Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Fifty Shades of Who Gives a Shit

Do you know how hard it is to keep a good rant going? It’s not easy. Thank God there’s gin to fuel the fires of righteous indignation. TG has been getting mail of the -- “Well, TG, I didn’t think you were the type of guy who would love a book like The Fifty Shades of Grey” – variety. These people don’t seem to understand the thinking behind this ongoing rant, so TG will briefly explain it one more time. Try to stay with him…

TG did not love Shades. It was perfectly fine and hit all the buttons that a hundred million women wanted hit. (Which says a lot about the state of the average American male and his inability to give women what they are looking for. But that’s another rant.) What upsets TG, is handing literary book reviewers the job of reviewing the Fifty Shades book, and the movie, almost all of whom pronounced the results as “terrible.” Fortunately, this method of assigning reviews is not a normal practice. Magazines and periodicals and websites don’t usually assign literary critics to review popular fiction. But once a book becomes a phenomenon, in this case by selling a hundred million copies, everyone feels the need to weigh in. And when weighing in they usually assume a superior attitude and proceed to point out the many failings that we, the  unwashed are prey to because of our taste in popular fiction. This is what TG objects to: the unfair opinions that we are inferior and they, with their literary tastes, are superior.

Example. Here’s that pompous ass Harold Bloom on Stephen King. “That [the National Book Foundation] could believe that there is any literary value [in King’s body of work] or any aesthetic accomplishment or signs of an inventive human intelligence is simply a testimony to their own idiocy.”

TG had a long list of items like the above Bloom quote that he was going to put in this entry: definitions of different types of fiction, lists of popular novels that had earned a hundred million readers over the years, much shorter lists of successful literary novels, but, as always, he’s lost all of these various pieces of info and he’s too damned lazy to look it all up again. So he’s going to go straight to the genesis of the rant, which is…

The Honey Badger.

Because, my friends, the Honey Badger Just Don’t Give a Shit.

If you don’t know what TG is talking about, go here and watch the short Honey Badger video.

Here’s the point: popular entertainment, be it books, films, music, art or any other form of popular culture, is the Honey Badger. Fifty Shades of Grey, 100 million women strong, is the Honey Badger. Stephen King is the Honey Badger. So to the high minded, the superior, those that feel the need to tell the rest of us how we are small-minded and our tastes inferior, be aware of the following.

We are the Honey Badger.

And we really, truly, do not give a shit what you have to say.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Fifty Shades of Please Shut Up: Part Two

Thriller Guy continues his rant…

Read the last entry if you haven’t already read it. Here’s the recap for those of you who are too lazy to 
read it: TG is pissed off about movie reviewers trampling all over the Fifty Shades of Grey book instead of reviewing the movie. TG is also (still) pissed off about snooty book critics who can’t separate their feelings of elite sophistication from understanding just what general readers want in a novel. TG is also pissed off about how those same reviewers (almost all women) are saying, in effect, that two hundred million women are stupid, deluded dupes because they loved a book because of story and subject matter and characters that appealed to them instead of rejecting it because, as they say, it was terribly written.

Thriller Guy is a professional book reviewer. Most people think this means he sits on his reviewing throne and tells the world which books are bad, and which books are good. In fact, as regular readers of this blog have read before, he almost never does that.

TG reviews a book to let readers know if the book under review is the sort of book that that particular read will like. These days Thriller Guy reviews, mostly -- you guessed it -- thrillers. Which means he is telling thriller readers if the book under review is a good example of the genre and what particular characteristics make it interesting and move ahead, or fall behind other books. Some genre readers are able and like to wander out of their particular preference on occasion, but the truth is romance readers don’t usually pick up thrillers any more than thriller readers like to settle in with a good bodice ripper. The same can be said of mystery readers, cat book fanciers, science fiction and fantasy aficionados and any other genre that has its own sets of rules and regulations, no matter that the publishing industry is always trying to lure readers into crossing genre lines.

In the last blog, TG said that many bloggers wrestle with the question: What is bad writing and what is good writing? TG thinks it’s time to stop using Good and Bad as the terms that are branded on books by bloggers and reviewers, as if the book’s writer is personally evil or angelic. Here’s the deal:

Some writers are adept, and some are inept.

The lucky ones, those who are adept, often seem to be born with a facility for words. Others, the inept, have the desire but not the experience or the know-how. These folks can, in most cases, learn how to write fiction well enough to put out a book that falls into TG’s “perfectly fine” category. Here the writing gets the job done, the story told. Often all these people need is an honest editor willing to work with them and the writer’s acceptance of what the editor tells him or her. Lots of sites on the Internet offer these services, and while it’s possible to get scammed, and some editors are surely better than others, it’s really not that hard to pick one that is going to do what needs to be done to pull inept writing into the acceptable zone. There are also many book blogs that offer excellent advice. Put in “writing blogs” as your search term and you’ll have plenty of excellent material to read. TG’s writer pal Larry has a good one over at The Non-Fiction Novelist. His latest entry talks about how independent writers need to do a better job of producing quality writing. Good vs. Bad writing.  Or in TG’s terms, adept vs. inept writing.

