Re: RARA-AVIS: Parker's Procedurals, Westerns, and Their Film Adaptations

From: Brian Thornton (
Date: 04 Mar 2010

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    On Wed, Mar 3, 2010 at 8:53 AM, Patrick King <> wrote:

    > And where some here wear that sort of appelation as a badge of honor, to me
    > it's as much a label as "C student" is an epithet. Both of them strike me as
    > nothing more than a waste of time.
    > ***********************
    > I don't want to start anything, either, but what are you saying here?

    I'm saying that it's a waste of time and effort to insult the tastes of those who disagree with you.

    > Can no one express an opinion that isn't "Oh, he's dead and it was an honor
    > to have this genius with us for a little while," without being a snob?

    Of course. For example, I don't like anything about the TWILIGHT series of books/movies/t-shirts/plastic fangs/plush toys/etc. That doesn't mean I think those who actually enjoy them are akin to "C" students (and I get the condescending implied association of the fat part of the bell curve with the banality of broad appeal). My girlfriend liked the first book in the series, for example, and she was salutatorian of her high school class and a high-achieving scholarship student in college who now makes a hell of a lot more money than I do (I teach). Her words: "the writing itself wasn't very good, but I found the story compelling."

    One could make the same statement about half of Chester Himes' work (THE REAL COOL KILLERS, for example).

    But there's a difference between critiquing someone's work and insulting the tastes/intelligence of that writer's audience.

    > Is being an A student a waste of time, too?

    Not even a little bit. And I say this as someone who earned an equal share of Cs and As (and Ds in math).

    > Psychologists say that A students are trying too hard to please authority
    > figures and that F students usually have the highest IQ scores in the class,
    > see the game, and are unwilling to play it.


    That is easily dismissible both as a vague allusion and as a statement so broad as to lack any context that might lend it some heft.

    As I said before, I teach. I've done it long enough to have had a few of the "high IQ loners who refuse to play the game" come through my classes. They tend to be ridiculously few and far between. And the problem with not
    "playing the game" at the level where I teach is that by the time they hit the next level (high school), they're so far behind the curve on developing the skills to do things like math/science/composition/historical analysis that they can't possibly catch up before they try to get into college somewhere.

    Again these types are so few and far between that statistically, they're irrelevant.

    Most "F" students I know fail because of some combination of lack of ability/skills/motivation/parental support. None of them are misunderstood geniuses of the type you reference.

    > I'm sure there are exceptions also in every class.

    It's your example that's the exception, not the other way around.

    > My point is, popularity is not an accurate way to judge art of any type and
    > apparently a lousy way to choose leaders, as well.

    Well, I suppose it depends on your definition of "popularity," and on the context of same. After all, I'm not a fan of James Ellroy's work. In Rara Avis I believe I'm in the minority. Am I in the minority when you expand the test group to, say, everyone who reads books written in English?

    > Popularity is a good way to make money, however, and to that extent Robert
    > B. Parker was more successful than those vastly superior to him as writers.
    Not for nothing, but which Parker are you talking about? The one who wrote HUGGER MUGGER and POTSHOT, or the one who wrote stuff like LOOKING FOR RACHEL WALLACE? Artistically speaking they're not the same guy.

    Artists with long careers have peaks and valleys in their work, after all. The Rolling Stones' STEEL WHEELS isn't even a pale echo of EXILE ON MAINSTREET. Hemingway's ACROSS THE RIVER AND INTO THE TREES is a farcical flop when compared to the power of earlier work such as FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, and short stories like "Hills Like White Elephants" and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and (of course) "The Killers."

    Yeah, Parker phoned it in for a long time. But his good work was good.

    I'm as sorry as anyone else who enjoyed his early work that he stopped doing what he did so well at one time.

    That hardly makes me a "C" student. My inability to do algebra beyond F-O-I-L does.

    The funny thing is that I suspect we agree in our assessment of the majority of Parker's canon. I'm just not interested in insulting those folks who actually do like his work, any more than I am in insulting the vast majority of Rara Avians who like the writing of Ellroy or George Pelecanos.

    What I *am* interested in, is getting the opinions of well-read folks
    (including you) on the actual books themselves, and then discussing what worked and what didn't. That bears a lot more appeal to me than sitting around congratulating myself on being superior to the poor schmucks who shelled out $25 for the last TWILIGHT book (and who correspondingly don't much care what I think either way).

    Again, YMMV-


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