Friday, July 21, 2006

In Defense of Standards

(Update: Okay, I'm editing this because a commenter asked me too. However I figured maybe I can salvage some of the rant. No point in wasting the words...)

What I'm wondering is: can most people recognize a good book?

Look at my favorite scapegoat, Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. I didn't like this book because the prose was lousy-- like it had been written expressly to be made into a movie-- and the ideas though interesting were not surprising (Jesus Christ had children? Oh my!) as I've already read a bit of Holy Blood, Holy Grail. So when a lot of people keep saying how it's the greatest thing and it's a bestseller and it's made into a movie, yadda-yadda, well then, I seriously start to doubt the masses' taste in reading material.

I can't be accused of being elitist because I like to read a mainstream bestseller like Michael Crichton every now and then and Stephen King is one of my favorite writers. I'm also sure I've told people that I won't join a Palanca contest because I consider myself a "hack" writer: i.e. I like to write for commercial purposes. Recognition is fine but I like my rewards in book-shape and preferably being read by other people.

Still, I can appreciate the Palancas: if I want to read the stories that moved souls of Filipinos throughout the ages, I can be sure to find them.

On the other hand, I haven't read the local bestselling works of FT Sering or Bob Ong or Gianna Maniego though I did see that Sunday Inquirer feature on Ong. (Interesting indeed.) However, I have read Jessica Zafra's non-fic and though at first I enjoyed it, her snarkiness got tiring by the 3rd book. (I do have to give her fiction a try.)

My point in this hastily-assembled rant? That not all readers are real readers at all. How many readers read at least one book a week? A month at least? How many readers read books and not just magazines and newspapers? So how can you say that that some readers have good appreciation of books?

Good grief.

22 comments:

sairo said...

the tara sering controversy was about the genre. she won for the young adult (as in pre-teenaged to teenaged readers) category but her book had the twentysomething heroine having lots and lots of sex. and the book's concerns were that of adult readers. turns out the natl book award judges knew jackshit about what defines young adult lit. they said they chose it bec "it's both young and adult." adult as in xxx? ewan. inamin nila at first na mali sila but they made palusot statements later.

but i think you know this already.

banzai cat said...

Ooh, I didn't know that. Thanks for the word up. I can see the parallels here though it looks like the judges in that issue had less to go with. Weird. Makes me think if given a problem to solve, why won't people accept that they can't solve it?

Why is it hard for people to say "I don't know?"

Btw, welcome aboard. :-)

Der Fuhrer said...

I got tired of JZ too. I couldn't believe that I liked her work. Although she was the one who inspired me to write.

Haha. The irony.

markmomukhamo said...

If I wrote something worth publishing, I'd rather have the book passed around with the spine creased to the point of the title being unreadable rather than be in a high-priced leather-bound collection that's going to collect dust in some library.

Nothing wrong about reading/writing something that's entertaining. In movies and literature, there are those which are inspired and those which topical and are fun and enjoyable. It doesn't have to be exclusive but it rarely happens. It can't all be Citizen Kane or Doctor Zhivago.

Oh about that TF Sering controversy...I think the judges confuse being 'marketed as' young adult as opposed to actually being young adult lit. Advantages of being first to market, no? Btw, to think young adults not engaging in lots and lots of sex is a bit naive in this day and age.

And yes, I grew tired of JZ too. Maybe it was just a phase for a generation?

skinnyblackcladdink said...

i'm with markmomukhamo (i was going to type "m", but yer whole name is so much more fun)

remember Sturgeon's Revelation?

well, that 90% crap (crud, actually) is only crap (or crud) from certain points of view. yours, bc, is obviously one such POV.

now, there's nothing wrong with that. in some circles, it's even applauded. but i personally am tired of the Type A attitude. live and let live, man. read what you want, write what you want, ignore everyone else.

that's what i did when Da Vinci Code came out. and that's what i do everytime i drop by a bookstore.

so those writers who write the "90% crud"? they let you get on with the kind of writing YOU want, and the kind of reading YOU want (with limits, of course) because their the ones who make literature a "viable market"

now, would literature do better if it weren't "a viable market"? this deserves a whole new thread on its own, but, imho, not at all. because just the fact that people are reading (regardless of whether they can tell "good writing" or not by your standards, and whether or not they pick up a trashy tabloid, a showbiz mag, or the latest from Thomas Pynchon) is a good thing.

sorry, this is just too good to pass-up:

duwvbhbf - the sound of gas escaping

sky said...

