How do terrible books get published?

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cheekychook
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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by cheekychook » December 6th, 2010, 5:12 pm

Sommer Leigh wrote:Oh man, I am so glad I don't have the reading affliction of not being able to turn off my editor when I read. I love reading for pleasure and I would go nuts if I couldn't let go of my analysis brain when I do it.

My husband's first degree was in English with a concentration on film (clearly a really useful degree.) Unfortunately it RUINED movies for him, even to this day and it has been like 6 years since he graduated. He can't stop picking them apart or figuring out the end long before you're supposed to be able to figure it out. He spends the whole time comparing directors and cinematography styles. It makes watching movies with him unbearable.
LOL Sommer, I posted my own film school comment at the same time.

A recent perk I found to my film background is that I was the only one of my friends/family members who didn't have a hard time following INCEPTION. Glad those 4 years of my life weren't totally wasted. ;)
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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by polymath » December 6th, 2010, 7:01 pm

I wouldn't go back to reading without the critical skills I've developed from studying writing. I'd rather not have had the dark period but realize it was necessary to see it through. When a narrative or film or play doesn't quite float my boat, I'm conscious of why while I'm seeing it through. That consciousness gives me an impetus to at least engage in it and probably enjoy it for its off the mark qualities. When one does float my boat, I'm along for the participation mystique like I'm living the vita locus. The latter is harder to evaluate while I'm seeing it through because I'm inside it. And ones that are fully engaging are rare. Afterwards, I bring it all to bear. Narrative's are much easier to process because I'm in possession of the performance and can see it through at my leisure.

A terrible book in my estimation is one that hasn't realized its full potential but has met minimum expectations. What those minimum expectations are could be as simple as a ghost written celebrity biography rabid fans want to read and is more of a publicity ploy than a literary work. Or a novel that appeals to a predictable niche audience and critics lambaste. Or something-something with another purpose, like filling shelf space, on a lark, because of nepotism, because a name celebrity wants showcasing and names bring eyes to the cash register, to test a different metric than reader engagement, an experiment in reengineering cultural coding conventions, or because everyone, writer, editor, publisher, reviewer, and reader has to start somewhere, and because even objective critical screening parameters aren't all they could be at first, on-the-job apprenticeship.
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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by SuCue » December 6th, 2010, 7:29 pm

Hah! this has turned into an amusing thread, thanks for everyone's comments. I think the book I originally posted about was published because the author has a long track record and is very famous, and people just pick up her books like they watch episodes of their favorite sitcom or whatever. A brand name. She can get away with being horrible because her name sells the book, not the plot or quality of writing.

But still, it was a really, really, really terrible book. I have a lot more respect for an author like Agatha Christie, for instance, or Leslie Charteris, whose books never descended into that level of awfulness, even though their names became brand names, too.

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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by steve » December 6th, 2010, 7:38 pm

Harold Bloom thinks bad books are part of the dumbing down of our culture. Here's an oldie but a goodie from Harold:
Dumbing down American readers

By Harold Bloom, 9/24/2003

THE DECISION to give the National Book Foundation's annual award for "distinguished contribution" to Stephen King is extraordinary, another low in the shocking process of dumbing down our cultural life. I've described King in the past as a writer of penny dreadfuls, but perhaps even that is too kind. He shares nothing with Edgar Allan Poe. What he is is an immensely inadequate writer on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, book-by-book basis. The publishing industry has stooped terribly low to bestow on King a lifetime award that has previously gone to the novelists Saul Bellow and Philip Roth and to playwright Arthur Miller. By awarding it to King they recognize nothing but the commercial value of his books, which sell in the millions but do little more for humanity than keep the publishing world afloat. If this is going to be the criterion in the future, then perhaps next year the committee should give its award for distinguished contribution to Danielle Steel, and surely the Nobel Prize for literature should go to J.K. Rowling.

What's happening is part of a phenomenon I wrote about a couple of years ago when I was asked to comment on Rowling. I went to the Yale University bookstore and bought and read a copy of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." I suffered a great deal in the process. The writing was dreadful; the book was terrible. As I read, I noticed that every time a character went for a walk, the author wrote instead that the character "stretched his legs." I began marking on the back of an envelope every time that phrase was repeated. I stopped only after I had marked the envelope several dozen times. I was incredulous. Rowling's mind is so governed by cliches and dead metaphors that she has no other style of writing.

But when I wrote that in a newspaper, I was denounced. I was told that children would now read only J.K. Rowling, and I was asked whether that wasn't, after all, better than reading nothing at all? If Rowling was what it took to make them pick up a book, wasn't that a good thing?

