Reading James Franco Before Everyone Else

By Shane Solar-Doherty

Being the proud parents of a baby blog and having absolutely zero pull in the literary world, Mel and I find joy in the little things that book culture has to offer, like passing by a building where some important book event is taking place that we would have liked to attend, and wishing we could be inside instead of standing out in the cold with numb earlobes. We also like it when we find a dollar in place of a bookmark in a book we forgot we were once reading. (This hasn’t happened to me, and I’m not sure it’s happened to Mel either, but at least the thought is a nice one.)

As young people with a somewhat colorful blog, we don’t benefit from advanced reader copies or invites to big bookish galas. From what I’ve learned in the game of Life, you’ve either gotta start a career or take out a loan and enroll in college before you can even begin thinking about what colors your twins will be when you peg them in the back seats.

What I’m getting at here, in case you couldn’t tell, is James Franco’s debut short story collection, Palo Alto. I would have really liked to get my hands on an advanced copy to review this collection myself. I think I would have given him at least a little credit for venturing into the great written unknown. Instead, I’m here reading all these other folks’ reviews. And all of these reviews are excruciating. The only praise Franco gets from any review I read was in the very first sentence — “Give James Franco this: his fiction is better than his non-” — which is then rendered void when the reviewer goes on to say, “The biggest problem with Franco’s fiction is that it’s boring.” Well played.

To help save some face for Franco, who, by the sounds of it, should probably stick to wearing costumes and doing flips while tied to a rope in front of a green screen, I thought I would share with you this one piece of trivia, courtesy of IMDB, before linking you to some really unpleasant reviews of Palo Alto.

Did you know James Franco went by the name of “Ted” at Palo Alto High School and was voted best smile?

Alrighty then. Here’s three painful reviews to get you started.

LA Times: “After finishing Palo Alto, one feels the urge to not so much review it as grade it. And not highly.” (I like this one especially because it’s written by a television critic, not a book critic, and has a handful of typos.) (And now, the more I think about it, the more I realize the biting deceit behind a TV critic reviewing a book written by an actor.)

SFGate: “Perhaps it’s best to think of his debut collection, Palo Alto, as part of some ongoing performance, where he now plays a lazy and insipid writer whose sole focus is exploring youthful anomie.”

Publishers Weekly: “The author fails to find anything remotely insightful to say in these 11 amazingly underwhelming stories.” (This is a short one, for those of you who don’t really have time for this. But seriously, you don’t have time for this?)

Palo Alto will be released to those of us without advanced-copy privileges tomorrow.

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6 thoughts on “Reading James Franco Before Everyone Else

  1. We look forward to hearing what YOU think of PALO ALTO, Shane. And if you’re in the NYC area then please try to attend his only free public appearance for the book, 8pm Wednesday October 20 at the Barnes & Noble in TriBeCa (the first 200 to purchase the book at that location get a reserved seat, remaining guests SRO). At least, now you can say you’ve been invited 🙂

  2. Shane says:

    I’ve got Palo Alto on reserve at the library. As soon as it comes in and I review it here, you’ll be the first to know about it.

    As for your invite, I’m truly honored, but unfortunately I won’t be able to travel to NYC this Wednesday. How about, as a compromise, we have Mr. Franco come do a reading in Boston? Mel said she’s got room in her apartment if he needs a place to crash… Seriously though, Harvard Bookstore is steeped in literary tradition and has a highly respected reading series. It would be great to see Mr. Franco in Cambridge reading from his book and discussing his literary endeavors, while helping to support an independent Cambridge business.

    What do you think?

  3. We’re sure he’d probably love to! But given his insane schedule, the publisher was able to secure only one exclusive event, and B&N TriBecCa got it. Perhaps at some point he’ll do a scheduled or impromptu reading at Yale, where he’s currently enrolled (he’s also concurrently studying at RISD). But in the meantime, Boston fans can see him as young Allen Ginsberg in HOWL, which just opened at the Amherst there, and at other theaters in MA listed at And of course, 127 Hours opens wide 11/5. Cheers,

  4. Matt Wilding says:

    I read one of the stories from this collection in Esquire a few months back, and I thought it to be a good, well paced piece of writing. I’m happy to read the collection.

    • Matt,

      That’s great! Thanks for stopping by. We’d love to read your review of the collection. If you’d be interested in writing one, send us an email at TheThingsTheyRead [at] gmail [dot] com!

      – Mel

  5. Interesting to note that also today, Roger Friedman compiled a list of POSITIVE reviews of PALO ALTO, and The Economist published their favorable review of the book. If anyone’s curious to see them, our Tweets about this were posted as:

    Roger Friedman of @Showbiz411 collects positive reviews of PALO ALTO: See them on YT:

    @TheEconomist on PALO ALTO: “startling, original, interesting, evocative; prose embodies bizarreness, quite good”

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