By Lawrence “Mack in Texas” Hall (Rated G)
Why are there now so many books of lists of ten things we must do before we die? Why not nine, or eleven? And why should pay someone for a list of experiences he says you and I must fulfill before we shuffle off what Shakespeare is pleased to call this mortal coil? Will my life be meaningless if I don’t jump out of an airplane over Scotland, see a famous statue in a Buddhist temple in Bangladesh, eat fried snake in Singapore, bicycle through Kenya, visit some snaky island off Honduras, or flush a certain Czarist toilet in St. Petersburg?
The history magazines are mostly about war. One magazine I perused featured a photograph of a Nazi general about to be executed in Italy in December of 1945. He looks distressed. Perhaps his “Top Ten Things to Do Before I Die” list was incomplete: “#9 – murder more Italian and American prisoners.”
History magazines sometimes publish articles about what a nice lad General Rommel was, a worthy opponent and all that (stuff), and kind to kittens and children. No, it just won’t do. Rommel was a Nazi general. His career choice was to travel to other countries and then destroy them, killing lots of people while doing so. But then, hey, maybe he was just trying to find himself.
A Nazi connection sells spy stories – any formula-plotted thriller will sell if a big ol’ swish-sticker (remember the subtle obscene gesture by the housemaid in Mrs. Miniver?) adorns the cover. Such stories always begin on a dark, narrow, bleak, foggy, smells-of-cooking-cabbage, wartime London street where our hero (1) stumbles across a corpse bearing Secret Papers, and then (2) finds his way to an old building which discreetly houses a Special Branch of MI5, MI6, MI6 1/2,or MI7 which is more Special Branchy than any other Special Branch, and in which a mysterious Colonel Ponsonby-Snitt rules over a mysterious league of mysterious functionaries who hold the mysterious key – there’s always a key, real or metaphorical – which is going to win the war against jolly Rommel.
Zombies and vampires – I don’t get these genres at all. If someone wants blood, let him order a steak, rare. One reads in the news that some teens – obviously not the smart ones – are in imitation of vampire stories biting each other and swapping blood and, hence, bacteria and viruses. Were they not listening to parental teachings about basic hygiene and the myriads of blood-borne diseases? Well, no. Over in the magazine section one can find magazines devoted to tattoos and piercings. The book retailer could efficiently combine the books on zombies, vampires, tattoos, and piercings into one category: Disfigurement and Disease.
Books about the Tudors, especially Tudor queens and girlfriends, are still big. A nice side-effect is that readers also learn a little history.
Eat / Pray / Love / Drink / Vomit – How many women who work at the fast-food joint or at Big Box get to leave all behind and spend a year in Italy discovering themselves? Heck, most folks consider themselves lucky if they can take the kids to Disney once or twice before the little boogers grow up.
A recent fashion are books bearing covers of vapid-looking girls wearing little caps with strings hanging down from them – one infers that these books, and they are Legion, are about a beautiful but misunderstood Hutterite / Amish / Mennonite girl who finds both Jesus and true love in a buggy while a modest church steeple and some perfect trees pose picturesquely in the background. But I sure wouldn’t know, and never will.
Detective stories – Agatha Christie is still the best. Hercule Poirot is my hero. Well, okay, him, John Wayne, Sergeant Schultz, and Bob Newhart.
Poetry – just keep moving; nothin’ to read here. That which now passes for poetry is pretty much me, me, me, my, my, my in content and free verse (which is a contradiction) in non-structure tricked out with the shabbiest sort of rhetorical bling. If the poet doesn’t dot the i he must be really cool, right? There is neither passion nor intellect nor aesthetics in contemporary poetry, only squalid self-pity flung like a temper-tantrum onto the page.
Westerns – the selection is smaller than it used to be. A current trend is to publish the books that were made into films, which is a great idea. Anyone who thinks John Wayne was one-dimensional has never seen The Searchers, John Ford’s brilliant examination of racism and redemption.
Harry Potter appears to be hiding, at least until the next movie comes out. The first book in the series was mildly interesting, but then the next forty or fifty were only the first book repackaged – cute kids scream at each other and then fight He Who Must Not Be Named and then some minor character gets killed and then the cute kids reconcile with teary eyes and we learn about friendship being The Most Important Thing. Yawn.
Time for coffee.