Thoughts on "Paperback Writer"

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M.C. Esher hands

Thinking about “Paperback Writer” — it’s a thousand pages, give or take a few?!

Heard this one with fresh ears recently and began thinking about 1,000-page debut novels (paperback or no): Are there any?

Not sure. But then I thought about that scene in Wonder Boys (the film based on the Michael Chabon novel), in which novelist Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) is typing a number on a page of his manuscript…and then adds a fourth digit.

Wonder Boys the novel was inspired in part by Chabon’s experience writing and abandoning a novel called Fountain City. (More info here; an excerpt, with annotations, has just been published.)


Also: Why is our paperback writer basing his book (presumably a novel) on a “novel by a man named Lear”? Who’s Lear? (Don’t say nonsense maestro Edward Lear—he didn’t write any novels.)

(I’m not saying these are “bad” lyrics, vis-à-vis the very fun earlier thread; I like these lyrics!)

So he’s writing a 1,000-page cover version of a (presumably shorter) novel? Are there any real-life examples of this happening?


I also like the Escher-like moment when the singer declares, “My son is working for the Daily Mail, it’s a steady job but he wants to be a…paperback writer” as well?!!

Your friend,

PS What if the narrator/father is named Lear, and the son, aspiring to be a paperback writer, writes a thousand-page version of his father’s (unpublished) novel? Though the first novel would also be a thousand pages…indeed, the son might simply be copying his father’s novel, word for word!

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  1. Marguerite Young’s debut novel “Miss Macintosh, My Darling” (1965) weighed in at well over 1,000 pages. I finally stooped it a few years ago after admitting that I would never have the time to read it.

  2. Avatar Michael wrote:

    Sweet, Ed! Congrats!

    BTW, I wish my keyboard had a “bird” key.

  3. Isn’t it the dirty man with the clinging wife’s son who wants to be a PW, not the son of the PW-wannabe singer himself? Do we know if the PW-WB even has a son? Any PW-WB father-son teams on record?

  4. Avatar Ed Park wrote:

    Dev, it’s uncanny — as soon as I published that rather frenzied post, I was trying to think: Well, what were some 1,000-pagers of the era? THE RECOGNITIONS is a decade earlier…I couldn’t come up with any other debuts, and then I thought of Miss Macintosh, but was too lazy to get up and check the date!

    I’ve never read it, it sits on my shelf and mocks me…but now that you mention it, maybe we should put it back on our “queue”???

  5. Avatar Ed Park wrote:

    Oh and of course you’re right — it’s the *character’s* son! (Who is then, clearly, a fictional representation of the striving PW — is this an ouroboros yet??)

  6. Avatar Mollie wrote:

    I think the “son” who works for the Daily Mail is actually the son of the novel’s main character (“it’s a dirty story of a dirty man…”). I’ve always loved those lyrics; it’s like the pitch from hell. A thousand pages, but he’s offering to make it longer! And it’s a novel about an aspiring novelist! Where do I sign up?

    While we know that this is no longer true – see link above, QED – I always assumed the fact that he was aspiring to be a “paperback” writer meant he was going for a lowbrow/”trashy” market. Perhaps he’s doing a mass-market novelization of something highbrow?

  7. Avatar Ed Park wrote:

    The stamina! I’ll be writing more in a week or two!

    Thought: Mollie, you should write song from editor’s POV.


    A thousand-page novelization of King Lear!

    Hey, maybe it’s a novelization of the film version of Jane Smiley’s A THOUSAND ACRES (based on King Lear)!


    It’s a good “character” song (character songs can get corny…but this one is so fast and odd!)…

  8. Avatar Eric Reynolds wrote:

    Ed, you just completely changed the way I’m going to hear this song for the rest of my life! I may end up hating you for that.

    FWIW, I always thought “Lear” was a Shakespeare reference, maybe because of that BBC radio performance in the background of “I Am the Walrus.”

  9. Whoa, dude! Were you trying to blow my mind with that PS? Because you totally blew my mind! Then the other commenters had to come along and point out that it’s not the narrator’s son who also wants to be a paperback writer, but the dirty old man’s … Mind unblown!

    Too bad! The PS made me think of the Borges short story “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”.

    My understanding is that “PW” came out of Paul’s insecurity over John’s having written two best sellers (In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works); and I always thought of Lear as Edward Lear (even though he wrote no novels), to whose writings Lennon’s were often compared, although King Lear would seem to be more fertile ground for a 1000-page novel.

    I think the “Frere Jacques” (“Brother John”) background vocals are kinda interesting if you view the song as inspired by John’s literary endeavors; and they also sorta tie back in to the notion of “nonsense” lyrics (background vocals based on a children’s song?), like those that inspired John; and also, obviously, like the kind John himself wrote in his books.

