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Rebranding literature
October 11, 2008 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Cormac McCarthy as “gay porn.” Literary site Bookninja holds a contest to rebrand literary classics with jarringly (but hilariously) out-of-place new cover designs.

(Although actually the McCarthy cover looks ever-so-slightly Chippendalësque. And does anyone remember Nintendo DS Tie-In Games I’d Like to Play?)
posted by joeclark (53 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
See, I think that McCarthy cover would work better on All the Pretty Horses. But I'm wierd like that.
posted by brain cloud at 1:23 PM on October 11, 2008


McCarthy is so devoid of sexuality that I find it difficult to even find that cover funny. Hmm.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:26 PM on October 11, 2008


McCarthy as snuff-film writer. I've never gotten into his stuff. It just makes me want to LOLCAT:

CAN IZ HAV VILENZ NOW???

Some of my friends who are way into books like I am just don't understand why I don't lurve McCarthy. I dunno, he's just lame. If I want psychoanalysis of the American id, I'll read Faulkner or Ellison or Melville, maybe certain blips from Hemingway. McCarthy is just a fraud IMO. I read the first twenty pages of The Road and literally couldn't stop laughing. It's a zombie flick. And I love zombie flicks, but not when they're presented as SERIOUS BIZNESS LITERATURE!!!

And No Country For Old Men as a film was such a stinking turd. I actually preferred the book. But the book wasn't really that good to begin with.

So yeah. I'm going to finish reading these links after I publish this amazing comment. The man is over-ripe for parody.
posted by bardic at 1:30 PM on October 11, 2008


Maybe you should stick to macros.
posted by paradoxflow at 1:35 PM on October 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


"No Country For Old Men" might make for one of those conservative punditry books. Or possibly a Michael Moore style expose book on elderly care.

"The Road" should be rebranded as science fiction, of course.
posted by Artw at 1:35 PM on October 11, 2008


Bardic, if you think the Coen Brothers film was a "stinking turd," I'm... not sure what to say. What movie did you prefer last year? There Will Be Blood was probably the second best Hollywood picture (in my estimation) and was also an examination of the "American id," though it wasn't nearly as well-filmed as No Country. The Lives of Others was good, but I found it a little unconvincing.

As for McCarthy's books, I find The Road lacking compared to Blood Meridian and All the Pretty Horses—but Blood Meridian includes some of the best and most evocative writing I've encountered. I don't know what you mean by "fraud."
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:46 PM on October 11, 2008


The Road is science fiction or speculative fiction or whatever you want to call it but call it very well done for openers. Not liking this or that writer is ok. But that does not mean you speak for many many readers. I find the parodies a weak attempt to belittle something well done and thus not needed. As humor, lame. Worse: a bit teenagerish.
posted by Postroad at 1:47 PM on October 11, 2008


First the internet all but destroys modern publishing and to add salt to the wounds, it holds a contest like this. Maybe folks should be putting more time into promoting reading and supporting authors rather than poke fun in such a distasteful way.
posted by scarello at 1:51 PM on October 11, 2008


I also don't know what you mean by fraud, bardic. Because he's not Faulkner he's not authentic?
posted by Roman Graves at 2:01 PM on October 11, 2008


scarello, you forgot to add "/sniffs distainfully, adjusts monocle" to the end of your comment, though I guess we figured it out anyway.

How much of our interpretation of a piece of work is influenced by its presentation? Lots and lots, I'd say. Put anything on a pedestal and it's art, said somebody (Warhol?). I think this is a great contest, just to highlight that.

I also hated No Country for Old Men. It was trying too hard to be Serious Art.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:02 PM on October 11, 2008


First the internet all but destroys modern publishing and to add salt to the wounds, it holds a contest like this. Maybe folks should be putting more time into promoting reading and supporting authors rather than poke fun in such a distasteful way.

Who is this "internet" fellow?
posted by Falconetti at 2:22 PM on October 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


A fun idea, but only the Blood Meridian and Life of Pi covers really work. For that sort of thing to be really funny there needs to be a connection between the image and the book's content or title - regardless of how incongruous the mock cover appears to be, it should follow a certain logic (Using a still of John Hurt from Alien as the cover for What To Expect When You're Expecting, etc.)