I had a similar rant back in Dean's post, that some people read for the sake of social acceptability. You're "in" if you've read DVC, or at least holding a copy. What more if you can fit yourself into the discussion of its merits and demerits, or what resembles one.

I guess it's different strokes for different folks. Can't stand them then go someplace else. But it's interesting to watch pretentious people jump themselves to nowhere like lemmings.

Regarding JZ, there was a time when she was the most intelligent columnist we had. Was angst personified. Should reinvent herself for the '00s.

banzai cat said...

fuhrer: Personally, I liked her humour and biting-wit even to the point of listening to her radio show before on NU. However, the cynicism does tend to annoy after awhile, I guess. :-)

mark: Yeah, I also believe that. However, I have a harder time nowadays to read an entertaining book that's badly written as opposed to a movie that's totally-brain dumb. Chalk it up to my mind's effort in terms of imaginative power? Moreover, there are a lot more good books to be read vis-a-vis popular books in comparison to movies. When one watches a movie, you can allot an hour and a half (two hours tops) of your life to do so whereas reading a book makes you commit at least a day. Given a choice, how many hours of your life would waste?

On the other hand, I'm generally clueless and ignorant of the whole young adult literature, which is why I have mixed feelings about the market. Some stuff like Garth Nix and Philip Pullman I can enjoy but I don't feel forced to go after those kinds of books.

About JZ (sounds like the rapper!): maybe the generation grew tired of her because she wasn't coming out with writing material that showed she had grown up with the generation? :-)

skinny: Hehe here we go again. Actually, the basis of my rant wasn't the fact that a lot of people were reading bad writing in Da Vinci Code but rather that they weren't reading at all. My gf is a teacher in a school (college-level) and one time she surveyed them on their reading material, they'd normally cite magazines, the Bible or sometimes the bestsellers like Dan Brown, Paulo Coelho, etc. The latter part I can accept (the school isn't what you call in the forefront of English education) but the former grated on me. Magazines? No wonder the state of people's English skills is going to the dogs. And no wonder I have no faith in the people's reading material.

Actually, to be maddeningly inconsistent about it, I have no problem with popular writing. It's the part that popular writing is also bad writing that drives me barking mad. Stephen King is still my hero, remember?
;-)

sky: Hey man! Welcome back! And when are you getting the stuff from me?!?

The funny part about being a reader is that whenever books do come into conversations with friends, being a critic of DVC means that not only am I part of a reading minority but I'm also a minority of a minority. Auugh!

skinnyblackcladdink said...

bc: round and round we go...;p er, i suppose i should have read the original version of the rant, because in this form, you just talk about the people who DO read, but, as you say, can't "recognize a good book", which is where my rant took off from.

ah well.

re: mags - true: if there's any sort of bad writing that's rampant, it's in magazines. that medium has become very hard to defend in recent years. sad because it's one of the modern world's best tools against illiteracy. magazines don't have to be crap like they are locally. remember that a lot of the writers we read these days (if not all of them) had some sort of origin in this medium.

still, if i were to choose between people reading nothing and reading mags, let them at the rags. that way, there's a way to access the heads of people, a double-edged sword, certainly, but then again, you can't have it your way all the time.

qgaafkzs - a fizzy beverage from the Planet Tefallon. not to be shaken prior to ingestion.

Der Fuhrer said...

bc: well, I'm kind of collecting Manual since the writing is kind of good and anyway, some of my favorite writers (Tals Diaz and Erwin Romulo) write there. But their articles cater to the ADD genreration: short and precise.

A lot of my classmates read Dan Brown and Paolo Coelho. Maybe because it's very popular and there is still that need of being "in".

And let's face it, a lot of people have short attention span when it comes to reading books. Most of them like books with either a blistering pace or a good story. Maybe they don't find a lot of SFF with criterias such as those. I mean, it's really hard to read a Banks or a Dick book but when you finish it, its really rewarding.

banzai cat said...

Sorry skinny. It was actually a fun post to write as it gave me a chance to be blistering. Unfortunately, fully-rocked didn't want a reply so I was courteous enough to take it down. One can be scathing with trolls must one must also be polite about it. ;-)

Actually, I must say that there are some magazines whose writing is pretty good. I remember GQ had some good articles and last weekend, the Details I read had some interesting stuff. (Manual was also okay, last I remember.) However, my point is not so much that people read magazines but that they ONLY read magazines. As dodo put it, why limit their reading material?

