Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Da Winchy Code

The New York Times has posted its 100 best books of 2005 list, and masochist that I am, I went over to have a look at the fiction. Yeah, I know better, but I keep hoping a genre writer who isn't richer than the Queen of England will slip in at #99.

Now, not to criticize the illustrious editor(s) who composed this gotta-read list, but the blurbs are so winchy they read like a muttered conversation between two badly shaven semi-stoned unpublished lit-heads at the local java joint on open mike poetry/ladies free latte night.

I mean, look at some of these catch-phrases they use:

1. ...this darkly comic novel -- let me guess: one unfunny character tries to be a comedian and everyone dies in the end, am I right?

2. ...this morally concerned novel -- I'm gonna get lectured big time, I just know it.

3. ...a muscular historical novel -- Old? Brawny? Old and brawny? I think I need an outside consult on this one. Scott, any ideas?

4. ...in this novel by an ace student of sexual violation -- so, the author is studying . . . do I even want to know this answer to this?

5. A novel, mostly in stories -- it's a story told mostly in stories. Right.
I need an aspirin.

6. This keen observer of the surface of life -- oooooh, someone really doesn't like this author.

7. ...a loser but unbowed, asserts in endless letters to his alumni magazine -- At last, the definitive cure for my insomnia.

8. A shining miscellany -- No discernable plot.

9. ...this dreamish novel -- No discernable characters or plot.

10. ...this intricate novel -- Waaaaaaay too much plot.

11. ...this absorbing novel -- Can't follow the plot, or Banville wrote it. But I repeat myself.

12. A strange and luminous novel -- written by either Allende or García Márquez... (checking)...yep, García Márquez. Nice title there, too, Gabe (shudder.)

12a. Luminous, btw, is winch code for a non-English author's novel that we don't understand but the English translation is just so goshdarn PRETTY.

12b. Or there's a chick with green hair in it.

12c. Or, if it's Allende, both.

13. Half a century's work -- (making sign of the cross) Omigod they reincarnated Wordsworth . . . ahem. Sorry. (hunting for aspirin bottle.)

14. This novel peers into the void -- So does a proctologist, pal.

15. ...oddly moving litanies -- Ex-Lax is cheaper. Or see #14.

16. ...a cultural-politics comedy -- (popping aspirin) I don't want to read about the last Presidential election.

17. A scholarship girl at a nifty prep school -- not that one of our reviewers wrote this, or that we're showing any favoritism. P.S. it's NOT chicklit.

18. ...so large in its concept of fiction's grasp on the world it takes seven narrators just to tell it -- Get this book away from me. Right now.

19. A whodunit tragicomedy by Albania's pre-eminent novelist -- A who...a what...Albania? Is that still a country?

20. And the winner for the winchiest blurb on the list: A novel that ruminates on beauty and cruelty, told by a former Paris model now sick and poor -- chicklit for people who hate chicklit, yipee!

Guys, if you're going to rec high-brow literary books once a year, and you want to fool a couple of people into purchasing the damn things, at least try to make them sound appealing. I know you're all into being cool and keeping that NYT grindstone crank in good operating condition, but lit authors can barely sell a thousand copies of a book these days. The big bucks committees keep handing the cash prizes over to the writers who don't need it, too; not like these other poor slobs can eat their Very Important and Shiny Literary Prize Medals, Trophies and Best Writer 2005 Certificates, correct?

Personally I feel bad for them. The worst we genre writers usually get are little snotty PW digs like highly entertaining or surprisingly thoughtful, which is industry code for Geez, we didn't think the dumbass could write this well.

21 comments:

  1. Now, now, take a deep breath and back away from the list...slowly.

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  2. My first thought is that a 'muscular historical novel' is some manly unwashed tome sporting a horned helmet and an axe -- Conan the Bildungsroman or some such.

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  3. Ah, I love your blog.

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  4. "The worst we genre writers usually get are little snotty PW digs like highly entertaining or surprisingly thoughtful, which is industry code for Geez, we didn't think the dumbass could write this well."

    Is why I stopped going to writers groups in real life. Too many "lit" authors here doing novels of a quirky, whimsical prairie childhood...

    ( and usually the workshop winds up being "stare at the strange genre hack, as if she's wearing a star trek uniform...."

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  5. I think you were at the wrong group! Mine is somewhat better, with a good mix of different genre writers, and includes a couple of pros.

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  6. Unfortunately, that's pretty much the makeup of any group I've been to here.

    Subsitute maybe location, but generally, it's "whimsicaltales of a rural canadian childhood" lit. I blame W.O mitchell and Margaret Atwood.

    I was at the wrong group. alas, the weirdos like me don't gather locally, at readings or workshops. We take our literature VERY serious. No laughing matter, you. BE. Serious.

    *gag*

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  7. 14. This novel peers into the void -- So does a proctologist, pal.

    (insert html code for 'hysterical laughter' here)

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  8. I needed a laugh this morning. Now I got to clean up the coffee on my monitor.

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  9. Now see, I just avoid reading list like that. Keeps me from having to invest in cases of aspirin. :) Thanks for the morning chuckle, PBW.

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  10. Seven narrators? Ooooohhhhh!

    Pass that aspirin, PBW. Yeah, I know I'm severly allergic, but right now I'm yearning for sweet death by anaphylaxis. Hey, I bet that would make a great novel...

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  11. ...sweet death by anaphylaxis. Hey, I bet that would make a great novel...

    Or at least a great title: 'Sweet Death by Anaphylaxis'. Or should that 'Sweet Death' by Anna Phylaxis?

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  12. Ouch, I forgot that historical novels are considered mainstream in the US. They're genre fiction in Germany, and very popular, too.

    Now I might end up on such a list and someone is going to compare The Charioteer with Ben Hur (which so doesn't fit).

    And no one's going to buy the dang thing.

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  13. That*was*fabulous!

    It's a perfect day.

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  14. Gee, I'm really worried about my reading habits. I read 3-5 books a week and I have only read 1% of the top 100. If not for Harry Potter, I would have been a complete no show. There are much better books on which I prefer to spend my money.

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  15. I figured a muscular historical meant it was such a long book one could substitute it for free weights at the gym. Develop your biceps -- read this book!

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  16. I'm 1/100, because I'm waiting for the paperback (English or Japanese) of Kafka on the Shore.

    I LURVE Haruki Murakami--he's the closest thing to a genre author on there, outside of J.K.Rowling--and wouldn't say the bits I've read of Kafka are without character or plot. But...a non-English author's novel that we don't understand but the English translation is just so goshdarn PRETTY might work as a characterixation of it.

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  17. Comment #2, after finishing off the non-fiction list: What, no Big Bang? For my money, Simon Singh is the best science writer alive...

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  18. The word dreamish makes me think that what the reviewer meant is I can't take the time to look words up in the dictionary to make sure they exist or I know the word dreamlike, but that's not half pretentious enough for this review.

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  19. Anonymous11:30 AM

    Nico said:
    "( and usually the workshop winds up being "stare at the strange genre hack, as if she's wearing a star trek uniform....)"

    I joined a critique group in 1995. At my first meeting with them, I read out loud from a fantasy short story I'd written involving a dryad and an enchanted guitar. When I finished, the group sat quietly for a moment, and finally the leader looked up and asked, in all seriousness, "What drugs have you been taking?"

    *hee*

    Misty

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  20. "Better ones than you, that much is sure."

    *grin*

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  21. What a hoot! Thanks for this post.

    Things like this remind me of that old Groucho Marx bit (ripped off by Woody Allen) about not wanting to be part of a club that would have me as a member. Ah, the world of Serious Fiction.

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