Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Bestsellerdom (was Blade Runner)

From: Mark Sullivan ( AnonymeInc@WEBTV.NET)
Date: 27 Jan 2000

Okay, while I probably agree with much of Bob's particular taste in hardboiled/noir, I've got to quibble with his depiction of that taste. It's just a taste. As a character in "Bright Lights Big City" once said, "Taste, after all, is a matter of taste."

Taste is relative. And the bestselling mentality is always going to be railed against by those who feel their favorite books are not getting their due. However, the terms of the complaints sometimes change. For instance, Neil's "too much kneejerk psychology to neatly explain away complex or, often, unexplainable things" (a complaint with which I agree, by the way) is a very contemporary complaint. As matter of fact, that might describe a large portion of "good books" of the '50s, when the complaint about bestselling fiction -- some of which we hail here, like the Gold Medals -- was that there was no psychology, just action.

Also, I think the key word in the description of Lehane, Pelecanos and Ellroy is attention. With the possible exception of Ellroy, has that attention translated to sales? Are any of these bestsellers? Definitely not in the Grisham range.

Finally, is this bestselling fiction really trying to sell itself as hardboiled? I think it's probably pretty telling that when someone asks what you are reading and you reply, A mystery, they seldom think of hardboiled, to such a degree that many of us have tried to come up with other genre names (crime novel, PI novel, hardboiled/noir, etc) in order to forestall the clarifying discussion when they reply, Oh I just read the latest Grisham or Baldacci. I don't think hardboiled is a particular selling point in the current market. I think the soft core we are both complaining about has become the main appeal, as it seems to reassure readers that those values are important and will protect them from the hard world outside.

Neil wrote:

"But what really gets USA Today notice and People magazine notice are the books that don't challenge as much as confirm the things American society finds interesting right now."

I don't know, but to say that the most popular fiction of a day confirms the status quo strikes me as somewhat tautological.

Now it may just be my punk background, but I for one kind of like the fact that my fave reading material is a bit off to the side, is not in the mainstream, is even a little frowned upon.


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