Hello readers, hope you’re enjoying your fourth of July weekend. I just wanted to let everyone know that my new short story “Kin Folks” should be appearing in the online lit mag Hello Horror later this month. This is the third time my work will be featured in that publication, and I’m excited they chose to continue their working relationship with me. I will mention here on the site when the story goes live. Till then, happy Independence Day, and happy summer!
When you’re a fan of a certain media property- book, comic series, etc- you can be elated when the news comes about that it’s going to be presented in a different format. I’ve been excited lately, for example, with the thought that a full-length, big-budget movie of the Marvel comic Dr. Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme, is going to make its way to the big screen this November. It’s a lesser known, and, if I might say so, stranger comic than some of the better known Marvel properties, Spiderman, the X-Men, etc, and I think that in the current climate, it’s pretty cool that so many of the lesser known heroes like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy have gotten some attention, and even resulted in movies that were genuinely fun to watch. I’m excited, too, with the news that a movie adaption is coming of the Stephen King Dark Tower series of books, with Edris Elba as Roland, the main protagonist, and Matthew Mcconaughey as his antagonist Walter. Talk of a movie or TV show based on that series, King’s most iconic, has been going on literally for decades, and now it seems like it’s actually going to happen.
The flip side of such excitement, though, is the dread that you feel as a serious fan at the thought that a book, a comic series, or whatever else, that you held in such high esteem, is going to be made into a movie, or a TV show, and the result is not going to do justice to the source material. A perfect example of this is the trio of Hobbit movies that made it into theaters a few years ago. I thought the Lord of the Rings trilogy was very strong, and indeed, those were books that I thought would never be able to be made successfully into movies, just because of their epic grandeur and scope. But Peter Jackson pulled it off, so I had every confidence he could do the same with “The Hobbit,” one of my favorite novels ever. He couldn’t. Whether it was pressure from the studio or Jackson himself, the movies were a trilogy when they should have been a pair of movies at most, they were bloated to the point that they were nearly unrecognizable, and characters were invented out of whole cloth and inserted into the films for reasons that still baffle me…here’s looking at you, Tauriel.
Which leads me to the Preacher TV series, currently three episodes in, on AMC. The fourth episode airs tonight. Preacher is based on a comic book series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, the writer-illustrator combo that also had a very good run on John Constantine in the ’90s. I loved the entire Preacher series; I had graphic novels that covered the whole story, which is finite, rather than stretching on into forever, as is the case with Batman, or Superman, or so many other series. The Preacher comics were hilarious, thought-provoking, masterfully written, and beautifully illustrated. There just wasn’t anything else on the market like them at the time. Along with Sandman, by Neil Gaiman, Preacher epitomized to me what comics could be, and should be. I sold my whole collection a couple of years ago, because it was so large that there simply wasn’t room for it any longer, but Preacher remains a favorite of mine, holding a special place in my heart. I was nervous, therefore, when I heard that it was being adopted for TV, because of the same reason that I was originally worried about the Lord of the Rings trilogy when I saw the trailer for the first one way back in 2001. It was the thought that the scope was going to be too big, and what could be done on the page couldn’t be duplicated on the screen, especially on a basic cable network like AMC. But I hoped for the best, and was at least encouraged by the fact that another one of my favorite comics, The Walking Dead, had been extremely successful on network television, the same network, no less.
