Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Books We Hate to Love

Last Friday, Stephen Bayley, author of A Dictionary of Idiocy did an op-ed piece for the L.A. Times entitled "Books We Hate to Love." A fellow member of another writer's loop, Rhiannon, brought my attention to the article. Thanks!

Bayley talks about a specific category of books: the good bad book. The otherwise bad novel that is so engaging you can't put it down. In other words, the pulp read.

He describes the good bad book as "one that achieves a surprisingly exhilarating effect despite flaws of style and construction, which disqualify it as...'literature.' Significantly, good bad books translate very well into film, perhaps suggesting that cinema is an intellectually and artistically undemanding medium." Bayley gives the examples of "The Graduate" and "Jaws," both of which he describes as "feeble literature, but...magnificent movies."

The article quotes the Times of London review of "The DaVinci Code," describing it as "without a doubt the silliest, most inaccurate, ill-informed, stereotype-driven, cloth-eared, cardboard-cutout-populated piece of pulp fiction."

Man, just makes you want to run out and buy the novel, doesn't it? Still, 40 million people have read it and are eagerly awaiting the film version, which is scheduled for release in the U.S. on May 19. In view of the stars (Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou) and the director (Ron Howard), I'm betting it will be another magnificent movie.

Of course, we all appreciate a good book. And we all avoid BAD good books. But, a GOOD bad book is different. Admit it, aren't there just times that you would rather sit down to a good bad book than almost anything else? One that entertains you, scares you, intrigues you. Okay, so maybe you finish it shaking your head at the half-baked philosophy or ridiculous theories. But for the hours that you spent--glued to the page--wasn't it a delicious read?

Every summer, newspapers all over the world announce the summer blockbuster novels with great fanfare. That's the time when we see the proliferation of good bad books. And, face it. When you're sitting poolside, sneaking looks at the cute guy in the water, you don't want to be reading something that demands your uninterrupted focus. You want some camouflage that will also serve to distract you when his wife joins him in the water.

Bayley concludes: "Bad, it turns out, can be better than good and is always better than bad good, but good bad is perhaps the best of all (certainly the most entertaining)."

I agree--as I eagerly await the next Michael Crichton blockbuster.


Caro said...

Oh, I understand completely. I've been fond of the Good Bad Movie for years -- why else would Plan Nine From Outer Space or Santa Claus Conquers the Martians have any fans?

Maya said...

Caro: And why would any of us even know who Jackie Collins is?