Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Spillane and misogyny

From: Kerry J. Schooley (
Date: 11 Jul 2006

At 02:23 PM 11/07/2006 +0100, Al wrote:

>Democratic? Can you explain that, Miker. Most editorial decisions are made
>by no more than a handful of people.

Who then go on to use all sorts of appeals, including literary merit, to affirm their decisions. Often they are misleading, and, as Mark pointed out much earlier, they are not always successful. Books, like many other products, are sold (and often not) because they have well-designed covers, because they are well advertised or good cover descriptions, get good reviews, because they are well distributed close to where people read (bus stations as opposed to book stores,) because they have the momentum of
"buzz," and/or maybe because they appeal to something called "the lowest, common denominator."

It's not that the "test of time" has no value, it's just that it isn't any more objective as a measure of merit than any other valuation. We could add in here that 60 years isn't such a long time either, though it's certainly longer than Jim was at Cal and that was a very long time indeed! There should be a book coming soon about how Jim avoided becoming an intellectual himself, I think.

I'm not going to knock Spillane. I think his appeal lies largely in his strength at creating revenge fantasies. The desire for revenge is a very durable human emotion, and Spillane gets at it directly, without a lot of self-justifying debate. You might say the book that precedes the blow-away final act is all self-justification, but if that's the case it's a one-sided debate. Real debate would just get in the way of the emotion, which Spillane loads like the gun he fires in the final scene. Like Jim said, Spillane knows how to manipulate readers' emotions. The writing is to the purpose and I suspect The Mick's stories will be read long after the political context of his yarns have faded.

That's just my subjective point of view, but I think you'd be wrong to underrate it. I understand that Jim's Catholicism, with an omnipotent God to decide right from wrong, leads him to seek an other-worldly objectivity in the valuations that apparently escape His notice, though you'd think that single-deity thing would leave Jim more susceptible to the blandishments of an elite. And democracy has it's merits, but faith in the objectivity of numbers is foolish and pointless.

Norms and averages are mathematical concepts, while finding merit in a story is more humanistic. When it comes to deciding what has meaning to me, 300 million Americans could be every bit as wrong as a billion Chinese carrying little red books, or for that matter, the opinions of 35 million Canadians. I am an individual with my own existence and experience to address with my reading.

There are more books published in a year than I could read in my lifetime, so I rely upon the opinions of others, many of those posted on Rara Avis, to help me find the really good stuff. People who express opinions based on backgrounds or citing reasons with which I can identify, point me in the right direction, but in the end, I have to crack the cover myself and form my own opinion. Jim says we've a right to our own subjective opinions, but I suggest that is all we have. There are no objective measures. Top-ten lists or literary prizes, regardless of the number of people who agree with the selections, their expertise, or how long they are in agreement, are as fallible as the humans who create them.

There is no such thing as the best book. If there was, if objective valuation was possible, there would be no noir fiction.

The Truth According to Moi, Kerry Schooley

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 11 Jul 2006 EDT