For an old English professor type, I enjoy sprinkling a few entertaining and decidedly non-literary books in with the more serious contemporary texts and those musty but time-honored classics. For years I considered William Goldman my go-to author for mindless entertainments. Starting in High School, I read everything Goldman wrote (with Soldier In the Rain being my hands-down favorite). Many years later we had a young lad at work in charge of the stock room and emptying waste baskets who convinced me I should be reading Science Fiction novels. So for a year or two I read Science Fiction novels but in the end, I would have been just as happy as if I hadn’t read Science Fiction novels. Oh, there were a few good ones (I got hooked on Larry Niven) but for the most part the best I can say about it is that Science Fiction is boring.
Then I married a librarian who devoured murder mysteries, police procedurals, and all those other novels that twist a little suspense into a fun puzzle to solve. So I spent two or three years catching up on some of the better known detectives, private dicks, grandmotherly crime solvers. I plowed through every Ludlum, Parker, MacDonald, Simenon, Hillerman, Macdonald, Doyle, Christie, etc. I suppose if I do a little research into the possibility of a volume or two coming out after the death of the original author (the Parker family seems to be quite skillful at keeping Spenser going long after Robert Parker’s untimely demise) but for the most part, I’m done with these types of novels.
My new embarrassingly non-literary entertainments now go under the semi-official classification of Bizarro Fiction. What s Bizarro? Well, I not sure but if you’re reading a story about a woman with three breasts that survives after the holocaust by toasting Zombies with her lazar earrings who needs messy sex three times a day to survive and relies on her side-kick armadillo to find the finest Scotch whiskey in the ruins of Old New York, then you are probably reading Bizarro Fiction.
But there is a caveat: there’s a lot of fiction that isn’t considered Bizarro but if you look carefully, there really is not difference. Therefore, although I reference Bizarro Fiction, I still insist that “It’s All Fiction” and any further classification is only to help patrons find the books they want at the big-box-bookstore.
Another thing to keep in mind about Bizarro Fiction is that despite the efforts of the author to make it imaginative and just plain weird, Bizarro is quite often just a familiar story spiced up with some radical and surprising twists that push the mundane out of the realm of plausible into the bizarre world of weird and pornographic.
Take Carlton Mellick III’s much praised novel, Zombies and Shit. Z&S is a fun and satisfying Bizarro romp, but if you read the publisher’s blurbs that surround the novel, you might get the impression that Z&S is a serious challenger to Ulysses. Reading the preface-type material, the entire Zombie industry in books and films has run its course and just when they conclude that there will never be another Zombie story to publish, out comes Carlton with a totally fresh twist that revives (in a manner of speaking) the Zombie hoards.
But if you read with just a little attention it becomes clear that Mellick, like so many good authors before him, is stealing bits and sections from older works, rubbing a few Zombies over them, and with a twist of imagination (and some good writing), has generated something new and groundbreaking. But I leave it up to the reader to notice all the borrowings … it’s half the fun. I will suggest, however, that you watch Arnold in The Running Man before reading Zombies and Shit (or maybe a little Snake Plissken)
But don’t NOT read Carlton Mellick III just because he uses themes and narratives from other works … who said that good authors borrow but great authors steal? It may not be War and Peace but Carlton Mellick III is a great author and you should read Zombies and Shit.