Tuesday, July 8, 2008

No, But I Did See the Movie

You know, for a writer with aspirations of one day publishing one of the forty million crap novels I have languishing on my hard drive, I sure don't read a lot of contemporary literary fiction. That's because I think most of it is pretty lame-o.

Recently, my feelings were confirmed by one of my fave crap magazines of all time, Entertainment Weekly. Of their recent listing of the 100 Best New Literary Classics of Last 25 Years, I've read, oh, maybe a tenth of one percent.

But I've seen every single one of their 100 Best Movies.

That's because in almost every case these days, it seems, the movie ends up being better than the book. You couldn't prod me to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy for all the Ben and Jerry's Chubby Hubby in the world, but I thought the movies were nothing less than breathtakingly epic. Same goes for No Country For Old Men (we'll get to McCarthy's books in a second). About the only exception to this rule that I can think of is The Golden Compass, which sucks major ass. The only entertaining thing about it is:

A. Scoping out what, exactly, Nicole Kidman has had done to her face (Ah, hah! There, see, she raised a brow!)


B. Trying to decide if Daniel Craig is, indeed, über hawt or only meh-I'd-do-him-in-a-pinch-I-guess hawt.

Sorry, where was I?

Oh. So, I couldn't disagree more vehemently with Entertainment's choice of the number one best books in the last 25 years than if you'd suddenly pitched Moi into a room full of Marxists who were all wearing Crocs and gypsy skirts.

Why? Because Entertainment magazine's pick for best book is, steady now, Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

Yup. That's a big 10-4 WTF!?!?

Let me cut to the chase: In my opinion, Cormac McCarthy is no writer. Yes, I said it. He may be a thinker, and, as such, reveals an unusual willingness to take Big Mac-sized bites out of grand themes like good versus evil, man versus nature, fate versus free will. But he executes those themes with all the elegance of a third grader wielding a Sharpie to illustrate what mommy made him for breakfast that morning. McCarthy doesn't write so much as he lists. And he does so with such joyless, humorless determination, one has to wonder if his preoccupations are more sadistic than they are redemptive.

And my Gah do the critics just dribble themselves silly extolling the virtues of McCarthy's "economic" style. Puhleeze. There's economic and then there's downright stunted. Take Hemingway, for instance. That man put the curt in economic for sure. But he was also elegant and eagle-eyed, every word serving both form and function. Witness his cut-to-the-chase description of Francis Macomber's wife in one of the finest short stories ever written. After a couple short paragraphs of spot on observations about her hard-heartedness, he sums her up by calling her, "simply enameled in that American female cruelty."

That's so excruciatingly well done, it makes me never want to pluck at another keyboard for the rest of my life and just go sell candy at the mall.

McCarthy, however, gives me hope.

Check this out:

When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before.

That, Party People, is The Road's freakin' opening sentence. A sentence so clunky and tongue twisting, it just makes me want to throw the whole thing into the compost pile where all those clunky little words will thankfully decompose and bring their beauty not to the world of words, but to my basil plants instead.

Wait, though; it gets better. Check out what passes for dialogue in Cloud Cuckoo McCarthy Land:

Can I ask you something? he said. Yes. Of course. Are we going to die? Sometime. Not now. And we're still going south. Yes. So we'll be warm. Yes. Okay. Okay what? Nothing. Just okay. Go to sleep. Okay. I'm going to blow out the lamp. Is that okay? Yes. That's okay. And then later in the darkness: Can I ask you something? Yes. Of course you can. What would you do if I died? If you died I would want to die too. So you could be with me? Yes. So I could be with you. Okay.

Whoa. Not only is McCarthy smoking some pretty good weed, his editor is for sure whacked on crack. 'Cause that shit don't float unless you're high on drugs and sporting an extremely itchy case of The Emperor's New Clothes.

So what do I think is the greatest book written in the past twenty-five years? To me, it's a three way tie between Lonesome Dove, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Bonfire of the Vanities. Where did they fall on Entertainment magazine's list? #24, #73, and #57, respectively. All behind Waiting to Exhale, which is a nifty lil' piece of Emancipated Chick Lit If You Happen To Like That Kind of Thing, but come on, and Jonathan Franz's The Corrections, a novel so stultifyingly insignificant that you need a microscope to plumb all one-quarter-of-an-inch of its depths.

Another surprise? Not a single book by James Lee Burke, in my opinion, one of the greatest writers putting words on paper today.

I swear, someone just needs to put me in charge of everything. Until then, I'm putting the book down and heading off to the movies.


Jenny said...

I have never been more sure than I am after reading this:


P.S. He's hawt. Super Duper Hawt. I saw a preview for the new Bond the other day and actually made a sound out loud. I think it was something close to "Help me."

czar said...

