A snob’s response to anti-book snobs

Attention conservation notice: If there is anything that has become more irritating than actual book snobs, it’s anti-book snobs who want to police snobbery using online shadowboxing and demanding that the rest of us–I dunno–worship? respect? what?–their desire to read books about spanky millionaires, boy wizards, and teenage girls in love with vampires old enough to be their grandfathers. How about you read what you want, and I’ll read what I want? Ok?

(I will get around to reading the Hunger Games at some point. I haven’t yet. I have stuff to do, you know!)

This one, from Buzzfeed, crossed my desk yesterday, and for shadowboxing, it’s actually pretty good. It probably helps that I agree with his #1 pick—the gross Brett Easton Ellis types who want to tell me about what great artistes they are, and how I’m a frigid, politically correct feminazi for not appreciating their grand art because they have fully captured, in detail, the horrors of skull rape. This other piece from Book Riot set my teeth on edge because it screamed insecurity, like we all need to walk on eggshells lest its straining-to-be-populist author get her feelers hurt that I’m not reading/watching/doing what she’s doing and my failure to do those things or talk about those things somehow judges her. Do the rest of us really need to affirm what you are reading/watching/doing? It’s so exhausting.

So here’s my list of responses to both:

1. Yes, DFW worshippers are irritating, but I’m sorry, the DFW biopic will likely be horrible. Horrible.

David Foster Wallace strikes me as a wonderful writer who gave us some terrific books and an awfully nice commencement speech, and his post-mortem cult-of-personality feels to me like it’s gotten far out of control. Infinite Jest is a fine book; it wasn’t life-changing for me, but I do see the greatness in it, just like I see the greatness in Ulysses even though I’m glad I shan’t have to read it ever again. On the whole, I wouldn’t complain if a movie brought Infinite Jest to a broader audience.

And yet, I think the biopic is likely to be terrible. Not because of Jason Segel. If anything, somebody like Segel might save it because the one adventurous thing DFW likely did turns out to be pretty comedic: his time on a cruise. That won’t be easy to do well.

Writer (and academic) biopics tend to be horrible simply because what makes us interesting (our writing) is the product of a process that looks like this:

and there isn’t much in movie history that is going to top this, which is pretty much the writing life:

That’s it. After doing that for a long time, you have…a book.

Writers’ biopics that do work tend to be about relationships with some writing thrown in. Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia has many charms, including a wonderful cast and lovely locations, but it works to the degree it works, because Ephron realized that the books weren’t the story. You leave A Beautiful Mind knowing that John Nash was a really smart guy who discovered something smart–they rather screw up the explanation of the Nash Equilibrium. Think about this: Hemingway and Gellhorn from HBO. It was horrible. Horrible. Blood, gore, sex and typing. Eyugh. DFW was kid from the midwest who was a fairly good, but not good enough, tennis player, a mean, belittling brother to his sister, and a writer who experimented with form and depressed in his personal life. This does not promise much. A bit like a Foucault biopic. (If it exists, please don’t tell me about it.)

2. Does commercial fiction really need to you to defend it?

Standing up for commercial fiction sounds a lot like arguing that we all need to like the Homecoming Queen and King to me. JK Rowling and Dan Brown will be fine with or without me. Must I buy them and read them to make you feel better about buying and reading them? The hive mind can’t stand my not being in it? What? Rowling’s books are fun and did a lot to get young people reading. I am grateful to her for that, and I think she sounds like a cool person.Read More »