But three episodes in, I’m underwhelmed by Preacher. Maybe it’s the fact that it was inexplicably developed for TV by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, talented guys, I suppose, in their way, but not anyone that would immediately spring to mind to handle such a project. The two of them are comedy guys, known for bro-ish sorts of movies like Superbad and Pineapple Express. Those aren’t bad films, but it seems kind of strange that those two guys should have gotten the intellectual property rights to Preacher. I guess they’re fans of the series, but Peter Jackson was a huge fan of Tolkien, and look how the Hobbit movies turned out. In any event, the show’s not great, or at least I’ve been underwhelmed with it so far. Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy have all been introduced, as well as some of the minor characters, but already it seems as though the series is going in a very different direction from the comics. In the first issue of the series Jesse and company have met up on the road, away from Annville, and are going on a sort of road trip to catch up with God and make him answer for miseries that he has inflicted on human kind. In the first few episodes, it doesn’t seem like the trio are going anywhere, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the reason is exactly what I feared, because the epic scope and the bigger set pieces that show up in the first couple of story arcs in the comics just can’t be depicted on film because the budget for the TV series won’t allow it. There’s nothing to say that Preacher cant get better, but it’s off to a bad start, and I feel like, because it’s a TV show, some of the stuff that it was easy enough to have on paper isn’t likely to make its way onto the small screen.
To sum up, it’s a crap shoot when something you love undergoes a metamorphosis. You can be excited about it and it can tun out just fine, like the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, or it can be a disaster, like the Hobbit movies. The Walking Dead turned out okay, but Preacher seems to be heading in the wrong direction, and it’s a pity. I suppose I’ll keep watching for the moment, in the hopes that it improves, but if that hasn’t happened by the end of this season, I may get off the train. There’s so much good TV these days, and I only have so much free time. As far as the Dr. Strange movie and the Dark Tower movie, I have my doubts, but I’m more than willing to give them a shot. Optimism doesn’t come easily to me, but I’m making the effort to be a glass-half-full type of person these days, so I’ll try and by appreciative of the projects that translated well from book or comic to the big or small screen, and try my best to forget misfires like Peter Jackson and his woefully disappointing Hobbit trilogy.
If you’re a regular here on the site, you know that I’m a big fan of the fantasy genre. My novel Rogue: Time Out Of Mind is currently being published on Juke Pop Serials, and I’ve been reading Tolkien since I was five years old. Since falling in love with The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, I’ve gone on to read Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore, Robert Jordan, and many others. I talked here on the site a few weeks ago about my opinions regarding the quality of the writing of some of those authors. Terry Brooks is an interesting case. He’s best known for his Shannara series, which spans some two dozen books and recently spawned the Chronicles of Shannara series on MTV (I tried giving it a chance but it was clearly intended for a teen audience, and I couldn’t get into it). I first read a Terry Brooks novel, The Druid of Shannara, when I got it for fifty cents at a book sale at my local library. I’d never heard of Brooks, but the book looked interesting, and I was impressed with the quality of the writing. The characters were well developed, the language was clear and concise, and I found it easy to become invested in the story. But there was something that I noticed with Brooks’ writing that I thought bears mentioning, or, I should say, there’s a lack of something. There’s no sex scenes. In fact, there’s hardly even any reference to the sexual act. It’s like it doesn’t exist; in this world of elves and ogres and trolls and every manner of fantastical creature, bumping uglies, which happens every day here on the “real world” is glaringly absent.
Now, I’m not saying that as a criticism, necessarily. Look at Tolkien. It’s the same. There’s absolutely no sex, nor even, it feels like, the possibility of any sex, in The Hobbit or the Rings trilogy. Aragorn and Arwen love each other, presumably, but to hear Tolkien tell it, they probably express that love with a hearty handshake. It’s like that for several other fantasy writers too. Robert Jordan doesn’t really have any sex scenes in the Wheel of Time books. At least R.A. Salvatore hints clearly at sexual attraction occasionally in his writing, even if it’s just to speak about, in passing, the swell of some buxom bar maid’s chest.
