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September 27, 2007

Some Publishing Phenomena

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Talk about a professional! Western and mystery writer James Reasoner has published 200 books and is still going strong -- giants apparently do still roam the earth. Reasoner blogs very generously here; Saddlebums interviews him here. Ed Gorman says that Reasoner's recent southern-noir novel "Dust Devils" is a corker.

* One of the more surprising publishing events of 1986 was a volume entitled "White Trash Cooking," by Ernest Matthew Mickler. It really was what it seemed to be -- a cookbook featuring recipes for dishes like Icebox Cake and Potato Chip Sandwiches. But it was more than that too. Full of humor, perceptiveness, and pride, it was touching and funny -- a poetic piece of popular anthropology: a genuine, if oddball, work of art, in other words. Though the book was controversial -- the term "white trash" was just not used at the time -- it also struck a happy nerve, and it went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. The Oxford American's John T. Edge recalls the book, as well as Ernest Mickler.

* 50 years ago, Grace Metalious was a hard-drinking, poor New Hampshire mother with a feverish yen to be a writer. One of the novels she submitted to that strange and distant place, the New York publishing world, was accepted, was given a new title, and was then set loose on the world. "Peyton Place" became one of the publishing sensations of the 1950s. It sold skillions of copies, helped set the pattern for generations of soap operas to come, and scandalized Americans from many different walks of life. Within six years, Metalious -- a loose cannon on the best of days -- had spent all her newfound money, and had drunk herself to death. She was only 38. Michael Callahan profiles the case for Vanity Fair.



posted by Michael at September 27, 2007


If I'm not mistaken, the term used to be "poor white trash," and over the years the "poor" part sort of fell into disuse.

Posted by: Peter on September 27, 2007 10:24 PM

I had no idea that book was so well-known. My niece spent time in Georgia some years back and, knowing her uncle well, chose White Trash Cooking as a ideal present for him. It's a complete one-off. Your words are well-chosen, Michael: "...a poetic piece of popular anthropology: a genuine, if oddball, work of art..." What I loved most was the blithe and promiscuous melding of modern processed-goods with fresh produce - and with dead fauna verging on road-kill. Something to delight and offend on every line.

The pics are especially interesting to me because of where I live in Australia: the hills between the Great Divide and large coastal flood-plain of the Macleay River. The mid-north coast of NSW is something of a biome of Georgia, Northern Florida etc, and the photos in Mickler's book were astonishingly familiar.

As for the rest: the Letterman appearance, the law-suits, the death from AIDS...I had no idea.

Think I'll just remember the man who taught me to make anti-stick peanut butter sandwiches. (You use mayonnaise - from a jar, of course.)

Posted by: Robert Townshend on September 28, 2007 7:29 AM

That article on Grace Metalious was just outstanding. I couldn't stop reading it. Thanks, Michael.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on September 28, 2007 9:48 AM

One of my favorite aspects of 2Blowhards is that Michael writes about the reality of the arts in a way that few dare. The art world is a pigsty and a nightmare. Publishing (which I have been involved in) is no exception.

One of my favorite theories is that artists tend to be so reflexively leftist and socialist because the arts are such a hellhole. Artists live in the most vicious precinct of capitalism. The world of the arts is a world of scarcity and bitter competition over scraps.

An artist, however, can't complain about this directly. If you bitch about the cronyism, back stabbing, dirty dealing, lowlife hysteria, filthy working conditions and abysmal pay, you won't exhibit, perform or be published. Despite the public pretense of rebellion, artists are the tamest sheep on the planet.

You can, however, project your hatred of the vile world of the arts onto the rest of the universe. The corporate world, which treats people with incredible kindness and generosity in comparison to the arts, is one of the principle punching bags. Republicans make a fine target, too, particularly because they seem to be against welfare for artists. In most artistic arenas, you must profess extreme leftist views just to be in the ball game. So, a competition develops over who can be the craziest, most extreme pretend revolutionary.

So, are artists drawn to the arts because they are sick and crazy or do they become sick and crazy because they are drawn to the arts? The answer will be provided in the next life.

And, by the way, this post refers to the the Metalious bit.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on September 28, 2007 10:04 AM

"I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars," he once said. "The rest I just squandered."

Posted by: dearieme on September 28, 2007 10:40 AM

Tammy Faye Bakker's recipe for Sloppy Joe: a cook will "know if you have enough ketchup when it gets to the right degree of redness."

A woman after my own heart.

Posted by: ricpic on September 28, 2007 10:41 AM

I know she had affairs with lots of men, but somehow she just comes across to me as more of a lesbian than a heterosexual woman.

Posted by: blue on September 28, 2007 11:52 AM

After reading the Metalious bit in more detail, I have to say... yuck! What a dreadful bitch.

Perhaps back in the 50s there was something remarkable about being such a dreadful, worthless bitch. Somehow I doubt it.

