Eventually I started working at Green Apple, and am known as the store's resident authority on this section, though our bookkeeper is more widely read in this field than me. The dynamics of used true crime had changed in the meanwhile. As I remember the glorious '80s and '90s, every used bookstore was hip deep in trashy, gnarly paperbacks priced under $3. Browse shops in San Francisco these days and these titles are few and far between. So, a few weeks back, when two boxes of of mass market true crime treasure came in across our buy counter, I glimpsed for the first time many titles which captured my attention. Convinced a ravenous market existed for these books, I was determined to read as many as I could before they hit the shelves. Over a period of two weeks, I tore through Angel of Darkness (Dennis McDougal), The Misbegotten Son (Jack Olsen), Freed To Kill (Gera-Lind Kolarik with Wayne Klatt), Ted Bundy: The Killer Next Door (Steven Winn & David Merrill), and The Gainsville Ripper (Mary Ryzuk).
It wasn't all good times. I knew immersion in this level of depravity would have negative effects on my mental health. Children cannot understand that even though a bad thing happened, it is incredibly unlikely to happen to them. After reading true crime for two weeks, I developed this same problem. Before, I was able to control my fear of being abducted and cut up about by realizing, if this terrible thing happens to one person, that's too many, but it does happen. But if it happens in the US to 270 people in one year, the odds of any one individual falling victim is 1 in one million. In practice, even these odds are lessened by my being male, fairly privileged, and avoiding dangerous situations. For example, I do not get hell of wasted drunk, climb in a stranger's car, and take the pills he offers. I don't accept offers to pose naked and tied up for money, even a hundred bucks. This kind of risk reduction has served me well over the years. But logic was defeated after 1500 pages of terrible happenings. The most casual encounters seemed to me to be a set-up. Many men seemed to be hiding a secret and horrifying life. Stopping to tie my shoe, I felt like a limping and lonely antelope on the savannah. While camping, I had to struggle not to run the 50 yards from the river back to our campsite (it looked more like 50 miles) after a branch broke in the distance. I thought it a security breach that my friend told a staggering drunk the name of the campground we were looking for. He seemed an ancillary character, no doubt soon to be picked up by his brother, a maniac with a history of fire-starting and head injuries, recently released from prison...
Plato recommended all things in moderation, but that's not really me. In this instance, I am more like the character sang about by Johnny Cash on Live At San Quentin - "I had all that I wanted of a lot of things I had, and a lot more than I needed of some things that turned out bad." It will be at least ten days before I'm ready for Driven To Kill (Gary King), while Camouflaged Killer (David Gibb) still waits on the shelf at home.
Of course, I'm being a tad dramatic there, but the fear is real -- I've toyed with the idea of writing a scathing (or at least snarky) blog post about this author many times before, and every time, the potential consequences of my unpopular opinion seem to outweigh the satisfaction I would gain and the fun I would have doing it. But what are those consequences, really? And why, you may ask, would I hold back criticism if I feel that it's warranted and that voicing that criticism would help readers make a decision informed by at least one more opinion? It's not like I've been one to bite my tongue before, and I didn't get canned for that one.
In part, it's because the difference between my opinions on V.S. Naipul (linked to above) and my opinions about this author is that I've never read a book by V.S. Naipul, nor would I tell anyone else not to. My comment there was on a ridiculous thing that he said, not on the quality of his writing, and I can, as readers have long been accustomed to doing given the long history of, um, unsympathetic writers, separate the two. The difference is that I think that this one author, the one everyone seems to like who I don't like, just isn't as good as they get credit for being. And, as such, putting a criticism of such an author in a forum like this would be akin to saying "stop buying these books". And that's a statement that gives me some unease, not just as a bookseller, but as a book lover.
I think most booksellers would agree that there are books one sells somewhat reluctantly. Something you'd rather see fade into obscurity because for whatever reason it's bad enough that you wish it wouldn't exist (I've never entertained any hope of that in this case -- this author is here to stay.) Still, this is somewhat of a taboo subject in a literary and publishing culture that is so often considered to be under threat, in which the most commonly expressed opinion is that anyone buying a book, any book, is a good thing, and one that we shouldn't criticize too harshly or it will all just go away and there won't be books anymore.
