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August 08, 2006

The Tragedy of Orthodoxy

Mark Helprin, who wrote Winter's Tale, which is possibly my favorite book ever, is interviewed at length here. It's an interesting interview, less for the questions (which are pretty standard) but because Helprin is such an odd duck. As the magazine Helprin's being interviewed in appears to be a right-leaning one, and Helprin himself is famously conservative, the interview touches on his politics more than a little, and about how being right wing has impacted his literary career:

My friend Tom was walking down the street in New York and he met a woman that he knew, and she was carrying one of my books, I don’t remember which one it was. And he says, “Oh, I see that you have that book.” And she says, “Yes, it’s for my reading group.” And he says, “Do you like it?” And she says, “I haven’t read it, and I won’t.” So he says, “Why not?” Because she was carrying it. And she says, “Because he’s a right wing twerp.” See? Now, I am right wing, and maybe I’m a twerp—I don’t know. But she didn’t even give the book a chance. A lot of people are like that.

I've railed before about people who need to give novelists a political orthodoxy test before they dip into their books, but the fact of the matter is that it mostly just makes me sad that some people are so bound to their politics that they can't escape into fiction made by someone who doesn't vote as they do. It's very likely Mark Helprin and I would cancel each other out at the ballot box, but I would not to deny myself the privilege of Winter's Tale or Soldier of a Great War simply because I find his political views pedantic and a bit fussy. Call me selfish.

But I think this isn't so much about politics as it is about orthodoxy -- an inability to experience something unless it vetted through some particular filter derived from stringent but kneejerk set of criteria. Politics filters, genre filters, gender filters, age filters, so on and so forth. I think filters are fine -- you can't and shouldn't swallow everything uncritically or under the assumption it is all of equivalent quality -- but I think it matters how you construct your filters. Any filter that cuts off work because of an arbitrary value is idiotic. "I won't read him because he's right wing." "I don't listen to rap." "I'm not going to any chick flick." These are the bleatings of morons.

I've never been particularly orthodox in any aspect of my life, and I think in retrospect that's been a blessing. I don't think everything is good, but I hold open the possibility that everything could be good, and I feel as a matter of intellectual honesty, as much as possible I have to approach a creative work independent of its creator to determine whether that work speaks to me or not. Sometimes this will be impossible: the creator's beliefs or actions may be too reprehensible to excuse, for example, or the work is so intensely personal that it is inacessible without knowing something about the artist. But most artists are within a couple sigma of acceptable standards of human behavior, and most creators make work to be experienced by others. I love Winter's Tale for itself; I would love it even if I knew nothing of its author. And who Mark Helprin is, while interesting, is not relevant to my primary experience of the work. I'm glad it's not.

Posted by john at August 8, 2006 10:40 AM

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Comments

Q | August 8, 2006 12:23 PM

Hey! This is the first time I've been lumped into the possible moron category, because you know I don't listen to rap. And I'm ok with that, because I personally dislike it immensely, in the entirety that I have ever heard it really... Technically I never say I won't listen to rap... because there may at somepoint in the uncharted future be something that is considered rap that I won't find patently useless.

Still, I won't take offense.

Kero aka Kevin | August 8, 2006 12:24 PM

I think there is a difference in saying "I haven't like 99% of the x music I've listened to so I don't like x" and simply saying "I don't like x because it is x." Unfortunately both of those expressions are generally shortened to sound like a genre filter. Granted both come close to not likeing something without experiencing it, which is the point, but the first one is at least based on experience.

John H | August 8, 2006 12:31 PM

Just remember: rap is 3/4 crap.

You can take that anyway you wish...

monolithfoo | August 8, 2006 12:37 PM

Thank you for that post. I have a very big problem with one of your close friends, yes I know, it is MY problem. I love your writting none the less. I've come to terms with things by knowing that if you tip a pint of bitter with him, the loss of several thousand extra brain cells will be the result. It's just to bad he will enjoy it to much to care.