So, why should that matter? Am I just sex obsessed, or are those fantasy books that don’t mention sex automatically inferior in some ways to those that do? Well, that’s certainly a matter of opinion, but here’s one thing that I’ve noticed. There is one author that doesn’t shy away from graphic sex scenes in the fantasy genre, and you know who that is? George R.R. Martin, writer of the Game of Thrones series, the most popular fantasy series, bar none, in the past two decades. I hardly need talk about the widespread popularity of those books. The HBO series has routinely scored the highest ratings for a scripted TV show in television history. I’ve both read the books and watched the show, and there’s nudity and sex galore, on the screen, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, in the pages. I mean, a major plot thread that opens the first novel involves the Lannister twins being involved in an incestuous relationship, and it’s not just hinted at. We have it described in graphic detail, and while some people would never admit to wanting to read about such scandals, would never admit to desiring such crude imagery, I have no problem saying that I like reading about graphic sex in fantasy…or in other genres as well. I’m not saying I want my literature to be inherently pornographic, because then we’re just talking about erotica, and, while there’s nothing wrong with that, what I look for, ideally, is titillation that is not gratuitous. It can be a fine line, but I admire authors that don’t mind hunting for it. It spices things up. It’s better to have it than not to have it.
I think Tolkien is the greatest fantasy author ever, or at least that I’ve ever read, and he accomplished the high drama that he was looking for in his fiction without sex. It is therefore possible to separate one from the other. But the second greatest fantasy writer I’ve ever read is probably George R.R. Martin, so we also know that it’s possible to be salacious and it doesn’t hurt your writing at all. So, ultimately, here’s where I land on this thing. I like fantasy worlds where the characters lust after one another, because that’s what people do in real life, and fantasy with a touch of reality makes writing in this genre more compelling. Yes, we’re reading about lands where there are inhuman creatures and fantastical monsters, but that doesn’t mean a character’s motivation should be unrecognizable, and lust is a near-universal human trait. It’s nice to see it talked about and expressed on the printed page, because in my mind, it means that the author is treating his or her reader like an adult, who is capable of reading about grown-up situations. That doesn’t seem to be the case so much with someone like Terry Brooks and his Shannara series, where, like Tolkien, there’s this sort of sanitized fantasy…no sex, violence without that much gore, and no profanity. It’s still fun reading, still fulfilling reading. But it doesn’t pack quite the same wallop as Game of Thrones, because Martin is a writer who understands that a lot of the social misfits who read his books are sexually repressed little horn dogs who want to hear descriptions of unrepressed carnality. So yes, different fantasy strokes for different folks. But I have to say I’ve never thought less of a fantasy writer who wanted to spice up their writing by spelling out what their characters wanted to do to each other, other than gaze wistfully into each others’ eyes.
I’ve written here on the site before of my admiration for Cormac McCarthy. There are authors that I appreciate, and there are authors I try to emulate. But McCarthy is in a class entirely by himself. Who’s the greatest current living American writer? Could you make the case for Philip Roth, maybe, or Don DeLillo? Sure you could. Roth is a Pulitzer Prize winner, and DeLillo has written not one but several books that stir things in me in a fashion of which only a giant of the written word is capable. But McCarthy writes in a way that makes you sit up and take notice; he demands that you pay attention. Not just with his vocabulary, which can be dizzying, but with his mastery of every other element of craft, character development, dialogue, tone, and theme. His career now stretches over a half century, but he has written only something like ten novels, unlike, say, the recently deceased Elmore Leonard, another of my favorites, who cranked out a new book almost every year. But that’s okay, because McCarthy books are events, and they’re worth waiting for. His newest, The Passenger, has been pushed back again and again, and I’m content to wait for it. I know how good it’s going to be once it gets here. I’ve never read a book of his that I didn’t like. It’s not a question of whether one of his novels is going to be good once I pick it up. The only question is whether it’s going to become one of my new favorite novels ever, as is the case with Suttree and Blood Meridian.