    I can’t imagine writing a 1000-page novel, but my comments here at dullblog frequently get that “comment too long” message, of which I am secretly proud. Will this one get it, too? I’ll let you know! I have my fingers crossed!

  10. My comment didn’t get the warning message this time!

  11. Avatar Nancy wrote:

    To add a couple more books to the pile of giant tomes:

    Ross Lockridge’s “Raintree County” and Helen Santmyer’s “And Ladies of the Club,” both first novels, are also over 1000 pages.

    I love the frenzied singing on this song — it’s the perfect embodiment of the lyrics. “I can make it longer if you like the style / I can change it round” and “If you must return it you can send it here” speak volumes. *Cough*

  12. Avatar Michael wrote:

    Glaven, all that smells right to me.

  13. Avatar Nancy wrote:

    Two other thousand-page debuts: Ross Lockridge’s “Raintree County” and Helen Santmyer’s “And Ladies of the Club.”

    I love “Paperback Writer,” especially the would-be-author’s utter willingness to “change it round” for publication. And the music really backs up the speaker’s desperation.

  14. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  15. Avatar Michael Giltz wrote:

    Perhaps they were looking into the future and predicted that David Foster Wallace would write “Infinite Jest,” which is 1,104 pages, give or take a few. There’s a contemporary paperback writer called James Lear but he’s more likely to appeal to Brian Epstein than Paul or John.

  16. Avatar J.R. Clark wrote:

    PW is Paul taking the piss out of John in the same fashion John took the piss out of Paul in Nowhere Man (Isn’t he a bit like you…and me?”)

  17. Avatar Michael wrote:

    Welcome to the site, JR!

    It’s interesting to think that PW’s a coded shot at John. Beatles songs were probably not as coded to them as they appear to us; my sense is that the guys communicated a lot via songs, and lyrics were a way to express negative emotions without having to be responsible for them. Even in the early days I get the sense that the band was rife with needling, in both the good-natured and not so good-natured vein. Stuff like “Not Guilty” is crystal-clear to us, so it must’ve felt like a real shot to John, Paul and Ringo (especially after George made ’em do 105 takes or whatever it was). And by the end, you even get stuff like John claiming that Paul would look over at Yoko whenever he sang “Get Back,” which suggests that they were all sensitive to the other’s songs.

    But given that Beatlesongs were rife with coded messages between the members, “Nowhere Man” is one of the times that the conventional story–“I was talking about myself”–strikes me as logical and satisfying. It seems to me that Paul was the opposite of a Nowhere Man in 1964-66–he was almost compulsively hoovering up Life, living in London and hobnobbing with the great and the good; it’s the connections and influences that Paul absorbed from ’64-’66 that fueled his creative explosion in ’67 and ’68.

    Lennon, on the other hand, was shut up in Weybridge wondering what the hell he was doing, feeling like life was passing him by. It makes logical sense that he’d be calling himself a Nowhere Man. The “you and me” bit is, IMHO, self-protective, turning the song from a straight-up Help!-style declaration of life sucking, into a more conventional song-about-a-type, like “The Word” or George’s “Think for Yourself.” Adding “and me” makes it less judgmental and, to me at least, more palatable.

    But maybe you’re right, JR. It’s fun to speculate.

  18. Avatar M.R. Hardy wrote:

    The idea of ‘covering’ a work of fiction was discussed (well… sort of) in Jorge Luis Borges’ short story “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” — the titular character essentially re-inhabits Cervantes’ experiences to literally recreate “Don Quixote”, line by line, word for word. Not sure if the author of this blog post is a Borges fan — but I sure am!

    PDF of the short story available at

    PS sorry I am very late to this party! Just stumbled onto this blog looking for photos of the “Let it Be” rooftop sessions on google 🙂 I have now spent entirely too much of my day reading posts here. Better late than never. Borges might, or might not, have concurred.

  19. Avatar Pidpoo wrote:

    M.R. Hardy, thanks your your interesting literary reference In your comment. It has been an amazing number of decades since I studied and read these things, as my later jobs and interests diverged from them, but they are interesting. This blog steers more toward academic interests as they relate to the Beatles and subjects and the folks who run it have that interesting background, My musical interests became more musical genre and fad interests And how Beatles and solo Beatles reflected and were derivative of that, but I remember the heady old days of academic interest in sixties folk and concept rock music like the Beatles. It is interesting to me to see the Victorian pre-Raphaelites, Blake, movements, and philosophies of nineteenth century and see how Beatles and solo Beatles repeated much of that in their own way, subconsciously perhaps.

    You had an interesting comment that I’ll have to reflect on. Thanks and welcome to the blog.

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