Wednesday, May 13, 2015

I Finally Get Around to Responding to Your Comments (and an announcement)

As those of you who have been kind enough to comment on my posts (and aren't spambots) probably know, I am absolutely terrible about responding.  The cases where I have responded are few and far between, and I apologize.  So, here and now, I'll respond to some.

On the post 100 Years, 94 books:

Julia Jones wrote (way back on February 22nd, 2013):

Hi Matt. I've just published Fifty Years in the Fiction Factory which is a study of a anonymous hack writer of best selling periodical fiction - all instalments, never published between covers. Therefore quite different from books on your list - different class of reader for one. The interest we share, however, is the correlation between mass popularity and social change / public obsessions. The PhD on which I based my book + all research materials are available free at or via my website 
One piece of advice which I'm sure you don't need, is don't sneer at your material or it's readers. So easy to be intellectual snobby about popular fic. So wrong.

I try to avoid sneering, but I'm not above calling out fault where I see it.  There's plenty of pop fic that I enjoy or at the very least is competently written (some early Clancy or Grisham or Ludlum).  I will and have called out people for lazy or lousy writing, and, at least in the case of Grisham's The Appeal, I called out fans, or at least a specific group of fans.

On February 26th, 2013, Mike wrote:

Glancing down this list, it's hard to miss the impact of Hollywood on the popularity of books. Or is it Hollywood's fascination with the most popular books? I think it's the former.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  

On August 28th, 2013, Emma Lavoie wrote:

Thank you so much for the wonderful book! I finished it a few days ago and cannot get it out of my head. It is pure magic. It was everything I hoped it would be and much more. Thank you so much. You are a great writer... EL James.

I think you have me confused with someone else.

On April 14, 2014, Munboy wrote:

Love the idea and look forward to reading your reviews... One thing, though. The background is horrible and makes your site extremely hard to read on my phone.

I am so sorry it took me forever to get around to fixing this.  

Jennifer R. Hubbard wrote:

I've read this twice and think of it as one of the "War is bad" books. But by now, that message has been said and shown so many times. I'm thinking now the real question for literature to address is not, "Is war bad?" or "How bad is war?" but, "Since we've all been saying that war is bad for so many years, how come we keep engaging in it? What's the attraction? Why do we keep sticking our hands in that fan blade even though we know it's going to be a gory mess?"

That's a great point.  I think Remarque does ask this question, which was especially relevant in a war without any clear moral or philosophical underpinnings.  The soldiers were all average folk who didn't particularly want to be there, but found that they had no choice.  I think another question that Remarque asks, and continues to be asked by other writers, is "what does war do to people and society?"  

Paul Gottlieb wrote:

I recently read this novel. I think I expected a lot of noble, sentiment, but what I got was an incredibly vibrant book, full of life, action, and an almost cinematic realism. Yes, the book is anti-war, but it succeeds as an anti- war novel because it imbues it's characters with such life that you feel the tragic waste in every loss of life. I had never imagined that a novel this old--and a "classic" to boot--would be so filled with life!

There are plenty of classics that are incredibly vibrant, but the ones that are often touted in high schools and colleges are the ones that are far more formally structured and, for lack of a better term, crystallized.  Check out Henry  Miller's Tropic of Cancer or Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun.

spacepotatoes wrote:

It was interesting to see Capote's thoughts on friendship. I read a Vanity Fair article not too long ago about Capote losing several good friends just a few years before this interview because of the way he used them in his writing.

He certainly did.  For years he had been promising to present his magnum opus, but never produced anything.  Eventually, his agent convinced him to publish pieces of what later became Answered Prayers, most notably (and infamously) La Côte Basque 1965 which presented intimate details of high society figures.

Paul Gottlieb wrote:

I'll bet that when you started this project, filled with youthful enthusiasm, you didn't anticipate that you would end up slogging your way through the swamp of Grisham, Dan Brown, and--worst of all--Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins. A trip through the sewers of Paris would be more be a more pleasurable experience!

