Wednesday, February 23, 2011


To all us kulture vultures, the highest value in our lives would be to make a living doing the art we love.

For a serious writer, that is almost impossible. I don't know anyone who has done it successfully without compromising something.

Bend over, and you can be successful.

Cormac McCarthy, our greatest living American writer, hit it big only with a piece of schlock, "No Country For Old Men." It's pretty bad, a potboiler full of guns and drugs and unlikely events. But it made a fairly good movie that was commercially successful.

I don't want to talk trash about commerce. We all need money. We just don't want to sell our souls to get it.

Old Cormac came about as close as anyone to making real money off real literature. Not very close, not very literary.

That brings me to my subject today: the blockbuster novel, nowhere better represented than by Stieg Larsson.

In case you've been living under a rock in the Mojave Desert, Stieg Larsson is Swedish, rich, famous, and dead. Not a good combination. His brother and father, I hear, are scooping up the millions as they roll in.

But is Stieg's stuff literature? Is it art? (One of my favorite questions.)

To me, his first book, "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," tried to be a good beach read and didn't succeed. Too much exposition, too boring, too hard to plow through. Not fun.

But there was a good story buried under all that crappy prose, and it made a damn good movie. Like the old Hollyood saying goes, "Bad novels make good movies."

But Stieg's second book, "The Girl Who Played With Fire," is much better, as a beach read. It's more fun, it's easier to read, and it has a stunningly intricate plot, so far. I'm about 115 pages in. I'll let you know what I think as I go along.

But is it art? Is it real literature?

Hmmm. That's a hard one.

It certainly is pop lit (popular literature). It has all the earmarks of a beach read: The characters are larger than life. Lisbeth Salander is quirkier than anyone I've ever met, and she was abused to an extreme I've never heard of in real life. 

Her male counterpart, sometime lover and co-hero, Mikael Blomkvist, is maybe a bit more realistic. He does bed every babe in sight, and he is extremely brave, and he does get rich writing for a magazine. That is all pretty far-fetched. 

So the characters are larger than life.  

And the stakes are high. Everything you can think of is at stake in both these novels. As my friend Adam would say, you have to do that in a big page-turner. These big, bestselling crime novels "have really high stakes -- outlandishly so, often, but it's your job to make the stakes high AND believable."

And the characters have to take both emotional and physical risks. Their hearts have to be on the table, and their heads have to be near the chopping block.

Old Stieg does all that, and he does it in spades.

But is it art?

No, I don't think so. But it sure is fun to read. And it takes virtually no effort, which is another sign of pop lit.

More later, as we go along.

Welcome to the first post of my new blog, Kulture Vulture.

-- Roger

Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


Sharine said...

Roger, great post, even though I must have been under that desert rock, because I had never heard of Stieg Larsson.

Anyway, I just became your first Kulture Vulture klan member (i.e., "follower" on your new blog)!!!!

Roger R. Angle said...

Thanks, babycakes.