Rasselas | August 8, 2006 12:41 PM

I liked A Soldier of the Great War and Memoir from Antproof Case quite a bit, and used to give copies as gifts, but reading several of Helprin's essays for the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the Claremont Institute during the late '90s and early '00s sapped all their appeal. His essays are so meanly, soft-handedly Republican, and so enamoured of wars, military actions and the imaginary soldierly virtues that rise up the ranks to inflate the tax-hating paterfamilias that it became impossible to look at the books without remembering the author's views on noncombatant immunity.

John Scalzi | August 8, 2006 12:54 PM

Monolithfoo:

"I've come to terms with things by knowing that if you tip a pint of bitter with him, the loss of several thousand extra brain cells will be the result."

You can take solace, then, in the fact that I will never tip a pint with him. I don't drink alcohol, you see.

theophylact | August 8, 2006 12:59 PM

Well, I've read (and loved)Winter's Tale and Memoir from Antproof Case, though I abandoned A Soldier of the Great War halfway through. And I find Helprin to be an unbearably smug and self-satisfied person, based on several interviews I've read.

But if I had to choose my art on the basis of the politics or personality of the artist, I'd have to give up many of my favorite works. Many -- perhaps most -- great writers, painters, and scientists were miserable excuses for human beings, perhaps because the energy poured into the work left little over for normal fellow feeling. We don't have to like them, though.

And conversely, it doesn't matter whether George W. Bush would be a wonderful drinking companion (though I suspect that picture of him is false as well); he's a trainwreck of a president, and I couldn't imagine voting for him for dogcatcher.

monolithfoo | August 8, 2006 01:02 PM

ah... well then... I'll be drinking your share.

Brendan Gray | August 8, 2006 01:05 PM

If there's an author I want to read and I'm suspicious about his politics, I'll just get his books from the library. That way I can enrich my mind, without necessarily contributing to his wallet. The library is also a great way to keep up with your reading if you're on a limited budget and/or have limited space for a book collection.

alkali | August 8, 2006 01:06 PM

I don't want to take into account the known political stances of writers when I read, but I can't really help myself. That doesn't mean I have to know what the author's view is on the latest highway bill before I start reading, but if I know that the writer holds views that I think of as seriously inconsistent with good judgment, I can't help but take that into account as I read the author's work -- particularly where the area of judgment where I am at odds with the author touches the subject matter of the work.

By way of example, H.P. Lovecraft was frightened of black people. (Why not call him racist? Well, he was that, but I'm being more specific for a reason I'll get to in a moment.) Periodically in HPL's short stories a black man, or several black men, will make an appearance as some kind of ominous portent. HPL intended that to be mildly scary, and if I weren't consciously aware of HPL's fear of back people I might just ignore it -- or possibly even take it as HPL intended by reason of my own latent white-guy racism, though I hope I wouldn't. What actually happens is, I think something like, "There he goes again with the Big Scary Black Man," and mentally roll my eyes.

The most recent casualty of my inability to screen out this kind of thing is David Foster Wallace, who has opined that it is immoral to boil lobsters for eating because it causes them pain. My own personal feeling is that's nuts. (I recognize, at least intellectually, that ethical vegetarians have an respectable position on that issue, and so I don't go around telling my vegetarian friends about my gut-level feeling on that subject, which I mention here not to offend vegetarians but just to illustrate my problem with DFW.) As a consequence, I find it hard to take DFW seriously to the extent that his novels wander into social commentary, as they so often do, because I think, "Yes, but this is the guy who thinks we shouldn't eat lobsters."

Oddly, this is not a problem for me if I perceive the difference in judgment to be simply a difference in historical circumstances (e.g., it seems to me that Shakespeare would clearly be an anti-Semite by modern standards, but not by Elizabethan standards, so it doesn't bother me) or if the writer is completely off the deep end (crazy Frenchman Michel Houellebecq, and of course John Scalzi).

Megan | August 8, 2006 01:13 PM

"...it mostly just makes me sad that some people are so bound to their politics that they can't escape into fiction made by someone who doesn't vote as they do."

Eh. So many books, so little time.

I'm more likely to buy a book written by someone I know, or somebody with a blog I enjoy reading. I'm less likely to buy a book written by someone who rubs me the wrong way (whether it's because of politics, criminal behavior, personality or some other factor).

