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Friday round-up: More Casey, romance books are bad for you(and so is writing), and tennis lit.

July 8, 2011

Toure: Smart, funny, deep.

Once in a while there are just too many tasty treats to pick just one, so let’s chew over these morsels: Why Casey Anthony will not get a book deal. Why reading romance fiction should carry a surgeon general’s warning. The moral hazards of the writing life. And the delights of tennis literature.

For a full list of summer programs offered by the Florida Center for the Literary Arts, visit the website at flcenterlitarts.com.

In the immediate aftermath of the Casey Anthony acquittal, webbernet comment pages brimmed with outrage from people certain she’ll now cash in with a big book contract. At the time I thought this unlikely — who would want to spend 400 pages in the company of this reviled young woman? — but I wasn’t sure whether I was right.

After all, I didn’t want to spend any reading time with Snooki, or Donald Trump, or even Rob Lowe, either. Now comes Jason Pinter, a regular if erratic HuffPo publishing commentator, to explain why he thinks Casey will not get a lucrative book deal.

As usual Pinter’s argument is a matter of shaggy reasoning draped on a creaky scaffolding  –HuffPo really needs to hire more editors. He makes dubious statements:

O.J. had a “modicum” of public sympathy? The public will lose interest in Casey Anthony within six months? The public will be engaged with more important issues next year? Hahahahaha. Good one, Jason.

Nonetheless, Pinter is right this time. Casey Anthony, though acquitted by a jury of her peers (rightly, it seems), she’s such a pariah that I can’t see enough upside for any major publisher to want her side of the story. My advice: Casey, follow the example of Steve Bartman and go live a quiet life somewhere — I hear Australia is lovely this time of year.

But if you’re determined to cash in on your fleeting notoriety, the I suggest you accept that offer to appear in adult films. This may be the only time in history when becoming a porn star will elevate a woman’s reputation.

In other, less scarifying news: A British relationship guru claims that reading romance novels is deleterious to relationships and bad for women’s mental health. Susan Quilliam, also identified as a psychologist, argues that romance fiction correlates to “negative attitudes” toward condom use, promotes unrealistic, “orgasm-driven” expectations of what makes a happy relationship, and can even be addictive.

NPR handily dismantles the condom issue, noting the flaws in the 11-year-old study cited by Quilliam, while I’ll take a swipe at the rest.

First, Quilliam’s assertion that a “huge number of the issues that we see in our clinics and therapy rooms are influenced by romantic fiction” is almost certainly wrong. What– your patients don’t own television sets or computers?

But if enough young women are reading bad books that it’s become a social problem, I’d say that’s something to celebrate: At least they’re reading, eh?

Second: Quilliam is a moralist in the Comstock/Carrie Nation/Hayes Code tradition. If she had her way, all fiction would be medicinal — realistic, moralistic and therapeutic. By this rationale, boys should be discouraged from sci-fi, girls from vampire glamour, men from spy thrillers and children from fairy tales.

This, of course, counters the entire reason people read — for pleasure. Ladies, I say if you want to escape your everyday life for a few hours in a fantasy of Rengency romance, more power to you.

Oh, and while I’m not a social scientist, I’m pretty sure the main source of relationship dissatisfaction among women is, uh, you know: men.

For years I’ve argued for pure Epicurean hedonism as the only real excuse for reading, and now I’m happy to have that view verified by the British critic and misanthrope Rick Gekoski, who, in the Guardian, concludes that reading is, at best, “an uncertain basis for the building of character.”

Instead, “reading needs to be justified not in terms of some notional moral benefit but – that more dangerous and enticing category – pleasure.” Bravo, friend. But the rationale for reading is not really the focus of this deliciously perverse essay — it’s the moral hazard attendant to the writing life.

“I am less ambivalent about writing. My writing, anyway. It has become increasingly clear to me over these last 10 years, in which I have written more regularly than before, that the more I write the worse I become. More self-absorbed, less sensitive to the needs of others, less flexible, more determined to say what I have to say, when I want and how I want, if I could only be left alone to figure it out.”

To that I say we can only be grateful for Gekoski’s soldierly sacrifice, at least those of us who delight in a well-turned phrase and a full-bodied essay of eloquent grouchiness. If you want a treat, give his piece a look-see.

Finally, another unmitigated treat: Toure’s  essay on tennis literature in the current New York Times Book Review, cast in the form of ESPN-like coverage of a fanciful conceit known as “The Intertemporal Tennis Writers Classic,” a tournament pitting such titans as John McPhee against Nabokov, and Martin Amis against David Foster Wallace.

A novelist, essayist and social critic, Toure manages to carry this clever and inventive notion through to the end without a fault or a service break. With sly modesty, he has his own tennis story, a profile of Jennifer Capriati, elminated in the early round. “Touré writes passionately and knows tennis,” says the, ahem, color commentator,  “but some whispered that he might have gotten into the tournament only because of affirmative action.”

Smart, funny, deep, Toure also knows literature: “John, ‘Lolita’ is considered by some to be the greatest novel of the last century. Midway through the story, as Humbert Humbert and Dolores Haze are traveling across America, they stop to play tennis on courts by a motel. What emerges is some of the most delectable writing ever about the sport. Let’s go to the videotape…”

I have almost zero interest in tennis, but I do love smart writing, regardless of the subject. I read this piece with mounting pleasure,finding as I reached the end that I was smiling with pleasure and admiration.

Highly recommended.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 12, 2011 7:44 am

    Love this article. Unlike you, Mr. Mabe, I love the game and will play until they drag my arthiritic ass off the court hopefully many years from now. My favorite line is: He brings all that to the table when he writes about tennis, which he once described as ‘billiards with balls that won’t hold still. It is chess on the run. It is to artillery and airstrikes what football is to infantry and attrition.’ Beautiful, thanks for posting.

  2. July 12, 2011 8:22 pm

    Chauncey, I know a woman who is addicted to romance literature, has stacks and stacks of them. She’s married and has three children and hip problems, walks with a hitch. She’s also a tea party fanatic, as far right wing as they get. I wonder if there’s any connection? Romance lit and tea party fanatic. Nah. And yet … and yet.

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