Adam Sternbergh, Shovel Ready
This was a lot of fun. Call it a terse, sci-fi hard-boiled noir: Ex-garbageman turned hit man in a post dirtybomb NYC protects a damsel-in-distress. Nice doses of humor, too.
Books like this are like a big fat reset button for my reading habits: when I’m stuck on boring books, they get me going again, turning pages.
I’ve followed Sternbergh’s writing for a few years, and it’s cool to read this after reading all his essays circling around the idea of “trash” and genre.
Last week, he published this essay on “guilty pleasures,” lamenting the point at which he stopped reading books for pleasure, and started reading books because he should. (Today I posted my own excerpt from my new book: “No More Guilty Pleasures.”) He writes: “This year, I’m making a simple resolution… I’m going to banish the word “should” from my cultural vocabulary.” (This is an attitude I’d first run into from Jonathan Lethem and then fully embraced when I read Alan Jacobs: “Read at whim! Read what gives you delight—at least most of the time—and do so without shame.”)
Here’s Sternberg debating A.O. Scott’s notion of “strained pulp”:
This observation about “strained pulp” really struck me — in part because so much of what I love falls precisely in this category: knowing, sophisticated attempts to replicate pleasures that were once widely disdained. I like Soderbergh’s genre films like “Haywire” and “The Limey”; I like Michael Chabon’s self-consciously pulpy novel, “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union”; heck, I liked “Drive.”
What’s interesting is that it seems to have taken him a while to get around to “write what you like”:
I was probably doing what I was habitually and temperamentally inclined to do in the presence of book editors, which was mumble some half-baked ideas for nonfiction books that I thought might be commercially appealing, but which, upon further reflection, I’d realize I didn’t even want to read, let alone write. You recognized this, and forcefully reiterated the question: No, Adam—what do you want to write? At which point I think I mumbled, even more sheepishly, something like: “Well, I’d like to write fiction.”
Just as there’s that leap of getting over what you feel like you should be reading and reading what you want to be reading, there’s that leap of getting over what you feel like you should be writing, and what you want to be writing. All fiction is fan fiction. Michael Chabon in Maps and Legends:
All literature, highbrow or low, from the Aeneid onward, is fan fiction….Through parody and pastiche, allusion and homage, retelling and reimagining the stories that were told before us and that we have come of age loving—amateurs—we proceed, seeking out the blank places in the map that our favorite writers, in their greatness and negligence, have left for us, hoping to pass on to our own readers—should we be lucky enough to find any—some of the pleasure that we ourselves have taken in the stuff that we love: to get in on the game. All novels are sequels; influence is bliss.
Anyways, thumbs up.
Filed under: my reading year 2014