In the first case, meta information is a value add. In the second, it's something I have to get past. Considering the number of authors I'm favorably disposed toward, and the far greater number that I know next to nothing about, I don't have much incentive to get past that initial discomfort.

John Scalzi | August 8, 2006 01:17 PM

I suppose that it may be that it may be that it simply doesn't bother me that people vote differently than I -- at least, not to the point where I see it as a negative when it comes to reading their work.

Kero aka Kevin | August 8, 2006 01:19 PM

I'm not seeing why someone who doesn't like to harm a critter more than neccesary is suddenly a kook? Perhaps if he kept that stance after being told that if you stick the big insects in the freezer before boiling them they will die painlessly you could perhaps promote him to kookery. Besides, you seem to forget that just because someone has a strange view on one thing doesn't mean all their views are invalid. This would be the same as assuming being good at one thing makes you good at everything, which is a common enough misconception I suppose. Besides, DFW can make sentences do things I can only dream about, regardless of his views on food.

John H | August 8, 2006 01:24 PM

Lobsters are insects? When did that happen?

alkali | August 8, 2006 01:27 PM

Kero aka Kevin writes:

I'm not seeing why someone who doesn't like to harm a critter more than neccesary is suddenly a kook?

As I tried to say in my previous comment, I understand that there is an intellectually respectable argument for ethical vegetarianism and I'm not trying to bash it. I'm just trying to explain how my reading is actually affected by an author's political views that are extraneous to the work into account, and DFW was the example that came to mind.

Besides, you seem to forget that just because someone has a strange view on one thing doesn't mean all their views are invalid.

Well, yes, I'm intellectually aware that that can be (and maybe is frequently) the case, but I'm talking about my actual experience of reading rather than the Platonic ideal of a reading experience that I arguably ought to be having.

Laurie Mann | August 8, 2006 01:34 PM

I love Orson Scott Card as a fiction writer, but I don't care for him as a social commentator.

I love Charlie Stross as a fiction writer, but his politics make mine look conservative.

I sometimes liked Jerry Pournelle's fiction, though not since about 1980. After 1980, his non-fiction on computers was sometimes readable.

Hell, I still enjoy William Buckley and sometimes even George Will much as I'm not fond of their politics.

Now, Mel Gibson...well, who knows.

On the other hand, I can't imagine paying to read Ann Coulter or Bill O'Reilly. Neither have any sense or any real writing ability. They are neither informative nor amusing, so why bother?

So I don't think it's a good idea to ignore good writers/performers/musicians due to their politics. But it's OK if not encouraged to ignore the ones who are bad to begin with.

Phillip J. Birmingham | August 8, 2006 01:40 PM

Hell, I enjoy P.J. O'Rourke's writing, even when he's writing about politics.

Smurf | August 8, 2006 02:44 PM

Grr.... beaten by an hour to the P.J. O'Rourke reference.

You'd be a tool if you skipped out on authors because you don't like they're personal politics or something. I don't really enjoy sci-fi all that much, but I like to read Scalzi's blogs. If I shut Scalzi out because he does sci-fi, I'd lose out on, well, whatever it is he does that draws me here.

Lobsters are crustaceans, or however you spell that. They're still often referred to as "the world's most expensive insect," even here in New England. I've read that the insect they most resemble is the scorpion.

Anonymous | August 8, 2006 02:58 PM

First, to Q: Unless there's two people by that handle, I could give slight contrary evidence to that absolute.

Then, on the whole: I don't even avoid conversing with people because of their politics. Why should I avoid their books, unless it's the books themselves that keep getting on my nerves with misogynistic claptrap and don't provide enough enjoyment to override it?

Richard Campbell | August 8, 2006 03:05 PM

It's not so much the orthodoxy as it is the way that the politics color the work, or sometimes take the work over.

Orson Scott Card: I loved Ender's Game and a lot of his other works. However, somewhere in the Shadow Series Bean's motivation starts to become all about procreation. This particular motivation turns me off, and I can't help but think it's Card's Mormonism showing through.