In my little hometown of Woodstock, I'd bet I could count 500 identical dreadful, worthless bitches. Manhattan must house 250,000 of them. The feminist movement has made being a dreadful, worthless bitch something of a badge of honor. These days they tend to be fag hags. While such women like to pretend that their personal lives are fulfilled by their liberation, in fact their personal lives are characterized by endless warfare, repeated divorce, vicious child custody disputes and real or imagined rape and abuse claims.

The left promotes a complete double standard in this regard. White, hetero men are supposed to be self-effacing Jesus Christ wannabes, determined to save the world by prostrating themselves before blacks, gays and women. (My daughter's generation of white men discovered a clever way out of this bind. By declaring yourself gay, you become one of the oppressed, escape the evil eye and become eligible for inclusion in the world of dreadful, worthless bitches.) One of my favorite characters in Woodstock is an old fart who plays the Jesus Christ wannabe role to the hilt and is a hero to the radical left because he is a Vietnam vet. He plays this role in an effort to get laid, because what the hell it worked when he was 18. The funny part is that the women he's trying to impress long since abandoned hetersexuality for ideological lesbianism and would just as soon puree his balls in an blender.

In Manhattan and Woodstock, a contemporary gal's credentials as a true feminist are based entirely on being a dreadful, worthless bitch who will serve nobody and has no regard for anything except self.

Nicole Kidman, who does a semi-nude spread in the same magazine that carries the article, looks the part in toto. She has no idea how to give herself to anything, including the camera. Her attempt to offer up her boobs looks forced and ridiculous. She is a sexless ice queen, and a featureless bitch. This is the ideal of the clever, Manhattan woman.

Note to men who prefer to be happy, instead of stylish. Stay the hell away from such women.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on September 28, 2007 12:21 PM

Shouting Thomas, I am curious about your Artist/Author/Leftist theory. One thing that I have been thinking about is the connection between language and political-leaning.

For instance, back-in-the-day, there used to be a theory that skilled workers and craftsmen were more likely to vote conservative (i.e. Doctors, Bankers, Carpenters, Plumbers, Engineers, etc.) whereas Artsy and creative people were more likely to vote liberal.

And one thing that has really struck me is that when I meet people who naturally use language in a certain way, they tend to be quite liberal.

I am not sure how to describe that "way" of speaking. But anytime I hear some Hollywood actor go on and on about his latest movie and it seems like in 5 minutes of speaking he was able to communicate NOTHING, it always reminds me of that "way" of speaking; that kind of language.
It so often lacks directness. Whereas the Math and Comp Sci students I used to hang out with always seemed to use VERY direct and often blunt language. There was never mistaking anything they said.

Any thoughts?

Posted by: Ian Lewis on September 28, 2007 12:33 PM

Peter - That does seem right. I wonder how and why the "poor" got dropped. I wonder if the cookbook had anything to do with it ...

Robert T. -- That's a really great description of what the books is like. Mayo and peanut butter ... I recall Friedrich von Blowhard favoring that combo as a young man. I wonder if he has some White Trash in his genes ...

Charlton -- What a story, eh? The VF writer did a nice job with it.

STx2 -- The arts life really can be hellish, no? I'd never run across anything like your theory of why artsies tend left, but I think it has a lot going for it. Funny snapshots of loony Manhattan and Woodstock dames too -- I've known a bunch of those. You've got a novel in you about all this, clearly, or at least an album's worth of songs ... Come to think of it, does an album of songs (showing my age using the word "album") more or less equal a novel in terms of imagination and energy, do you think?

Dearieme -- Sounds like a life well-squandered!

Ricpic -- I want some of that Sloppy Joe.

Blue -- Does she? I hadn't thought that, but maybe you're being really shrewd. You mean, in her ... pugnacity, and love of confrontation and stuff? Hmmm. Seeming more and more plausible. Still, winding up in the sack with so many guys ... On the other hand ... Hmm.

Ian -- You've developed good radar for "that way of speaking"!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 28, 2007 1:05 PM

Hey, it's a slow day at work!

"But anytime I hear some Hollywood actor go on and on about his latest movie and it seems like in 5 minutes of speaking he was able to communicate NOTHING, it always reminds me of that "way" of speaking; that kind of language. It so often lacks directness."

In a world that admires absolutely pure idealism, reality just gets in the way.

Engineers, scientists, bankers, etc. must accept reality to do business. They believe (if I might paraphrase) that God's laws are immutable. People expect buildings to stay standing, and they want to count their money and see that it's still there.

It takes an incredible amount of verbiage to explain that male and female are just constructed realities forced on us by a malevolent patriarchy. The amount of verbiage is directly related to the bullshit level.

The film business, for obvious reasons, is addicted to notions of pure idealism. If it can be depicted on film, then life should be equally maleable.

I can remember posting on this very board and writing: "War is part of the human condition." A respondent wrote: "Then human nature must be changed!" This manner of thinking, of course, led to the Holocaust, the Gulag and the Maoist dungeons, but what the hell... pure idealism must be served.

