Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pride and Prejudice at The Jersey Shore (and, Oh Yeah, The Daily Beast Calls Fiction Readers Stupid)

We try to stay above the fray here at TLM.  Really.  We rarely comment on headlines, except when they relate directly to the literary scene, which (it seems to us) happens less and less frequently.  And when I refer to the literary scene, I generally mean well-recognized prizes for established literary genius (see our recycled review of Nobel Prize Winner Mario Vargas Llosa's work, Pantaleon y Las Visitadoras here).  See how I did that?  I just recycled Vargas Llosa for the third time.  Priceless.

Pride And PrejudiceAs for the would-be literary trolls, we try not to feed them.  I mean, have you heard so much as a peep from us about toddler Justin Bieber's upcoming memoir?  Not a one.  How about Snooki's pending contribution to the world's literary heritage?  Nada.  Though, I do fully expect that it will have all the girlish intrigue of Emma and the social commentary of a modern-day Pride and Prejudice.  Oh, I shouldn't have written that ... temptation too great ... but no ... I can't ... I shouldn't ... I can't help it .. oh what the hell? 

"All round chicks?" interjected Mr. The Situation laying aside his teacup.  "Yeah, I know a few.  But those bitties gots ta have skills in tequila slammin, booty bumpin and grindin, Jersey hairspray art, ID'n muscle cars, patchin up old wife beaters, mixin' protein shakes, and they gotta have a nose to avoid that gold-plating that leaves your neck green to be tagged all round in The Situation's book."

"Right on, brotha" agreed his faithful companion, Mr. Pauly D, most enthusiastically "And she gotta have a sweet booty to be tagged at all ... that goes without sayin'."

"Get lost," said Ms. Snooki, gently disagreeing with her companions, as she picked at a ribbon on her dress that had come unraveled.  "You two losers ain't know no chicks like that."     

Oh, I think I've got a best seller on my hands ... Pride and Prejudice at the Jersey Shore.  It would be like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but a little less believable. 

Anyhow ... before I was so rudely taken on that Jersey Shore tangent, I sat down to tell our faithful readers that The Daily Beast (my favorite news aggregator and my home page) thinks that we and they are stoo-pid.  How so, you ask?  Well, in compiling its annual list of America's Smartest (and Dumbest) Cities, the editors at The Daily Beast took four factors into account as follows:

1.  The ratio of those holding undergraduate and advanced degrees to overall population (over 25);

2.  The ratio of institutions of higher education to overall population;

3.  The ratio of public libraries to overall population; and

4.  Population-adjusted figures for the purchase of non-fiction book titles.

Now, I have no real problem with the first three factors, though I have to say that public library figures seem outdated in the Digital Age.  But I have to seriously question the wisdom of focusing on non-fiction book sales at a time when many (if not most) of those titles are being put out by political pundits and (I kid you not) two of the top ten non-fiction best sellers this past week were "A**holes Finish First" by Tucker Max (if you do not know who this is, be thankful and let it go) and "Sh** My Dad Says" by Justin Halpern.

Does reading non-fiction make you smarter than reading fiction?  I ask not only because I think the answer is obvious, but because I fear that this is the decided point of view of most male readers ... and we're a small group as it is.  Why this bias against fiction, which at least at the higher echelons seems to be much more widely recognized, appreciated, and enduring than non-fiction?  Is it just another symptom of a global culture with ADD (seeking the sound bytes that non-fiction titles seem to provide) or is it something more deep-seated and sinister?

Please discuss.  Meanwhile, I'm going to get started on Pride and Prejudice at the Jersey Shore.

N.B. The Daily Beast's faux pas is compounded by the fact that its very name comes from the fictional newspaper in Evelyn Waugh's novel, Scoop.  Assuming that someone at The Daily Beast has actually read the novel and that the founders did not simply pick the name off of a Wikipedia entry, they too would appear to be among the stupid.


  1. Maybe it will be useful to know that Paula Marantz Cohen has already written Jane Austen in Boca (P&P among Florida retirees) and Jane Austen in Scarsdale (Persuasion, this time).

  2. Thanks, Amateur Reader. That information is both useful and frightening. I better get cracking!

  3. Hmm… my friend reads Augusten Burroughs and I read Jane Austen and I'm the dumb one? Not to say that my friend is dumb but….yeah.

