Thursday, February 24, 2011

On Crap

File this one under Actually Library Related, For Once, and Not About Children's Books.

And now I'm going to start a post with "Have you ever noticed...?" just like some damn comedian. Some damn lazy comedian, who always follows that phrase up with something banal. Banal and self-promoting, because the point is that everyone has noticed that the waiter who takes your order is not the one who brings your food anymore but they've never realized it was funny until Jerry Seinfeld pointed it out to them. And not even then.

Although I think Carlin invented that trope, and I'll give Carlin a pass. You've got to admit that, even after all these years, their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff.

So... have you ever noticed... that men read crap? I mean it. I've been working at the library for going on SEVEN YEARS now, and men? they read CRAP. You see a guy trolling the New Fiction shelves and ask if you can recommend something for him? He'll say "I was looking for something like Lincoln Child." Your friend introduces you to a dad from school and she tells him, "She's a librarian, she can tell you a good book to read," and he'll say, "Oh good! I really liked The Last Templar."

And hey, I do not begrudge a person their crap. Crap can be a soothing, entertaining part of life. But I find it mind-boggling that so many men can so unselfconsciously consume nothing but crap.

You ask fifty different women, "What was the last thing you read that you really liked?" and you'll get a couple repeats of The Help, but by and large it will be an eclectic list, ranging from high- to lowbrow, sampling genres, with a surprising amount of nonfiction represented. You ask the same thing of 50 men, and I guaran-goddamn-tee a narrower result. Lots of thrillers, some nonfiction.

In most cases, they don't even know it's crap. But go ahead and try to interest one of these guys in David Peace or Colum McCann or Marcel Theroux - any Theroux, for that matter - and they're just not going to bite.

There’s very little advice in men’s magazines, because men don’t think there’s a
lot they don’t know. Women do. Women want to learn. Men think, “I know what I’m
doing, just show me somebody naked.”

I did not say that. Jerry Seinfeld said that, and if Jerry Seinfeld said it, you can bet that it is as obvious a truth as the fact that most people have two feet. "What's the deal with that?"

And women don't read the kind of crap I'm talking about, hardly ever. Maybe Daniel Silva. The Kellermans. But most women do not end up in the checkout line with books by members of the All-Caps Squad under their arms.

It's the men. W.E.B. Griffin (Under Fire, Secret Honor) would be running a paintball range if it weren't for men. Actually, if it weren't for men, he wouldn't be doing that either. Brad Thor (Blowback, Takedown) would be a porn star. Harlan Coben (One False Move, Hold Tight) would be coaching high school football and getting sued by the parents of injured players if men didn't put their brains on hold and let their eyeballs plow through these fields of crap.

Nelson DeMille (Wild Fire, Upcountry)? I assume that's a pseudonym. If there were no Nelson DeMille, Cormac McCarthy would have nothing to do between thinking up ways to torture the characters in the novels that he admits to writing.

Cormac McCarthy and the Coen Brothers.

This is why Your Neighborhood Librarian is anonymous. Those guys (the authors, not the Coens) would murder me. Or just write me into a novel as the snobbish harpy at the reference desk who's probably a lesbian. A man-hating lesbian, my friend 'Librarian' is a Euphemism for What?! clarifies for me, and she is right.

What's amazing is that when you Google "Books men like" you get lists by Esquire magazine, Oprah, and the authors of The Art of Manliness, among others, suggesting that men like Hemingway, biographies of athletes, and John Dos Passos.

Yeah. SOME men read Dos Passos. Literature majors who are men have read John Dos Passos. Guys who live in rehabbed Craftsman bungalows have Dos Passos on their shelf. But the guy on the plane next to you? He's reading Stuart Woods.

You may notice that I have only just begun to qualify my outrageous opening statement. "Some men read Dos Passos." Of course, some men do not read crap. Some men read nonfiction that is relevant to their job or interests. Some men are Andrei "I'll never read that awful book" Codrescu. (Andrei Codrescu YOU ARE MY HERO.)


