2012 AD or CE (whatever)
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: LITERATURE TEACHER WENDY; KICK-ASS WENDY; GENTLE READER; THE BOOKS
Scene: The house of Wendy
LITERATURE TEACHER WENDY: The semester is finally over! Final grades have been turned in and it is summer break at last. I’m excited to get this time to recharge and to catch up on some reading. I’ve got some ideas I’d like to try for next year’s poetry and fiction classes.
KICK-ASS WENDY: I want to have some fun! The end of the semester is always so damned stressful. My brain needs a vacation.
THE BOOKS: Which of us are you going to choose?
GENTLE READER: Yes! I’d like to know. English teachers should have some great recommendations, right?
LIT W: I’ve been meaning to try a Hemingway novel. It has been awhile since I’ve tried one. I’ve never read the entirety of Don Quixote either. And there is that new world literature anthology I need to work through.
KAW: I want something with explosions. And gunfire.
LIT W: Hemingway can probably provide that.
KAW: Yeah, but then I’m going to get distracted by the big ideas. I don’t really want big ideas right now. I want to read something by Matthew Reilly.
LIT W: You cannot be serious. Matthew Reilly is a terrible writer. His prose is awful. Instead of letting the narrative build tension and excitement naturally he keeps doing things like underlining words and adding a lot of exclamation marks. It is painful. I would drown his work in a sea of red ink.
KAW: But it is so much fun.
GEN R: So what’s the problem?
LIT W: I quote: “It was a small victory, for at that exact moment, gunfire erupted around the darkened room as a legion of dark figures emerged from their positions on top of the decompression chamber and inside the telephone-booth-like test chambers and rained hell on Book’s hapless group in the center of the floor.” Why would you emphasize those words? How many clichés can you shove into single sentence?
KAW: That’s from Area 7, right? Let me reply in kind by quoting from the Publishers Weekly: “Area 7, a top-secret military outpost in the barren outback of Utah where government scientists are trying to perfect a new vaccine that will protect Americans from the Sinovirus, a deadly disease invented by the Chinese to kill everyone on Earth except themselves. A rogue air force general, the evil Caesar Russell, has other plans, however. During a visit by the president of the United States, Russell and his band of elite mercenaries capture Area 7. Their aim: kill the president, take over the country and use the Sinovirus to poison all but members of the white race. But Marine Capt. Shane Schofield isn't going to let that happen. With his usual mix of unflagging bravery and superhuman strength Schofield starred in Reilly's 1999 American debut Ice Station the relentless Marine and his tight group of highly competent sidekicks battle Russell on land, water and in space.”
LIT W: None of that is plausible. It isn’t even good fantasy. There’s no depth to it, no soul.
KAW: Did you see the part where they battle in space? There are also komodo dragons.
LIT W: Seriously? Wait. Forget I asked. Literature isn’t just about plot. What about character? The characters in Reilly’s books are cookie-cutter, walking stereotypes. Can you tell the difference between most of the characters?
KAW: Their nicknames are different. Sometimes they have different guns.
LIT W: There is nothing really worthwhile here. What can you learn about the human condition from one of these books? And don’t tell me that it is about good and evil. This cartoon version tells us nothing about subtlety, about complications, about real life.
KAW: Sometimes I don’t want subtle. Or gray areas. Sometimes I just want to revel in excess. I like these books because they lack pretension. The author says he wants to write an action movie in prose. He does that.
LIT W: But there are amazing adventure stories out there. Read Jack London. Read Alexandre Dumas. If you want contemporary, try Will Thomas. The Barker and Llewelyn books have excitement, mystery, eccentricity, and panache.
KAW: I do. I will. But...
LIT W: When there are so many beautiful, interesting, experimental books out there why waste precious time on bad ones?
KAW: These books aren’t just bad. They are sublimely bad. Everything is ham-fisted, over-the-top, and completely absurd. You never know what may happen because the boundaries of taste and common sense aren’t there. And yet, there is honor involved--sure, it is the kind of 1980’s action movie cliché honor (compromised by the usual dubious footing) but it is there. There is a veneer of good.
LIT W: We agree that these books are bad. There is no grace, no style, no innovation.
KAW: But there are battles with killer whales. And crazy chase scenes. And world travels. His Jack West Jr series is like Indiana Jones, if Indiana Jones had a badass pet falcon.
