Iíve noticed more than a few grumblings from critics over the new Harry Potter book. There seems to be a consensus that there probably are more adults then children reading the book. Given the deplorable state of the book industry these days this is no small thing to worry about. But I think this is a symptom of a larger issue; the fact that a good 90% of adult literature well, frankly, sucks.
There are only so many rewrites of Catcher in the Rye you can read before you toss their hands up and run back to the childrenís section of the local book store. Maybe youíll pause to peruse the Sci-Fi/ fantasy shelves but then, seeing mostly clones of Tolkien and Asimov, proceed strait to Harry Potter and the Series of Unfortunate Events. If you think Iím being unfair or snobbish, my wife and I are both guilty of this flight from Serious Adult Literature as well and so I speak from personal experience; Elvira is an avid fan of Lemony Snickettís and Iíve always had a soft spot for Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
But I think that the fact that we are not two lone nuts who appreciate childrenís fiction (for the sake of all that is good and right with the world, you must read Coroline!) says something about the deficiency of the publishing industry. So concerned are they with force feeding us the bastard offspring of John Grisham and Stephen King (horrible mutant children of Agatha Christie and H.P. Lovecraft, respectively) or the latest masturbatory efforts by some chic and utterly diseased neurotic (Iím looking at you, Franzen!) that publishers have missed the boat. Literally. There it goes, chugging away from the pier of maturity, heading for the baby pool.
Simply put, there is an element of whimsy and magic lacking from the world of Serious Adult Literature. Sure, now that it has been adapted into a series of blockbuster movies, the Lord of the Rings has a stamp of approval from the mainstream and all those nerds like me who read them back in junior high can pull our dog-eared copies out from under the bed and sneer, ìI was there ages ago you semiliterate bastard offspring of an Orc!î But I guarantee you, the only reason some Fantasy and Sci-fi authors are having their work appreciated is because the Nerds have finally come of age, found, against all reason, someone to breed with and now have quietly snuck into acceptability by sheer numbers and the fact that we control all the computers.
But still, thereís a ghetto effect when it comes to Science Fiction and Fantasy. Worse even then that are the real literary untouchables, Adult Fabulous Fiction (and I mean Fabulous as in resembling a fable or fairy tale, not Fabulous! Slurred with a mincing lisp. I suppose I could call it Magical Realism or Slipstream but one term is an oxymoron and the other sheer nonsense). This is a loose term referring to such disparate authors as Barry Yourgrau, Tom Robbins, Isabel Alende, Thomas Pynchon and Italo Calvino; any author, basically, that shuns the sham of Realism and isnít afraid to get freaky deaky and even (gasp!) laugh at themselves and the world around them. You know, no one youíve ever heard of because theyíve never been a best seller and therefore, are publishing industry pariahs because they donít generate flashy sales figures, step on Oprahís toes (because sheíd swoon and call Dr. Phil for a prayer huddle half way through The Crying of Lot 49) or go on TV to brag.
OK, so I exaggerated a bití there are books full of magic and whimsy and laughter for adults. But how many of you can name ten? What needs to happen is these Fabulous authors need to be offered by critics as alternatives to the latest Catcher in the Rye retread. So You like Harry Potter huh? Then read the Hearing Trumpet. Itís like Harry Potter, only written well and for adults. Until that happens, adults like my wife and I will continue to swing through the childrenís section, since publishers think that books that are magical, weird, thoughtful and incisive are just kidís stuff.