HERE ARE THE PAGES THAT GOT ME AN AGENT
December 13, 2013
Below are the original first five chapters of CHARLIE JOE JACKSON’S GUIDE TO NOT READING. This was what I first sent to my agent that got her interested. It’s all over the place, and if you’re at all familiar with the actual book, you’ll notice that almost everything was later re-written — even my first name. But she emailed me back anyway, and the rest is, well, somewhere between total obscurity and literary history. Probably closer to the former, but I’m not complaining. The takeaway? Titles matter. Tg
CHARLIE JOE JACKSON’S GUIDE TO NOT READING
By Tom Greenwald
So you probably want to know why I’m writing a book.
It’s an excellent question, since if you know anything about me, you know that the only thing I like less than reading is writing.
The truth is, I kinda got in a little trouble. Okay, a lot of trouble. And the punishment? You guessed it. So here we are.
I’ll tell you one thing. I might be writing this book, but I sure as hell ain’t gonna read it.
It took me a while to decide what my book was gonna be about. Should I do one of those adventure books, where the kid’s family takes him to the jungle and he gets kidnapped by monkeys? Or should it be about a new kid in school who finally realizes that the only way to make friends is to be himself? Or maybe one of those sports books, where the town baseball team finally realized that the girl was the best pitcher they had, and she won the championship game?
Nah. That stuff seemed kinda dumb. My teacher said, “write what you know.” Well, what I know is how to not read.
And then I realized, there are probably a lot of people out there who hate reading as much as I do. So this book is for them. It will serve two purposes. It will show people how to get out of reading. And, if you’re not able to get out of reading and are forced to read a book, it will be a nice easy book to read. It’s like that expression “killing two birds with one stone,” except for the fact that killing birds at all is totally gross.
I should probably start at the beginning. I think my parents named me Charlie Joe Jackson because they couldn’t make up their minds. (Actually, they didn’t “name” me Jackson at all. That came with it.) My Mom wanted to name me Charlie and my Dad wanted to name me Joe and so they named me both, which is cool. Every year on the first day of school my teachers ask me if I’m from the South, because I guess they give people two first names down there. This year was no different. “Hey, Charlie Joe,” Ms. Ferrell said to me in a Southern accent, “pass me them grits.” Then she laughed, even though nobody in the class had any idea what she was talking about. I did, though, because I was used to it. “Comin’ right up, Missy,” I said, and she laughed harder. That was cool. Making teachers laugh is like the ultimate triumph. Sometimes when you really make them laugh a lot they forget that you didn’t read the assigned book.
I hated reading for as far back as I can remember. I didn’t mind it when my Mom read to me, that was fine because I could stay up later, and sometimes she even fell asleep in my bed, which I really liked when I was a little kid (now it’s gross and I kick her out). But then she would say, “okay, now you read the rest of the chapter,” and that was just so not gonna happen. I’d cry, and she’d read some more. That worked great til I was about ten.
One thing I know kids like when they read books are breaks between paragraphs. That means nice, short thoughts. Nothing that takes too long. Nothing too complicated.
Another thing that’s awesome in books is short chapters. If your Dad says, “read two chapters before bed,” wouldn’t you rather those chapters be like three pages long, instead of thirty pages long? I know I would.
I have two dogs, Moose and Coco. They’re both lab mixes. We rescued them from the pound. I don’t get people who have puppies on purpose. There are way too many dogs in the world already. My dogs rock, by the way. One is sleeping on top of me right now. It kind of hurts, since he weighs 80 pounds. But that’s okay.
Here’s a short list:
THINGS TO DO TO GET OUT OF READING
2. Clean your room.
3. Pretend to clean your room.
4. Go outside. Parents love it when you go outside.
5. Practice an instrument. Even if you don’t play one.
6. Eat. (My personal favorite.)
7. Feed your book to the dogs.
8. Throw up.
9. Run away from home. (Only in extreme cases.)
10. Plead insanity.
Do you feel this chapter has gone on long enough? I do.
Lists are good because they take up a lot of room on the page with fewer words. If you have to read a book, make sure it has a lot of lists in it.
Here’s how to read as little as possible and still do well in school:
1. Participate in class. Ask a lot of questions.
2. Turn in all your homework on time.
3. Make sure a friend of yours is assigned the same book. And make sure he’s actually reading it.
4. Bring pictures of your dogs to school and show them to your teachers.
5. Don’t get in trouble at lunch.
6. Don’t get in trouble at recess.
7. If the book you’re supposed to read was turned into a movie, rent the movie.
8. Make sure you get great grades in the classes that don’t involve reading.
9. Partner with someone really smart in science.
10. Read the first and last chapters of all assigned books.
11. (extra credit). Always do the extra credit.
