywood-style trailers?” This was the recent demand of Slate’s Troy Patterson. Well, Patterson, let me end your suffering here and now. No. The answer is no.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about book trailers. But wait–Patterson has an issue with that, too.
A consideration of the form might begin, and even end, by dwelling on the word trailer itself, conventionally used to indicate a montage that, running in a movie theater before a feature, gives away too much of the plot of a film not yet released. No one would think to call an ad for a TV show a trailer; it is a promo or a spot or maybe a teaser. In embracing the term, the publishing industry helps itself to some Hollywood glamour. And in avoiding the most obviously appropriate word for these commercials—that is, commercials—sacrosanct literature keeps grubby commerce at an arm’s length.
Good point, Patterson! You’re right. These are commercials. Commercials. Nothing more.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about book trailers. Patterson, any particular trailer you’d really like to give the business to? In fact, yes! He is none too happy with the, ahem, commercial for Jonathan Safran Foer’s new vegetarian memoir Eating Animals. Witness the ungodly travesty for yourself:
Patterson bemoans the trailer as “extremely cute and incredibly twee.” I feel you, Patterson. That hand-drawn text has become synonymous with the kind of indie film quirk that makes me want to sprinkle rat poison in my smoothie (see Juno, (500) Days of Summer, Paper Heart, Away We Go, or this expletive-filled encapsulation of all of them). So, yes, it’s possible Foer didn’t need to trot out the twee with such force (and then repeat it again at the end!).
But the reason he didn’t need to is that everything else is pretty damn interesting. Foer says that Eating Animals is “ostensibly a book about meat,” but traces that back to the feasts his grandma foisted upon him as a child, and how, now that Foer has a son of his own, he finds himself in the same position of feeding a dependent but wanting to do it responsibly. It’s all going to feel a little yuppie to some, but you have to try to dial down those reactions in cases like this. I mean, we’re talking about sustenance. The safety of humans. The death of animals. These are topics of some weight, no?
Verdict: Foer defeats Patterson in a squeaker! This has got me interested in the book, and I eat meat like it’s going out of style. Oh wait. Is it?