By December 17, 2010 0 Comments Read More →

Weeklings: Good Sex, E-books (Discreet, Yet Not), Lowbrow Reading, and the Butler Didn't Do It

A quick compilation of recent reads before I head off to the holiday party…

In “No sex, please, we’re literary!” Laura Miller takes aim at the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, calling it a “sniggering exercise” that “poses as a knowing blow against literary pretension while embodying the most retrograde prudery.”

This is the only antidote to the smirking crypto-priggishness of the Bad Sex in Fiction Award and its ilk: forthright praise for the literary sex writing that does work.

Well, I think she’s taking a bit of fun too seriously, although there’s nothing wrong with her idea of also rewarding the good stuff. “How about a good sex in fiction award?” asks Toby Lichtig . . . but what do we do if the same piece of writing wins both? It’s bound to happen sometime.

Speaking of sex, and love, and hand-holding, and soulful eye-gazing: romance novels. In the New York Times, Julie Bosman writes of “Lusty Tales and Hot Sales: Romance E-Books Thrive.”

If the e-reader is the digital equivalent of the brown-paper wrapper, the romance reader is a little like the Asian carp: insatiable and unstoppable. Together, it turns out, they are a perfect couple. Romance is now the fastest-growing segment of the e-reading market, ahead of general fiction, mystery and science fiction, according to data from Bowker, a research organization for the publishing industry.

In The Globe and Mail, Leah McLaren explains “How the Rise of E-readers Takes the Fun out of Giving Books,” saying that the giving of an e-book is as soulless and depressing as the giving of a gift card. And that’s not even the worst of it:

And here’s the most alarming thing: Once e-books completely take over, it will become impossible to know who actually reads and who doesn’t. Pretending to read books (fiction, in particular) has long been a vague, almost subconscious habit of the modern, educated urban male. I’m not saying intelligent men can’t read, just that mostly they don’t, and in spite of this indisputable fact, an alarming number persist in giving the false impression they do.

Until recently, it was possible to suss out a fake reader with a surreptitious glance around his apartment. Nothing but the collected works of Kurt Vonnegut and an unopened pile of Economists on display? Bingo. In the era of e-readers, however, such handy spy work becomes nearly impossible. You’d have to get on a password-friendly basis before being able to ascertain a prospective sex partner’s reading habits – and in this day and age, that’s tantamount to marriage.

In one of the creepiest e-reader stories of the year, “Is Your E-book Reading Up on You?“, NPR asks how much data is being collected about your reading habits. This is worrisome in an Orwellian way, of course, but it’s also a bummer when you think about what would happen if big publishers started showing data to their authors and saying things like, “Well, your novels start strong, but far too many people are skipping the middle parts, and we find they really respond most to the sexy parts and the parts where stuff blows up.” A certain amount of feedback could be useful to writers, of course, but any book is not going to engage readers equally on every page. Authors who try to write to the stats, so to speak, could end up writing themselves into a hole.

In “When will English come to a full stop?” the doughty Robert McCrum suggests we’d best be wary of predicting its demise, even if it’s two centuries from now.

And, in “Are Stieg Larsson and Dan Brown a match for literary fiction?” Edward Docx (clearly he’s named after the MS Word file extension) has this to say:

And yet, the English language, not football, is our greatest gift to the world. So, if we are to save our excellence in this from its slow extinction, then we simply have to find a way to bring the finest writers of the language more often to the attention of the carriages of people up and down the country who are evidently still willing and able to buy novels for the journey. Because right now – as you read this – they are being subjected to an atrociously bad (and translated) exchange between character A and character B on a broken-down Swedish boat about the establishment of a Polish industry for the manufacture of packaging foodstuffs. Surely they deserve better. No?

(He also picks a fight with Lee Child, who will surely dispatch Jack Reacher.)

On Salon, Laura Miller (her again) offers a nicely balanced rebuttal to .docx, explaining “Why We Love Bad Writing,” and making the point that some people like good writing AND so-called bad writing. Just as some people who enjoy Dom Perignon also enjoy Budweiser. I believe it’s called variety.

And, chances are, quite a few of his listeners would be well aware that Larsson and Brown aren’t very good writers. If pressed, they’d say that sometimes they just want to gallop through a story . . . . They’d say that they’re not, at the moment, equal to the demands of literature, but that just last week they finished “Disgrace” or “Wolf Hall.” And then they’d say, Would you mind? Are we done here? Because I’d really like to get back to my book.

Writers ‘at Greater Risk of Depression,’ Survey Finds” (Benedicte Page, Guardian). I suppose somebody had to report this, but is it really news?

And Nate Pederson asks “Why do we think the butler did it?” Turns out he almost never does.

Happy holidays!

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is the editor of Booklist Online and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix.

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