The only way to get me to read something other than Moi's blog is to pay me to do so, so current literature ain't my game. My older son, who loves Old Country for Old Men (has seen it 5 times, at last count), also just loved the book -- and if it's not updates on the indie rock scene, he doesn't read much for pleasure, so maybe he's not the best judge.

For me, one of the greatest opening lines, which is from one of my favorite books, is "Thrust from the bloody bowels of woman and driven into the black, perpetual hiding place called death -- with little between but blood and women and solitude --" said Finnley Wren, drawing a line of the tablecloth with his knife -- "sometimes I am so terrified of life that I come near putting an end to it as a boon to my dreadful little nerves."

On economic style, I once received for editing a book of, as it was described to me, "experimental fiction," which meant three things: (1) agrammatical, (2) I wasn't allowed to edit it, and hence (3) I was being paid not to edit something. I'll take all that work I can get.

I was at a Buechner seminar earlier this year (Frederick Buechner, author of high regard in some circles), and found out that his novel Godric came in 2nd for the Pulitzer in fiction in 1980. I'm no trivia buff and for an English major know very little about literature, but I damn sure know what won the Pulitzer in 1980, and sorry to say it's outside the purview of the last 25 years, but give me A Confederacy of Dunces any day of the week against just about anything else. As my brother once said, you can tell what a great book it is because they've been trying to make a movie out of it ever since it came out and have never been able to do so.

Doris Rose said...

thank you my friend, I feel vindicated. I do not portray myself as reader of great literature and I do not play one on TV. I made a weak attempt after being encouraged by a professor of literature --whom I respect.I absolutely abhorred The Road ...aackk. I finished it, but only with novocaine.

h said...

Heck, why don't you send one of your novels to a publisher? All they can say is No.

moi said...

AB: Alrighty, then. Your date for Moi's inauguration is definitely Daniel Craig. You're welcome.

Czar: Nothing makes me want to slap a clip in a 9mm faster than hearing the word "experimental" in relation to music or books. BTW, from what book IS that opening line?

Doris: Bwahahahahaha! And not a little bit of Scotch as well, I'm sure :o)

Troll: Yes. One day. When one of them is just right.

czar said...

Finnley Wren, by Philip Wylie (1934). Wylie wrote everything from novels to short stories (one of which is claimed to be the primary source for Superman), science fiction (When Worlds Collide), philosophy, fishing stories . . . just about the gamut. His Night unto Night was adapted into a movie that many consider to be Reagan's best attempt at acting -- well, other than his attempt at being a likeable president.

sparringK9 said...

wow. interesting. i was quite moved by the border trilogy. the crossing in particular. but the writing on the road is weird. i just started trying to read it and i am bored. but im only like 20 pages in. ive decided i hate reading. unless it is a blog.

but i agree with you on pop lit. james patterson? help.
i did read the watcher by dean koons like 10 years ago and it was schlock but i still remember it. it had a great golden retriever in it.

i guess to kill a mockingbird would be my top book. but god look how far back i had to go. i read the silence of the lambs. most of it in one (very very late) night. loved that.

im not a good judge of lit thats for sure.

agree with troll. perfection schmection!

Aunty Belle said...

(Speakin' very softly ) really? Aw...aw, shucks. I'se a big McCarthy fan. Like Dawg say, Border Trilogy, especially The Crossing is powerful. Skip Sutree an' Child of God (very harsh).

Owen Meany !! Yes yes...read it long ago , but it sticks wif' ya.

Contemporary fiction author? Ron Hansen (The Assassination of Jesse James)

Ya got books buried in the HD? Why's I not surprised? Send yore best to Czar fer a constructive opinion.

h said...

I believe it was fellow troll Friederick Nietsche who said:

"Artists need someone to stand by behind them with a hammer and tell them when the thing is done."

Same goes for writers. If you have a completed novel, I declare it DONE. Send it to a publisher or it's Hammer Time!

It's one of those foam-rubber hammers, but still.

moi said...

Czar: Don't know the writer, but thanks for the info!

K9: Funny, how so much popular fiction sticks with us while all this lauded "literary" stuff blows right on out of the mind. Who remembers the first Pulitzer Prize-winning novel they read? But I bet the entire plot of Stephen King's It is still in the top tier of most of our brains.

AB: I think people either love McCarthy or they hate him. And my opinions are just that :o). I do love his stories and his ideas. But I feel with his work (and certain similar writers – Annie Proulx comes most immediately to mind), that I'm bushwhacking my way through the language.

Troll: Nothing like a Nietzsche hammer to scoot one along in life! Point taken. I'll let you know when I start putting together my entourage . . .

Gnomeself Be True said...

I haven't read fiction intended for adults for years now.
Thank goodness there's some good stuff out there for kids.

moi said...

Iamnot: Holes, Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, Wrinkle in Time series, Winnie the Pooh - I hear ya.