The other ones are basically just non sequiturs that could have used any old image, particularly Beloved, unless there was some sort of explosion or mushroom reference that I'm missing.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 2:23 PM on October 11, 2008


Oh, he's completely authentic. Wisteria and bullets on the front porch. With some guy getting gutted and raped just to make sure you know how really fucking authentic he's being.

I just find him completely predictable and boring. I started with Blood Meridian in college, and while I thought some of the technique was good (and derivative) the whole ZOMG AMERICA IS ACTUALLY REALLY REALLY VIOLENT AND SHIT!!! was dull.

It's just so tired. Not that he isn't exploring important issues, but gimme, I dunno, Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood, to name just one example. Because that book deals with the same themes, but it's genuinely disturbing in a way that McCarthy, at his best, simply pantomimes.

Like I said, I have friends who love McCarthy and I've had this debate before. And my favorite authors suck and all, but I just don't understand what the attraction ever was to him. He's pretty much the literary equivalent of Michael Bay, if Michael Bay had published some short stories and gotten caught up in Southern lit revival of the 70's.
posted by bardic at 2:29 PM on October 11, 2008


(Wise Blood is also really funny, come to think of it. There's this assumed solemnity to McCarthy that drives me crazy. Actually, maybe that's my bone to pick with him. Even the deepest darkest Faulkner can make you laugh a little. But McCarthy doesn't acknowledge absurdity, he just retreats into pretentious imagery of the son carrying the horn of his father's fire into the night, or something.)
posted by bardic at 2:35 PM on October 11, 2008


Regarding McCarthy: That the man evokes such hatred amongst detractors, and such shocked defense among his fans, makes me confident in my fondness for his writing. Any artist or piece of art whose reviews can be roughly graphed as a parabola tends to be doing something right, in my opionion. It's this rule which also allows me to despise There Will Be Blood as one of the worst movies I've seen in years, without losing any esteem for those (and there are many) who vehemently and eloquently disagree.

That said, this

He's pretty much the literary equivalent of Michael Bay

is ridiculous.
posted by regicide is good for you at 2:36 PM on October 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


McCarthy doesn't acknowledge absurdity

But that's pretty much spot-on. Granted.
posted by regicide is good for you at 2:36 PM on October 11, 2008


He's pretty much the literary equivalent of Michael Bay, if Michael Bay had published some short stories and gotten caught up in Southern lit revival of the 70's.

This is so obviously deliberately contrarian as to pretty much qualify as a bad faith argument. You sound like the kind of guy who really enjoys elevating his friends' blood pressure, but as a lit critic, you kinda leave something to be desired. I'm sure you thought this was a clever line; you were wrong. I'm familiar -- perhaps all too familiar, in one case -- with the work of both gentlemen, and I'm not saying any basis for comparison whatsoever. The literary equivalent of Michael Bay would be a seven-year-old with some kind of brain fever drawing explosions in crayon on construction paper, not Cormac McCarthy.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:47 PM on October 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Ooh yes pls to continue this literary argument, it's beats the hell out of why the Pixies were or were not the greatest band evah.
posted by jokeefe at 2:57 PM on October 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


The literary equivalent of Michael Bay would be... oh, since Robert Ludlum's dead, let's say Lee Child. I mean, Bay is good at what he does. Whether I want to watch it is a different (and, unless we're on a date or something, less interesting) question.
posted by box at 3:02 PM on October 11, 2008


"scarello, you forgot to add "/sniffs distainfully, adjusts monocle" to the end of your comment, though I guess we figured it out anyway.

How much of our interpretation of a piece of work is influenced by its presentation? Lots and lots, I'd say. Put anything on a pedestal and it's art, said somebody (Warhol?). I think this is a great contest, just to highlight that.

I also hated No Country for Old Men. It was trying too hard to be Serious Art."

