by Leonard Bishop
This is an apology to many easily forgettable best-selling writers.
Some not exceptionally enlightened college students taught me a lesson I was needing to learn for years. About how to be critical of other writers. While my “literary standards” are founded on experience and performance, my attitudes have not been sensible or wise.
I was having dinner in a fast food place. Some college seniors were crowded into the adjacent booth. They were talking about the writers they had been forced to read in their English literature classes.
“Why do we have to read James Joyce? He don’t even write English,” and, “Who cares what these old spazzes wrote? They are dead.”
While I could not fault their critical insights, I did object to their lack of respect for literary greats. They were young punks picking their pimples and jamming burgers through the braces on their teeth. They needed four hours to read directions on how to pour milk. Then I was startled to realize what I have said about some contemporary writers.
…If anyone remembers what Sidney Sheldon has written, five minutes after reading it, he has a serious mental problem.
…The deepest content put out by Danielle Steel could be pasted on the tip of a pin and would not dull the point.
…Anyone who believes the technical nonsense Tom Clancy writes has his mind screwed into a dead socket. The drivel that Judith Krantz publishes is drained from a lobotomy hole in someone’s head.
I have been unfair, unkind, superficial and pompous.
While no discerning reader would evaluate these best-selling writers as important and lasting–they cannot be judged as phonies. I believe they are honest people and should be respected. What they write is the best that they can write.
Their goals as writers is to earn as much money as is available and to become as universally famous as is possible. Such intentions are not exceptional, nor are they sleazy. Any writer who aspires to lesser goals will probably reach them. It does not require awesome skill or an outstanding character to achieve anonymity and poverty.
Barbara Courtland gives it all she has, and Louis l’Amour did not hold back. Robert Ludlum, Gore Vidal, Harold Robbins, Andrew Greeley and Kurt Vonnegut Junior are still putting forth all they can release in their own unique and honest manners.
Literary theorists, critics and esoteric educators can propound the need to stimulate social awareness, to message-ize, to offer cultural salvation to the intellectually lost–but those are secondary issues, or gains.
The first and unchanging function of fiction writing is to entertain. Make me laugh or make me cry, but entertain me. Entertainment: something diverging or engaging; especially: a public performance. (Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary).
It is warped to believe that art is created to agonize, to enlighten you into assuming you are a guilt-stuffed sack getting fatter each year you lug it into your life. Or that you are trivial if you are not in serious search of the cosmic soul–that your life is not a contribution unless you are grim and angry to be free.
Art is an elastic generality– many-faceted and suitable for a diverse spectrum of interests. In its overall function, art is meant to bring you pleasure while you are undergoing the ordeal of real life.
These consistently best-selling writers should be admired. They experience the same fears and doubts and shocks about their careers that feeble selling writers experience. But they continue writing. They hold their whining to themselves. They are not publicly pounding their chests and wailing, “I’m an artist. Please love me!”
Writers whose novels are feeble sellers, or the very artistic who titillate the utter, utter effete critics and leave the public bored, have no genuine cause for mocking Stephen King, Jack Higgins. They are working writers fulfilling a reading need for the public that is equal to the offering of the “art for art’s sake” writers.
Listening to those college students slander Chaucer and Tolstoy, Dickens and Dostoevsky, forced me to remember all the slander I have focused on many best-selling writers. And I became weary with being intelligent and deep, with how incredibly important and superbly incisive I enjoy telling myself I am.
And I publicly apologize to all the writers I have maligned.
I know many “I write for immortality” writers who damn the best-selling authors while they foamed in envy of that high commercial skill. And many of those serious, endlessly dimensional writers would sell their medulla oblongata and impeccable integrities for a series of best sellers. I would not like to be put to the test–or would I?
© 2013 the estate of Leonard Bishop
(first published September 9, 1988 the Manhattan Mercury)