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Esquire, adding fiction ebooks, goes back to the future

May 21, 2012 |  8:37 am

Bedsideesquire
On Monday, Esquire announced that it will launch a new line of fiction ebooks with the help of e-publisher Open Road Media. The ebook series will be titled, plainly, "Fiction for Men." Editor-in-Chief David Granger tells the New York Times that men's fiction is "plot-driven and exciting, where one thing happens after another."

That definition elicited groans on Twitter. "Oh good. Because lady readers & lady writers HATE exciting fiction when 'one thing happens after another,'" tweeted editor Reagan Arthur, who has her own imprint at Little, Brown. "Someone needs to tell Ian McKewan he's been writing women's fiction," wrote author Nichole Bernier. "Finally, men's fiction is getting its due. FINALLY," Maura Johnston, an editor at the Village Voice, tweeted. "So glad to see this neglected niche recognized,"  wrote Jennifer Weiner, whose work is often characterized as women's fiction.

Despite the ire, it makes sense that Esquire, a men's magazine, might try to go for fiction that men might like, reaching out to its reader base. In fact, it's done it before. In 1933, it first published an anthology of some of its best fiction, "The Bedside Esquire" (that title, too, was problematic; one publisher thought being in 'a bedside anything' was unbecoming a writer of stature). "The Bedside Esquire" included all kinds of writing from its magazine -- the controversial essay "Latins Are Lousy Lovers," a primer from famed attorney Clarence Darrow on how to choose a jury -- but was predominantly fiction.

Some of the authors found in a 1940 edition of "The Bedside Esquire" are legendary: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, D.H. Lawrence, Ben Hecht, John Steinbeck, Theodore Dreiser, Ring Lardner, Langston Hughes, Irwin Shaw and John Dos Passos. Others like Parke Cummings and Donal Hough, both of whom appear twice, prove to be less lasting. At 702 pages, however, there is a lot of fiction here to choose from.

With that history, what's interesting is that Esquire stopped thinking of fiction as something to be proud of. "Fiction begins to feel a little bit of a luxury," Granger told the New York Times. So the ebook offering is a kind of solution.

It is, unfortunately, sort of a muddled one. The first issue of its fiction ebook series will have stories by Luis Alberto Urrea, Aaron Gwyn and Jess Walter. It's being released in conjunction with the June/July issue of the magazine, which contains three different stories -- by Colum McCann, Lee Child, and the father/son team of Stephen King and Joe Hill. So Esquire readers who want fiction will get one set of stories in print, and an entirely different set of stories in the ebook. Let's hope they're good at figuring out which product to buy for which content.

Esquire's first "Fiction for Men" will be published June 12.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: "The Bedside Esquire" anthology, 1940 edition. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg

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