ON NOT BEING A CULTURE SNOB

I read a post about how dreadful (yet gripping) romance novels can be. It’s true. They are the potato chips of the literary world. Bet you can’t consume just one! Even if you don’t like them (and mostly, I don’t, much), they grab you and won’t let you go, even though you know in advance exactly what is going to happen, pretty much from the opening page.

That’s not the point of these books. If as a girl, you read the back of cereal boxes, romance novels are the next step up. I’m not sure what the literary equivalent is for guys, but I’m sure there is one.

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As the former editor of the Doubleday Romance Library, I can tell you our research showed readers of romance novels to be far better educated than average readers. Many have advanced degrees in the sciences. They read romance novels exactly because they are mindless pulp. They aren’t looking to be informed or improved, to have their world expanded, reading-level or awareness raised. They want a book they can pick up, read, put down. If life gets in the way, they can just forget them without regret.

I read each 3-book volume, one per month. It contained three romances: 2 modern with a Gothic sandwiched between. Every novel had the same plot, the same outcome. They sold gangbusters.

Regardless of what we, as writers, would like, people don’t necessarily read books because they are good. Me? I often avoid “good” books. I don’t want to go where the book would take me. I’m not stupid or lacking in culture. I just don’t want to read it.

Why? Too depressing, too intense, too serious, too ugly, too educational. Too real. I read for the same reasons I watch TV and movies. To be entertained. I am not seeking enlightenment. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I am no longer seeking enlightenment. If I ain’t enlightened by now, I’m pretty sure it won’t happen in this lifetime.

The wondrous thing about the world of books is there are so many books. Enough genres, themes, and styles for anyone. Everyone. An infinity of literature so no matter what your taste –low-brow, high-brow, middle-brow, no-brow — there are thousands of books waiting for you. That’s good. I’d rather see someone reading a bad book than no book.

I’m not a culture snob. I think reading crappy novels is fine if you like them. Watching bad TV is fine too. Snobs take the fun out of reading. While I’m not a fan of romance novels, if you are, that’s fine. Since I love reading about vampires and witches, I’d be a hypocrite to act like your taste is somehow inferior to mine.

These days, I’m rarely in the mood for serious literature. Tastes change with the years. Mine has changed more than most. Life has been a very serious business for me. When I read, watch TV, or see a movie, I am happy to escape from reality.

Finally, my favorite professor at university — a man I believe was profound and wise in every way that counted — was a big fan of Mickey Spillane. He said there was a much truth in his books. I believe for him, there was.

LIVING HISTORY – THE ASSASSINATION OF A PRESIDENT

It’s a rerun from last year, when it was the 50th anniversary of the assassination. I’m sorry to say it is no less relevant a year later. It would be a better sign of political health for this country if it were less relevant.


Today is the day. Fifty-one years. I remember. Do you?

It’s weird watching the documentaries commemorating events I remember. It’s the Kennedy assassination this month. Just about every station, network and cable, are doing specials on John F. Kennedy. For us, it’s a trip down memory lane. Or nightmare alley.

I was 13 when Kennedy was elected. I watched the inauguration on television, the first of many inaugurations I would watch. It was the greatest inaugural speech. I was naïve enough to believe he wrote it himself. And I was impressed by his hair, the best hair of any President before or since. Especially after 8 years of President Dwight D. Eisenhower who was very bald.

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In 1963 I turned 16 and started college. Kennedy was shot in November and the world changed. I’m sure every person old enough to know what was going on remembers where they were the day they heard the news. The assassination of John F. Kennedy was a landmark event, a turning point in history, a turning point in our personal histories.

I was in the cafeteria at school. I had a cup of tea in my hand and was about to sit. The public address system in the cafeteria went on. There was a lot of noise, but gradually it grew quiet. A news report. It took a few minutes to recognize what they were saying, to form a context. Someone had shot the President.

A few minutes later, everyone fell silent. Hundreds of undergraduates, sitting, standing. No one moving, no one talking. I stood at the table. Frozen. I never sat. I stood in the same spot for over an hour. Clutching that cup of tea, cooling in my hand. Until the voice on the loudspeaker said “President Kennedy is dead. The President is dead.”

Gradually, everyone drifted away. Subdued or silent. I found my boyfriend and we wandered around for a few hours. We didn’t do anything. Just roamed the campus, dazed. This kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen, not in the United States. Eventually, when it was dark, I went home. My mother wanted to know where I’d been and I said “Just wandering around.” She didn’t believe me. She should have.

LBJ Sworn In As PresidentKennedy was “our” president. He looked good. Young, attractive, different. I hadn’t been old enough to vote for him, but I was old enough to know what was happening. I watched the debates. My friends and I discussed it. It was exciting. My mother kept referring to him as “such a young man.” At thirteen, a 43-year old guy didn’t seem so young. Those were the days, eh?

For the better part of the next week, all the channels on television — there were only seven — 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13 — had wall-to-wall coverage of the funeral. Endless replays of the assassination. The subsequent shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. The beginning of the conspiracy theories that still swirl around this piece of history, though at this point I don’t care whodunnit 50 years ago. There are a many unsolved crimes in history. Just add this to the long list.

