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Bad Writing Influences: Confessions of a Spent Mind

I am done with prolific novelist Robert B. Parker. No longer will I waste my time with another one of his putrid Spenser novels. As a publisher and admirer of literary fiction, I vow to retire from the abhorrent habit and guilty pleasure of intermittently reading a Robert B. Parker book in the summertime. He alone likely has brought down many an independent press’s empire by filling the publisher’s head with trite, poorly conceived story lines made up of glib generalizations and superficial remarks. He’s the reading equivalent of turning on the tube late at night and being swept up by the sickening charm, swagger and iconic mustache of Tom Selleck in the 1980s Magnum, P.I., series.

This small, lazy, undisciplined mind of mine nearly has been wracked and ruined by Robert B. Parker and I no longer will stand for it. No longer do I care what happens to Hawk, Spenser’s pal and protector, or Susan, Spenser’s longtime love interest. The characters surrounding the Boston P.I. are so blissfully shallow that they drown in their own stereotypes. Their exploits are cotton candy of the most formulaic, nauseating kind. Each summer I fall prey to picking a new Spenser novel and receive some twisted satisfaction from curling up with it on Long Beach Island, N.J., knowing what to expect: short chapters, little exposition, dripping sarcasm, clipped dialog. Parker’s paltry prose is the perfect antidote for a hungover state, saltwater taffy for an attention-deficient, whiskey-addled brain.

I should have listened to my brother, a retired police officer, when I handed him a Spenser novel several years ago. He gave it a good once-over as you do a flea-riddled poodle, and asked me, defensively, why I thought he couldn’t read something at a higher reading level than a third grader.

So I declare and conclude with all certainty that I am done with Robert B. Parker. He no longer will color black my genre-bending intellect and distort my (ahem) fine, eclectic tastes in literature with his banal repartee and Big Gulp Spenser smoothness. And with Jimmy Buffett as my witness, I shall proclaim that I am well past the days of wasting away again in “Margaritaville” and waking up the next morning on my front porch swing to down another shot of Spenser just because he goes down easier than even the finest tequila known to mankind. Not even the phenomenal feats of the most interesting man in the world who drinks Dos Equis beer will make me thirst for another round of Spenser.

Now as for Kinky Friedman and Elmore Leonard …

About Dan Cafaro

Dan Cafaro is the founder and publisher of Atticus Books, a small press based in Madison, N.J. When Dan is not following his wife around the country, he is known to sit for long periods of time pondering how to live off the grid. Atticus Review is his first literary journal.

5 Awesome Comments So Far

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  1. UnImpressed
    August 30, 2010 at 11:23 am #

    Wow, you have a lot of lame, unnecessary anger towards this author. Let's just get one thing straight- he's an intentionally commercial and easily readable author. Some people who are occasionally human beings enjoy simple reading with straight forward characters. Not everything put into writing has to be of the highest literary value or include an epiphany. Sometimes entertainment is just fun. I think that's what your jones for a summer Spenser was trying to tell you before you climbed up on that high horse.

    And one other thing you should note: for commercial, easy, genre reading, you could do much, much MUCH worse than a Spenser novel. You want to see scraping the bottom of your precious brain's barrel? I suggest you check out a Sharon Green, or even a Coulter.

    ps. How dare you talk about Big Gulps as though they are bad. That, sir, is offensive to me on the deepest levels of my humanity.

  2. Dan Cafaro
    August 30, 2010 at 11:51 am #

    Dear UnImpressed,

    I'm impressed with your response as it, more or less, sums up my feelings toward reading in general. It's a subjective thing.

    Please note: there was irony in my intent, but clearly I failed to deliver on that score. I intentionally lambasted Parker and his Spenser novels precisely because I do like them (and do feel that there's something inherently too easy about them, which makes me feel that I'm not putting forth enough effort as a reader).

    This pseudo-rant was not intended to criticize those who enjoy genre fiction and/or easy reading. I ended the post with a reference to Elmore Leonard and Kinky Friedman for that very reason. I enjoy these types of writers – and am not questioning their talent for entertaining writing.

    In sum, I'm just having fun with the whole literary vs. genre fiction debate. There's room for readers to enjoy both! Personally I just don't want to read Mr. Parker anymore; I'm done with his clean, clever writing. It's a little too one-trick pony in my book.

  3. Randy D
    August 30, 2010 at 4:04 pm #

    Ian Rankin for me. I've become addicted to the Inspector Rebus novels. Good genre writing is a blessing for the subway, which doesn't exactly lend itself to pondering life's great mysteries, but still demands something captivating enough to distract you for 45 minutes at a time.

  4. Dan Cafaro
    August 30, 2010 at 4:34 pm #

    Thank you, Randy, in making me not feel so alone in my guilty pleasures. It's funny because I'm not so much feeling guilty, as I am trying to decipher what it is that separates average writing from good writing from supreme writing from exceptional writing.

    No matter what a publisher like Penguin-Putnam wants to say to justify the existence and immense success of a writer like Robert B. Parker, it comes with a rim of salt and a bite of lemon.

    Parker is good at what he does, maybe better than most, but it doesn't mean he's good enough for me to want to continue reading. He obviously created a character who has generated enough interest and publicity to warrant a television series (Spenser: For Hire), but it still doesn't justify in my eyes the time I might want to devote to reading the remaining books in the series.

    I may check out Ian Rankin, only because I'm a glutton for tight genre fiction that delivers more than a punch line … but I'm confident that there are plenty of writers who can hold my attention that combine the elements of suspense and comedy with the seriousness of introspection and social critique. If I'm mistaken, ah well, fuck it; at least we're giving the craft of nuanced storytelling a fair shake (e.g., please read E.B. White's prose and non-fiction).

  5. Anne G
    September 1, 2010 at 5:09 am #

    You do know he's dead, right? We can assume he's done writing.