Wild Animus: How NOT to Write a Bestselling Novel

The Wild Animus box set by Rich Shapero, which contains a 300-page novel and three CDs of accompanying music, has been recently distributed about the Pomona College campus, but you may or may not be aware of that fact.

That’s not a horrible thing. If the artistic endeavor had been anywhere near worth your time, there’s a good chance the free copy would already be in your hands. In fact, it would mean that all the other free copies that had been distributed internationally (across the states and as far away as Amsterdam and Tokyo) would have been read instead of being used as laptop stands and firewood, as one “very helpful” Amazon review suggests.

Shapero made some serious mistakes when he decided to create his own publishing company and put forth his work—the most significant one can be summarized as shameless and quite obnoxious self-promotion.

Shapero’s highly professional and stylized website contains oodles of quotes—from him and others praising his book—as well as a number of ambiguous sections, like “vision,” “discover,” and, of course, “store.” There is also a link to a site about the box set itself, which is “available now” (and has been for about six years).

All in all, I get an overwhelming sense that the author views my appreciation of literature as a giant city, and that his book is a tiny apartment basement in the city. He’s trying to trick me into going into the basement so he can lock the door behind me. I am a skeptic of any book that tries or needs to conceptually sell itself to me. I should be able to appreciate and figure out everything from the book’s content on my own.

To make matters worse, Shapero has hired a number of people to distribute the already expensive box set everywhere. Shapero refuses to stop. He hired actors to dress up as “nerds,” and “wave signs and shout negative things about the book” to create controversy and interest. Evidently, he had the goal of distributing 1 million copies.

Shapero graduated from UC Berkeley with a major in Pharmacology but a degree in English Lit in the ‘60s and got a job as a managing partner for a company in Silicon Valley. But this didn’t stop him from taking two-month-long trips to the Alaskan wilderness and tripping his brains out on acid, which seems to be where he got at least a good portion of the inspiration for his book.

While I smell Shapero trying to mislead me, I understand that he’s been through a lot. Shapero was born into an incredibly rich family and was able to make these trips and spend inane amounts on producing and advertising his special box set, but at least he is aware how pathetic that sounds.

One has to wonder what drove Shapero to such absurd self-promotion. He does have some writing prowess and he clearly put a lot of thought into his novel, but, somewhat depressingly, neither of these things made for a good book. When interviewed, Rich Shapero appears highly intelligent, relatable, sane, and friendly, if a bit psychedelic. He talks about how literature on its own is arbitrary and that he puts meaning into his work through the messages in his book (which, as I said above, is laid out all-too-thoroughly on his website). He talks about love and the specific way love illuminated meaning in life for him, and even brainstorms and presents ways to duplicate that feeling.

Also, it seems like he stole a lot of ideas from Into The Wild, which was made relatable through its narrative voice.

It’s almost like he tried to go out and do something worth writing about after college, tried to think of clever ways to embellish his actual experiences, and tried his absolute hardest to inject a universally appreciable message into it all, and then finally, tried to coax others into approval of his work. Shapero is trying to convince himself that he has something important and unique to say by nearly forcing others to tell him so. I do not know what attitude one should adopt when sitting down to write a novel, much less with accompanying music and visual art, and I would imagine that trying to discover an appropriate one would cause a good deal of mental stress. But Shapero of all people should know not to rely on the unpredictable and fickle nature of popular opinion and strive toward personal goals instead of putting some ineffective piece of his brain into a highly decorated box for the entire world to meaninglessly judge.

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