Posted on May 21st, 2008 by Anna Jarzab
Agent Kristin Nelson has been blogging about publishing for a while now, and she is probably one of the best agent bloggers out there because she posts almost every weekday and she always has really interesting stuff to say about the business that is both informative and entertaining. Today her post was a continuation of yesterday’s, about how lots of aspiring writers like to trash popular books simply because they’re popular, and it was pretty much the most succinct argument for why you should NEVER DO THAT. Observe:
If you are smug in the excuse that the writing is average or the storyline didn’t work for you then you are missing the point. There is something about these novels that are capturing millions of readers (and the dollars in their wallets). Ultimately I refuse to believe that a million people are so “uncultured”, “stupid,” “non-discerning,” or “insert your phrase here” that they don’t get it. That’s condescending and underestimating the reading audience.
Now, I’ve been known to express all kinds of opinions on all kinds of books for all kinds of reasons. I once had an entire blog devoted to that enterprise, and I still claim that all my opinions on the books I read were honest and forthright, those being some of my best (or worst, depends on who you are) qualities. I don’t write that blog anymore, or do book reviews, because as somebody who now is pursuing publication I don’t really think it’s in anyone’s best interest to take books down just because I didn’t like them–at this point, all I want is for people to READ, for God’s sake, no matter what it is or whether I liked it. That said, if you cornered me at a party and were like, “So what did you think of The Da Vinci Code?” I’m going to tell you the truth.
Anyway, my point is, I have a lot of standards when it comes to the books I read–prose, characterization, dialogue, plot, pacing, message, etc.–that determine whether or not I think a book is well-written, but that’s not necessarily the same thing as saying I did or did not like a book. For instance, I thought Chris Adrian’s The Children’s Hospital had some flaws (length being the primary, which is not so much of a flaw as a lack of a strength), but I LOVED IT and would laud it to anybody who is fool enough to ask me for a book recommendation. Did I think The Da Vinci Code (par example) was a major feat of literature? No. Is it wildly entertaining and provocative and worth reading? Certainly. And I’m not the only person who thinks so, obvs.
I have to admit, being a writer has ruined me as a reader to an extent. Too often now, I think, my appreciation of all those things (prose, pacing, etc.) that, when done well, make up the best novels, have turned me from someone who reads for pleasure to someone who reads to edit. NOT GOOD. Because reading has always been my greatest pleasure. I’m trying to train myself out of that, but then will my writing suffer? I’m afraid to see.
Bu the thing is, Kristin is right–millions of readers can’t be wrong. My MA thesis adviser used to pwn the Harry Potter series, his catchphrase being, “It’s about fucking MAGIC!” But people LOVE IT. That is not insignificant in any way. I actually try to read as many big ticket books as possible just to get a feel for what books are touching a wide audience, because when books sell millions of copies they’re not just preaching to the choir–they’re preaching to the world, and the world is all: “WORD.” Obviously, The Da Vinci Code is not just selling to people who enjoy thrillers, Twilight is not just selling to teens, Eragon is not just selling to fantasy fans…whether I like them or not, those books are speaking to people in some ways–indeed, in many ways, since they’re speaking to so many people. And that’s what I (or you) as a writer want to do. Touch as many people as humanly possible. If you consider yourself “literary” and you’re all, “If people don’t have a Ph.D. in 18th-century Russian literature they will SO NOT GET THIS” then guess what? Only people with a Ph.D. in 18th-century Russian literature are going to want to buy that sucker, and there are not a lot of them around, I would wager. Writing for a niche market–and yes, so-called “upscale”, “literary” writing is a niche market, to which the sales of almost any short story collection (apart from, like, Alice Munro and Jhumpa Lahiri, obvs) can surely attest–is never a solid business strategy. And book publishing is a business, of which we have daily proof.
So! This is all to say that I think people read and love books for all sorts of reasons, the same way that some people like Jasper Johns or Transformers or whatever. Art and “what is art?” are so subjective and, therefore, completely meaningless as anything other than abstract concepts disagreed upon by most people. So what? Go with the numbers–Dan Brown sells upwards of 7 million copies of his book, you may want to check it out and instead of combing for reasons why it’s not up to your standards, comb for reasons why one book can appeal to so many different kinds of people. The answers may surprise you.
