Yesterday's Courier-Journal book page featured a story about the best books of 2003. Not since Jonanathan Franzen dissed Oprah have I read such condescension on the book pages. OK, so maybe that's a stretch; it's hard to pick up any publication other than Highlights without inviting a journalistic dope slap of condescension (and even Goofus and Gallant make my ears burn once in awhile).
Here is what the story said that got me steamed: "In a year when the most popular books have been a mystery about Leonardo da Vinci's code, memoirs of a controversial former first lady and a diet plan that bears the name of Miami's trendy South Beach, it's clear that readers are looking for things that are less serious than our troubled world."
First of all, there is some very serious shit going on in all three of those books and much of it is a lot more serious that what I presume the CJ would have us focus on instead, such as the paper's dick-measuring contest with Ernie Fletcher and Saddam's being "Caught Like a Rat," which is how the CJ screamed that "news" at us (roughly 20 hours after the whole world heard about it on the 'net or TV).
But not only is the comment condescending, it's also sexist. One of the themes of The Da Vinci Code is the Catholic Church's centuries-long crusade against women, resulting in a worldwide tilt toward the masculine and all that has wrought. Likewise, Hill's Living History, while perhaps not a masterpiece, certainly offers a glimpse into one of the most important political figures of our time. Does anybody doubt that this woman is smarter than the current crop of dolts running for president or the vacuous bottle of Wite Out we currently call our Commander in Chief? Imagine what she could do in our world if she had a penis.
And the success of the South Beach Diet book -- while horribly misguided, superficial, trendy, and doomed to fail -- at least shows that people are seeking a path toward better health and a way to eat well (although I'll admit it is pretty hard to take seriously an author who casts carrots as evil.
So, what does the editor consider unserious? A quest for spirituality; the search for an understanding of the consequences of centuries of undermining the feminine; a plea for sensible political leadership; and food.
What could be more serious?
According to the editor: biographies of dead men (FDR, Kennedy, Charlie Chaplin, Elvis) and a famous woman (Katherine Hepburn), novels by Toni Morrison and Sena Jeter Naslund (genius fiction writers, to be sure), and Democrat-apologist and very funny guy Al Franken's Lies.
OK, I've got no quarrel with these books or any of the others in his list. Nor do I think the editor is sexist. But I do get a little pissed when writers off-handedly tell me what is and is not serious, especially when it's thinly veiled in a crimson lace bustier of pretension.
This weekend, I saw a rerun of Inside the Actor's Studio that featured Mike Myers. James Lipton (speaking of pretentious) tried to bust Myers' balls about his penchant for lowbrow humor. Myers made a few quick poop jokes, and then said, "if it's funny it's funny. Beat poetry is high art and rap music is low art? Give me a break." The audience went wild. (OK, they were unabashedly sucking up to Myers, while desperately hoping to make eye contact in the hopes of landing a role as an extra in Austin Powers - Shite Equals Money. But still.
So, you think you know what's serious and what's not? Well, you don't. But I do. And I'll tell you all about it, right here in my blog.