Last week, I checked out a short stack of novels from the library, each of which was satisfying in its own way. One of them, a detective novel that aims to be the first in a series, was so pleasant that everytime I opened it to read, I fell into a soothing slumber after about 3 pages. That means either that I'm in need of many naps or the book was a little too tepid. But never mind that. What I really am concerned about is another book I checked out, one I heard endorsed on NPR, a legal thriller, which shall remain nameless. I even bought this book for college daughter for Christmas! That's because she generally likes this sort of thing.
I was bemused, then, to find out how not good the writing in this novel was. Okay, it was bad. A computer program could have written this book, almost, so hackneyed was its structure, characters, plotting. This is not to mention the actual words!
Yet I kept reading. There was a certain amount of pleasure in proceeding through the hackneyed plot to see just how far the hack would go, as it were. (Pretty far, as it turns out.) The lawyer, whose name begins with the initial "A." (as in "F.R. Leavis"), and who always says the "A." stands for nothing? Oh no, the "A." stands for "Atticus," as in--you guessed it--Atticus Finch. It's set in Dallas, and that was probably the best part of the book--getting a picture of what this guy, who is an attorney (and novelist!) in Dallas, observes about his crass, Big D town.
Maybe novels like this serve the same purpose that, say, episodes of Frasier in syndication serve. I've seen almost all of them, and thus am deeply familiar with all the moves--but the moves still give me pleasure, and there's even a special kind of pleasure that you derive from knowing something's coming--the pleasure of the completely predictable.
Some people who know me well (Mom? Hi!) have implied that my standards are low. Well, this may be true, and in fact, as of this moment, I'll take the opportunity to stand by my low--or shall we say broad--standards. I will not recommend this book to you, and I feel a tad sheepish that, on Alan Cheuse's recommendation, I gave it to my daughter sight unread. (I've never read Grisham, but I bet his better novels read like Tolstoy compared to this one.) I find I have derived something from even the consumption of this book-product: some sense of how book-products with practically no redeeming aesthetic value can reach the hands of readers like me, and probably even some discriminating readers: fall into the category of "popcorn reading" and get your product placement on NPR.