I recently read Outer Dark and Child of God for the first time, earlier McCarthy, both grim books about people leading lives of questionable purpose, peppered with violence, sneaky humor, and a sense of hopelessness that pervades all McCarthy, regardless of whether he’s talking about a bygone time, as is the case in Outer Dark, close to the present day, as in No Country For Old Men, or the near future, as is the case with The Road. Outer Dark is about a child born of incest between a brother and sister in Appalachia near the turn of the nineteenth century. Child of God is about a drifter, a violent man, a serial killer, in fact, whose thinking and actions are a mystery both to the reader and to himself. McCarthy writes about people whose emotions and reasons for doing things are incomprehensible. The lesson he seems to want to make clear, again and again, is that everything is random, and if there is a God, then he, or she, or whatever, has long since left us to our own devices, and we’re doing a shit job of looking after ourselves, and each other. The problem being, as sad and pessimistic as this view of the world is, it’s one that is hard to argue against, because everything McCarthy writes seems to have the feeling of gospel. Preachers show up in McCarthy’s writing a lot, and McCarthy is himself a kind of preacher. His is the gospel of randomness and isolation and loneliness and chance and unrequited loves. There is very little purity in the world, he seems to say, in any time period. Good intentions are few, and they fail more often than not. Characters walk the earth for no other purpose, seemingly, than to speak cryptically and cynically, make a jest of our plight as human beings, and slaughter us indiscriminately. It is true of Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men, it is true of The Judge in Blood Meridian, it is true of the wandering killers in Outer Dark.
Even though I view McCarthy as a literary idol, I would never want to meet him. Which is fine, because from what I understand, he shuns the spotlight, and doesn’t seek out the company of other writers. His friends are, instead, scientists, astrophysicists and the like. If I ever met the man, I think I would be intimidated out of my very wits. My own meager writing, put up alongside his, is like a chimp scribbling pictures in the dust with a stick while in the shadow of the Sistine Chapel. Some of us are able to do it on another level, and McCarthy is one like this. His words make him almost inhuman. They elevate him to a level that I cannot hope to reach, and, while I envy him his abilities, I understand that our writing is so dissimilar that it’s a foolish idea to even entertain, comparing myself to him. I might occasionally encounter a written author and think, angrily, this is crap. I can write better than this; how is it that this person got him or herself a book deal while I have to self-publish? But in the case of someone like McCarthy, it has to be understood that his gift is so massive that his stories are why language was created in the first place. He is a person who has literally mastered the art of writing, and if I lived a hundred lifetimes, I could never hope to do so. That’s not me putting myself down. It’s just fact.
I’m not a religious person, in the conventional sense. Reading and writing are my religion, and, with that being said, someone like McCarthy is a veritable saint to me. So I’ll continue to read his books…and reread them…and reread them…but he’s never going to somebody like Stephen King, about whom I think, hey, he actually sounds like a guy I’d like to talk to in real life, have dinner with, maybe. If I ever went to dinner with McCarthy, I know I’d be a stuttering idiot. That’s okay. It’s good for all of us to know our place. I don’t know exactly where mine is, in literary circles. But I know where McCarthy is. He’s at the top of the mountain, standing larger, grander, wiser, than almost any other I’ve encountered.
Hello again. This week is the second installment of my fantasy author critique. Last time I talked about some very fine members of the pantheon, and here’s a few more noteworthy ones, and my thoughts on each.
Ursula K. Le Guin: is best known for her Earthsea books, about wizards who attempt to master control of the elements. There’s also dragons, and evil magicians whose efforts try to stop those of their good and well-meaning counterparts, who seek to preserve the balance of nature. It’s fairly familiar territory; what I like about Le Guin is that her prose is very sparse and clean, measured and controlled. It’s a good study of using little to say much. When she writes about the sea, a focal point of her novels, you understand its majesty and power, and her protagonists are well fleshed out, fully realized. It’s a shame she didn’t write more; I think there are five Earthsea novels, if I’m not mistaken. I’ve read two so far, but I’m on the lookout for the others. This is an author worth reading.
R.A. Salvatore: best known for his creation of the dark elves, and Drizzt do’ Urden, a drow, a male dark elf who goes against the inherently bloodthirsty tendencies of his people, and tries to use his formidable fighting and killing abilities for good. Salvatore has written something like twenty novels, and was most prominent throughout the nineties and the early 2000’s. He wrote for Tor Fantasy, part of the flood of Dungeons and Dragons novels that came out when the game was at its most popular. A lot of the D and D novels of that period range from decent to utter crap. Salvatore was cranking his books out as quickly as many of the other writers who were getting published, but his prose and creativity was a cut above the rest. It’s not on the level of Tolkien or Martin, and never will be, but it’s still enjoyable in a “junk food fantasy” kind of way, good to kill time, if not to marvel at the skill of the craft or the complexity of the narrative structure.