John Ringo: I enjoy the hell out of military science fiction, and Ringo is no exception, up to a point. However, in many of Ringo's books the female soldiers end up making mistakes by being a little slower or a little softer than the male ones. Turns me off as well.

Michael Z. Williamson: Aside from the explicit libertarian viewpoint (not just bleeding through; there are perpetual references to how badly Earth has fucked up through over-regulation and how much better the Freehold libertarian paradise is), The Weapon has an explicit fuck you to the Democratic Underground blog / community. At this point, the political orthodoxy has become the work.

Rhiannon_s | August 8, 2006 03:29 PM

If I don't like someone's politics then surely I have the right not to financially support them? For authors I do that by not buying their books, for performers by not going to their shows, actors not going to mel gibson films their movies.

There are public figures in the UK that are/were ardent supporters of Thatcherism and I choose to protest those views peacfully by not purchasing their work. Whether or not they care is another matter, probably not, but it matters to me.

John Scalzi | August 8, 2006 03:30 PM

Rhiannon_s:

"If I don't like someone's politics then surely I have the right not to financially support them?"

Of course you do. I just think it's a bad way to make esthetic decisions.

Eric | August 8, 2006 03:56 PM

Lobsters are crustaceans, or however you spell that. They're still often referred to as "the world's most expensive insect," even here in New England. I've read that the insect they most resemble is the scorpion.

I couldn't tell if this was dry wit or not....

Scorpions aren't insects, they're arthropods off the same branch as arachnids.

If this was dry wit, and I spoiled the joke, I apologize and you have permission to imagine you're slapping me in the back of the head.

As for the real issue, I sympathize with alkali: I try very hard not to let an artist's character or politics interfere with enjoying the work, and sometimes I can succeed (I can usually seperate Sinatra the person from Sinatra the singer, for instance). But sometimes it's hard. I'm not saying that's defensible or desirable; I suppose it's simply a natural result of being a human and having your biases.

John H | August 8, 2006 04:40 PM

I enjoyed the Ender and Bean series (the aforementioned Orson Scott Card) even though I really disagree with some of his political opinions. On the other hand, I still haven't seen Mission Impossible:III because I was put off by Tom Cruise's weirdness earlier this year. Will I go see Apocalypto? I don't know yet...

Buck | August 8, 2006 04:48 PM

Ultimately, I agree with Scalzi: sometimes, I have to make myself ignore my label-maker. In general, I think M&M's music is considered rap; being that he's a Detroiter, his music is played on the local "alternative" station, which studiously avoids rap. A friend taped the first few episodes of "Deadwood" for me and I initially rejected them because "I don't really like Westerns." Of course, I didn't realize it was going to be Shakespeare meets "Reservoir Dogs" and become one of my favorite TV shows ever. Lesson learned.
As to an author's political stance or personality, I have to admit, Card dropped off my reading list the more vocal his Mormonism became, and Crichton's misogeny did the same for his books. And I'm probably not alone is finding Tom Cruise's (and to a lesser degree, John Travolta, et al.) militant Scientology off-putting. I kept waiting for Tom to start handing out copies of "Dianetics" to other characters during "The War of the Worlds." But I also pick and choose: Edgar Rice Burroughs and Lovecraft were racists; Tolkein a classist, etc. and I still reread their works. All this being said, rap does give me an instant headache, and I don't listen to it.

Brian Greenberg | August 8, 2006 05:22 PM

Any filter that cuts off work because of an arbitrary value is idiotic. "I won't read him because he's right wing." "I don't listen to rap." "I'm not going to any chick flick." These are the bleatings of morons.

I agree with your basic point, but I think these are bad examples. Not reading an author because he's right wing is moronic (to use your word here), because it's a judgement about the artist, not the art. It suggests that the same book written by two different people would be good in one case, and bad in another.

Disliking rap or chick flicks, though, is judging the art based on a characteristic of the art. This seems perfectly reasonable to me, as long as one allows for others to reach a different conclusion.