My husband, famously, reads nothing but Sports Illustrated and The Economist. But I have a sneaking suspicion, given his (no longer quite so) secret feelings about Matt Damon (sorry honey), that, were I to bring home a Robert Ludlum novel, Jason Bourne would be his seatmate on the plane until he died or Ludlum's ghost stopped publishing books, whichever came first.

The whole thing is weird. Because, in addition to these amazingly unhelpful lists online, there's this survey that just came out, the VIDA Count (of literature reviewed in popular journals broken down by gender), which seems to suggest that unless a work of literary fiction is read by men, it is not taken seriously.

WTF, man. The EIGHT men who regularly read Don DeLillo and Jonathan Safran Foer as they sit in Ozzie's Coffee and Tea in Park Slope are ruining things for the likes of Amy Hempel and Mona Simpson? NOT FAIR. Mona, trek down from the Upper West and smack those boys.

It must be them. Because it's not your uncle, your brother in law, or your dentist who are preferring Dan Chaon to Marcy Dermansky. Dan's name might be in all caps on the cover, but those caps are NOT BOLD ENOUGH for your dentist. Look:

This is a book for men.

This is a book for women, former film majors, and men who flip through the Crate & Barrel catalog when it comes. God bless 'em.


Drama and action.

The word "internal" comes to mind.


And women read crap, we do. SOME women read crap. Everybody likes some crap now and then. TinkerCinderBellaHontas reads the Sookie Stackhouse novels. The Baking Librarian swears by Jayne Ann Krentz. I read the Dexter books by Jeff Lindsay. The romance novel industry is going great guns right now, with spectacular sub-genres: Christian romance, erotic romance, Western romance, fantasy/SF romance (love that zero-grav humping!). BISEXUAL REGENCY EROTIC ROMANCE. I am so proud that the author of that book is a personal friend of mine.

Many women are gobbling up YA novels nowadays, and I think it's because they have an appetite for the elements of crap - fast pace, snappy dialogue, lots of action - but no taste for actual crap. Many of my friends who read YA have tried Laurell K. Hamilton - paranormal action crap ostensibly For Women - and tossed it aside with a grimace. The writing, she is not so good.

Once free of the lobby, the crowd flowed towards the different aisles like water searching for the quickest route downstream. The quickest route was still pretty slow. I dug the tickets out of the pocket of my suit jacket. I didn’t have a purse. There was a small brush, a lipstick, lipliner, eye shadow, ID, and my car keys stuffed in my coat pockets. My beeper was tucked in the front of my skirt, discreetly to one side. When not dressed up, I wore a fanny pack.

Or maybe my friends just refuse to accept the idea of a badass vampire hunter wearing a fanny pack.

Speaking of TinkerCinderBellaHontas, it was she who insisted that Bob and I start watching Castle, the Filliontastic TV show about an author of crap who falls in with a skinny police detective, a dead ringer for my friend The Meanest Cop in Ann Arundel County. Amusingly, the fictional novelist sits down to play poker with real-life crapslingers Stephen J. Cannell, Michael Connelly, and industry-unto-himself James Patterson. Less amusingly, Castle's fans are depicted as women. Women lining up to get his books signed, women attending his release parties. Even the pantsuited police detective is a devoted reader.

Crap! This is crap! Castle's readers would be men! Look at this actual quote from Nathan Actual Fillion: "I often say that Castle is Moonlighting meets Murder She Wrote having not really remembered Moonlighting and never having actually seen Murder She Wrote."

Those shows - and Castle - are Women's Crap. Richard Castle is Men's Crap.

"Pretend to write, Nathan." "How 'bout if I just sit here and try to look kind of stupid?" "Love it, perfect!"

I have obviously been fretting over this for months. When it comes to reading, women come in all shapes and sizes. You have Book Club Readers, Mystery Ladies, the I'll Try Anything Once type, Weepie Women, Memoir Moms, McSweeney's Groupies, and tons more. But men are so much more predictable. Why is this? If I had an answer, I'd be proposing this article to Harper's, and not just running my mouth on my blog.

Which I'm done doing, for now. Go in peace.