Monday, January 04, 2010

A True Confession

Central Park, New York, Winter, The Skating Pond,

Bridgeman Art Library.

I am functionally illiterate.


I eshew, abjure and even actively avoid those writers who hit the New York Times "best seller" lists.

Some might call this habit a form of reverse snobbery, but when everyone else is shouting whoa and damn and f**king awesome, I get stubborn.

It's my contrary streak. (Where I grew up, streak was the word used to describe an ingrained personality trait. My mother often wrung her hands over this tendency of mine. Poor Mum.)

My juvenile habit toward rebellion has not diminished over the years, it seems, and I continue to resist the automatic and monetary worship of such public gods as Cory Doctorow, John Scalzi (Whatever. I do like his blog) and Neil Gaiman.

It's not that I don't buy new novels or that I never read such writers. I remember the names. Sometimes I will pick up their books second-hand or encounter them in the family book exchange. Because allied with my obstinance is a timid and protective caution. I fear being disappointed. My private enjoyment does not always aligne with public taste (James Patterson being only one case in point.) And I dislike paying top dollar for that disappointment.

However, to make a long story even longer, I recently came across -- by my usual means -- Gaiman's Coraline.

Coraline was described in the New York Times Book Review as "one of the most frightening books ever written." Or so says the blurb on the front.


I read it. It's a lovely story in the vein that children need to know that monsters can be killed. Has a certain Edward Gorey/John Bellairs flavour. I'd recommend it for my grandchildren when they are past the cuddly bunny stage.


laughingwolf said...

exactly so, bernita... i follow no crowd, either

when jfk said he was a 007 fan, i quit reading fleming, even after being a big fan for years...


raine said...

I'm like this about movies. The more pimpage and gushing I hear about a film in the media, the more set I am against seeing it.
And must say I've found that, if I do get around to watching it eventually, it really is seldom "all that".
Do like Scalzi. Haven't read Gaiman.

That being said--I wouldn't mind making the Times list one day, lol. (drool).

Whirlochre said...

And like Raine, I'm like this with music.

The problem with the path well trodden is that your feet tend to morph to fit the prints.

moonrat said...

I'm like that, too. I'm always a little chagrined when I read a book that was on the bestseller list for ages (and which I've thereby put off reading for ages) and then find that it was amazing. But you know, only a little chagrined. It's also really nice to know that sometimes books *I* think are awesome can actually be popular ;) (One such: Olive Kitteridge. Another: Yiddish Policemen's Union.) But I do wait until the ABSOLUTE last minute!

StarvingWriteNow said...

what creeped me out most about Coraline was the button eyes on the "other parents". Yeesh!

Like you, I tend to avoid bestselling phenoms. To date I have never read a Nora Roberts or James Patterson, for example. I prefer discovering an author on my own, rather than having someone (like, say, Oprah) tell me I should read this one or that so-and-so is a MUST READ.

Bah! Humbug! and all that...

Have a great day--it's snowing like crazy down here!

BernardL said...

I avoid following. I have read one book from each of the folks you mentioned. I didn't buy another, but it's more my taste than their writing. I recently bought Jim Butcher's first three books in the Dresden Files series because I liked the TV series. I hate to say this but I liked the TV series a lot better.

Bernita said...

Quit reading Fleming, LW? Don't think I've gone that far.
And you've been into the vodka, I see.

Ditto me on movies, Raine.And if the critics pan a movie, the odds are I'll like it.
"--I wouldn't mind making the Times list one day," When that happens,you won't find me bitching and contrary about best-selling writers!

Whirl, that's well-put.

"really nice to know that sometimes books *I* think are awesome can actually be popular"
MoonmouseDear, it's more than nice - it's a kind of relief that I'm not totally perverse!

That was a great touch, SWN. Reading Coraline, I couldn't help reading w/a critical writer's eye and kept thinking: "Yes! That's the perfect detail in just the right place!"
Since in the past( before internet) I never paid much attention to author names, I have the feeling I've read some Nora Roberts ( and others) without realizing it.

"...but I liked the TV series a lot better."
Eh, Bernard! I've had that happen to me w/ movies and TV series a time or four.

bunnygirl said...

I've recently found a good use for best-sellers: foreign language practice. Most of these books have simpler language and plot lines than more literary work. They move quickly and don't require wading through deep concepts and complex symbolism, so buying in translation is a great way to brush up on a language.

archer said...

I accidentally stumbled on Jodi Picoult in a drugstore, and had one of those those moments where you believe your writerly success is assured, as in "I could do better than this if I were hogtied and drunk."

I love Stephen King even if he is popular. Why people make such a fuss over Foer I don't know, except that he is four years old or something.