Sorry you took my comment as arrogant, but I don't believe it is. The reality is that less and less individuals are actually picking up a book and reading these days. I'm not here to argue whether anyone feels McCarthy's work is art or not. My main point is that its too bad more time couldn't be put toward encouraging reading actual books rather than poking fun at them.
posted by scarello at 3:10 PM on October 11, 2008


The death of reading has been greatly exaggerated, as far as I can tell. What is it that's keeping all these damned Barnes and Nobles and Borders trundling along? Though the independent bookstore owners around here are anxious to tell you that people/kids these days aren't reading the right literature. I also don't believe the internet is responsible for the death of anything except card catalogs and the ability to look things up in original sources.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:24 PM on October 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


...the Pixies were or were not the greatest band evah.

Were. OK?? Argument is over. I will go all Dick Cheney on you if you mutter "Pavement" or some such nonsense.
posted by Mister_A at 4:10 PM on October 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: Lame. Worse: a bit teenagerish.
posted by lukemeister at 4:12 PM on October 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd just like to drop in and share a tangentially-related dream I had.

The night before, I had read that Harold Bloom ranked Philip Roth, Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, and Cormac McCarthy as the greatest novelists of the second half of the 20th century. In my dream, Philip Roth (who looked like Mark Rothko with a glued-on mustache) showed up at my door unannounced.

"Wow, Philip Roth!" I exclaimed, shaking his hand. "I've wanted to meet you my whole life! Well, actually, just part of my life." He smiled.

"Is it true that Thomas Pynchon is as good as you?" I asked.

"Yeah!"

"How about Don DeLillo?"

"Yep."

"How about Cormac McCarthy?"

He looked at me with a mixture of bewilderment and disgust, like I had just poured manure all over his driveway.
posted by decagon at 4:16 PM on October 11, 2008


(McCarthy is the only one of those four whom I've never read, actually. So don't take that dream as representative of my actual opinions.)
posted by decagon at 4:17 PM on October 11, 2008


I quite liked The Road. Didn't really take anything away from it, but as an understated vision of a vaguely defined apocalypse, it was good.
posted by flippant at 4:31 PM on October 11, 2008


"The death of reading has been greatly exaggerated, as far as I can tell. What is it that's keeping all these damned Barnes and Nobles and Borders trundling along? "

Well, I don't know about in the states, but our major chain Chapters seems to be selling far more greeting cards and overpriced knick knacks as opposed to books. And if you look at most online book retailers, most have quite a selection of items other than books to keep them afloat. How many kids do you know that come home and curl up to a good book as opposed to surfing the net and playing video games? Perhaps I was a bit quick to blame the internet solely, especially since I am online as much as anyone else, but there is something out there degrading most peoples attention spans.
posted by scarello at 4:50 PM on October 11, 2008


scarello,
Likewise with Borders. The last I heard, the US Borders was in financial trouble. Borders in the UK got a divorce to avoid being dragged down.
posted by lukemeister at 4:55 PM on October 11, 2008


Cormac is a silly name for a man. Life of Pi was a terrible book. I have never seriously enjoyed a book written by a woman. Just hasn't worked out for me and is probably mostly my fault.
posted by I Foody at 4:55 PM on October 11, 2008


What is it that's keeping all these damned Barnes and Nobles and Borders trundling along? Though the independent bookstore owners around here are anxious to tell you that people/kids these days aren't reading the right literature.

to answer your first question: Borders Books have been having some serious financial difficulties for some time now... & the reason that both Borders as well as Barnes & Noble keep "trundling along" is nothing more than an over-inflated book market (like every market in the US) coupled with the short-term boost of best-seller profit

as to your second assertion: I'm an independent bookstore owner & I can tell you definitively that I have never once been anxious to tell you (or anyone) that people/kids (or anyone) aren't reading the right literature

so, please, tell me, where have you actually heard this coming from an indie bookseller?
posted by jammy at 4:57 PM on October 11, 2008


Berkeley, where the kids really do curl up with a good book. The booksellers here have High Fidelity levels of jerkdom and pretension, but they're 60 years old.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:42 PM on October 11, 2008


San Francisco has a lot of it, too, come to think of it.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:44 PM on October 11, 2008


What does "overinflated book market" mean? Ordering more books than can actually be sold so that their numbers look good?
posted by small_ruminant at 5:45 PM on October 11, 2008


Dan Brown get my vote as the literary equivalent of Michael Bay - cliffhangers every chapter instead of swish pans every five minutes.
posted by djb at 6:11 PM on October 11, 2008


Of the authors I've read (haven't read Ludlum), I'd say Dale Brown comes closest to a literary Michael Bay. I loved Flight of the Old Dog in high school.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:41 PM on October 11, 2008


I just finished reading The Road tonight and I have to be honest, it fucked with me. I just became a father for the first time, so keep that in mind with what I say next.