I went to hang out with a friend. We took long walks to get away from the endless, morbid reiteration of the life and death of John F. Kennedy.

Gradually, life returned to normal, whatever that is. Lyndon Baines Johnson was in office. It was all about civil rights and Vietnam. I finished college, got married, wound up in the hospital and had my first near-death experience. There would be a lot more assassinations in the near future. Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X. I never got used to them, but I stopped being shocked. Which is shocking.

The 1960s were not about sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. This was the decade of war, the draft, anti-war protests and civil rights. When flunking out of college meant you were going to Vietnam and maybe you wouldn’t come back. Strange how quickly we forget, replacing history with mythology.

November 22, 1963 was the end of political innocence for everyone, Democrats, Republicans, everyone. An abrupt turning part. The beginning of the road we find ourselves on today.

A president — our president — had been assassinated. Kennedy wasn’t the only U.S. President to be assassinated, but he was the first in modern times. The first TV president. A young, handsome guy. Especially important to my generation, a symbol that the torch really had passed to a new generation. We took that call to arms seriously.

It’s hard for me to look at politics today, see how petty we’ve become. Kennedy’s assassination was an end and a beginning. He was the last President to get a pass on his personal life. The first president to use electronic media to win an election. It was the beginning of a political divide that keeps getting deeper with each passing year.

Politics isn’t about real issues anymore. It’s insinuation, innuendo, and rumor. How narrow-minded and hateful we’ve become. It will pass I suppose. All things do. But when? For more than half a century, we’ve been marching down this ugly road to which I see no end.

GUILTY PLEASURES – REDUX

Grateful and Guilty – Whether it’s a trashy TV show, extra-pulpy fiction, or nutrient-free candy, write a thank-you note to your guiltiest guilty pleasure.

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This prompt is 100% rerun. And this response is the identical (except for a teeny tiny bit of editing) response I made the first time around, on June 23, 2013. I keep saying: if you are going to re-issue the same prompts, I’m going to republish what I wrote in response. Not that anyone from WordPress pays the least bit of attention to what we write. You guys up there think we are really not very bright, don’t you.


No matter how sophisticated we become, how many degrees in film, literature or the arts we obtain, we keep our guilty pleasures. By which I mean the movies, books, books, and television shows we know aren’t great — and may be really dumb.

It doesn’t matter. We love them anyway.

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I have a whole bushel of them, ranging from television shows about vampires with glowing eyes (Forever Knight), to reruns of the original Lassie. I’m a sucker for any movie featuring a non-human, be it cat, dog, horse, or sea creature. I’ll watch pretty much anything in which Candice Bergen starred or was at least featured. I’ll watch anything from any season of any Star Trek, even if I’ve seen it a hundred times.

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I love comedies by Mel Brooks, even the bad ones because they make me laugh. Ditto the Zucker brothers for the same reason. If you can make me laugh, you’ve got me. Sometimes, I watch things that are unintentionally funny … Xena, Princess Warrior comes to mind. I don’t know whether it was supposed to be funny, but it made me laugh until I cried.

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My lists of favorite movies, books and television shows are a study in contrasts. I love The Lion In Winter and The Seventh Seal. I love Airplane and Hotshots Deux. I never miss a run of Best Of Show or A Mighty Wind. Or the original version of The Haunting.  From the sublime to the ridiculous, I will watch or read whatever grabs my fancy or makes me laugh without discrimination.

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It’s one of the reasons I think that “awards” like the Golden Globes and the Oscars need many more categories. How can you put a screwball comedy against a serious drama and have any kind of sensible outcome? It would be like having a dog show that included camels and goats. It wouldn’t matter how beautiful a goat or camel you have entered, it would never win Best of show.

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What makes you laugh? What cheers you up when you’ve got the blues? Are you a secret fan of Gilligan’s Island or Love Boat? Time to come clean!

THE UNTOUCHABLES ARE UNMATCHABLE

Garry is devoted to old television series, amongst them “The Untouchables.” Starring Robert Stack as Elliott Ness.

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Dum-de-dum-dum. The FBI enforcing … (ta-da) The Volstead Act. Prohibition!

What a great show. When the cops are annoyed with you, they beat the living crap out of you. If that doesn’t get you to spill your guts, they’ll toss you off the train. While it’s moving.

You have a problem with that? You too are disposable.

Nothing namby-pamby about these guys. They don’t even pretend you have rights. You know you are dirt under their feet. They treat you accordingly. Like dirt under their feet.

This is a show that never made the slightest apology for being racist or pretended to have any interest in fairness, truth or justice. Violent and single-minded, they pursued people who broke a stupid law: a law against selling booze.

Compassion and restraint were for sissies. Nor were these guys overly worried much about legalities. They said “We are the FBI. You will obey!”

And everyone did. This is the FBI at its purest. Not just above the law. They are the law.

