Friday, November 18, 2005

I'm stupid and so are you

The National Book Awards were doled out the night before last. Here from The Book Standard is an article describing the event:
Last night's 56th Annual National Book Awards, held at the Marriott Marquis in New York, offered a few moments of humor, many shots at easy targets and, for a ceremony that purportedly celebrates the best American literature has to offer, tediously repetitive laments for the passing of “serious” literature.

But none of that is especially surprising as these elements are nothing but the status quo for gatherings of two or more book people....

The torpid mood of the event began with host Garrison Keillor's witty and very dry opening remarks. To kick the evening off, Prairie Home Companion’s Keillor delivered a speech about the fast-decaying literary merit of most books published today—a theme that would be taken up by several other speakers—and took aim at books that sell well. “Most of us have stood in Barnes & Noble,” he said, “and opened a Harry Potter book and thought, ‘I could have done that. Why didn’t I do that?’ ” And while the remarks were greeted cheerfully by the audience, there seemed to be a slight disconnect. The audience was made up of the people who could be considered to be most complicit in literature’s impending demise (if, in fact, its demise is impending), namely, the publishers, editors, publicists, agents and executives of today’s publishing conglomerates.

Whenever the literati gather to preen and to engage in discussion on the Sad State of Book Publishing These Days, they're inflating their self-worth by stomping all over your education and taste. Yes, you idiot; you unsophisticated, barely-literate follower-of-crowds--you're probably not smart enough to pick up on it, but you're being insulted.

But the publishing professionals are delighted to take your money. They need to sell inane novels to morons like you so they can afford to lose money on the real books, the important books. The books you'll never read because they're so far over your head.

I've never read a Harry Potter book, so I can't comment on the quality of J.K. Rowling's writing. I can't say anything about The DaVinci Code author Dan Brown, either. But I know both must be really bad writers, and I'll tell you how I know that: Because so many of my fellow hicks have been buying their books!

That's right. If it's popular, it must be bad. Is everybody following, or is this too hard for some of you? If you read popular fiction, you are a lowbrow. And at publishing industry events like last night's National Book Awards, people like Garrison Keillor (yes, the "sophisticated" gentleman who makes endless jokes about flatulence on his weekly radio show) and his literary pals are going to disparage your choices in reading material.

And just as soon as they stop laughing, they'll turn their minds back to finding new ways to sell you more books like Harry Potter--because that's all you're able to understand, anyway, and they need your money so they can produce some real literature.

How does that make you feel? Or do stupid people even have feelings?


Marianne McA said...

But they're intelligent people, and they must know in their heart of hearts that if they could do a Rowling, they would have. [Or perhaps I'm wronging them, maybe to a man they'd turn down untold wealth and fame.]

The Da Vinci code was good - but for me, an aeroplane book, an absorbing, fast read, but I could leave it at the destination - I wouldn't reread it. Harry Potter, I just love. When I read the first it felt like I was reading a book I had loved as a child, but reading it for the first time.

Dr. Lisa said...

Yeah, I am stupid, but I read some pretty literary books (I got a fancy dancy PhD, so I am qualified.)

But really, I dunno, Ms. Coulter. You seem to be taking this awfully personally. The claim that the New York writing elite don't like the rest of the world seems to me to be a little bit of a straw man. This seems to come up every year at award time. We all know publishing is a business, and the creation of a product-differentiated market (a niche market for literary fiction, a niche for action stories, a niche for writer's memoirs, a niche for millenialists...this list seems to go on and on.) To me, the derogation of popular fiction feels like a marketing ploy to set apart or define that niche likely to appeal to book buyers who *don't* think they are the average reader--the type of reader who wouldn't be caught dead with a book with a cover sticker that says "Oprah's selection" (even though Oprah picked some pretty good books.

Either way, I wouldn't waste any of my hard-earned M&M calories winding up on it. Of course, I spent the morning watching the Three Stooges on Spike!TV instead of writing my 1000 words, so maybe you shouldn't heed me...