I think The Road, while not the best book I've ever read or near the top of the list, certainly got to me in an emotional way that only three or four other pieces of art (paintings, poetry, literature, film, etc.) have. The thought of continuing on with your life when there is no point or hope to it is very bleak. And I don't mean to use that word in a hollow fashion. It's very easy to call this book bleak without pondering what that means.

Take every dream you ever had, of being a musician, or living in a nice house, or visiting Europe, or getting to meet someone you admire. Take any hope or wish you ever had for your life, now imagine that it will never happen, ever. Not only will it never happen but there is no hope of ever finding any comfort or peace in the world. Now imagine that someone is depending on you not only for survival, but also for love and comfort in that world.

This is where people depart with McCarthy, in this book at least, and where others, like me, stayed. It wasn't the violence or the idea of a post apocalyptic world. It wasn't any of that. It was that relationship between a father and his son, and how they continued living in a world where it would be better and easier to just sit down and die. It was that human instinct for survival and how it keeps going even past the point of common sense. It was waking up every day in a world where all your hopes and dreams and wishes were done. Period. Never gonna happen. It was replacing your dream of a good life for yourself and your family with a hope for some clean water and some canned food, shoes, and a blanket. It was the idea that even if you found those things, you'd still have to find more the next day.

It's a very earnest sentiment, written by a very earnest man. It's that very simple emotional honesty that turns some people off. It's hard for some people to accept that a man could write a book like that and mean it. And as a father, I tell you, earnestly, that if there should ever be a point where the world is burned down and everything is covered in ash, my son would have every single possible drop of food, clothing, and shelter and happiness I could find for him. And when the time came for him to watch me die, my last thoughts would be worries that I prepared him for life as completely as possible.

That's why The Road got to me and why I think it was a good book, because I understand completely what Cormac McCarthy was getting at.
posted by tylerfulltilt at 9:40 PM on October 11, 2008 [9 favorites]


What is it that's keeping all these damned Barnes and Nobles and Borders trundling along?

Er, I know, I really wanted to believe it was book sales but it's not. It's the sales of all the ephemera. Also: They're not doing that great. And Borders is going out of business, basically. Dark times. . .

I considered McCarthy a real genius in college and just after it and I still think the book about the psychotic necrophiliac is brilliant (I'll never forget that description of a bullet smacking the flat side of a shovel) but as I age and get knocked around and fall over I find it harder and harder to read his stuff with a straight face. The whole border trilogy, even BM, they start to sound really, really samey, and their core thematic vision (as far as I can tell) basically boils down to a screeching insistence that EVIL exists. I won't grudge you that, but has anyone read Barry Hannah's "Never Die" ? I did a few months ago and thought it covered the exact same ground as "BM" while allowing for humor, sadness, love, affection and the rest of the human comedy. To me McCarthy often reads like a five hundred thousand word illustration of the tenant that life is suffering -- without really enlarging it.

He does it with awesome pyrotechnics, no doubt, but these days I find myself looking for someone who either can see it askew or at least provide some distortion, perspective, some, I don't know, I suppose spin is too crude a word but there you have it.
posted by matthewstopheles at 9:46 PM on October 11, 2008


It's that very simple emotional honesty that turns some people off.

Well, I don't for a second doubt your earnestness, nor hold it against you, but I can say that as somebody without kids, yeah, the whole "father caring for his only son no matter what" thing came off as a little afterschool special to me. I mean, forgive me for saying so, but it's a bit of a cliche, and the reason for that is most likely that everybody who experiences fatherhood really does feel some variation on that feeling, genuinely. I'm not convinced that the earnest expression of universal feelings is enough to make for good fiction, though.