Anne C. | August 8, 2006 05:50 PM

I consider myself something of a pacifist, yet I love military literature. To me, fiction is a place to explore. Sometimes those explorations are fun and light and sometimes they are dark and deep. The author is your guide. If you don't want to follow him/her there, then by all means, don't go, but your beliefs and opinions may be shallower because of it. I am of the strong opinion that the more information and impressions you take in, the richer (and the less judgemental) you will be.

mjs | August 8, 2006 07:24 PM

I don't know that opting out of an author's ouevre based on their politics or personality is an inherently terrible idea.
The number of authors that are both willing and able to keep their personalities and beliefs out of their fiction is way smaller than the total. (Card, for the most part, does an admirable job here).
Sure, you're going to have some false positives in the mix. Truly great works will find their way back to you, though, through recommendations or reviews.

The folks so unwilling to bridge the divide that they'll stand firm on "principle", ignoring others' positive remarks? Okay, granted. Hopeless cases.

Derryl Murphy | August 8, 2006 09:08 PM

Jeez, I didn't even know Helprin was a right wing twerp. And yet, A Winter's Tale will remain one of my all-time favorite books.

D

Smurf | August 8, 2006 10:56 PM

No wit was involved in what I wrote about lobsters, Eric...

I never actually looked it up. That's just the stock answer fishermen give when asked if a lobster is an insect. "Ayup... maw like a scawpion."

Did you get any lobster when you were in Boston, John?

Kevin R | August 9, 2006 12:47 AM

This seems, at least to me, to be more of a lefty thing. I buy Mr. Scalzi here's books, even though I realize there's a chance all the money is going to flow straight to, I don't know, Hillary Clinton. Or Ted Strickland. (in whose district I used to live, and I'll be happy to no longer live in Ohio if he gets elected governor.. but I digress.) Because, frankly, he is a good writer of fiction. Same for George R. R. Martin. ASOIAF is an amazing series... it turns out he's a crazy liberal, but who cares? I wouldn't buy a book of his on politics, but it doesn't affect his fantasy work.

But I know and have heard about second-hand plenty of lefties who do what this post says - think "huh, right-wing" and automatically assume it's worthless. I honestly don't get it. Maybe it's the same thing that causes lefties to stereotype all conservatives as evil, stupid, or both. Evil and stupid people can't create art.

I guess there was the thing with the Dixie Chicks, and they got boycotted because one of them turned out to be liberal or whatever. But then, I don't know anyone who would have listened to them in the first place anyway. ;)

Keir | August 9, 2006 01:26 AM

I won't touch Dan Simmons' books these days, because of this. And this. And also this.


Now, it isn't just the raving hatred going on here that puts me off. It is the fact that the man is a fool, and also, a fool who can't imagine the inside of a Muslim's head. Now, if you can't imagine the inside of another human's head, what hope have you of imagining the inside of the head of a runaway AI?


The other thing that it is important about a book, and especially a SF novel, is that it may be read as an argument for a point of view. When you read an argument that is based on (to you) fundamentally flawed premises, you cannot give the argument a fair go.


(For the forum, look around until you find the chap advocating concentration camps for American Muslims, and lecturing others on politeness. Yes, unfair, Mr. Simmons doesn't pick who posts on his board, but e has given people bollocksings over copyright terms. It strikes me as odd that he won'
t over concentration camps.)

I hope paragraphing works, by the way. It didn't on preview, but nothing seemed to help, so here goes.

uhura | August 9, 2006 03:14 AM

FWIW, I think John's inclusion of "I don't listen to rap" as quite apt as it pertains to the topic, because people who say that are making a very gross assumption that all is/sounds exactly the same. Anyone who can't hear the differences between artists in a genre is probably intentionally ignorant, at a minimum.

Tom Scudder | August 9, 2006 04:00 AM

Part of the problem is that most writers have a consistent voice, and once you've heard that voice saying something obnoxious and stupid, it will inflect anything else you hear from it.