What I do often is go through the first lines of all of the best sellers at the rack in Borders. "Hey, that's not bad at all." "Wow, something definitely happening here." "Argh, that SO sucks, bye."

Charles Gramlich said...

I've been resistent like that since I was a kid. I always fought agaisnt reading what was "good" for me, or what others saw as timeless classics. I wanted to make my own decisions

Bernita said...

That's novel, clever and very practical, Bunnygirl!

Archer, I always have to check the endings. I want/need the good to survive and triumph.

As a kid, I could never find ENOUGH reading material, Charles and was often reduced to reading an encyclopoedia, but I know exactly what you mean.
In my first year, my assigned tutor - the sort who has a white rug in his rooms - informed me I was woefully deficient in background and produced a list of "classics"to correct my profound illiteracy. Naturally, I have NOT read Madame Bovary and assorted others to this day.
Oh yes, and I deliberately walked over his rug with my slushy boots.

Natasha Fondren said...

LOL! I don't even think Gaiman would agree with that statement. :-) In fact, he's said that most kids don't find it scary at all, while parents are a bit disturbed.

I used to be that way, but then I've always found pop culture and trends and such fascinating. So sometimes it may take me awhile, especially if people are shoving it in my face, but I generally get around to it. :-)

SzélsőFa said...

I agree: it's not what the masses read what one has to read: one has to read what one finds uplifting, inspiring, interesting and helpful. no matter the title and the fame.

archer said...

When I was in the fifth grade my teacher became disturbed I was reading stuff about vampires. He forced me to read Little Lord Fauntleroy, which he sternly called "an excellent character study." I thought he meant that this little twerp with the long blonde curls was someone I should model myself after. As a result I immediately asked for a motorcycle jacket.

Bernita said...

Probably not, Natasha. After all, he wrote it for his daughters.
Yes, reading for cultural analysis provides a useful motive.

Exactly, SzelsoFa. Nicely expressed.

Little Lord Fauntelroy?
High fives, Archer!

Lana Gramlich said...

I heard the movie version of Coraline was good, too, but I'm not a big fan of Gaiman. "Stardust" (the movie,) or whatever it was saw to that. Sexist pig.
Anyway, I'm totally with you on the contrary streak, even sometimes to the detriment of my own advancement.

Dave F. said...

I'm a fan of Gaiman's but I haven't read or seen Coraline yet. No good reason, I just didn't.

I have a Niece whose little girl will never be "unafraid" to read Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. I wouldn't even suggest Coraline.
On the other hand, a lady-friend has two boys under 6 y/o who will romp around The Graveyard Book. Coraline might be "girly" for them.

Gaiman has a video version of The Graveyard Book online at his website.

My Nephew and his wife gave me all sorts of grief about the book STARDUST because their daughter found some sex in it. The kid handled it better than the parents. I never saw so many sneers and giggles out of adults in my life.

One book I regret buying was The Lost Symbol by Brown. I like The DA Vinci Code but Symbol is awful. It turned out as bad as everyone said.

A pile of hype about a book or a movie scares me. I remember trying to read overhyped books and hating them. We seem to be a bunch of similar thinkers. When the herd runs that-a-way, we run the other.

Too much publicity is one detriment. I did that with ET, Star Wars, and a couple other flicks. The other type of book I don't care for is if I find that the book contains a "rough passage" like rape or murder or torture or something distasteful like that. That's like watching those ugly movies where they rip people apart to make the audience squeal. I won't watch one of the LAW AND ORDER incarnations because the subjects are sex crimes.

Bernita said...

"even sometimes to the detriment of my own advancement."
I hear you, Lana. Same with me. And it's not as if I'm absolutely anti-authoritarian and a natural rebel either.I just prefer conviction over many conventions.

"We seem to be a bunch of similar thinkers. When the herd runs that-a-way, we run the other."
Oops. Maybe we're just a smaller herd, Dave!

Though I don't mind a little killing. Some characters need killing.

Dave F. said...

If we are a smaller herd, I would tolerate being called educated and snobbish sheep over the crowd of lemmings leaping into the latest trend. I'd much prefer a herd of fine thoroughbreds or mighty tigers or elegant eagles but when push comes to shove, sheep will do.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I love Gaiman but I dislike Coraline. It just didn't do it for me.

I'm currently taking a stand against Avatar. I just know I'll be disappointed.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Oh Moonie, I have Yiddish Policeman's Union. Mom said it's awesome. Can't wait to start it!

Bernita said...

I guess we just like to choose our own cliffs, Dave, rather than run because everyone else is.