McCarthy has this strong, silent man thing going in The Road that seemed to me to be rather like warmed-over Hemingway as passed through some sort of expert system which replaced every 20th adjective with the most obscure vocabulary word it could find. Lord knows I love looking up new words, but I frankly don't see why McCarthy was driven to use "discalced" when "barefoot" would do. It's not as though his narrator was particularly literary, even, and as the only vestige of authorial style in a book that was basically flat and affectless it left a lot to be desired.

All that being said, I did think No Country for Old Men was a brilliant movie, though I haven't read the book. And I think that in the hands of a good director, The Road could make a much better movie than the book turned out to be.
posted by whir at 11:22 PM on October 11, 2008


9. "Their barrows were heaped with shoddy." (p. 28)

You had to look up barrows?
posted by mannequito at 2:45 AM on October 12, 2008


also,
17. "The teeth in their sockets like dental molds, the crude tattoos etched in some homebrewed woad." (p. 90)
I can't help but picture this guy announcing the movie premiere.
posted by mannequito at 2:59 AM on October 12, 2008


The man sat and looked out over the dull gray surf. Over the garbage that had congregated in pools along the beach. The shore was shadowed by the black shapes of bone-thin fishermen working to pull one more days meager sustenance from the dangerous waves.

His father had sat in the same village 30 years before. And his father before him. Three generations tied to the same place, each by his own design. The first of them had come as a ghost in the night. A monster to scare children. Plucking the fishermen from the waves and binding them together into great rafts of inhumanity to sail back to the new world. The man did not know his grandfather's role. But he could feel it when the fishermen looked at him. Something along that shore remembered.

The second had come as a student. He had taken to the waves, and grown long and thin, and darkened in the sun. He caught fish. He pulled them up from the depths hand over hand. The swordfish, as long as the little wooden canoe, could fight for days. His arms and chest became decorated by long white scars. He came, and he never left.

The third, the man, had looked for his father along the coast. In the little dirty bars. In the groups of men who crowded around communal bowls of rice when the sun was at its most brutal height. His father had died in that gray surf, but the man still looked.

He cleared his throat, coughing a little from the dust in the air. He turned so he could see the man beside him through the glare of the sun. So he could look him in the eyes while he spoke. I just don't see the point of Cormac Mcarthy.

The second man made no response. His eyes were open, but unseeing.
posted by Nothing at 6:02 AM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I find Cormac McCarty (somewhat) overrated, but to call him Michael Bay is woefully inapt.
posted by Bookhouse at 6:32 AM on October 12, 2008


apologies for this derail, but I feel like some misconceptions & stereotypes need to be addressed

Berkeley, where the kids really do curl up with a good book. The booksellers here have High Fidelity levels of jerkdom and pretension, but they're 60 years old...

San Francisco has a lot of it, too, come to think of it.
^

is jerkdom & pretension in Berkeley & San Francisco really just restricted to independent booksellers? in any case, having been to more than a few bookseller conventions, I can tell you that such attitudes represent the minority among my compatriots - we are not interested in wagging our finger at you & clucking over your choice of reading material - what we are interested in doing is helping you find the books that you are interested in, especially those that you may never have heard of (hint: not everything is showcased on Amazonk)

all that said, I have been to City Lights & yes, they are ridiculously arrogant

What does "overinflated book market" mean? Ordering more books than can actually be sold so that their numbers look good? ^

it is standard practice for the bigbox stores like B&N to order vast quantities of books & then send in massive returns a couple months later - some books have less than three weeks to survive, especially if they aren't bestsellers - in the interim, though, as you guessed, their stores look stuffed to the brim & their accounts look phat - it's all about the cash flow

this practice has been painful, even devastating, for many small & independent publishers, who can't handle massive returns, and who rarely have the leverage to negotiate better terms - another group that this harms is authors, who see no money made after the the books have been returned & remaindered

the current booming state of the remainder book market is a good indicator of this - the remainder market is where publishers dump their returned books at steep discounts - in the past, you'd expect to find books remaindered after being in the trade market for at least a few years - these days it's not uncommon to find books remaindered that are sometimes less than a year old, especially hardbacks - but, even here, sometimes it's not worth it to publishers to take the time & resources to deal with remaindering their books & they simply destroy them after they've been returned