Salvatore is creative, no question; where he trips himself up sometimes is his trying to describe, in too great of detail, what is happening in the combat scenes. You want a clear description of what is happening, but here’s a guy who gets a little too bogged down in the minutia of the sword fighting techniques, punching, kicking, etc. It gets a little tedious at times. He would be better served concentrating on an overall impression of what he’s trying to convey. Still, a minor critique, that should not dissuade you from discovering Drizzt, Wulfgar, Regis, and the other members of this band that show up at some point in most of his stories.
Michael Moorcock: best known for his creation of Elric, a wraith-like warrior-king who has a sentient, magical sword. My father got me a collection of Elric stories, my introduction to Moorcock, and I was eagerly looking forward to checking him out, as he was a favorite of my dad as a young man, and I know that Moorcock is well respected and much discussed in fantasy circles. I have to say that I was pretty disappointed with the dubious skills of this particular author. Elric is an interesting creation, no question, a tortured, decadent wanderer whose enemies, when they are vanquished, are essentially fed to the sentient sword that is his constant companion. I thought that Moorcock’s prose, though, is severely lacking in polish. Whether it’s the dialogue, the description of character or setting, or the battles and adventures that Elric gets himself into, this strikes me as poor stuff, a pale, weak telling of a world that never becomes fully realized. Moorcock may be well known and well liked, but I have to say that I just didn’t see it.
What’s especially ironic about that is that I also happened to read an article by Moorcock at one point, where he’s very critical of Tolkien, and talks about how little he thinks of a writer who, in my personal opinion, is his better in every conceivable way. Moorcock didn’t like the style of Tolkien’s prose, of which I think very highly, while Moorcock’s prose, by comparison, is about on the level to me of many of those Dungeons and Dragons writers who were published by the dozens in the nineties. Look, we all have our own ideas of what makes good writing. Moorcock can think what he likes of Tolkien, and I can think what I like about Moorcock. But the characters and world created by Tolkien burn strongly in my mind, and always will. I’ve read of their adventures dozens of times. By comparison, I doubt that I would ever want to give Moorcock and his Elric saga so much as a second glance. That’s just truth.
Robert Jordan: the late Robert Jordan is best known for his interminable Wheel of Time series. I think there were originally slated to be twelve novels, and he died before he quite got to the end. No great loss, in my opinion. I got started reading Jordan at a friend’s recommendation in college, got through about five exhausting novels, and just couldn’t take it any more. Rand al’ Thor, the Dragon Reborn, is the protagonist of this series, along with a grab-bag of friends, and then there’s a shadowy power at work, like there usually is in fantasy, and various minions serving that power. In many respects this is just typical fantasy, with decent prose and dialogue. The problem I kept running into with Jordan is just that his world becomes completely sprawling before very long. There are just too many minor characters and situations to keep track of, to the point that it became a chore to keep up with it all, and I wasn’t enjoying the series; I found that I no longer cared what happened to Rand and his friends, meaning the author had lost me as a reader.
Jordan is an example of what happens when you have a writer who creates a world as gargantuan as that occupied by the multitude of players in Game of Thrones, but the characters and situations aren’t compelling enough to hold your interest. What George R.R. Martin was able to do, Jordan attempted, and failed, in my opinion. Just can’t in good conscience recommend this guy.
So that’s it for now, my take on just a handful of the hundreds of fantasy authors out there. I love the genre, and will continue to read it, I’m sure, as long as I live. Let me know if you agree or disagree with my opinions, and let me know some of your favorites. I’m always happy to discover new writers, and new worlds. More soon, faithful readers.