There's a particular science fiction writer who mainly writes alternate histories with a military bent whose first book I really liked, well enough to finish out the trilogy. But at the same time as I was reading those books, I was also reading several Usenet newsgroups wherein this same writer acted like a complete butthole (even when I agreed with him, which was about half the time). And I found myself noticing that when his characters decided to voice an Opinion in his books, they sounded a lot like his Usenet voice. Which brought all the irritation I felt at him straight into my escapist fiction, thus reducing the value of the fiction.

So I haven't read anything else by The Same Author since.

Nikitta | August 9, 2006 07:06 AM

IMO, a good book is a good book, regardless of what the author might have of opinions on other things.

You'll never find someone, including authors, that you agree with entirely.

As for not wanting to give your money to someone whose POV's you find repulsive, you'd have quite a lot of work to do to keep that consistent, looking into the political POV's of everyone you trade with, be it the chef at the restaurant you eat at to name just one example.

Of course, if the book is based heavily on that opinion, then I can see a reason to not read it, but then it's because of the book, in itself.

Kevin R: I'm probably what you'd call a leftist, and I basically don't give a wet slap about an authors political POV. As long as the book is good, I'll read it.

I think that the filtering out part happens in both camps, though.

rhiannon_s | August 9, 2006 08:52 AM

I am definately a leftist, and a UK leftist at that (I don't know where that places me on the US political continuum, since even US leftists are at the very least centre right here, even now), but there are people, causes and places that I choose not to give my money to because I don't agree with their practices. I would boycott a resteraunt if there was a Chef running it who I couldn't stand. Take Gordon Ramsy, please, a very good chef by all accounts, one of the best in the UK, but it doesn't matter what his food is like. I wouldn't eat at his resteraunt (even if I could afford to do so) because I think his behavious and views are dreadful.

Why should books be any different? It may be the most exquisite work of literature in the world, the most uplifting story, the most tragic of heros, the dastardliest of villians, etc and so on. If it was written by, for example, margaret thatcher, josef stalin, terry goodkind, or anyone whose views I abhorred, I wouldn't enjoy reading it. And I would certainly feel very uncomfortable knowing my money was supporting that person in any way. The same as I feel my money should not be supporting nestle, rupert murdoch's news empire, the conservative party, or sweatshops in china.

I don't mind supporting Microsoft though, I've never seen the controversy there. A load of companies bitching that MS did to them before they were big enough to do unto it.

John H | August 9, 2006 09:09 AM

To follow up on Nikitta's comment - as long as said person isn't walking around, shoving their opinions or beliefs down my throat (either through their product or through the publicity they receive) I'm not likely to care about it. That's why I don't mind reading Orson Scott Card but have a problem lately with Tom Cruise.

Nikitta gave the example of not giving money to a chef whose POV you disagree with. If the chef were walking around the restaurant making his beliefs known I would probably choose someplace else to dine.

Brian Greenberg | August 9, 2006 12:14 PM

Uhura:
FWIW, I think John's inclusion of "I don't listen to rap" as quite apt as it pertains to the topic, because people who say that are making a very gross assumption that all is/sounds exactly the same. Anyone who can't hear the differences between artists in a genre is probably intentionally ignorant, at a minimum.

Sorry, this argument is as old as the hills. Of course rap doesn't all sound the same, just as all rock & roll doesn't sound the same, or all country, etc. But it all sounds similar - hence the term, "genre." And if you don't like that sound, you're likely not to like most of the music in teh genre.

As for me, there is some rap that I like, but it's typically the stuff that borders on pop/rock. So while I don't close my mind to any music, if someone asked me if I like rap, my answer would be no.

Nikitta | August 9, 2006 02:02 PM

John H: Good point.

I don't like Tom Cruise much, either, but for entirely different reasons.

rhiannon_s: I don't just mean celebrety chefs, as there are other chefs in the world, and I'll bet that none of us have a problem with eating at a restaurant without knowing what the chef at that place might hold of political opinions. If you want to be consistent about not wanting to buy from people whose political POV you find repulsive, then you will have to ask every chef at every restaurant you go to what his or her world view is, to mention just one example - and that would be too tedious.

It's a bit of a jump to compare that to supporting sweat shops, though it's impossible to avoid suppoting it - at least if you own a computer. Those kind of things are put together in sweat shops.

