Books render life worth living. But with upwards of 60,000 published each year, the first rule is rejection. In 1998 I will shun all and any books in the following categories:
Bimbology: JFK slept with Marilyn. Name your favorite politician and corresponding bimbo. I'm done with books like Seymour Hersh's "The Dark Side of Camelot," which wallow in the sexy sleaze, then, insisting that what they're writing is better than high-toned gossip, grasp for a theme, usually that bad character leads directly to bad foreign policy. Now wasn't it the upstanding Harry S. Truman who remains the only politician ever to have dropped a nuclear bomb?
Rousseau Rises Again: Books discovering the higher consciousness of snakes, especially when they're earnest first-person confessions reporting mystical communions with The Force through reptiles, weasels and anteaters. This includes any books teaching us how to contact higher beings through lower forms, among them Dennis Covington's "Snake Handling and Redemption." The fin-de-siecle intellectual bankruptcy of these books leads me dangerously back to my Kierkegaard and my Nietzsche.
Dixie Lives!: Novels peddling heart-rending Confederate nostalgia, soap-dish variety, bittersweet of course (we are post-modern!), especially when they crowd out great literature. Not that it was Charles Frazier's fault that the National Book Award judges used his book, "Cold Mountain," to punish Don DeLillo for the breadth and brilliance of "Underworld," which flashes a mirror before our era as no other novel has done for decades. Fortyish first-novelist Frazier would have shown some class, not to mention that rare, all but extinct fragrance called humility, had he declined the award in favor of the so obviously superior DeLillo.
This particular millennium seems an inauspicious time to be writing safe, cuddly novels about "relationships" and "lost love" which either ignore that there is any world elsewhere, or can tolerate society only a hundred years into the past. And have you noticed that while the Kennedy assassination looms, along with the Lindbergh kidnapping, as the crimes of the century, nary a poet or a novelist has taken it up as metaphor, image or theme? All power then to Mr. Don DeLillo who, alas, seems to have been reminded that no great book goes rewarded.
Wolf-woman: Savage matriarchal feminism. Those pseudo-anthropologies, led by Clara Pinkola Estes' "Women Who Run With the Wolves," proclaiming that wolf-woman is alive and well and ready to lead us to the promised land are past their prime. The premise is that long-dead primeval females alone are the salt of the earth, possessing immeasurable founts of wisdom, garnered long ago when Homo sapiens was more fortunate and matriarchs ruled the tribe. Anthropology, for my money, does not involve a New Age free-for-all where truth is what anyone says it is, while the author resurrects the most outlandish scenarios of Carl Jung.
The motive behind these best-sellers is psychological, of course. Worshiping the wolf-woman in us all will make women feel good about themselves, ready to seize the power they so richly deserve; with latter-day wolf-women at the helm, society will be kinder and less aggressive, the English nanny and Winnie Mandela notwithstanding. Men, however in need of a psychic boost, need not apply. Those with a rational bent, eschew this genre!
Gal-hyperbonding: Books that glorify mother-sister-daughter friendship as the highest form of love. Snappy, sappy and manipulative, loaded with photographs oozing love and forbearing, touchy and feely, these perpetual best-sellers are throwbacks, Fifties cover-ups for the real psychological dynamic pounding too many of those nice nuclear families. I'm allergic to every all's-right-with-the-world book because it isn't. A dose of all this sugar, and I reach for my copies of "Mommie Dearest" and "Cinderella," not to mention my Jane Austen: "Pride and Prejudice" and "Mansfield Park." Some sisters, some mothers there!
Having It All: The true and final wisdom about women's lives as written by self-righteous twenty-and thirty-something neo-con seers led by the charmless Katie Roiphe and Naomi Wolf. These babes have discovered that you can make a lot of money with the sudden revelation that feminism means having it all. Pay your dues, kids! Get down into the trenches and then let us know whether you can have perfection both of the life and of the work! Forgive me, but I won't buy any books by little sisters arrogant enough to insist that they know better and have been spirited to earth to instruct their mothers and grandmothers about what feminism Really means.