I’ve always loved the fantasy genre. Every since reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as a young boy (and then rereading them, again and again), I’ve been captivated by it. Since my early introduction to Tolkien, I’ve gone on to read countless other fantasy novels, some of them “high fantasy,” some tinged with sci-fi elements, some of them memorable, worthy of places of honor on my bookshelf, some of them so bad that it’s a wonder the authors were ever able to get them in print. Today I’ll be looking at a few popular authors and series, and giving my opinion of them. They’re listed in order of my favorites to those of which I think the least.
J.R.R. Tolkien: I seriously doubt that anyone would be capable of knocking the champion off the top of the heap for me. The only one who has ever come close is George R.R. Martin. Tolkien is the be all and end all of fantasy writers, as far as I’m concerned, and I know that there are many who feel the same way. Part of what makes Tolkien so special for me is how few books he actually wrote. He pretty much just has The Hobbit and the Rings trilogy, and, as for his other efforts, The Silmarillion, I feel, should be largely ignored, just because the writing style is completely different; it’s almost like the Bible according to Tolkien, the mythos of Middle Earth written of without the attention to detail and character development, and with much less dialogue, than appears in his more beloved efforts.
The four novels that comprise Tolkien’s largest contributions to literature are some of my favorite books, period, of any genre. I care about the characters and their exploits much more than I do about almost all the living, breathing humans that are out and about in the real world, and I have envisioned myself going on their quests with them more times than I can count. Tolkien was able to make that world live for me more than any other author I have ever known, and when I die, if we all get our customized version of heaven, it would look pretty much like the Shire for me.
George R.R. Martin: the Game of Thrones creator seems to be kind of a miserable person in real life, but no matter. Lots of great authors are. And make no mistake about it, Martin is a great author, second, I think, only to Tolkien. His sprawling world is well realized, with all of the political intrigue that makes up the “game of thrones” the royals and would-be royals play with one another described in such a way that the reader is enraptured rather than bored, as would probably happen with a less talented writer. The quality of the prose is excellent, the dialogue is top-notch, and indeed, all the elements of style are handled masterfully. Memorable characters abound, like the Hound, the Mountain, the Imp, and all the Starks and Lannisters.
The only caution with Martin is this: when one creates a world so vast, one runs the risk of having simply too many characters and plot threads. Martin walks a fine line with this, where some other authors, who I will mention later, simply shoot over that line to the point that there are so many characters and locations to keep track of that it becomes one immense muddle. There’s a lot to keep straight in Game of Thrones, what with all the different factions and minor characters, but it is a testament to Martin’s skill that the reader wants to. That has made this series a success with me, and with so many other readers.
Terry Brooks: Brooks is best known for his Shannara series, a vast epic that deals with druids, talismans, and magical powers. It was recently made into a series on MTV called The Shannara Chronicles. I was able to tolerate about five minutes of it before I had to turn it off. It seems like MTV decided to make it a fantasy version of one of those insufferable teenage-geared, angst-ridden melodramas, like Twilight or The Hunger Games. Needless to say, the actual books aren’t anything like that. They deal with most of the typical swords and sorcerers tropes, but the quality of the prose is excellent, the characters are well fleshed out, the villains are appropriately sinister…in short, these books do well everything that fantasy is all about, if not quite at the same level of the true titans of the genre.
One of the things that I appreciate about Brooks is that he has had a long and prolific career, sort of the opposite of Tolkien. With Tolkien you have the Hobbit and the Rings trilogy, and they are to be savored and pored over, because, like I said before, that’s just about all Tolkien wrote that is worthwhile. At last count, there were something like twenty novels by Brooks dealing with the characters introduced in the early Shannara adventures, and then picking things up with the next generation, and the next, and the next. I’ve read five or six of them now, and it seems that the author has managed to keep up the quality of the series over a period of roughly four decades, no easy thing to do. I have no doubt that I’ll continue seeking out other books in this long-running series, and I was glad to have stumbled upon Mr. Brooks when I chanced to find one of his novels at a library book sale last year.