  4. BAHAHA. That picture you included of Snooki in that pink thing is just priceless.

    I feel like I could have something to say about the last bit of this post, but right now I'm just in the irritated stage. Unfortunately fiction="dumb" and nonfiction="smart" is a generalization made all too often.

  5. First of all, Pride and Prejudice at the Jersey Shore would definitely be the next best seller! I love it. Pride and Prejudice and Bieber might work as well.

    Ummmm, obviously I'm going to disagree with the assumption that nonfiction is somehow smarter than fiction. And to back it up with a man's perspective, I just asked my husband, who gave me a "Duh, of course not" look and then agreed with me in disagreeing with the assumption.

  6. So is Glenn Beck categorized as nonfiction or fiction? Seems significant to know, because really, it shows that just because something is under the genre "nonfiction", it isn't necessarily true. Even a dummie like me can see that!

    Taking into account bias, political agendas, ignorant authors (GB?), and recycled commentary on theoretical sketches leaves me thinking there's more fiction in NF than fiction.

  7. @Jennifer - I know! That's exactly what got me so riled up. It's not like non-fiction readers are buying up copies of Russeau's Social Contract or Darwin' Origin of Species-- it's all political garbage and potty humor. I was insulted for all of us.

    @IngridLola - As you might imagine, I had to search for a while for a picture of Snooki that was even remotely relate-able to P&P. Not sure I succeeded, but it'll have to do. I think we should start a movement - equal rights (and respect) for fiction readers. Who's with me?

    @Erin - Thanks for the encouragement - I'm not sure I could stomach writing Pride & Prejudice & Bieber, but I'm absolutely positive that it would make a pile of csah. Thanks also for the verification from your husband. It's always been obvious to me that fiction lovers are among the most intelligent people on the planet. I can't understand how anyone would see it differently.

    @Amy - Great point! It's like how I get more news from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report than I get from Fox, CNN, or MSNBC. The world is definitely upside down.

  8. I love it, P&P Jersey Shore style!

    New Follower...

  9. I'm definitely with you, Patrick! EQUAL RIGHTS FOR FICTION READERS!

  10. Equal rights for fiction readers, IngridLola? I'd say, to paraphrase Animal Farm (which, in my experience as a bookseller, I've heard referred to as Funny Farm and "that book about farm animals"): all readers are equal but some readers should be more equal than others.

    Yeah, current and recent nonfiction bestsellers include: Bill O'Reilly, Dinesh D'Souza, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage...nuff said?

    Thanks, Literate Man, for a great post and a great blog. You've gained a follower. If you want to check out my less learned musings, I'm The Book Frog.

    I'll be back!

  11. @Laurie - Thanks for stopping by! BTW, I share your love of Fitzgerald. My very first post was on a book of his letters (find it here: http://literateman.blogspot.com/2010/03/letters-of-f-scott-fitzgerald-andrew.html). I'm following you!

    @IngridLola - I'm glad I'm not alone. You write the manifesto and I'll get to work on the poster board!

    @Rebecca - "Funny Farm" really made me laugh. I'm a new follower to your blog - the post on the Keith Richards auto biography sealed the deal!


  12. I'm way behind in reading this, but have been offline for a while. I hate the assumption that non-fiction is somehow smarter than fiction. I recently tried to write about this and my bottom-line argument was that books - any books, any genre - that make a reader think and/or expand his or her worldview are smart. Fiction can do this just as well as - if not more than - non-fiction.

    But then, I'm biased, too. In the last year, I've read a grand total of one non-fiction book, and that was The Happiness Project.

  13. Oh, and as an aside - LOVE the Jersey Shore Austen. I think you're on to something there.

  14. If by being able to quote verbatim a large quantity of facts (?) Makes you intelligent, then yes us readers of non-fiction must be stupid, or at least below the level of a trained parrot. If that is the criteria for selection & based on your appraisal of the current state of non-fiction, then. OMG we're all DOOMED.
    Ps. A recent (to me) good non-fiction, is Haruki Murakami's, Underground - Tokyo gas attack & the Japanese psyche.
    And as usual a damned fine write up.