In any case, I don't think you can reasonably compare holding a POV that you find repulsive with running sweat shops.

Anonymous | August 9, 2006 03:55 PM

Brian,

"But it all sounds similar - hence the term, "genre." And if you don't like that sound, you're likely not to like most of the music in teh genre."

You're missing my point, in that not all rap sounds "similar". Alison Krauss and Union Station don't sound anything like Big and Rich, for example. Yet they're in the same genre. If you really think everything in a genre sounds similar, then you're using a pretty narrow definition.

Emily H. | August 9, 2006 05:15 PM

Most fiction is, to some extent at least, grounded in a certain reality that it expects its readers to share. And usually this reality has some kind of psychological, sociological, or moral component: "poor people can only succeed by pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps," or "poor people can only succeed with the help of the government," or "those who have mohawks and body piercings are antisocial and in need of tough love," or "those who have mohawks and body piercings are displaying an aesthetic preference that has no bearing on their sociability or morality."

The thing is, I expect books to tell me things that are true. (Not in a these-are-the-facts-of-beekeeping way, but in a this-is-what-life-is way). And if I respond to a book with "But, that isn't true!"--that's the quickest way to knock me out of a book. The author and I don't share enough common assumptions for me to believe in the places and people in the book.

No, I don't dismiss right-wing writers out of hand. But I'm wary of them.
On the other hand, I do that almost as often with left-wing writers, when they're simplistic enough to evoke a "That isn't true!" response from me even though my politics are rather... hot pink.

Yaron | August 10, 2006 10:00 AM

If you really think everything in a genre sounds similar, then you're using a pretty narrow definition.
Err... Everything in a genre *must* sound similar, to a point, pretty much *by definition*. If it wasn't, then you wouldn't identify it as being in that genre.

Yes, there is a range of what rap is. But they all share something. I don't know the three artists/bands you mentioned as examples, but I'm pretty sure that if I listened to their songs there will be enough there to make me sure it's rap. Despite the differences. And that when you listen to their songs you also know it's rap. That's because there's something similar to all of them. Something that makes them rap.

I don't like rap myself. I also don't like heavy metal. And, of course, there are exceptions. But usually they're the ones bordering on another genre. As a rule, once I heard (or read, or tasted, or whatever) enough samples of a genre to get a good sense of what the common themes are, I feel perfectly justified in having an opinion about the entire genre. Knowing that there are exceptions, but knowing that they're rare and are indeed exceptions and not the rule.

Not reading a book, or listening to music, because of the author's/artist's opinion, that's a different matter. Unlike the genre issue, here the criteria isn't a part of what you get from the work itself.
And I'm strictly of the opinion that it doesn't matter. If the writer lets the opinions show inside the book, then it's relevant, but then it's also about what happens in the books and not just the opinion of the author. If the books don't carry the personal opinion, I don't care and shouldn't care. I read the book, the book is the product, and the rest isn't relevant. I don't care about the opinion of the writer, the editor, the cover artist, the copyeditor, the agent, the printers, or anyone else on the chain.

That's true for books, music, food, or everything else.

Nancy Lebovitz | August 11, 2006 06:16 AM

If you like Helprin, check out R. A. Lafferty. He's used a tall tale style and imho, he's better than Helprin. I recommend starting with _Past Master_ (Thomas Moore is brought to a planet based on his Utopia where things are going wrong) and _Nine Hundred Grandmothers_.

Scott | August 11, 2006 07:07 AM

The owner/operators of In'n'Out Burger are highly orthodox Christians who donate huge amounts of their profits to the Right to Life movement (which I am not a fan of). It'll be a boiling hot fever day in my brain when I give up the Double Double.

Which, I guess, makes me a very limited follower of the Poppy Z Brite creed: My tastes trump my values. (though I don't think she puts it quite that way.)

Adam Lipkin | August 11, 2006 07:57 AM

Scott, do you have some documentation there? Snopes acknowledges the nearly-hidden Bible verses, but makes no mention of the Right to Life movement.

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