Tuesday, December 09, 2008

For Male Eyes Only?

I am a big consumer of author Stephen King’s work. But I also appreciate him as a reader, because he lets other readers know about what he enjoys. His 1981 non-fiction work, Danse Macabre, introduced me to many writers who I would never have discovered without his insight. King’s enthusiasm for novels, as well as his own status, supports the industry. And many readers are particularly drawn to the books he chooses to blurb.

Like King, Lee Child does his bit to help younger, less-established wordsmiths. (He even edited and introduces the 2008 collection, Killer Year.) Although he’s often ribbed by Shots columnist Mike Ripley for his voracious reading and reviewing habits, at least Child’s example refutes the myth the real men don’t read--a fact that King points out in his latest Entertainment Weekly column. Writes King:
But, to misquote Mark Twain, reports of the male reader’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Women have chick lit; guys have what my son Joe (as in Joe Hill) calls “manfiction.” And publishers sell it by the ton. Here’s a concept so simple it’s easy to miss: What men want from an Elmore Leonard novel is exactly what women want from a Nora Roberts novel--escape and entertainment. And while it’s true that manfiction can be guilty of objectifying women, chick lit often does the same thing to men. Reading Sandra Brown or Jodi Picoult, I’m sometimes reminded of an old Julie Brown song, “I Like ’Em Big and Stupid.” One memorable couplet goes, '”My father’s out of Harvard, my brother’s out of Yale/Well, the guy I took home last night just got out of jail.”
King goes on to better define “manfiction,” and it appears that Child’s protagonist, the indomitable Jack Reacher, is a particular favorite of his from this subgenre:
The best current manfiction writers? I’d say Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Richard Stark, and Lee Child. Connelly’s Harry Bosch is a dogged cop who takes on the LAPD power structure as often as the bad guys. His current girlfriend, a very liberated woman, is an FBI agent. Crais’ creations--Elvis Cole and Joe Pike--are as tough as the combat boots they used to wear. Richard Stark’s Parker ... is refreshingly amoral, a thief who always gets away with the swag. In the series’ most recent books he has gained a little warmth thanks to Claire, his own longtime companion.

I saved the best for last. Lee Child’s tough but humane Jack Reacher is the coolest continuing series character now on offer. Reacher has also rescued his share of damsels in distress. He wanders the U.S., sometimes hitchhiking, more often riding buses. He dresses in cheap workingman’s duds bought in chain stores, pays cash, and (this is the part I really love) he used to carry only a toothbrush for luggage. He satisfies the most elemental male daydream, which is at bottom quite sweet: to ramble around and help out when help is needed. Possibly with a Beretta, a blowtorch, and a submachine gun.

Grenades optional.
King’s full EW piece can be found here.

1 comment:

Thorn said...

Funny, some of the biggest chunks of my collection are manfiction...King, Crais, Chandler and now Child and not chick lit. I wonder what Freud would have to say about that. Agreed, Reacher is a kick ass guy even if he's only fantasy.