Aunty Belle said...

oh...an' DC is yummy, but ain't his haid a wee small for that body?
(yeah, I'se picky)

Confederacy of Dunces is a must when ya's of the right age. Besides--it's set in Big Easy. Not fer tender emotive sorts.

moi said...

Aunty: Thank you for addressing the real issue at the heart of this here blob post. Hmmm . . . is Daniel Craig's head too small for his body?

Ladies, discuss.

Bretthead said...

I am sooooo on the same page (pun intended) as you. I only finished reading The Road because I assumed there was going to be some fantastic incredible ending that made reading the first 3/4 of the book worth it all. Boy was I wrong. I think Cormac sucks big fat donkey balls.

And, you picked two of my fave books of all time. Lonesome Dove is number one, Owen Meany is probably top ten.

Please try Shadow of the Wind and tell me what you think. My fave recent book of all time.

sparringK9 said...

yeah. i want to be a "hanger on" grrherhahaha

sparringK9 said...

daniel craig. when i was still a male on the internet i had to hate him because mayden loved him. i called him danielle craig. grrherhaha. head is too small. but its the lip pout that annoys me. and, typically i dont go for blondes. but i like his bond second best after sean.
and i loved casino royale. i liked the return to bad assery not all this joker shyt like with roger moore.

Jenny said...

"Danielle Craig" bwahahah - see, I hated him until I went to see the latest Bond movie - but in that tux, he is so much like the old fashioned Bond - and that's when I decided I could go to the "dark side" and think an obviously good looking blonde, was actually.... good looking. I typically go for the Robert Downey Jr-Type. Or J.Depp, but I know he's kinda "yours" Moi.

Meghan said...

Hey, I already said I'd vote for you! But, if you haven't, you really should read the Harry Potter books. Better than you might expect.

re: Daniel Craig. He, too, has me in a hotness conundrum. I think mostly hot. Not Gerard Butler hot... but I wouldn't kick him out of bed for eating crackers.

Lt. Colonel Maximum Damage said...

theres no accountin' for taste. i used to go for porter wagoner.

of course, in my day, foghorn leghorn was the hottest actor around.

Aunty Belle said...

Yeah, blonds have to work harder fer mah vote ...but DC was very fine in Casino. Pierce Brosnan way better'n Moore. But Connery IS Bond.

moi said...

WTWA: So what are numbers 2-9? Thanks for the recommendation on the book. I'll check it out.

K9: See, it's the pout thing that bothers me more than the small head. Man can always wear a hat.

AB: Hmmm . . . maybe Robert Downey, Jr. for Bond?

Meghan: It's my goal to read all the Potters within the next year or so. Yes, DC is one of the more conundrumy conundrums. Gerard Butler – definitely no conundrum. But, pssst, doesn't he pitch for the other team?

Mean Dovey: Oh, Porter had me at those blingy jackets. He and Dolly always seemed so right together, too, didn't they?

Aunty: I loved Pierce Brosnan most in The Matador. He was grizzly but brilliant.

h said...

I'm not sure what qualifies as "literature". Is Caleb Carr in that category?

moi said...

Literature: "Creative writing that is generally recognized as having artistic value." Do I have a problem with judging whether or not something has artistic value? Nope.

What I have a problem with is the recent trend (I dunno, last twenty years or so?) of placing the word "literary" in front of the word fiction, thus making "literary fiction" a category in itself, like Sci-Fi, Romance, Western, etc. And in the process implying that only "literary" fiction has artistic value. A POV with which I heartily disagree.

As for Caleb Carr, haven't read him, so I can't judge his literary merit.

Wicked Thistle said...

Oy, I'm a reader of crap fiction and knitting recipes these days, so I got no street creds here. I'm really pleased to know intellectuals by association, though, and I encourage you to read more books and tell me about them so that I can try to pass off your knowledge as my own.

Bretthead said...

I can't rank them in exact order, but put Shadow of the Wind in there, Kite Runner, Centennial, It, A Time To Kill, The Company, Plainsong, The Russian Debutante's Handbook, To Kill A Mockingbird. And I like mainstream stuff by Elmore Leonard, Nelson DeMille, Dean Koontz, early Baldacci. I haven't been overwhelmed by classics like Fountainhead, Catch 22, Catcher in the Rye, etc.

moi said...

Wicked: Don't lookit Moi. I'm sticking to humorous memoirs myself these days.

WTWA: See there, and I didn't like The Kite Runner. Found it emotionally manipulative. With only a few exceptions, I, too, remain singularly underwhelmed by modern "classics" but, dude, The Fountainhead rocks.

Ms Robinson said...

Oh I'm so glad you said this about Saint Cormac. I don't get all the veneration really and find him hard to read. Naturally when everyone's talking him up I think it must be me. But once again Moi you have proved that it's THEM. I thank you.