This, then, is part of the reason why I don't want to name this author: because it feels irresponsible of me as a bookseller to dissuade people from reading anything. But this also isn't just anything: this author is respected, beloved even. Their works are not "popular fiction", they're literature. They are neither "trashy" nor intellectually snobby. If you are reading this blog, I'd bet the odds are that either you've read one of this author's books or been recommended one. I myself have both read a few of this author's books and have recommended them to customers and even friends, if I think it's something that the person will like. Nevertheless, I feel very strongly that there are some fundamental problems with the writing -- laziness with offensive implications, mainly -- for which this author should be criticized.
But I'm not going to do it here. Not because I don't think that there's a merit to literary criticism that is critical, though some have that view. But because my ideal that states that it's a good thing for people to buy and read literature is stronger than my ideal that states that this author contributes, at best, lame things to the popular consciousness.
Am I at peace with that decision? Obviously, not really. I still felt a need to write about it, which is what I do with things I'm not at peace with. What do you think, readers?
- Many people had never heard of it;
- My shelf-talker was passionate and convincing (something about how cheated
I felt that I had lived 26 years on this earth before someone told me about this great novel);
- it's awesome; and
- booze played a prominent role in the book, and San Franciscans love their booze (and boozy books).
I've been very excited to work with Litquake this year, co-producing their monthly reading series, Epicenter. At Tosca. That's right. . . Tosca Cafe, the hallowed North Beach watering hole.
"I was stealing saltshakers again. Ten, sometimes twelve a night, shoving them in my pockets, hiding them up my sleeves, smuggling them out of bars and diners and anywhere else I could find them. In the morning, wherever I woke, I was always covered in salt. I was cured meat. I had become beef jerky. Even as a small, small child, I knew it would one day come to this."I was in the middle of two other books when I walked past Tupelo Hassman's first novel, Girlchild, on our newly released hardcover fiction table. The library card over the trailer-home in the desert photo caught my eye and I picked it up and started reading:
"Mama always hid her mouth when she laughed. Even when she spoke too gleefully, mouth stretched too wide by those happy muscles, teeth too visible. I can still recognize someone from my neighborhood by their teeth. Or lack of them. And whenever I do, I call these people family. I know immediately that I can trust them with my dog but not with the car keys and not to remember what time, exactly, they're coming back for their kids. I know if we get into a fight and Johnny shows up we'll agree that there has been 'No problem, Officer, we'll keep it down.' "From there I couldn't put it down. This is a dark, compelling, and poignant novel about a young girl and aspiring girl scout trying to escape the history of the women of her family and escape the Calle, a mobile-home town outside of Reno full of white trash, drunks, and the danger of being from a long line of damaged women.
Our Apple-a-Month Club selections have very few guidelines: new, paperback fiction is the main criteria, and we endeavor to share something you might not pick up or hear about anywhere else. Other than that, you can expect a variety of literary genres and styles.
In Red concerned itself with the magical humming beneath the surface of a mythical Polish town. Leaving the Atocha Station's primary drama lies in a poet's struggle to find his voice and sense of place. And Invitation to a Voyage peeked into the delicate inner workings of the human search for a home and a purpose, timeless themes in fiction, in a manner both intimate and specific. All of these have been at least somewhat non-traditional, storytelling wise, but in each case that seems to be a response to the very problem we have in selecting recommendations: that fiction must simultaneously conjure a novel world and touch on something true. Trying to come up with books that do this for a few dozen people I've never met has been an unexpected and interesting challenge, one that has made me think about what makes fiction good and relevant in a way that I perhaps never would have otherwise.
Gwenealle Aubry's No One is a genre-straddling work of tremendous power. In attempting to come to grips with her father's descent into madness, Aubry breaks the boundaries of the traditional fiction/non-fiction divide, creating in the process a blend of memoir and novel. Constructed as a fragmented dictionary -- from Artaud to Woody Allen's Zelig -- this lyrical and heartbreaking work will challenge each reader to examine the ties that bind us to our family, to what it means to love someone who we may never understand.
Banksy gives his take on advertising
Thats a link to an article where Banksy goes on a little about "Brandalism" (which ive written about before) that was in his book Wall and Piece. So what would an artist who thrives on controversy be without a little more controversy? Banksy is a little over the top but, like his work, you cant take his words at face value. Theres something deeper to them and if you only glance at it, you'll miss the point. Enter Craig Ward, who wrote a response here:
First, i cant say Craig is "wrong" exactly, he makes many valid points. I mean, how is a street artist who ask no one for permission to do their art which is displayed in public not supposed to sound hypocritical when bashing advertisers on "brandalism"? Craig makes the paralel of Banksy's art and advertising writing
Now, as far as I see it, the very act of putting your work in the public eye – say on walls, street corners, in alleyways and underpasses etc – is, effectively advertising it by virtue of people being able to see it at all. Exposure is advertising. And unless I’m much mistaken, the only product you’re selling is yourself.