So here’s what happened.
I was supposed to read this book, BILLY’S BARGAIN. I guess it’s about this kid, Billy, and the bargain he thinks he strikes with the devil to pitch a no-hitter in the championship game. But, it turns out the devil was actually this guy that was hired by his Dad to pretend to be the Devil, because Billy’s dad thought that if Billy thought that the Devil promised that he’d pitch a no-hitter, than Billy would have to confidence to actually pitch a no-hitter.
It’s not as complicated as I just made it sound. It’s a pretty good book, actually. Not that I read it.
That’s where the trouble began.
I did what I usually do. I read the front cover, the back cover, the front inside flap, the back inside flap, the first chapter and the last chapter.
Then I sat next to my friend Timmy McGibney at lunch. We made the same deal we always made. I would give him half of my ice cream sandwich and he would tell me what was in the middle of the book.
“So Timmy,” I said. “BILLY’S BARGAIN was a pretty good book.”
“How would you know?” he asked. He always asked me that. It was kind of a routine we had.
“Well, the beginning and the ending were pretty good.”
Timmy eyed my ice cream sandwich. “I’m actually really hungry today,” he decided. “Really, really hungry.”
I suddenly got a pretty uneasy feeling. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying I’m so hungry I could eat that whole ice cream sandwich,” Timmy said. “Maybe two.”
I looked at him in disbelief. We’d had the same deal going for almost a year. I’d handed over enough free ice cream for him to start his own dairy farm. Now, all of a sudden he was pulling this maneuver!
I looked around. I checked my pocket for money. I considered my options. Then I did the only thing I could do.
I bought him another ice cream sandwich.
I just looked at the previous section and realized it was way too long. I broke like my number one rule about books. Sorry about that. Won’t happen again.
I think that girls think it’s kind of cool if you don’t read a lot and still get good grades. It’s kind of like, you’re smart but you don’t even try. As opposed to the kids who work really hard and good grades, or the kids who don’t work at all and get bad grades. Girls don’t really like either of those kinds of kids.
It’s kind of like that commercial, don’t let them see you sweat. Don’t let the girls see you sweat.
Don’t let anybody ever tell you that you never read. Technically, all of the following could be considered reading:
2. Instant messages
4. Video game instructions
5. Sports scores
6. Comic books
8. The viewer’s guide on the TV
9. Movie credits
10. The back of the cereal box
“So what was in the middle of the book?”
It was the next day, and Timmy still wasn’t telling me what happened in the middle of BILLY’S BARGAIN. I started to panic. I’d bought him two ice cream sandwiches, a slice of pizza and three chocolate milks, but nothing. I suddenly realized that this wasn’t about free food. Something else was bothering Timmy, and I needed to find out what it was.
The first thing to do was to find Katie Friedman, who’d been my best friend from kindergarten to fourth grade, when I suddenly realized you weren’t allowed to have a girl best friend. Technically, we weren’t best friends anymore, but in times of crisis she was still my go-to problem-solver.
At lunch I found her in her usual spot, texting the girls right next to her. (You weren’t allowed to text in school, but at recess and lunch everybody snuck in a few.) I quietly called her over. She put away her phone and found me around the corner.
I proceeded to tell her what was going on with Timmy, and how all the ice cream sandwiches in the world weren’t going to make him tell me what was in the middle of that freakin’ book.
She looked at me. Then she laughed in my face.
I was shocked. “What? WHAT?!?!
She shook her head. “You are so clueless. Are you the only one who doesn’t know that Timmy has like the biggest crush in the world on Betsy?”
Betsy Collins is… well, I guess you could say Betsy is my number one fan. She is also considered the prettiest girl in the school. But here’s the weird thing. Even though she’s so hot, and even though she thinks I’m so hot… I don’t like her. I don’t know why, I just don’t. You know how when you can have something so easily, you don’t necessarily want it? Like when you can only have one bowl of ice cream after dinner, you desperately want more, but if your mom says you can have the whole carton, suddenly you’re like, I’m kind of sick of ice cream? Well, it was like that with Betsy. She was the whole carton.
So, Betsy liked me… but Timmy liked Betsy. Suddenly I got it.
Katie was still laughing at me. “If you can get Betsy to go out with Timmy, then I’m sure Timmy will tell you what’s in the book, and you can keep your stupid streak of never reading a book alive and well.”
And with that she turned her back on me and went back to her texting party.
I am SO sorry the last chapter went on so long. I don’t know what’s happening to me. I am going to make it up to you with this chapter.