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Monday, April 07, 2008

READING IS NOT DEAD, IT'S JUST SICK

I believe it was parapsychologist, scientist and Ghostbuster Dr. Egon Spengler who pointed out in 1984 that “Print is dead.” But I still read all the time: poems, books, magazines, assembly instructions, photo captions, the credits at the end of movies and the underside of toothpaste tubes. The only thing I won’t read is “graphic novels”. I’m sure they are a valid art form but I simply refuse to read a comic book that takes itself that damn seriously.
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I read fiction and non-fiction, short stories, novellas, novels, and blurbs. I have read “Moby Dick” (the whale did it), and “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” (The Christians did it), and I have even read Ernst Hemingway’s unnamed shortest short story ever written. It is, in its entirety – “For sale, one pair of baby shoes, never worn”. And if that doesn’t convince you that Hemingway was a genius you simply have no heart or imagination. But I confess I am not tempted to read “I Was Tortured by the Pygmy Love Queen”, by Jasper McCutcheon. It’s a real book, published by Nazca Plains Corporation, and it is followed by Mr. McCutcheon’s next great tome, “Go Ahead, Woman, Do Your Worst! Erotic Tales of Heroes Chained”. I doubt that the hero of Mr. McCutcheon’s two works, Captain Henry Mitchell, is even a distant relation to Hercules, chained or unchained. And thus, I have no interest in his adventures. The hallmark of all true literature is continuity. And some snob appeal.
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The “…Pygmy Love Queen” was the runner up in the 30th annual “Diagram Prize”, awarded by “The Bookseller”, first a magazine and now a web site, dedicated to all things about the book industry: and yes, it is still an industry, mostly held together these days with glue and staples and Harry Potter editions, but still strong enough to include such diverse titles as, “Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice” (1978) and "The Book of Marmalade: Its Antecedents, Its History, and Its Role in the World Today "(1984). Both of those were previous Diagram award winners.
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This year’s winner was "If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start with Your Legs", written by Mr. Big Boom Freeman (notice the lack of parentheses). The publisher describes it as “…a self help book for women written by a man”, and, says The Bookseller, “So effective is the title that you don’t even need to read the book itself”. Still, one reader suggested the book might be useful only “If you were Whitney (Huston), and you were dating Bobby (Brown)” As for myself, I would simply label this as a self-help book for the illiterate, written by one of their own. But let Mr. Big Boom justify his no doubt healthy advance from Simon & Schuster in his own words. “Since what I used to do didn’t work, I asked God to help me determine what I could do for him since nothing detrimental happened to me when I was being deceptive and doing wrong in my life. The Holy Spirit revealed to me that God saved me for this journey I am now embarking on. Since I am a bodyguard for the stars by trade, I have decided to protect the ones (women) I’ve been hurting. So now people can just call me “Boom, the Bodyguard for Women’s Hearts.” It brings tears to your eyes, doesn’t it? It sure as hell did to mine.
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But my own pick for worst (meaning the best) title would have been ‘the writing guide to end all writing guides”, "How To Write “How To” Books & Articles. Cash in on your hobbies, interests and activities by letting others in on what you know". The book was unofficially awarded third place in the Diagram prize, but to the author, Brian Piddock, that was “…an insult…. My book is not odd. It is perfectly sensible. It is the most sensible writers’ manual ever published…In fact it is entirely and utterly lacking in oddness.” He is so unabashed in his outrage that it almost seems petty to point out he was actually awarded third Place, and was not the winner. But, as his website proclaims, “Remember: he’s only there to help you help yourself”. (info@brianpiddock.co.uk)
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(However, I must admit to some suspicions concerning Mr. Piddock. His web site includes a review of his book (“Piddock’s stories of past girlfriends, present friends, and his tragic marriage are riveting.) written by Mr. Bernard Pollack. And there is also a blurb from the “Association of British ‘How To Write’ Writers” (“The story of his rivalry with a fellow How To Write writer, which led to a major miscarriage of British ‘justice’, still haunts me. Surely the best book ever written. Everyone else, stop writing now. There’s no point. Brian’s said it all) supposedly written by Mr. Paddy Brinnock. But Google can find no such British ‘How To’ association. It also occurs to me that Mr Piddock, Mr. Pollack and Mr. Brinnock have very similar names, and after several hours of intensive labor over their anagrams I can now state that Mr. Brian Piddock is in actual fact Mr. Bandy Porn Dick.)
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The Diagram prize, based on the mythical book “A Diagram of Diagrams”, has been awarded since 1978, (“…Nude Mice”), and has included such classics of designation nomenclature as the 1986 classic, "Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality" by Glenn C. Ellenbogen. The 1990’s were kicked off by Pat Califa’s guide "Lesbian Sadomasochism Safety Manual", 92’s "How to Avoid Huge Ships", by Captain John W. Timmer, and the 1996 classic of obscura "Greek Rural Postmen and their Cancellation Numbers", and finished off with the mass market classic, "The Joy of Sex, the Pocket Edition" in 1997. The new millennium saw "The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories" in 2003, and in 2005 "People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It" by Gary Leon Hill.
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This last tome violates one of the unstated conventions of the Diagram prize in that it is based on the conceit that “members of the psychiatric community are capable of laughter.” A true Diagram winner should be, in my opinion, honestly loony and sincerely believe in the validity of its premises, such as previous years’ runner ups, "Tattoed Mountain Women and Spoon Boxes of Baghestan", and "Proceedings of the Eighteenth International Seaweed Symposium", and this year’s runner up, "Cheese Problems Solved" edited by P.L.H. McSweeney, and described as marketed for “…the dedicated cheese enthusiast, this $250 guide promises to answer 200 or so of the most commonly asked questions about cheese…” I can’t even think of 200 questions about cheese, let alone be interested in the answers!
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The publicity surrounding this year’s prize has, of course, a mercenary point. The Diagram Prize has a book in the pipeline, to be titled "How to Avoid Huge Ships and Other Implausibly Titled Books" to be published in September. Such notoriety is an impressive achievement for a prize awarded by something less than 8,500 votes world wide, and that reveals one of the underlying truths about publishing; writing about books is mostly simple plagiarism.


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1 comment:

  1. I, Jasper McCutcheon, want to state that Captain Henry Mitchell has no part in the Erotic Tales of Heroes Chained book. Only the Pygmy book, where he's a Navy pilot trapped on an island, held prisoner by its pygmy inhabitants and the female Christian missionary-gone-bad who controls them. I don't know how he stacks up against Hercules, but he uses his brain more than muscle to outwit his adversaries, exposing the Western shyster and restoring the true Queen of the Pygmies to her rightful throne.

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