The last time I checked, The Advertisers at least had to pay a lot of money to use the public spaces that their wares occupy – unlike yourself who has decided to remove yourself from that model in the name of art and anti capitalism.
The problem i have here is that Banksy isnt advertising himself via artwork. I can see the other side sure, the more work he does the more his name stays relevant and that work may be protected by the city (making it a permanent fixture) or he can continue selling other pieces at over $1 million. But again, thats at face value and only the icing on the cake for Banksy. You're missing the point if you dont see the message. His work is mostly inspired by social injustice and world problems (war), mixed in with a good bit of humour. His work dosent call attention to himself (as jealous, attention seeking, tag-thugs such as Robbo are concerned with) but is there to make you think, to make you notice something important. Thats not what McDonalds does with a billboard. i dont believe Banksy is quite as anti-capitalism as his work at first glance suggest. i believe he is anti-bad art, and anti-bad product. He dosnt take on the products and people who do good in the world, but has issues with those who sell you poison and if you think fast food is anything less, you're sadly mistaken.
Mr Ward goes on to say
Another criticism often leveled at advertising is that it steals from artists and plagiarises ideas, where as your work is merely ‘inspired’ by one artist; Blek Le Rat. Which I guess is OK. And the fact that you’ve made a comfortable living from it is also fine. I feel like it’s a convenient irony though that the only people who can now afford to own your work are the ad-land Creative Directors and City boys that you so eagerly rail against, while at the same time selling your own brand of rebellious, anti-establishment cool.
Craig's criticism i mostly just disagree with, except with this part where i think he is simply wrong. Blek le Rat and Banksy had the same problem, and Blek was first to find the proper solution. Banksy had no need to reinvent the wheel here. They wanted to be able to post their art so it read clearly and most importantly could be applied quickly. the black and white stencil (sometimes a wheatpaste) was a simple and convenient answer. Banksy has never been about style or great craft, he's about communicating messages. These two guys are certainly not the only two to use this technique, in fact i would say most street artist at least start out with black stencils or wheat paste. As for "selling his brand", yea i probably agree with that. Banksy's go for $1million at auction now. But i dont see that "cheapening" his work. He does seem to have a great sence of humour so Banksy may just be talking about himself now when he does something like this. . .
Im fine with that. because the art dosent hold any less truth then it would if he were a homeless bum. Banksy is all about the message.
As a child of the 80′s I grew up surrounded by cigarette advertising, yet I’ve never bought a pack in my life. I’ve seen car ads every day for 30 years and I’ve never bought one of those either. That’s as much as I can say about myself, but its clear to me that you’re ignoring the fact that people have a choice in what they buy – if they buy anything at all – and that they actually like buying things. They work hard for a living and purchasing something other than basic food, utilities or clothing gives them a sense of achievement; that their hard work has paid off in some capacity.
Its true, you dont have to buy everything you're advertised by, but thats not to say it isnt effective. How many times do you see an ad for something (taco Bell late at night) then decide you want it? advertising works, and no one is immune to it. Look closer at Banksy's work. When he takes on McDonald's its usually featuring children. And the message is right.
Regarding ‘the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen’ that you mention, you must be referring to the office fax machine? Having seen agency life, I can attest that there’s nothing Machiavellian going on; no illuminated map of the globe and no sinister plot to take over the world; just a bunch of people trying to make a living.
i believe Banksy was referring to the technology we use to make advertising on the technology we use to view it. Its all wasted on garbage and things that really have no value. You can live without an Audi, an iPhone, a Big Mac, etc. These things are truely not important for a happy and just life. This is coming from a guy who takes on racism, gay rights, and "the man" with a concrete wall and paint. To see his disdain for the bombardment of capitalist advertising is clear to me. He also talks a lot about "wasted potentiel". I think thats what he's referring to here as well.
Banksy, keep doing what you're doing. The impact you've made on the world is far more important than anyone in advertising has done. People who recognize the messages and ideas of your work, and who have felt something from it (much better than food poisoning) will probably agree, its worth a million dollars.
UPDATE: its all been resolved between the two: article link