You're right, and possibly psychic.  You posted this three days before I flew from Porto to Paris.  (Which meant I arrived about 12 hours after the Charlie Hebdo massacre)

Paul Gottlieb wrote:

I am not a John Grisham fan, and I think your review of “The Appeal” is mostly spot on. But I have to take strenuous exception to one point you made: To anyone familiar with the real-life behavior and attitudes of the Walton Family, The Koch brothers, or West Virginia coal magnate Don Blankenship, the portrait of Carl Trudeau seems like an accurate, perhaps slightly flattering, depiction of a modern Oligarch. Compared to his real-life counterparts, Lex Luthor seems relatively harmless, perhaps even just misunderstood.

The problem is that Trudeau is constantly performing, even when he's completely alone, he acts like he's in a bad soap opera and is desperately trying to get the audience to understand that he's the bad guy.  Even the Koch brothers must have hobbies besides evil monologizing.

In response to 2010: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson:

yellojkt wrote:

The level of sexual violence and the authorial wish-fulfillment place on the main character can be a bit off-putting.

True.  I guess after reading Gravity's Rainbow and American Psycho, this series is less shocking to me, but you're right.  The wish-fulfillment is more forgivable, but yeah, this novel is an investigative journalist writing about a crime-solving investigative journalist.  

I'd like to thank, en masse, everyone who wished me well.   I'd also like to thank a few commenters specifically for consistently providing interesting and thought provoking posts (even if I've been too lazy to respond to them).

Capewood has been reading through the list, and posting his thoughts on the book's original review pages.  If you're reading this, there is a free (and legal) copy of So Big online at (this is the internet archive's library site).   The link is

Paul Gottlieb, Allen Knutson, Jennifer R. Hubbard, yellojkt, and Man of la book:  I'd like to thank you also for following me for so long and for your wonderful comments.

And my mom reads this and always mentions how she doesn't want to leave comments because she thinks it would be embarrassing for me.   It's not embarrassing, and you can make up a username if you want.  

Now, for the announcement.  

As you probably realize, I'm getting close to the end of my list.  And the question you're probably asking is: What next?   Well, here's the answer.

By the time I finish the last book in the bestseller review series, I'll have a weekly Monday-Friday post schedule.

Monday: Alternates between "From Page to Screen to Screen" and "Raiders of the Public Domain"

I'll explain what those are after the rest of the schedule

Tuesday:  Links from around the web

Wednesday: Mini-essay, anecdote, etc.

Thursday: What I'm Reading/Watching

Friday: Before and After Quiz.

Anyway, as for what those things on Monday are.  

As I've been doing this project, I found that not only were a lot of these novels given film adaptations, but many were given multiple film adaptations.  So this got me thinking about source material that had been adapted to the screen numerous times.  So, From Page to Screen to Screen will look at novels, stories, and plays that have multiple film adaptations, and will include reviews of the films and a decision on which is the best adaptation and which the best film.  The first installment will be on Ernest Hemingway's short story "The Killers," and the two film adaptation: the 1946 Lancaster/Gardner film noir and the 1964 John Cassavetes/Angie Dickinson film with Reagan as one of the villains.  

"Raiders of the Public Domain" will be an original piece of long fiction, published serially.  I won't give anything away now, so you'll just have to wait and see.   


  1. I hope "The Glass Key" is on your list, leading to the movies The Glass Key, Yojimbo (+ Sanjuro), A Fistful of Dollars (+ sequels), The Warrior and the Sorceress, Last Man Standing, Miller's Crossing, ...
    Things are made a bit confusing by the influence of "Red Harvest", though.

  2. Since I have been told that I am allowed to post, I'm hoping that Matt will link the NPR and Salon interviews about his blog. I am very proud mom and Matt is a great son. It's amazing how much a parent can learn from her child.

  3. Kudos for sticking with this project, whose subtitle probably could've been, "So. Much. Grisham."
    Movies do seem to help keep their book versions alive. When I was a lot younger, I used to get very upset at movies for not being completely faithful to the book, but at some point I began to enjoy the difference between the art forms.