I must admit that given today's busy lifestyle, we all can't be readers. But still, there's what is and there's what should be. But we're young and we're opinionated so what can we do? ;-)

But fuhrer has a good point: is today's generation really afflicted with short attention span such that they can't commit themselves with words on a page?

vuwesuy-- a sauce for the goose AND the gander

skinnyblackcladdink said...

bc: well, people can't all be readers. how can geek counterculture be the cool, radical, elite group that it is if everybody was? and your question, is today's generation really afflicted... what a silly idea. of course not! everyone today has a perfectly well-tuned, ooh, look! Evil Monkey's back on Jeff's blog and Luis Rodriguez is guest blogging...fun-nee!...

df: have you read PKD's A Scanner Darkly? i used to groove with PKD but agree that his books are "hard to read", but this one isn't. i can imagine it being the perfect Richard Linklater project.

dhfekm - an obscenity that avoids beginning with the letter 'f'

Anonymous said...

And because people who consider themselves real readers diss Dan Brown, I'm not surprised if people read his books and diss them to be more "in."

- Casual SF Reader

skinnyblackcladdink said...

and a-round and round we go...the vicious circle of life...

Der Fuhrer said...

skinny: bo I haven't. The only PKD book I've read is Flow my Tears, The Policeman Said which is brain bending.

banzai cat said...

skinny: *sigh* I suppose I'm turning into a pessimist but given the horror stories my gf tells me about kids today, I'm not hopeful.

And speaking of counterculture, does that mean you accept that elite is good? :-D

casual SF reader: Woot. Are you trolling? Hope not.

I haven't come across people who read but diss Dan Brown to be "in". More like the reverse: they read it to be "in". Fact is, I'd trust people who did read a certain book but voiced contrary opinions because at least they read the damn book. (Which is how I normally read Amazon reviews: instead of reading the pro- reviews, I read the negative ones to see how good the book is.)

fuhrer: Unfortunately, I'm way behind on my PKD also. Mostly his short stories, not his longer work.

skinnyblackcladdink said...

df and bc: you should get around to reading A Scanner Darkly... the movie's just around the corner. er, if you're that sort of person. i am.

but a better reason to read it is because it is so effing awesome. then again, as you know from my blog, i tend to exaggerate.

bc: i don't necessarily think "elite" is good, but i do think everyone, one way or another, is a part of a kind of elite. the masses, for instance, for all their rants about "elitists" are being elitist themselves.

my comment was actually a flippant statement about all these different factions thinking "they are cool and everyone else is not".

although i do think being a geek (do the words "Vote for Pedro" mean anything to anybody here?) is rad.

Der Fuhrer said...

Skinny: Napoleon Dynamite.

I'll probably watch ASD because it's a Linklater film. I loved 'Waking Life'. That movie changed my life.

I'll read the book if I find one.

skinnyblackcladdink said...

i was about to say A Scanner Darkly is the first PKD film to actually be faithful to the original written version... but then i remember Impostor was faithful to the short story it was based on...

however, it seems worthy of note to say that people are actually complaining that ASD is too faithful to the original text... that should be interesting...

banzai cat said...

skinny: Will do, will do. *looks at echoing wallet, sighs* Though you think they'll ever show A Scanner Darkly here?

Personally, I figure it's an "us-against-them" mentality rather than seeing themselves as "elite". Meself, I see it as "I-hate- everybody" to avoid discrimating. :-D

And "Vote for Pedro"? The only thing that comes to mind is Danny Javier's "Pidro". Is that it?

fuhrer: I actually haven't gotten around watching Napoleon Dynamite nor Waking Life despite the good word I've heard. No time actually. Still, I have a copy of Napoleon here and will get around to watching it. ;-)

Der Fuhrer said...

Banzai: Nah, don't bother watching Napoleon, it's boring as hell. Sometimes quirky but still boring.

banzai cat said...

Really? Hmmm, my elder brother said the same thing. :-)

Dodo said...

For my part, I thought Napoleon Dynamite was brilliant - - - brilliant for an American comedy (of which the last truly funny one I remember , excepting some Jim Carrey movies, was . . .Animal House from 1978?) and brilliant period. And Rogue Wave rocks. :-)