Beautiful Children Goes Free

February 27, 2008 | 1 book mentioned 3 2 min read

coverRandom House has decided to take a bold move this week, making one of its hottest titles available for free download for a limited time. Charles Bock’s debut effort Beautiful Children has set the literary world aflame, attracting glowing notices from the New York Times, Washington Post, and elsewhere, and nosing onto the NYT Bestseller List.

The download went live last night at midnight and is up until Friday night at midnight. The pdf of the book is also being hosted at Amazon for a limited time.

We got in touch with Jynne Martin, the book’s publicist, to find out more about Random House’s move to offer the book for free.

The Millions: Though big publishers are embracing technology in many ways, for Random House, releasing a new and popular book for free download seems like quite a leap. Why now and why Beautiful Children?

Jynne Martin: If it’s good enough for Radiohead it’s good enough for us! The online landscape is changing quickly, and we must take risks to find new ways to bring people to books. In this case we have a book we think is unique, fearless, and brilliant. Giving this book away for free online is a way to offer everyone a chance to read as much of the book as they want, and if readers love Beautiful Children as much as we do (and as many critics and early readers do), this will spread the word as widely as possible.

The Millions: Do you expect this to boost sales of Beautiful Children? Or is it simply an experiment to see what happens?

JM: We see this as win-win-win for everyone involved – readers, the publisher, and Charles. Of course we hope readers will love what they read, and want to own an old-world copy of the book for their shelf. But if they read it for free and don’t like it and don’t buy a copy, that’s fine; it’s no different than if they’d gone into Barnes & Noble and read the book in the cafe section and decided they didn’t want to get it.

The Millions: What was Charles Bock’s role in making this happen? Was it his idea?

JM: It was Random House’s idea but Charles embraced it right away. After ten years typing in his basement with just his computer, coffee maker, and Axl Rose albums, wondering if any other human would ever read his book at all, he’s more than thrilled to get his book out to the widest possible readership.

The Millions: Can we expect Random House to do this again in the future?

JM: It’s certainly possible. We’ll have to see how this one goes.

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. I'm waiting for the day when a publisher offers free downloads of excerpts from neglected masterpieces from the past, in the hopes of getting readers to buy the entire book. Currently I'm reading "The Artificial-Silk Girl" by Irmgard Keun which was written in Germany in 1932, and I guarantee most people would want to buy it if they read the first twenty pages. This book is so good it was banned by the Nazis, even though the author is a Christian.

  2. Beautiful Children–No Thank You to any type of Free download of this type of literary style. Yes, where are the masterpieces…

  3. I can see why they can give this away for free. The book is utterly banal, as much a piece of genre hackery as any Tom Clancy novel, except the genre is literary fiction.

    From the first chapter, you know it's going to have an ambiguous ending and be a series of narratives which vaguely overlap. You quickly realize the characters are going to remain cartoonish grotesques, doomed to "authentically" downbeat stories written by someone who has read "Last Exit to Brooklyn" but seems to view "damaged" people from some remote pitying perch.

    In perhaps the most irritating passage, the author adds a new character with a meta-comment on how there's no seamless way to link the character to the rest of the narrative. As this is intrusive narrator is absent from the rest of the book, it's jarring indicator of how much a writing exercise this is.

    If this novel proves anything, it's reviewers can be suckers for packaging and "authenticity".

    The author grew up in Vegas as the son of pawnshop owners, therefore he's saying something authentic about it. Except he admits leaving Vegas when he was 18 and angry, and this is clearly an angry teens overwrought version of Vegas grit.

    It's significant to note Bock is a graduate from Bennington College, like Bret Easton Ellis and Donna Tartt, and damn if there isn't the stink of Less Than Zero all over this. Empty lives of sad people as a classroom exercise. One wishes Bock had set this book aside and returned to the underlying subject matter after shaking off the writerly posturing.

    It also has some seriously clunky writing. Attempts at poetic sentence fragments like "Smiles glow as if smeared with lipstick." which if you think about it, is a mix of clashing cliches which doesn't work. Bock's writing is maddenly imprecise, filled with coy references to real events and cultural artifacts without naming them (because serious fiction evokes without specifying). The strain of bringing up Columbine and Quake without actually using either name shows.

    The time period is vauge – there are cell phones but the kids seems mired in a punk rock era which clearly reflects Bock's youth and not present day, except for some slang.

    Most importantly his pivot character – a 12 year old who goes missing – frequently sounds and acts more like a troubled teen, and not in a realistic way. His perception changes even more when poetic observations are needed. At the end, his motive for running off and vanishing makes no senes – for a 12 year old – although it probably echoes Bocks angry 18 year old self.

    Do not waste your time on this book. It's very very long and more predictable than any 3 chord rock song. You'd be better off watching an episode of CSI while listening to bydeathdesign or some other Las Vegas hardcore band.

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