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View Diary: What are you reading? Oct 23, 2013 (80 comments)

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  •  "increased understanding of the human condition": (10+ / 0-)

    Millions of readers like shallow, thrilling books.

    Grisham, Crichton and Brown were able to achieve massive success writing what I call "airplane books" - books that can hold your attention with their dynamic plots, but which don't require any mental effort or imaginative investment.

    The creative work here is similar to formula-TV. This last decade has seen some of the most adventurous TV programming in history; and yet, Two and a Half Men was the biggest show on TV for a few years. Most people enjoy predigested pap, if it's served up just right.

    Grisham et al. have a very keen sense of what their audience (because they are passive receivers, not active participants) want to read: the masses enjoy just enough visual detail, just enough mental puzzle, just enough personality in the main characters. All these are just a platform. The heart of the matter is a plot which rattles along like a roller-coaster, with enough risk and surprise to pump your adrenaline - and, most of all, an archetypal formula.

    Dan Brown et al. have their effective formulae: they find a series of buttons to push, things that a lot of people respond to, and they push them really hard. So their readers come back again and again, to get the pleasure (in Brown's case) of mystic mumbo-jumbo, with an update of James Bond thrown in. You get to feel like a smart Tom Hanks, navigating international conspiracies and enjoying some luxurious hotels and rough hikes along the way.

    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

    by Brecht on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 07:00:24 AM PDT

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    •  And See? I Never Wanted to Be Tom Hanks (7+ / 0-)

      Your description of their book chemistry is probably accurate.  They are Madison Avenue writers -- ones who generate their work according to market surveys.

      Since you mention TV, I'd suggest their books appeal to the watcher of commercials more, even, than to the watcher of shows.

      Readers & Book Lovers Pull up a chair! You're never too old to be a Meta Groupie

      by Limelite on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 07:10:54 AM PDT

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      •  Yes, these books are ads for glamour and prowess (5+ / 0-)

        Dan Brown especially likes to namedrop luxury brands.

        Crichton is notable for his original ideas and research. In mid-career (e.g. Rising Sun), he'd put a long bibliography of all his sources in. So his best books teach you things, and make you think. In the end, he found simpler formulae sold better.

        Grisham is selling you on being Tom Cruise as a lawyer, and Brown on being Tom Hanks as a professor (I prefer Indiana Jones). It amuses me that my namesake is famous for his Brechtian Alienation Effect: the theory that audiences overidentify with fictional heroes, and miss half the art - so it's better to write anti-heroes, repelling your audience, but shocking them into a larger view of the whole.

        "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

        by Brecht on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 07:25:09 AM PDT

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    •  Well, yeah (5+ / 0-)

      You've basically described the difference between popular fiction and literary fiction.

      Just another day in Oceania.

      by drshatterhand on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 08:10:59 AM PDT

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      •  I'd Tweak That Statement (6+ / 0-)

        to ". . .difference between bad popular fiction and good fiction period."

        Many examples of fine popular fiction exist.  Many authors' have achieved fame -- even glory?-- writing tightly plotted books without claiming to be literary.

        Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey/Maturin maritime books leap to mind.  Martin Cruz Smith's espionage novels and the science fiction of Isaac Asimov are examples of popular writers who cover much of the same topical territory as the lesser lights mentioned above and are popular writers.

        Readers & Book Lovers Pull up a chair! You're never too old to be a Meta Groupie

        by Limelite on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 10:18:35 AM PDT

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    •  Agree with your comments (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Brecht, RiveroftheWest

      about books and tv.  I certainly respect other people's tastes, and try not to be dismissive or a snob, but I tend to not like "genre"  and/or "popular" fiction, although there are, of course, certain works by certain writers that transcend their "label"--Ursula K. Le Guin for instance.

      I've never understood the appeal of Two...Men, nor The Big-bang Theory, blah; or How I Met Your Mother--they're all just horrible.  Then again, I have my own "bad" or campy tastes; I used to watch Knots Landing and The Young and the Restless religiously, and I own on DVD the first two seasons of Wonder Woman ;-)  And I'll never forget when this girl in the second-grade totally upset me when she told me that whenever Lynda Carter spun around and then there was that fireball and she would be in the Wonder Woman costume, that all that was fake!  They just stopped filming while she went and changed and then they'd resume filming; I was crushed for weeks I tell you!

      The Democrats care about you after you're born. --Ed Schultz

      by micsimov on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 06:43:17 AM PDT

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      •  What a cruel disillusionment. Girls can be mean. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest

        I have some friends (with generally good taste) who enjoy The Big Bang Theory. My best guess why is, Jim Parsons is very talented, and the show is well-processed cheese. Arrested Development is more my speed: they have a lot of dumb jokes, but back them up with ambitious, subtle writing and deadly comic chops.

        I quickly tire of unambitious, formulaic writers. I don't usually spend much time digging into popular fiction, because I find all the same color and thrills in Dickens, Le Guin and Chabon, with great writing and complex characters too. But I'll try most famous writers once (though if it's Grisham or Koontz, or someone I see as bestseller middlebrow, I'll research a while to find what critics say is their best work). I even read the first 20 pages of Dianetics - just enough to be certain it was 100% crap.

        "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

        by Brecht on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 12:05:47 PM PDT

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        •  I suppose we all have our highbrow and lowbrow (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest, Brecht

          or camp tastes; Susan Sontag wrote that terrific essay "Notes on Camp."

          I need to check out Arrested Development; I've never seen it.  I love Julia Waters (from Play Misty for Me)that is in it; and of course, as a gay man, knowing they had the good sense to cast Liza Minnelli in a guest role speaks volumes ;)

          The Democrats care about you after you're born. --Ed Schultz

          by micsimov on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 03:56:04 PM PDT

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          •  I never read "Notes on Camp", but I see it cited (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RiveroftheWest

            often.

            Liza Minnelli and Jessica Walter were exceptionally good sports on Arrested Development. Indeed, the whole cast are brutal in taking down each other and themselves, yet somehow without ever feeling sour. I have a dry and quirky sense of humor (thanks to my family and an English education), so my taste is an oblique measure. It may be the funniest show I've ever seen; Monty Python's often brave and brilliant, but Arrested Development is so tightly plotted and dense you can't look away. And you should watch the shows in order from the start, as they layer the story so.

            "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

            by Brecht on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 11:44:47 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

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