The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
17.1 (Winter 2017)
A Casual Collection of Kindle Inanities: The Wacky World of Post-Literate Erudition
The audience of literate people available to incentivize the publication of good books has grown tiny. This short piece probes the tastes and skills of a much more typical readership by sampling various “Kindle inanities”—blurbs that hawk the latest bestseller on the device’s idle screen.
Have you ever wondered why great books don’t appear any more? Patrick O’Brian’s “Aubrey and Maturin” historical novels were among the best works published in English during the latter twentieth century, yet O’Brian shopped them around to various publishers for about twenty years. The publishing confraternity feared that they were too challenging in terms of word choice, psychological depth, and requisite knowledge of historical and geographical detail. Those fears were probably justified, for the most part, despite the success of the books—which is now already several years in our cultural rear-view mirror.
Great books do not appear because there are no great audiences to read them. Our miserable public school system has produced two or three generations now, in most places, who wouldn’t read Tolstoy or Hardy or even Flannery O’Connor for pleasure if their members were stuck in solitary confinement for a year. Thoughtful people with enough vocabulary to think and enough patience to follow a thought through to its logical conclusion are in very short supply. If the level of discourse during the recent election cycle’s climax does not convince you of this, consider an observation from the person who uploads The Center’s pages to Bluehost. Not a single webpage of our approximately five hundred, he affirms, has not been red-flagged for using too many difficult words. Apparently the American reading public has settled into a comfort level of basic reading skills that would have been associated with fifth grade as late as 1970.
Just have a look at the blurbs and teases that popped up every time one of us powered up a Kindle this past September. (The list is inclusive of every work—none was denied admittance—and preserves the random order of appearance.)
“One momentary lapse in judgment! One brief moment of insanity destroyed him! Betrayal, secrets, deception, agony! A riveting psychological thriller!”
One uncontrollable outburst of sentence fragments! One brief debauch of exclamation points! Who hasn’t had these moments? And who would ban them from a printed page available to millions? Oh, the snobbery, the elitism, the brutality, the oppression! (By the way… shouldn’t the secrets come before the betrayal? And is betrayal different from deception in this thrilling context? And is “agony” really the word you want to describe the grief and disillusionment of seeing a confidence betrayed? Oh, well…)
“Atlantis will be found. Human history will be rewritten. The world will change forever. Read the global bestseller today.”
Anaphora and isocolon, too, will be pumped up out of the hidden depths of disuse. But by the way, once again… why would history be rewritten because something—anything, even Atlantis—was found? Does that imply that the continent’s previous loss will be expunged from the record? And this discovery will change the world forever, as in… as in changing human nature? Or only as in entering into the logbook on March 1 that Peoria had one inch of rain in February? That lasts forever, too.
“All of the victims have one thing in common—they share their names with plants. Seventeen-year-olds Dusty Miller and Nandina Bush may be next.”
Can someone please explain why Dusty Miller should be on high alert? When is the last time you ordered a bouquet of “dusties” or planted a row of “millers”?
“Earth has only days until total annihilation when NASA discovers a massive dark anomaly heading toward us from deepest reaches [sic] of interstellar space.”
Putin is behind this. The tell-tale omission of the definite article is a dead giveaway. He only wants us to believe that we have just a few days. Moose and Squirrel will not fall for cheap trick, Boris.
“A delightful read you’ll thoroughly enjoy, because everyone loves a coming-of-age story. It is a bedtime story for adults.”
My daddy always told me coming-of-age stories at bedtime—at least, once I became an adult. And then there’s the story about the time I no longer needed a bedtime story, because I had come of age. I tell that to everyone, because it’s always a great favorite.
“Reborn into a future where humans are nearly extinct, Jack Taggart must secure an ancient underground facility that could be the key to survival.”
Don’t do it, Jack—they all deserve to die! Or is this just for your own survival? Well… okay, then. Down the hatch.
“3 massacres, 2 detectives, 1 writer, 0 answers [sic] A dark thriller you can’t put down and a twist you won’t see coming. Who is sending the deadly message?”
And four assaults upon the basic rules for spelling out numbers, and negative-one periods at the end of choppy sentences—you really couldn’t see that new quasi-sentence coming, could you? But maybe, just maybe, if you can possibly make yourself put the thriller down before the deadly message arrives, you won’t be killed. Is it anthrax on the envelope… or murderous grammar inside? I have to find out—I just have to!
“Joe knew he needed to save his kid brother, but wound up in the crosshairs himself.”
Not bad. A little Damon Runyonesque. Hard to mess that up.
“When the chips are down, and the thunderstorm has begun, only one question remains. Who’s going to keep this little psycho under control?”
Let’s assume that the storm is a second metaphor being stirred into the losing streak at blackjack… but that doesn’t help a lot, since we still have a timing problem. Is the little psycho actually the storm, or does it take a figurative thunderstorm to set him/her off? And what do the chips have to do with all this? Does the figurative storm occur only when our luck is running out, or has our luck run out because a storm is brewing… or are we having bad luck because the little psycho has entered the building? Maybe life would get better if we just didn’t download this book.
“A computer prodigy fangirl. A rich, handsome tech CEO. And an unlikely compatibility…”
And a really cliché plot. And yet another spade of dirt on the grave of the complete sentence.
Damon Runyon wins. The rest of you idiots… scram! I gotta take a powder.
The Center doesn’t really have a staff–but sometimes more than one cook sticks a spoon in the pot.