(This opinion first appeared in February 2003)
The following words and phrases have no business in a decent book:
vigilante hit squad
and, especially: ex-marine (why are they always ex-marines?)
Disturbingly, these words and phrases were all included in just one week’s worth of a well known literary magazine’s reviews—in the main fiction section, no less, not in the mass market section.
I’m not actually opposed to all such books, but they need to be tucked away in the mass market section. Furthermore, there really only need to be approximately 10-15 new ones a year. (A generous figure, I feel, since they’re all essentially the same.)
I am also troubled by the waste of paper that these books represent. If you’re not certain of the urgency of this situation, compare the following two excerpts:
It was their first winter. The earth under their boots was grey. The yellow tussock grass was salty with hail. In the violet clouds of afternoon lay the promise of a great winding sheet of snow. Joseph’s mother, Lilian, sat at the wooden table, wearing a bonnet against the chill in the room, mending china. China broken on its shipment from England.
“You’d better keep out of this, friend,” the man in the tweed cap told him. “This is Provisional IRA business.” There was a moment of stillness and then the one in the ponytail pulled a Smith & Wesson .38 from the pocket of his bomber jacket. Rupert Lang’s hand came up holding the Beretta and shot him twice in the heart.
Oh come on, those are the best books for pure escapism. Anything which promotes reading, even if it is silly should be applauded. Isn’t there a link between between low literacy and crime (RCMP study??) so I would rather, in an extreme situation, have a teenager read Tom Clancy instead of breaking into my home.
Airport fiction has more of a right to be published than books aimed solely at the literati or worse literati animal lovers 🙂
And for ex-marines or ex anything, it’s because they were trained to be the best, then somehow they were disgraced, but now they have a chance to redeem themselves and do an honourable act because of their training.
And, surely after 6 years, you must have new words to add to your list.
You know, you’re absolutely right about kids being able to read anything they want. In fact, the most recent book I’ve purchased for my son contains the following disturbing and unpleasant words & phrases:
centrally mounted double laser cannon
rolling death balls
And I’m actually thrilled that he’s enjoying the book! I guess I just wish that there weren’t so many people who ONLY read this genre and fail to branch out.
Thanks for the reply.
I was brought up with Emile Zola & Graham Greene, but I’ve started a blog on Cold War fiction and yes they are too many adults who fail to branch out whether it’s war books, romance novels, diet books but at least they read when its too easy nowadays to watch TV and be fed your opinions.
Also, not all books with FBI, terrorists, spies etc are bad, Our Man in Havana, The Quiet American, Funeral in Berlin still read well after 30/40 years.
My daughter is learning at the moment to point to birds in books and go quack quack, but I can’t wait till I buy her first Tintin, Lucky Luke and Asterix books before I start to indoctrinate her with some good stuff.
And on another note, surprised Middlesex beat Shadow of the Wind on your awards, but then my wife disagrees with me.