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Lit Non-Hoax Revealed

Pseudonyms don’t move units.

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Jonathan Lethem and Christopher Sorrentino, high-school friends turned New York literary superstars, wrote a book together—but no one knew about it (until now). The duo wanted to take a playful poke at book-world scams, and do it anonymously. “Riffing on authorial fraud” is how Sorrentino, whose Trance was a National Book Award finalist last year, puts it. Believeniks!, the resulting highbrow goof, is no blockbuster. Three months in, the hyperliterary account of the Mets’ 2005 season (Lethem, pictured, writes as Harry Conklin, “a two-time fellow at the Chipwich Writers’ Colony,” Sorrentino as Ivan Felt, “Distinguished Professor of Commodity Aesthetics”) has sold 460 copies, according to BookScan. “A classic failure,” jokes Sorrentino. (Publisher Doubleday claims 8,635 copies sold; the discrepancy may be owed to BookScan’s underrepresenting indie-bookstore sales.) When the tome was released, Sorrentino and Lethem denied involvement. Why lie? “This isn’t something enormous claims need to be made for,” says Lethem. “Some things need to find their own place in their own world, even if it’s a small one.”

Correction: New York Magazine originally wrote that Christopher Sorrentino won the National Book Award last year, but he was actually one of five finalists.

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