And I have the feeling, Betsy, that most of Gaiman's other stuff wouldn't do it for me.
Scalzi had what I thought was probably a fair review of Avatar. If one loves techno-brilliance above all else, one will love it.

laughingwolf said...

lol... no, i kept reading, but after all the hubbub died down ;)

too much wodka and ye womit :O lol

word verif: dogapac

archer said...

By the way, Coraline is a really first-rate movie.

Bernita said...

We so hate to have our tastes seen as as fad-following, LW!

So I've heard, Archer. Do you know how they did the button-eyes bit?

Dave F. said...

Let me say a word about AVATAR. I haven't had the chance to see AVATAR (snow) but I do know that while the technique and look of the movie is new and spectacular, the plot is not. The plot has been done before.

That makes some critics foam at the mouth like rabid dogs.

writtenwyrdd said...

I'm like you in that resistance. And I've definitely noticed that once an author is elevated to that 'godhood' pedestal, like King or Gaiman, where everything is a best seller, the critics tend to over fondle their works with praise when I find them only okay. But I was reading Gaiman when he was just doing comic books, so I've been a fan of his for years. And King? I don't care for most of his stuff. Or Jovonovich, or countless other writers that get best seller status.

Chris Eldin said...

I have to confess I let Oprah influence me way too much. Please don't hold it against me! But for the past few years, ever since blogging, I've really come to rely on word of mouth online. A book I read last year, "The Art of Racing in the Rain," I saw on Janet Reid's blog. I loved it. Now my oldest son is reading it (he comes to me for reading recommendations, how cute is that!!!) I told him it's sad. He seems determined not to cry. We'll see...

sex scenes at starbucks said...


If Oprah recommends it I run the other direction. But I don't like her, so there's that.

My son refuses to take any of my ideas for books. Dang it. I know some good ones! But his teacher apparently has the last word.

Bernita said...

Dave, from what I've read about it, seems like a nice old plot.

Another form of "God disease," Written. Found the same. Some of the stuff so extravagantly praised can be just - ordinary.

Chris, I'd certainly take Janet Reid's (whom I admire greatly)recommendations over Oprah ( whom I've always managed to ignore), but. There is too much sadness in the world already for me to be uplifted by that sort.Another reason, I suppose, why I always check a book's ending.

laughingwolf said...

exactly so, bernita :)

stacy said...

I genuinely love some best-selling writers, but others I avoid - not because they're popular, but because I just don't think they're very good. Gaiman and King and Rowling are writers who have written tales that make me want to write, and Gaiman has written a few that I wish I'd written. I can't give a writer any higher praise than that.

I'm ashamed to say that when I was younger, I used to avoid books/music/movies that didn't sell well simply because I figured if they weren't popular, they must not be very good. How wrong I was. Now I just read anything I can get my hands on.

Gabriele C. said...

I'm a rebel on both sides. I don't read books because they're on the bestseller lists, but I don't avoid books that sound interesting just because they are on these lists, either. :)

Bernita said...

Yes, Stacy and Gabriele, that's the point.
The "best selling" is not the attraction. The story is.
Many of my keepers happen to be very popular writers, but I've almost never acquired a new author because of that hype.

stacy said...

Yes! Totally agree.

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

I didn't read Coraline but I watched the movie. It was a bit creepy but otherwise wonderful.

My kids tried to thrust Good Omens (co-written by Gaiman & Pratchett) on me and I really tried to read it, but it was a bit 'out there'.

However, I think Neil Gaiman is a real sweetheart.

Bernita said...

Sandra, do you remember how the film managed the button eyes?

Vesper said...

I liked Gaiman's "Coraline". Even more I liked his "Graveyard Book".

Bernita said...

Vesper,I'm still cautious about Gaiman but I hope my book-trader friend has another by him.

archer said...

Bernita, you should see Coraline. The button eyes are really scary (it's mostly stop-motion but with some digital). The film is gorgeous to look at and it has a first-rate score by Bruno Coulais (chorus of kids singing in Hungarian, or something). Also it has a perfect cat.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Archer. I certainly will if I ever get the chance.

strugglingwriter said...

I really like Gaiman and Cory Doctorow.

I tend to be contrary as well, but Cory Doctorow's YA novel Little Brother rocked my face and his other novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom was a very cool sci-fi novel.


Bernita said...

Paul, my attitude is as much cutting-off-my-nose-to-spite-my-face as anything. I really don't doubt the three I mentioned are good.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't pass this one by. Always remember that New York Times bestsellers can be bought by someone with enough money and a life of no legitimate accomplishment or recognition. It has happened.

That aside, I didn't see 2001: A Space Odyssey for eight years after it was released. The "You gotta see it, you gotta see it!" from the stoner crowd was just too much.

Bernita said...

Now I'm left wondering which of the much-admired "Mikes" in my life you are!