TG has often pointed out how difficult it is to write a novel. It’s not that difficult to write, pretty much anyone can write sentences and paragraphs and make themselves understood. What’s truly difficult is to write 100,000 words and put them together in a way that makes sense, follows some simple rules of structure and follows as well simple rules of grammar and tells a compelling story at the same time, simply because that’s so many words. The sheer length is daunting. Writing a novel takes, on the average, a year of steady work. Most people can’t do it because they don’t have the strength and the determination to see the job through. Those that love the form but don’t have the strength, often become academics and/or book reviewers. Yes, that’s a cheap shot, but TG couldn’t resist, though he has noticed books by well-known book reviewers are usually duds. TG will refrain from specific examples to keep the fragile peace that exists in the reviewing community.

Perhaps that’s one reason book reviewers are so hard on novels that achieve great commercial and popular success. Because deep (or not so deep inside) is that little voice that whimpers, I could do that, that could be me, I’m a better writer than they are. And that rankles and burns and can never be admitted. So TG says, all you out there who declare the writing in Fifty Shades “terrible,” why don’t you give it a try? Maybe you’ll get yourself 100 million readers.

Nah, you won’t. You haven’t got the guts.

P.S. No, TG has not forgotten the Honey Badger. Stay tuned.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Fifty Shades of Shut Up

Because TG’s rant is going on too long, he will be splitting this one up over the next week or so. Stay tuned.

Here’s the lesson for the day, brethren: Honey Badger Don’t Give a Shit. For those of you who don’t understand this reference, TG will explain it later.

The Fifty Shades movie is out and every film reviewer is in total agreement: the book sucked. Wait a minute, what about the movie? No, it’s the first thing they gleefully point out, and usually the last. The movie review seems almost secondary because all the critics, pundits, and essayists who are teeing off over the Shades phenomena have to first establish their own bona fides, both professional and personal, by pointing out that the book is abysmally written porn trash and not the sort of thing they would ever read unless forced to. These protestations are so snide, so superior, so smug and so afraid. They scream, I’m smart! I’m sophisticated, sex writing doesn’t turn me on, I’m way too cool for that! Then they go on to trash the movie, though most of the ones I have read say one of its biggest faults is that it isn’t sexy enough. (!)

This blog is not meant to be an apologia for Fifty Shades of Grey. Any one who read TG’s thoughts on the book knows that TG felt the book was perfectly fine, the writing got the job done, the sex was pretty mild, and there was no real reason for anyone to vilify the book beyond the reviewer’s own discomfort with erotica.

Of all the reviews TG read, only one admitted any favorable reaction to the book (it made her feel “tingly”) and that reaction was against her will as she, too, thought the writing was terrible. The pejoratives are uniform in their invective – horrible, primitive, ridiculous, stupid, pornography, trash and on and on. Sophisticated intellectual readers greet these pronouncements with a smug nod of the head. But TG, who is a professional (don’t try this at home, kids) reads all kind of books, most of them thrillers that would be considered military adventure pornography by these very same people, and he knows from vast experience in the book business, that the real emotion that comes through loud and clear, to those who know the writing biz, is…


Oh, how writers envy the success of other writers. They are a lonely, bitter lot. Economic success, critical success, any success that is not their own brings the bitter taste of jealousy to their lips. They smile a thin smile of false friendship and imagine driving a dagger deep into the bowels of the beaming successful writer. You’ll never hear anyone but TG say these things, because writers pretend to be one big happy family of kindred souls, but remember, TG is the only one who will never lie to you about writing and the writer’s life. When someone like E. L. James comes along and cranks out three volumes of Fifty Shades and sells a hundred million copies most writers die inside and wail to themselves, “The writing is terrible! I could have done this! I am so much better than she is! Why didn’t I do this! Why wasn’t it me! Why? Why?" They did the same thing to Stephen King and Dan Brown and every other author who has had great success. It’s a wonder they haven’t taken their knives to poor Harper Lee.

So then someone assigns them the book to review or they take the book up on their precious blogs and sniff about how terrible it is, shocking in its writerly badness, beneath them and every other intelligent reader.

What irks TG (some of you will point out that everything irks TG) is the lack of fairness and the misconceptions that high culture critics (and almost all critics think of themselves as arbiters of high culture) make when it comes to the reading habits of their inferiors, and nearly all of us are their inferiors. Bad writing, bad novels, genre writing, independent publishing are all present day rocks that their tidy, self-centered ships founder upon. So tell us TG, just exactly what is a bad book?

There have been lots of book bloggers who have wrestled with this conundrum: what is a good book and what is a bad book. The success of James and other independent writers who publish their work themselves on Amazon and elsewhere beg this very question. So reviewers and bloggers ask it, then make an attempt at an answer. But no matter how close they come to explaining what makes good and bad writing (and there are some very good answers to this question) they are missing a valuable point. The mistake they are making in answering is the question itself: They see it simply from their own viewpoint -- what is good or bad writing to them and to other professionals, and to sophisticated, intelligent, educated readers like themselves. It’s a perfectly good question to ask, but in the context of a vastly successful popular novel it's the wrong one. Here’s the real question.