PS: DaVinci Code drove me nuts. I thought it was really bad, I'm afraid to say. Except that it got people interested in DaVinci again, which can never be bad.

Brenda Coulter said...

Make no mistake; I'm all for building up literary fiction. There should be more of it, and its creators should continue to strive for artistic excellence. I'm just suggesting that they can do that without ridiculing the creators and readers of popular fiction.

From The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, here's part of what Lawrence Ferlinghetti had to say the other night at the National Book Awards:

"In the dumbing-down of America, literature is an endangered species," he claimed. "The barbarians are at the gate, and the now-dominant commercial culture welcomes them."

Calling writers and publishers of popular fiction "barbarians" is pretty incendiary, wouldn't you agree? Why is the existence of popular fiction so offensive to the literati? Nobody's asking them to produce or read it.

I think The Three Stooges are singularly unfunny. But learning that you, a PhD, enjoys that brand of comedy does not disgust me in the least. I'm still perfectly willing to believe ou're an intelligent individual.

Hey. You read my blog, right?


Dr. Lisa said...

You don't even like the eye-poking? What's a little wholesome interpersonal violence among friends? Tough audience, you are.

I'm not sure that in today's environement it is possible to elevate literary fiction without talking some smack. There is a "let's get ready to ruuuuuumble" overtone to....well, virtually everything from politics (I live in Virginia which has a very courtly culture otherwise, but had campaign ads on both sides that made my hair stand on end) to sports shows where people holler over one another. You keep things on a positive note "Gee, this is really good fiction" and you are likely to have the unquiet world ignore your book award announcement. Talk a little smack, stir up a fight (like this past National Book Award), and you've generated some controversy. Ditto; most of the world has never heard of Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The more he rants, the more attention he gets. If he writes "Things are going great" he'll get no ink.

I don't condone this, by the way, but I think it's a means to promotion, and that the more the rest of us take up the insult, the more effective the strategy becomes.

Anyway, your boards look great--congratulations. I hope it warmer where you are than it is up here in the mountains, where our collective hinders are freezing.

Mirtika said...

Hey, I used to be a regular listerer of the Prairie Home Companion until Keillor decided to voice how stupid we Red Staters who voted Bush are, and take a poke at religious conservatives. The man, claiming to be egalitarian, is just a snob. A religion snob. A political snob. And a book snob.

So, I'm not surprised.

Me, I love the Harry P. books. If I could have written them, I would have. Period. And proudly, too. Them's fun reading. :)And I would have laughed all the way to the bank.

Look, not liking a book is fair. Reading joys being subjective to a great extent. I don't mind if someone hates a book I love, or loves a book I hate, and it's a personal thing. I didn't buy or read DaVinCode cause of the subject matter, not cause I know whether Dan Brown writes well or no. He didn't need my $ anyhow. :)

But to just say, sweepingly, "All that popular stuff is TRASH"....well, snooty, ain't it?

Mir<--not a fan of Ferlinghetti's poetry, anyway. Neener. 'Sides, I thought he was dead. :)

Kristin said...


I am in agreement with you on "The DaVinci Code." I waited until this summer to pick it up at the library. I was extremely disappointed. I still don't get why it is a runaway best seller. (I only read it because they were making a movie version. I always like to read the book before I see the movie.)

But I could say that about a number of books by bestselling authors. I must be an elitist snob! Ha, ha!!

Purple Avenger said...

I'm an engineer with a masters degree. People like Garrison Keillor annoy me.

There's nothing there - just pages and pages of literary tofu that doesn't challenge the reader. Almost (but not quite) everything on a best seller list is like that.

Ed Abbey, Robert Pirsig, or Phil Dick could put a smackdown on the whole lot of them. John Muir, the guy who wrote the VW repair manual for idiots, and the Velvet Monkeywrench, puts them to shame. There's only one person ever in the history of the world wrote a car repair manual that could be read like a novel by someone not concerned with fixing a car -- Muir. Pure genius.

Brenda Coulter said...

I like knowing that someone with a name like "Purple Avenger" is reading my blog. Maybe that will scare off the comment spammers.