Some of us decide to make the best of this world and to enjoy our short lives in as much comfort and pleasure as possible. Others must perfect the world in their short stay upon it. It's been this way for as long as humans have existed, if literature serves as any guide. I suspect that the hidden world of angels and demons plays a much larger role in this than any of us can imagine.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on September 28, 2007 1:53 PM

ST - I promise not to turn homosexual just because that dreadful worthless Nicole Kidman bitch won't let me anywhere near her bed...or something.

Posted by: ricpic on September 28, 2007 3:53 PM

ST, really interesting contrast between your first two posts. Number one seemed somewhat sympathetic to the artists as victims of capitalism at its worst, while number two...well, hoo-eee!

I agree with blue that GM strikes me as a lesbian, pure and simple. I'd go further and say (I haven't read the full article yet, so I may be talking out my duodenum here) that when she swang "that" way, she put a distinctly dyke/top grip on the bat.

Posted by: PatrickH on September 28, 2007 4:04 PM

"It takes an incredible amount of verbiage to explain that male and female are just constructed realities forced on us by a malevolent patriarchy."

Good point. But the question I was getting to goes something like this:
If that "way" of speaking comes naturally to some people, and that these people also tend to be on the Left of Politics, then, why?

Of course, the basic premise might be completely off. But, if it isn't, why do these people lean Left?

Posted by: Ian Lewis on September 28, 2007 4:57 PM

I'll bite. People on the left tend to see things from all sides, or attempt to at least, and enjoy examining the process of reaching a solution more than the actual result. People on the right tend to be more results-oriented. Hence you have artists, whose art is an examination of one process or another, on the left and engineers and bankers, etc. on the right.

I'll add that I'm very much process oriented in that the process of doing things is almost always more interesting to me than the result of those endeavors. And so when I talk, I tend to meander a bit. Can't really help it and since I enjoy that aspect of myself, I don't really want to.

That said, I'm very glad there are results-oriented people out there building things that don't fall apart. I just wouldn't want them, for instance, making movies, generally.

Posted by: the patriarch on September 28, 2007 6:28 PM

Forgot to add that my little theory also applies to politics. Generally speaking, and I'll use the Dems to represent the left, the Dems are concerned with the process, it must have meaning, which results in a usually fractured group as they all duke it out over minutia and tend to have trouble presenting a united front despite their minor differences. Whereas with the Republicans, they just want results, by any means necessary, and are very good at burying minor differences and presenting a united front to get big results.

I'm painting with fairly broad strokes here, but I believe there's a lot of truth in them.

Posted by: the patriarch on September 28, 2007 6:32 PM

The Patriarch's hunches work for me ... Certainly describe and semi-explain some of the world as I've known it ... Although there might be certain kinds of movies where I'd want a results-oriented engineer-type in charge of the show ... Can't be having too much "process" going on when there are armies of well-paid extras and techies waiting around for marching orders ... On the other hand, there are industries that could use a little more in the way of a searching-and-open point of view. Didn't Apple start to wither away when that one CEO did nothing but focus on the bottom line? (Ie., results.) And then it came back to life when Jobs brought back some innovation and vision? (All that "creativity" stuff....) But God knows it's nice to be able to put on two different hats ....

And the more I think about it, the more Grace Metalious does seem a little lesbianish (although I've known some two-fisted straight women devoted to acting-out the way she was too ... But maybe ... Well, who knows what was under all that?) ... And I find myself wondering once again why my lesbian radar is so much weaker than my gay-guy radar ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 28, 2007 7:18 PM

Patriarch, I have to disagree with this, "the Dems are concerned with the process, it must have meaning".

I think that the Left, and by extension the Democratic party, has been influenced more and more with Progressivism ever since the turn of the last century.

Since then, each group has wanted it's piece of the Progressive pie. So, now, you have the Feminists, Environmentalists, Animal-Rights/PETA/Vegetarians/Vegans, Teachers Unions/Labor Unions, Afro-Centrists, Socialized-Medicine Advocates, Gun-Control Advocates, and plain old Socialists each fighting for control.

And, while, each of these groups make points that the average American can agree with, their attitude and outlook is often unappealing.

Please understand that I am not trying to say that one side is correct, and the other side is wrong. But that the current Left is not interested in process, they are interested in getting as much as they can from a government that is unlikely to grow that much larger (Different programs will become more expensive, like Medicare, but we are unlikely to make wholesale additions).

And the Republicans, when they were at their most effective (politically) basically focused on two things: Reduce Gov't, stop Communism.

Well, that is my take at least.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on September 28, 2007 10:41 PM

Thomas really seems to want someone to flick him some shit, but I'm tired today.

Reduce government? George Bush?

When I was growing up in my small town I never heard any of the gossip (I was a good boy and as town doctor, my dad couldn't gossip or let my mom gossip, even though he knew more than anybody). But now living here as an adult, I'm hearing all the Peyton Place stuff. (Best story: a guy screwing around with a woman while her husband was plotting a terrist attack on the county sherrif. True story).

Posted by: John Emerson on September 29, 2007 10:08 AM

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