LIT W: And a lobotomy. Anyway, it is more like Tomb Raider or National Treasure.
KAW: But I kind of liked...
LIT W: *facepalm*.
THE BOOKS: No fair! Those are movies and games. Let’s stick to the subject: us.
KAW: Look. If you want to get all high and mighty about it, fine. I think that escapism is perfectly legitimate. It’s one of the functions of the art--or a benefit at least. And I bet these books could really appeal to reluctant readers. You can’t always begin with James Joyce.
LIT W: True. And you do have a point. Any kind of reading is better than none. It’s just that it would be sad if that was the limit of someone’s exposure to literature.
KAW: Who are you to judge? Aren’t you the one who enjoys working with popular culture and theory? Haven’t you bemoaned the academy’s stance on the field?
LIT W: Well, yes. Yes, I have. And come to think of it, there could be an interesting paper in...
KAW: Boo-yah! Take that! And there is no rule that says that if you read those books they are the only ones you’ll ever read. I read plenty of other things. I can’t be the only one.
GEN R: Um, isn’t there some middle ground? Isn’t there something that has all the action, the fun, and maybe more of the style and depth you are looking for?
THE BOOKS: Yes!
LIT W: Maybe Chuck Palahniuk.
KAW: Some of those would work. But I’m not always in the mood for a critique of consumerism, the modern condition, or whatever.
LIT W: Fight Club is quite good; you have to admit it.
KAW: Yes. But I’d go for Josh Bazell’s Pietro Brnwa’s series: Beat the Reaper and Wild Thing. They are more purely action oriented but have the benefits of some interesting writing, deeper characters, and some playfulness. There aren’t any robot sidekicks or anything but it has this delightful tinge of absurdity to it that I love. It also has a modern noir vibe to it that makes the action really sing.
LIT W: It was a lot of fun.
KAW: And don’t forget the footnotes.
LIT W: The footnotes were particularly awesome. I have such a weakness for them. The books are playful with styles and the reading experience. They tackle some important ideas, explore moral ambiguity, and I liked the characterization.
KAW: And the action was intense. I have a pretty high tolerance and I was shocked a couple of times in Beat the Reaper. It never really felt too gratuitous though. Somehow it earned that moment with me. By the roughest patch, I was there, in it with the main character. Actually I was hooked from the first paragraph: “So I’m on my way to work and I stop to watch a pigeon fight a rat in the snow, and some fuckhead tries to mug me! Naturally there’s a gun. He comes up behind me and sticks it into the base of my skull. It’s cold, and it actually feels sort of good, in an acupressure kind of way. ‘Take it easy, Doc,’ he says.” Even in the crude language there is a sense of fun. Still, I wasn’t expecting what was to come. You don’t always expect a book that starts like that to actually be...thoughtful.
LIT W: Don’t oversell it. It isn’t perfect. But it is a good time and the writing does not suck. The second book is weaker, but I still find it kind of inspiring in a weird way.
GENTLE READER: So--what’s it about?
THE BOOKS: Dr. Peter Brown works long hours at a hospital, minds his own business, and is covering up his past. He used to be Pietro Brnwa, a mob hit man. One night, a patient uncovers his secret and all hell breaks loose.*
GENTLE READER: Hell yeah!
WENDYS: We need to read that again. I hear that Leonardo DiCaprio is going to play Brnwa in an HBO series.
BOOKS: Seriously, this again? Focus!
WENDYS: Apologies. We are agreed then. If you want some great summer reading just go for it. Enjoy what you want. Have fun. You don't have to impress anyone, not even yourself. Live it up. But if you want a recommendation, you could do worse than to start with Beat the Reaper.
KAW: Or Ice Station.
LIT W: Really? I can't...
GENTLE READER: No. Not this again. I'm out of here. I've got stuff to do and books to read.
THE BOOKS: Mind if we join you?
GENTLE READER: Not at all.
THE BOOKS: Peace out!
*Footnote: I hesitate to give even that much information. I am sick of evaluations that are actually nothing more than plot summaries. Then again, it drives me crazy when sites like the iTunes bookstore consistently fail to give even the barest idea of what a book is about. It's all about balance, people.
Afterword: Apologies to Plato.
Post-script: I couldn't resist the temptation and copied this over from another project. I'll post new content soon.