Fruity cocktail donnybrook

“As the plane descended toward JFK airport, I came to the conclusion that books like Pop Goes the Weasel are for people who don’t really like to read but love to be able to say they have read, much as fruity cocktails are for people who don’t really like to drink but love to get knee-walking drunk.

That’s less a knock on James Patterson than on the people who shell out $90 million a year for the stuff he and his stable of co-authors grind out. I’m guessing that if James Patterson drank some magic potion and suddenly started writing like, say, Cormac McCarthy, he would lose every last one of his millions of fans. This points to a larger, unspoken problem in American book publishing: There’s no shortage of good writers today, but there is an appalling shortage of good readers.”

—Bill Morris, “First Encounter of the Worst Kind: On Reading James Patterson at 32,000 Feet”

I enjoy a 1900-word hatefuck as much as the next snob, but it seems the height of elitist hypocrisy to acknowledge that you just bought a novel for the explicit purpose of slumming it, only then to lay the blame for the fact that you chose to read this crappy book on the fact that you only read it because a million other people read it, and it’s really their fault that this crappy book exists for you to slum it with.

It’s probably true that there’s a shortage of good readers, but good readers don’t hatefuck their reading material. Or their fellow readers. (And yes, I’m guilty of it, too. This post is, in its own way, a hate-quickie. Dei mihi ignoscant.) What makes this particular screed particularly exasperating is that Morris makes no attempt to educate the desire of his targets (should such fruity cocktails drinkers ever read a Bitburger beer connoisseur like him); it’s caustic hauteur for its own sake. So… okay. Sure. But 1900 words?

Morris pits a problem of scale against his problem of aesthetics. I’m not sure he makes his lucubrations worth his own while. The people who don’t love to read but love to be able to say they have read don’t sound terribly different from the guy who doesn’t love reading bad books but loves to say that he hated reading them.


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