- Filed under: Books
- Tagged: Books, Chris Adrian, Dan Brown, Eragon, Gawker, Kristin Nelson, Pub Rants, publishing industry, Random House, The Children's Hospital, The Da Vinci Code, Twilight, writing
- 1 Comment »
Posted on May 6th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab
I just read Brideshead Revisited, as you can see on the left sidebar, and I really loved it so I’m pumped for this adaptation, with a screenplay by the capable Andrew Davies (I’ve pretty much been devoted to him since the very classy adaptation of House of Mirth starring Gillian Anderson) and directed by Julian Jarrold, who Becoming Jane, which I loved. I know going in that it’s mainly going to concentrate on the love story between the book’s narrator Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode, of The Lookout, which was good, but mostly owing to the awesomeness of Joseph Gordon Levitt, so this is a test for him) and Julia Flyte (relative newbie Hayley Atwell, who played Mary Crawford in that Masterpiece Theatre Mansfield Park I couldn’t bring myself to watch, so it’s a test for her as well), so I won’t be too disappointed going in. I’m wondering how seriously they took the religious struggles of all the characters, and it already seems like they’re positioning Sebastian as a gay character, although I’m not quite sure that’s what he was in the novel. I mean, he was a bit fey at times, but overall I think his descent into acute alcoholism and spiritual despair, which consume his life, really negate the question of his sexuality altogether. Whatevs! The trailer is very stirring, as trailers can be, but of course this means nothing as to the final product. I’m really interested in the relationship they seem to be setting up between Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson) and Charles, implying that they become enemies, which isn’t really true. Lady Marchmain has her own agenda, and she does want Charles to fall in line so that she can rein in Sebastian, which doesn’t work, but she is long dead before Charles falls in love with Julia and their subsequent affair, so she can’t really interfere in that. We’ll see. In the meantime, I find that moment when Julia snaps, “What does Charles Ryder really want?” to be very affecting. And that moment where Lord Marchmain (Michael Gambon) says, “What a lot of temptations,” and then puts his arms around his two children, and they’re all dressed in white, and Sebastian lays his head on his father’s arm and Julia sits there with her cold appraisal and they all look like ghosts who are planning to, like, suck out his soul or whatever is super creepy, in a really awesome way. Movie comes out…July 25, 2008 (limited)? Wow, I didn’t think it’d be so soon. Thank God I live in New York, so I can see it in limited release because you know that’s not making its way to theaters across the country.
Now, I never got around to finishing Twilight, let alone the two giant tomes (soon to be three) that follow it, BUT I have to admit I’m a bit excited for the movie. I like a good vampire flick from time to time, esp. when it’s got hot boys, which is sort of the whole point of this movie. On the other hand, I thought the book was repetitive to the point of being boring, so hopefully that won’t carry over. I think the trailer is a bit misleading–with all those shots of Bella walking through her own house and the lines about there being a secret told as a legend blah blah blah it seems like there’s something about her house and the farm (?) it’s on, but really there isn’t (or am I just saying that because I haven’t finished the book?). And there’s only a few shots of Edward Cullen, and he’s, like, the main pull of the whole franchise! Sad face that Anna Kendrick (so superb in Rocket Science) is relegated to a small part (I think one of Edward’s vampy sisters?), but she’s on the rise anyway. I’m hoping that seeing this movie will rev me up to go back to the series and actually read all the books.
Any other book-to-movie trailers about that I should see?
*This is not a typo. Did you ever see that commercial with Steve Martin as the Pink Panther and he’s sitting in the theater next to a little girl and she’s making some noise by opening a package of Twizzlers or something and he’s all, “Shh, I’m trying to watch the flim!”? My friends and I now say “flim” a lot. Sorry about that.
ETA: Ooh, look, another Twilight trailer via Marmite and Tea. This time with actual words!