Next time I will talk about some other fantasy authors of note, including Ursula K. Le Guin, R.A. Salvatore, and Michael Moorcock. Be sure to check out the the first book of of my own Rogue fantasy series, available now absolutely free on Juke Pop Serials.
Hey folks. Below is the first look at the original cover art for Rogue: Time Out Of Mind, my new fantasy novel that is being published serially on Juke Pop Serials. Be sure to go to their website and upvote the novel, so I can be eligible for cash prizes. More soon.
Hello all. I’m pleased to announce that my new fantasy novel Rogue: Time Out Of Mind, the first of the Rogue series, will be published in serial format on the website Juke Pop Serials. The first chapter is up for viewing now, and subsequent chapters will appear shortly. I’ve also commissioned original cover art for it, so that should be up soon as well. You can check it out now, absolutely free, at http://www.jukepop.com/. Spread the word, and be sure to upvote the novel, so that I will be eligible for cash prizes. Thanks as always for your support, more soon.
In the time of the Romans, the circus meant fun and entertainment, just like it does now. In those days, of course, things weren’t so fun for the Christians, who were thrown to the lions to be dismembered for the amusement of the crowd. Today is Superbowl Sunday, and in a few hours Superbowl 50 will take place, one of the biggest sporting events in the history of this great nation of ours. It is expected to shatter all previous viewing records; thirty second commercial slots were going at a rate undreamed of by advertisers when the AFL and the NFL joined forces a half century ago. They created what would become an unofficial U.S. holiday, which would intrude upon the consciousness of even those completely clueless when it came to football, and sports in general. Football is one of those things that points out very clearly the hypocrisy of this nation. There will be a Budweiser commercial, and then there will be an ad for Ford’s latest truck, and then there will be a tearful mother from M.A.D., Mothers Against Drunk Driving, imploring us to be careful on the road after the game.
We’re very fond of delivering contradictory messages, and nowhere is that more evident than in the game of football itself. A couple of months ago, the movie Concussion came out, with Will Smith. It’s all about the doctor who discovered CTE, the disease incurred when the human brain bounces against the inside of the skull too often. It causes personality changes, mood swings, depression…in short, all kinds of fun stuff. The Hall of Famer Junior Seau had it, and he committed suicide by shooting himself, choosing to end his life rather than struggle so mightily to maintain some semblance of sanity and normalcy, as has been the case with many others in his predicament. We now know all about the existence of CTE, but this most violent of ballets goes on every Sunday between September and early February, none the less. Better helmets are designed, which are supposed to protect players and keep them safer. Rules are put in place as to when and how you can hit a runner or a receiver, and that’s supposed to help, too. It does…a little. It’s kind of hard to be safe when you’ve got a three hundred pound man, jacked up by hours in the weight room and possible HGH use, bearing down on you.
What’s funny about the whole thing, again, is how contradictory the messages are. We’re told that football is a noble enterprise, played by the valiant, as demonstrated by the heroic music that accompanies the opening montage as the game is coming on. The players shake hands in the middle of the field, and express appreciation for each others’ athleticism. Then, moments later, they’re trying to tear each others’ heads off. The fans in the stands, meanwhile, ooh and aah when there’s a bone-jarring, monster hit, then close their eyes and pray for the guy to be alright when he’s laid out unconscious on the field. Serious, even fatal injuries are a possibility on every down, during every play. Paralysis, broken bones, and yes, even death, are risked every time the ball is snapped. In the past, before the doctor played by Smith in Concussion stood up to the money-hungry beast, the NFL, and told us all about how damaging concussions actually are, players could act surprised when they were reduced to drooling idiots after being on the gridiron for a couple of years. Not so, now. Now, everybody knows the risks. The president himself said that if he had a son, he probably wouldn’t let him play football. Yet, for a certain element of society, the appeal of the money and glory is still too much. They’re willing to take the risk, even knowing the very real danger they’re putting themselves in.