Elliot Ness Real GuyMy favorite moment in tonight’s show was when the boys, ignoring even a nod to national borders, take the FBI bus into Mexico to track down the guys who kidnapped their witness. “The bus broke down three times and the trip took 10 hours,” said the stentorian voice of the narrator.

“So what?” I said to Garry. “We live in the country. That could describe my last trip to the grocery store.”

I love television. Especially 1950s crime shows.

GENETIC BREAKTHROUGH ON HAWAII FIVE O!

The new episode of Hawaii Five O we watched tonight is titled “Ho’oilina.”

As the story goes, it is the fourth anniversary of his father’s death. While Steve McGarrett is visiting his father’s grave, he meets a woman who helps him reopen the last unsolved case his father worked before his death.

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The old Hawaii Five O wasn’t a great show, but guys really liked it. The new one is nominally better acted, but it could hardly be called “realistic.” Better than its predecessor. Pretty to watch. It is, after all, Hawaii. Garry enjoys it and I don’t mind.

This week, though, it totally blew me away because the woman Steve McGarret meets at his father’s grave is a tall, blond assistant district attorney. In the flashback memory of her father’s death, the same woman is a tan Hawaiian — perhaps Chinese? — girl.

That’s so amazing. Who knew DNA could produce such an extraordinary transformation? I mean … wow. Garry says it’s bad casting. I call it a miracle.

WHAT A TIME

Ready, Set, Done – Today, write about anything — but you must write for exactly ten minutes, no more, no less.

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Garry and I have been watching the Ken Burns mini-series on The Roosevelts on PBS every night. Not surprisingly, my mother is much on my mind.

She was born in 1910 and died in 1982. Not an exceptionally long life — and I would have liked to have her around much longer — but what a time to be alive! Born into a world of horse and carriage, she died after seeing men walk on the moon.

My mother often talked about the days — the early, exciting days — immediately after Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s election as President. It was the depth of the Great Depression and the country was in terrible shape, the people depressed and frightened. When the National Recovery Act (NRA) passed into law she, along with hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers held a spontaneous parade. They literally danced in the streets.

She said: “Roosevelt didn’t end the depression. The depression hung around until finally it was ended by the war (World War II) … but he gave us hope. He made us feel that we could beat this thing. You have to understand,” she would say. “It was awful. People were hungry, not just out of money. Out of food, coal, hope. He gave us hope and at that time, in that place, hope was everything.”

When I watch something about that time in history, I always think of my mother. Young. Marching in the streets and celebrating because FDR was going to save America. Whatever else I learn in the course of studying the man and the times, my mother’s stories of living in those times trumps them. Hers is the voice I hear because she was the people.

THE ALL-KNOWING DOME OF DOOM

As Under The Dome ended last week, the dome was shrinking. For no particular reason, at the start of this week’s episode, it stopped shrinking. But — the girl who came back from the dead started dying all over again and anyway, the dome stopped shrinking for almost the whole episode. Why did it start shrinking? Why did it stop? Why did it get so cold? Why did it warm up again?

Only The Dome Knows. Garry calls it the Holy Dome, All-Knowing Dome. “Praise The Dome,” said Garry. I nodded. The Dome is clearly God, all-knowing, all-powerful, entirely irrational. Bloodthirsty. The qualities every deity needs.

She's dying. No, wait, she's miraculously saved. Oops, dead again.

She’s dying. No, wait, she’s miraculously saved. Oops, dead again.

Anyway, the Chosen of The Dome join hands to save Melanie (the previously dead but resurrected girl) and — A MIRACLE! She comes back to life. Again! From the dead she rises one more time. Dang, but these Mainers are hard to kill.

“It’s so beautiful,” she says (I’m assuming she means the world is beautiful) … but before the words have entirely left her lovely lips, a whirlpool-like vortex appears. Poor dead-resurrected-dead-resurrected Melanie is sucked into it. Dead again. Swallowed by a vortex. Where are the alligators when you need them?

What? “What’s happening?” they cry. “We don’t understand!” Someone says something about quantum physics and Garry says “WHAT????”

I’m laughing too hard to answer and anyway, I have no idea what’s going on. Commercial break, news promo. Sometimes reality and fantasy are weirdly similar.

Back on the show, everyone is saying “What’s going on? The Dome is shrinking again, but faster this time.” If they don’t understand, you can bet no one watching the show does either. By now, I am yelling at the television. I want giant alligators to come and eat the cast, but instead, Big Jim is beating the crap out of someone. I must have missed something

Music up full. A folk singer is howling “Turn, Turn, Turn” and Garry looks at me, one eyebrow raised.

“What could possibly happen next?” Garry asks. He’s kidding of course. Anything could happen. I’m still voting for alligators but someone told me last week it would probably be a giant spider. I don’t like spiders. Anything but spiders.

There’s only one more show this season. The coming attractions suggest they are planning a third season. That seems outlandish, but this entire season was absurd, so why not another 13 ridiculous episodes? I don’t remember if The Dome was still shrinking when they ran the credits, but there weren’t any alligators. Pity.