It is not. "Harry Potter" will not lead our children on to Kipling's "Just So Stories" or his "Jungle Book." It will not lead them to Thurber's "Thirteen Clocks" or Kenneth Grahame's "Wind in the Willows" or Lewis Carroll's "Alice."

Later I read a lavish, loving review of Harry Potter by the same Stephen King. He wrote something to the effect of, "If these kids are reading Harry Potter at 11 or 12, then when they get older they will go on to read Stephen King." And he was quite right. He was not being ironic. When you read "Harry Potter" you are, in fact, trained to read Stephen King.

Our society and our literature and our culture are being dumbed down, and the causes are very complex. I'm 73 years old. In a lifetime of teaching English, I've seen the study of literature debased. There's very little authentic study of the humanities remaining. My research assistant came to me two years ago saying she'd been in a seminar in which the teacher spent two hours saying that Walt Whitman was a racist. This isn't even good nonsense. It's insufferable.

I began as a scholar of the romantic poets. In the 1950s and early 1960s, it was understood that the great English romantic poets were Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, John Keats, William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. But today they are Felicia Hemans, Charlotte Smith, Mary Tighe, Laetitia Landon, and others who just can't write. A fourth-rate playwright like Aphra Behn is being taught instead of Shakespeare in many curriculums across the country.

Recently I spoke at the funeral of my old friend Thomas M. Green of Yale, perhaps the most distinguished scholar of Renaissance literature of his generation. I said, "I fear that something of great value has ended forever."

Today there are four living American novelists I know of who are still at work and who deserve our praise. Thomas Pynchon is still writing. My friend Philip Roth, who will now share this "distinguished contribution" award with Stephen King, is a great comedian and would no doubt find something funny to say about it. There's Cormac McCarthy, whose novel "Blood Meridian" is worthy of Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick," and Don DeLillo, whose "Underworld" is a great book.

Instead, this year's award goes to King. It's a terrible mistake.

Harold Bloom is a professor at Yale University and author of "The Western Canon." He wrote this column for the Los Angeles Times.
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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by BetweenTwoWorlds » December 6th, 2010, 7:45 pm

I don't have a problem with dreadful books. People can buy them. They can be popular. Kudos to the writers - big bucks & so on.

I just cannot call them "good writing." And that's OK.

I don't need to sniff about the tastes of people. And yeah, it's great to write something for the common person.

Stephen King and J.K. Rowling both suffer from the halo effect of their success in that an editor was not used (or not allowed into the process) when the book was in preproduction. An editor should have been there with a red pen and scissors to cut bloat and cant and lazy writing. (Another sufferer is Tom Clancy, whose early books of ~200-300 pages are bested by later books which balloon up to hundreds and hundreds of pages of first-draft writing. Sorry Tom, love the pace of some of your books but really, there is a DELETE key for a reason.)

Really, I'm not sniffing in disapproval. These books sell.

It's still dreadful writing, no matter how popular the book.

And lots of obscure writers are dreadful, too. It just doesn't sting so much when their work sells maybe 100 copies. I mean, doesn't sting me so much.
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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by polymath » December 6th, 2010, 7:56 pm

Readers like parents and grandparents and great-grandparents and many-greats removed have lamented the up and coming generation's dumbing down since the invention of language. There's no dumbing down; there's only a failure to meaningfully connect. Don't know how to rub two sticks together? Berate intentional fire starting as a dumbing down of the natural world.
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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by J. T. SHEA » December 6th, 2010, 9:56 pm

Naomi Wolf famously described Harold Bloom's hand as boneless. Sounds like he's brainless too.

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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by Fenris » December 6th, 2010, 10:08 pm

Let's not get worked up, J.T. It's like this thread has pointed out numerous times--everyone's entitled to their own opinion.

I disagree with him too, in one case especially: I happen to love Harry Potter. Rowling did a terrific job of creating a wondrous world full of dynamic, lovable (and sometimes not) characters. I would love to have even a third of her talent. Even if, as Bloom says, she does use cliches and dead metaphors, then she does so to great effect, giving life where there is none to be found. For her, it just clicks. Perhaps not so much for Bloom. Writing styles differ as much as opinions. I agree with BetweenTwoWorlds in that her writing seemed to grow duller as time passed, and the world was never quite as wondrous as it once was, but that doesn't mean it wasn't still exciting to explore.

But that's just my opinion.
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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by J. T. SHEA » December 6th, 2010, 11:26 pm

Sounds like you're in need of what I call re-enchantment, Sierra. We need it as readers just as much as writers. Coffee too, but that's another story!

Every now and then I get it back, and remember the pure pleasure of reading what I chose to read, outside of school or other duty reading. A pleasure, a joy even, I hope to give to other readers through my writing.