As for me, I’m no hypocrite. I understand that what I’m watching is barely constrained brutality, savagery done up in gaudy lights and colors, with an entertaining musical act in the middle to add more of a vaudeville aspect to it all. I understand that I’m just watching the circus, and people are most likely going to get hurt out there today, lying senseless on the turf right before we cut to commercials for fried food, enormous trucks, and promos for the latest Kardashian-produced or starring vehicle. The only reason we have no lions and tigers is because Detroit is always terrible, and my Bengals haven’t won a playoff game in a quarter of a century. Guess I’ll have to settle for what is probably Peyton Manning’s last rodeo. I’m fine with that.
A few days ago, I went to visit my in-laws down in Florida. My wife and I were warmly received, as we always are. We’d last been to see them in 2013. They live in the area of Palm Bay, about an hour’s drive outside of Orlando. It’s fairly rural, and I appreciated being out in nature again, something I miss, living in New York. At my mother in law’s house, when you go outside at night, with no street lights, it’s pitch black, and very quiet. You never know what’s out there in the dark, looking at you. Gator, possum, skunk ape, who knows. Some people don’t like that type of seclusion, but I love it. I could definitely see myself getting used to it.
We decided to go to this huge flea market that the family enjoys. We went to the same one two years ago, and, if anything, it was even bigger this time. The clientele are, unabashedly, rednecks. My wife was walking past a group and she heard the term “sand nigger” thrown out. It was an unfortunate reminder, not that any was needed, of what is, and continues to be, wrong with the south. We lived in North Myrtle Beach, so we know what it’s all about. As I’ve talked about on the blog before, I consider below the Mason/Dixon a fun place to visit, but I would never want to live there again.
There are some great stores and booths in that Flea Market, like the one with all the knives and swords and other bladed weapons, where my wife’s grandfather insisted that we each pick out something so he could buy it for us. I didn’t protest too much. I’ve loved weapons since I was a kid, too. But really the reason I had wanted to come back was for the bookstore.
There are books scattered throughout the flea market, but only one actual bookstore, almost big enough to rival the Barnes and Noble here in Union Square. The books are used, and marked down to a fraction of the cover price, as you would expect in a flea market. But I must say, the sheer volume and selection of what was on display made this a treasure trove for me, a guy who still goes for the physical book, and shuns the Kindle or other tablets. Here, in the welcome air conditioning, I found stacks of old Stephen King, Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore, Michael Crichton, and Elmore Leonard, a much better selection than even The Strand, my favorite used bookstore in New York. Here, I found much more than I knew would fit in the large empty suitcase we had brought with us, specifically for this purpose. Here, the rich smell of old paper, nothing else like it, permeated the air, and the silence, but for the occasional rustle as a customer turned a page, was deep, and mysterious, and total. I could almost swear that I could feel the books communing with each other, sharing their stories, even as I was forced to get only what I wanted most, leaving behind so many unexplored tales, so many as-yet undiscovered authors. More than anything else, I wanted my own books to be among them, sharing shelf space with the greats. But I had no problem putting my ambitions aside for a time, and approaching this oasis as only a passionate fan of fiction, just as I’ve been since I was a child.
When I’d made my selections, I approached the withered mummy of a saleswoman, her age impossible to determine, though she seemed to be sitting in literally the exact same spot, with the exact same posture, as when I’d seen her two years before. I could have haggled with her about the price, as one does at these places, but I didn’t bother. I felt like she probably needed the money more than I, not a usual sentiment for me, but apropos, in this case. Maybe I was way off base, but I felt like I could probably see this woman living in a trailer somewhere, and who was I to argue about a couple of dollars, when I would doubtless take many hours of pleasure from my new purchases? When I walked back out into the blinding sunlight of central Florida, mid-eighties even in late December, I wondered when, and if, I might be back. In 2016, we plan on moving out of NYC, and that will doubtless be taking up most of our time. We won’t be able to make a Florida run. Maybe it’ll be another two years before I see the place again, or maybe longer, or maybe never. In any case, there’s something special about that flea market bookstore. A little slice of heaven for me, the book lover, a little air-conditioned oasis, where the stories are plentiful, and possibility abounds.