I finished a book today that I initially hated when I picked it up. Review books, they’re hit or miss, with the ratio being ten-to-one in favor of the miss factor. Some just don’t speak to me, some are atrocious, and others rub me the wrong way for whatever reason. But there was this one title — which I think I’m going to write up early in June — that caught me in my blind spot and then had me strap in for the rest of the ride.
Back in my film review days we used to call movies like this Big Dumb Movies. Some call them popcorn movies, other give them less flattering names, but they’re all the same thing. You don’t have to have them explained to you, you know them the minute you catch a preview. Plot and character are going to take a back seat to action. Budgets and special effects will be huge. Things get blowed up real good. You can study all the cinema you want, sample all the art house fare your delicate palate can consume, but every once in a while you want a movie that tells your brain to shut the hell up, and while you’re at it, make it a pair of hotdogs and some double-buttered popcorn with that trough of soda.
Books are more genteel. Hollywood may call them blockbusters but the equivalent in books is called genre, and usually spat out in a way to indicate it is somehow less a “real” book. You know how it is, there’s literature and then there’s Westerns, or Thrillers, or something else that somehow gets placed in its own ghetto away from the other fiction titles that hold their head high as “pure” fiction.
So what happened with this one book was that it started off preposterously and only got weirder. Something in the tone and pacing didn’t really catch me. I found myself studying the cover of the galley for clues. It wasn’t necessarily badly written, it just seemed to be failing me on some level. Then it hit me that I had gone into it with the wrong perspective. If I had gone into Jaws thinking it was like a Jacques Cousteau documentary, well, obviously I’d be disoriented. What had happened was I entered into the book thinking it was out to deliver me into something with a slightly higher brow than its intention. Once I’d grasped that it was a Big Dumb Book I was able to hop on board, hands and arms inside the vehicle, the smell of churro carts somewhere nearby. It wasn’t a book, it was an invitation to a theme park ride.
Big and Dumb isn’t Trashy. Trashy revels in the mud, and winks a casual eye at the reader who is savvy enough to know better and goads on the reader who doesn’t. Trashy has it’s place as well, but requires a different level of sophistication to appreciate. In high school cliques, Trashy books may be the cool kids but they also tend to be snobs; the Big Dumb Books are the freaks and geeks who are the socially functional misfits that everyone gets along with.
The problem, the danger of the Big Dumb Book is that it isn’t meant to be part of a steady diet. Same with Big Dumb Movies. People who consume a mono-cultural pop diet of any kind suffer from intellectual rickets, they honestly think calf-length denim shorts hanging off their ass and a backward ball cap is getting dressed up for a night on the town (I couldn’t give you the equivalent for the ladies, though pegged capris with scabby shins and a sleeveless blouse tied in front comes to mind).
So let’s sing the praises of the Big Dumb Book, the kind of book that if made into a good movie would be number one at the box office… for at least a week. Once in a while you just don’t want bran, you want Frosted Flakes. With sugar added. In chocolate milk. You don’t always want a fancy sit-down meal, occasionally some scary looking stuff from a cart on the sidewalk actually becomes your new cuisine du jour. Big Dumb Book, though you may be nutritionally void you are still full of calories and can please the palate.
Hail to thee, Big Dumb Book, you make us appreciate the good, the bad, and the ugly by providing us with a holiday from reason and the tyranny of good taste.