What is a good book, and what is a bad book to people who actually buy books to read for enjoyment. Not for review. Not to criticize. But to enjoy. Here’s the answer: Listen up all you smarty-pants book professionals out there.

To general readers, the people who are the economic backbone of the publishing industry, a good book is one they like, and a bad book is one they don’t like.

It’s that simple.

TG has said this before many times: 90% of the time it doesn’t make a goddamn bit of difference how good the writing is. If you’re a reader who wants stories about dinosaurs having sex with teenage girls, you’d read those stories if they were carved out of bars of soap. And enjoy them.

100 million readers, most of them women, wanted to read a book about a woman having sex with a fabulous-looking man who was rich, suave, and wealthy, who brought along a little something extra to the bedroom, a little bondage and discipline, which made the sex even better. Forbidden. Hot. And TG would bet that the number, 100 million, is actually much larger, maybe two hundred million, because this is the kind of book that gets passed around from hand to hand, woman to woman. Not everyone has the guts to go to a bookstore and buy a book that has been proclaimed, trashy, pornographic, and that sin of all sins, badly written. Thank God these buyers could go to Amazon and have their copy shipped to them in a plain brown wrapper or delivered to their ereader.

Once again…

100. Million. Readers.

That’s the Honey Badger folks. 100 million readers. Check back in a few days and see why he just doesn’t give a shit.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Sick of Listening to Blowhards

Some of you have been asking Thriller Guy where he’s been for the last few weeks. Sick, is where he’s been. Camped out in the land of influenza. TG might appear to have been hewn from a block of granite, but age has introduced cracks in that noble visage. TG recommends at the first sign you might be coming down with something, go to your doctor. He or she is going to give you the flu test and the result is going to come up negative because the test is worthless, (your doctor will admit this if questioned) and the doctor will try to send you home with nothing, or worse, an antibiotic. It seems the CDC has told docs this year to deny prescribing Tamiflu unless the test is positive, a very rare result. Why deny an extremely helpful drug? Because “they” didn’t make enough to go around. A simple Google search will show that three years ago the CDC recommended that docs treat for the symptoms and ignore the test, and this year they are recommending that docs treat to the test and ignore the symptoms. Doctors are famous for sending their patients on their way with the admonition to stay off the Internet and not Google their various diseases. They say that the results will “confuse” us and everyone knows the Internet is unreliable. While TG stands on the side of science (and against those morons who don’t get their children vaccinated, thus negating the lessons of a thousand years of history) TG does not stand on the side of blind obedience and trust. Demand the Tamiflu. You can look it up.

What’s up with all the brouhaha about the movie, American Sniper? As noted above, TG
has been too sick to go to a theatre, but he has reviewed several books written by the coauthor, Scot McEwen, of the book, American Sniper, the bio of sniper Chris Kyle from which the movie was adapted. As far as TG can tell, the powerful movie incites reactions from both ends of the political spectrum. If you love the movie, you’re some sort of murderous right-wing killer, and if you hate it you’re a left-wing socialist, bleeding heart liberal. TG has to ask, what if you enjoy watching war movies where, shockingly (insert emoticon indicating sarcasm) people shoot (very accurately, in this case) people who are designated “the enemy.” TG would like to note that the best-selling bio didn’t seem to provoke the sort of rabid reaction that the movie has, which TG supposes is because of the basic differences between reading a book and watching a movie.

You know what? maybe it’s the lingering effects of the flu, but TG is already as bored with writing about this as you probably are with reading about it.

It’s a movie, people. And first it was a book. Yes it was non-fiction, but it wasn’t the real thing. TG always harkens back, in these circumstances, to a comment made by his buddy Henry Allen years ago. Henry was a Marine and did a stint in Vietnam. He and TG both worked at the Washington Post when the movie Platoon came out. This was a powerful war movie about Vietnam, and it was hailed for its realism. Henry said people would come up to him and ask if the movies was “just like being in Vietnam?” He would shake his head and say, well, no, because it’s a movie. No one liked that answer very much, but it always made complete sense to me. It’s a movie, people.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, TG is sick of listening to folks who have iron-plated opinions, be they from the far left or right. And rather than counsel a moderate path, advising tolerance and the spirit of compromise, TG would just like to tell you all who keep going on about this to just shut the fuck up. You’re all just both sides of the same self-absorbed, pompous coin. Maybe that’s the flu talking, but that’s the way TG thinks even when he’s in the peak of good health.

And by the way, the fiction series about sniper Gil Shannon written by McEwen and co-author Thomas Koloniar – One Way Trip, and Target America are the first two entries – is terrific. In it Shannon leaves a sea of enemy bodies behind him as he fights international terrorists across the world. If you like military fiction, this is as good as it gets. And there’s not one ambiguous moment in it to slow the action. But if you don’t like the sight of blood, don’t read it. It’s simple.

And if you get sick, demand the Tamiflu. Trust TG on this one.