I've described the writing blogosphere as something of an echo chamber, while admitting my own is one of the voices echoed back to me. One possible good effect of Nathan's retirement from agenting is that these forums may shift emphasis slightly from writing to reading.

But don't worry too much, Sierra. Maybe one of your niece's five Christmas trees will fall on you!

A chocolate book fort, Cookie? I've heard of computers eating books, and readers devouring books, but I never took it literally...

WHAT MAKES YOU THINK I'M GETTING WORKED UP, FENRIS! I never said Harold Bloom wasn't entitled to his own opinion, but now I've changed my mind. Harold Bloom ISN'T entitled to his own opinion! And that's not just my opinion, because I have just realized I AM INFALLIBLE! Now I must stretch my legs and return to my chocolate book fort, which is much bigger and better than Harold Bloom's ivory tower.

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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by Margo » December 7th, 2010, 1:40 am

Insulting readers as dumbed down because of their tastes. That's an interesting approach for reviving great literature. And illustrative of one of the reasons I stopped reading literary fiction. Has Mr. Bloom written a novel?
J. T. SHEA wrote:I never said Harold Bloom wasn't entitled to his own opinion, but now I've changed my mind. Harold Bloom ISN'T entitled to his own opinion! And that's not just my opinion, because I have just realized I AM INFALLIBLE! Now I must stretch my legs and return to my chocolate book fort, which is much bigger and better than Harold Bloom's ivory tower.
Now, now, J.T., this is a democracy. I move we vote on it. I vote he doesn't get an opinion. :)
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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by cheekychook » December 7th, 2010, 8:58 am

Hey, how come I don't have a chocolate book fort??
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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by Cookie » December 7th, 2010, 9:50 am

J. T. SHEA wrote: A chocolate book fort, Cookie? I've heard of computers eating books, and readers devouring books, but I never took it literally...

WHAT MAKES YOU THINK I'M GETTING WORKED UP, FENRIS! I never said Harold Bloom wasn't entitled to his own opinion, but now I've changed my mind. Harold Bloom ISN'T entitled to his own opinion! And that's not just my opinion, because I have just realized I AM INFALLIBLE! Now I must stretch my legs and return to my chocolate book fort, which is much bigger and better than Harold Bloom's ivory tower.
I love chocolate. I love Books. Why not together? Satisfies my brain and my belly simultaneously.

Speaking of people eating books (although not chocolate book forts), Arlo Guthrie tells a story about when his father, Woody was in a mental hospital. This was before they knew what HD was, so they diagnosed him as crazy. Anyways, he was trying to convince the doctors that he was a famous folksinger, and the doctors just thought he had delusions of grandeur, when a patient walked up to him and said "I know who you are."
You do?" Woody said.
"Yea. You're Woody Guthrie. I loved your book Bound For Glory," the patient said.
"You read my book?" Woody asked, thinking that finally someone knew who he was.
The patient responded with, "no, I ate your book."

See, people DO eat books. Albeit, crazy people, but that's besides the point.

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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by Margo » December 7th, 2010, 10:25 am

cheekychook wrote:Hey, how come I don't have a chocolate book fort??
Local planning code?
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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by Fenris » December 7th, 2010, 10:39 am

Cookie wrote:Speaking of people eating books (although not chocolate book forts), Arlo Guthrie tells a story about when his father, Woody was in a mental hospital. This was before they knew what HD was, so they diagnosed him as crazy. Anyways, he was trying to convince the doctors that he was a famous folksinger, and the doctors just thought he had delusions of grandeur, when a patient walked up to him and said "I know who you are."
You do?" Woody said.
"Yea. You're Woody Guthrie. I loved your book Bound For Glory," the patient said.
"You read my book?" Woody asked, thinking that finally someone knew who he was.
The patient responded with, "no, I ate your book."
That just made my morning, and quite possibly the day. :D
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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by Cookie » December 7th, 2010, 11:02 am

Fenris wrote:
Cookie wrote:Speaking of people eating books (although not chocolate book forts), Arlo Guthrie tells a story about when his father, Woody was in a mental hospital. This was before they knew what HD was, so they diagnosed him as crazy. Anyways, he was trying to convince the doctors that he was a famous folksinger, and the doctors just thought he had delusions of grandeur, when a patient walked up to him and said "I know who you are."
You do?" Woody said.
"Yea. You're Woody Guthrie. I loved your book Bound For Glory," the patient said.
"You read my book?" Woody asked, thinking that finally someone knew who he was.
The patient responded with, "no, I ate your book."
That just made my morning, and quite possibly the day. :D
Your welcome. Now go build a chocolate book fort and revel in its chocolately goodness. ;)

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