I know some like to point to an increase in overall book sales (at least in the past few years, not recently) as an indicator that the "death of reading" is mere hyperbole & evidence of nothing more than snooty indie booksellers complaining that their favorite books aren't selling - but I hope folks realize that the increase is a matter of more bestsellers being sold, not of an overall increase in books of all kinds being sold - in other words, people may be reading more but really, they're reading more of less, more of the same thing - for those that believe monoculturalization & corporate standardization is a good thing, this is good news - for those that value diversity & independence in the kinds of voices & ideas that get published, it is a very depressing & disheartening trend to witness

/derail
posted by jammy at 8:02 AM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I forgot to mention that I like Cormac McCarthy.
posted by scarello at 8:47 AM on October 12, 2008


What is it that's keeping all these damned Barnes and Nobles and Borders trundling along?

Coffee. and picking up cute girls in the 'Relationships' section.

(I, as you all know, work in a bookstore, but a big independent used one. we don't sell coffee. One time, though, two gorgeous blondes walked up to me there and, in a Swedish accent, asked where the 'Human Sexuality' section was. It was by far the most Penthouse Forum moment of my life.)

As far as McCarthy, I've never read him and I never will. Notbecause of any personal hostility. Just all those years working in bookstores got me sick of seeing his name.
posted by jonmc at 9:53 AM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


He's no Stephen King.
posted by Artw at 9:56 AM on October 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


(it) came off as a little afterschool special to me.

I get that completely and I can totally see where that turns some people off.

I'm not convinced that the earnest expression of universal emotion is enough to make good fiction though.

For me, it's all I'm interested in. I'll take some symbolism and ideas and points as well, if the author has some good ones to make. But I'm always interested in the emotional reaction first and foremost. I think literature has to be able to provide an emotional hook before and above and beyond all else.

But I still see where you're coming from.
posted by tylerfulltilt at 5:39 PM on October 12, 2008


I think regicide has a good point here. I am one of those fans of Cormac McCarthy who feels personally offended if somone claims to dislike him as an author. That being said, I think that the border triology is by far his finest work, so you should without judgement until you've read at least All The Pretty Horses. I worked with horses and ranchers in Central America (long after when the storyline took place), and was absolutely blown away by the accuracy with which McCarthy crafts the setting and the characters.
posted by emd3737 at 8:02 PM on October 12, 2008


http://flippingpencils.typepad.com/blog/2007/09/the-road-to-a-b.html

I know what a lot of these words mean, and those I don't, I don't need to know a dictionary definition to be able to parse the sentence. I read Ulysses a couple of years ago and if I'd stopped to look up everything I'd still be on page 22. Sometimes you have to just let words be words, not get bogged down in exact semantics,
posted by mippy at 5:56 AM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I should reiterate that I'm not against using big words. Why, I'm a bit of a sesquipedilian myself, and I honestly do enjoy looking up new words. (And as a Tolkien geek from way back, of course I know what "barrow" means, duh.) My beef with McCarthy is just that I don't find his use of them to be in the service of the novel that he's writing - they distracted me from the story and they messed with my willing suspension of disbelief.

I suppose somebody who liked the novel better than I did might be able to mount a plausible argument about how the narrator's use of big words was a representation of him trying not to forget the world as it used to be. Personally, I just found it distracting and vaguely showoffy. De gustibus non est disputandum. But anyways, I did rather enjoy this cover of To the Lighthouse.
posted by whir at 2:06 PM on October 15, 2008


sesquipedalian, even
posted by whir at 2:07 PM on October 15, 2008


Bookninja lists its winners.
posted by joeclark at 9:46 AM on October 28, 2008


I'm pretty sure I've seen that On The Road spaceship on A Fire Upon The Deep.
posted by Artw at 10:34 AM on October 28, 2008


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