Saturday, March 15, 2008

Slam, Bam, Say "Goddamn!"

Those of us who blog in the Atheosphere frequently deal in “quick fuck” ideas. We start by stating a premise, either through words or pictures or a combination of both. The premise is almost always unoriginal, since atheism has been around for as many years as religion has, and all the same arguments have cropped up over and over and over again. The game is to find a new way to go through the age-old motions, and for you and your reader to get gratification when you do it. But you can’t resort to more than, say, 2000 words, maybe ten minutes of reading. That’s the “quick fuck” part. Good posts don’t really have a whole lot of time for preparation and foreplay; they have to grab their readers fast. Then, still holding those readers as tightly as they can, they have to race to a climax before boredom sets in.

That’s not a negative judgment on blog-writers. The best newspaper columnists do the same thing. So do most modern poets. And the funniest comedians.

There’s a kind of heightened emotional intensity that goes along with a quickie. That’s why many of us have a tendency to portray theists generically as being wackos, dangerous or otherwise. I do it all the time — and so do you. Christians, in particular, are often characterized as stupid or crazy or hypocritical. Or evil.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of religionists out there in the world — probably a supermajority of them, in fact — to whom the words “stupid,” “crazy,” “hypocritical,” and/or “evil” apply. But there are some, even if only a few, who fit none of those descriptions. We just don’t tend to write about them often because they’re dull. It’s not our “job,” here in the Atheosphere, to try to be nuanced and even-handed, and we surely don’t want to do that if it means being dull. Because in the “quick fuck” world of blogging, dullness — no matter how thoughtful — will guarantee that your masturbatory writing remains just that: a lonely solo activity.

Still, I suspect that most of us, in our day-to-day lives, do come into contact with some believers whom we find tolerable. We may get mutually irked by our ideas, but we don’t dwell on our philosophical differences, do we? We just work together, or play together, or party together without the thought entering our heads: Christian=Bad.

So that’s my attitude about blogs versus life. I tell you this because I think that novels should be more like life than like blogs. A good novel should feel like a “real” world no matter how fantastic that world may be. A gifted storyteller asks the reader to suspend his or her disbelief and to enter into a relationship, ready to be pleasured by the made-up events as they unfold. Some authors let their stories slowly caress us, giving us plenty of time to explore our feelings and heighten our enjoyment. Other authors just grind away with one sensation after another until we close the book, having been brought to the edge and finally sated.

Christopher Brookmyre, in his non-thrilling thriller entitled Not the End of the World, does neither. He lacks the writing skill or the desire, or both, to create three-dimensional characters who play expertly with the reader; he lacks the technique to keep the titillation going with believable plot twists. But he also has no staying power for just banging away in a frenzy of excitement; his meager story doesn’t have enough juice for 388 pages. Instead, he offers a series of quick fucks, aimed especially at the easily satisfied atheist. Oh, yes, almost every Christian in the book is crazy and a hypocrite and evil, evil, evil. The rest are stupid. You’re getting aroused just thinking about that profound commentary on believers, right? But guess what? That’s the whole thing; you’re done. Sorry if your intelligence was insulted.

For those of you who may find yourself wondering about my imagery here, I guess I should mention that one of the main characters in the book is a recently retired, freethinking, porno actress, the modern version of the “whore with a heart of gold.” That sounds more appealing than it turns out to be once you get a closer look. Still, the story might have been far better if someone like her had actually written it — as a year’s worth of daily blogpost dalliances, each one fleeting and forgettable.

21 comments:

C. L. Hanson said...

I decided to sit this one out. Instead I reviewed an entirely different book: The Grasshopper King.

I'll catch up with you guys on the next book. Has it been selected yet?

Spanish Inquisitor said...

You know, what I like about your writing is that I actually learn stuff about writing. Thanks.

Does this mean you didn't like the book?

PhillyChief said...

Well that's unfortunate. Is this just another attempt to cash in on the "new atheism" wave, or at least the nonreligious wave?

Lifeguard said...

Great insights as usual.

It was a tough read, but I tried to find an angle on it that kept it interesting for me. I agree that the plot kind of flat lined.

I had such high hopes.

Now, excuse me, I'm going to get back to my masturbatory writings.

the chaplain said...

Leave it to you to write a book critique using a fucking analogy.

Great review. My quickie comment on the book (which wasn't worth wooing, wining and dining, and didn't make the cut as a quickie either) is posted at the chapel.

the chaplain said...

C.L - I read your review of The Grasshopper King. It looks like a good read.

John Evo said...

A great post. I love how you sucked me in in the first paragraph and then quickly delivered a satisfying and short blog experience!

I wish the writing of Brookymyre could have been as good as yours.

As to Philly's question, No, the book was written 10 years ago.

Since we don't have a book, maybe we should read The Grasshopper King? Whose turn to choose?

C. L. Hanson said...

If you guys would like to pick The Grasshopper King that would be fab -- that way I'm already done with the assignment, hehe. But the novel doesn't mention nonbelief at all except for one passage near the end, talking about a religious nursing home employee handling a funeral:

I burned on his behalf at the placid, cotton-mouthed devotions she must have seen him off with. There was nothing he would have hated more -- he the insister on precision, the enemy of the empty word -- than to be the subject, in his last aboveground moments, to the exhausted and puerile shaggy-dog jokes Miss Amanezar called prayers; and poor Higgs's boxed-up corpse, in every last case the painful, obvious punchline. Nobody deserved that. Not even the living.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Oh, dear. My choice was a failure.

And I like this book so much, too.

Well, that's why it's hard to buy books for people you don't really know well.

Sorry guys. (Though I agree the Grasshopper King sounds interesting.)

The Exterminator said...

Ridger (and everyone else):

Skip to the end of the italicized section if you've already read it. I've left that part of this long comment at both Evo's and your blog. I thought I'd better say it here, too, just for the record, in case anyone in the future agonizes about picking the "right" book for our group.

Don't apologize for your book choice. First of all, no one ever expected an NL selection to be liked by everybody. That would make for a really dull book club.

Second, and even more important, there's a lot to be learned from being able to articulate why a book does or doesn't appeal to you. It's an exercise in critical thinking.

Third, as Lifey pointed out at chappy's post: Isn't it fascinating that we allegedly "militant" atheists have almost all found the mean-spirited and caricatured depiction of Christians to be offensive? That phenomenon alone was worth the read.


I'll now stop quoting myself, and add something original. Even given that many of us had similar attitudes, we've expressed those attitudes in different ways. That makes for an interesting discussion, and plenty of food for thought.

The ever-gentlemanly Evo worries that the book's theme isn't fair to Christians, and notes -- from his science-loving perspective -- that the novel contains unforgivable errors in geography. The introspective Lifey, still on his existentialist kick, composes a philosophical ramble. Chappy, always razor-sharp, expounds on the flaws in Brookmyre's premises. OG finds a paradoxical dichotomy in her own taste, and then, returning to the practical level in which she's so firmly grounded, says "No way, no way." SI, as he often does, looks at religion's hypocrisy, this time in regard to sexual matters. I come at the deficiencies of the book in a manner intended to shock, but also from the perspective of a writer thinking seriously about his craft. And you find, even within the admittedly over-the-top events of the novel, reflections of real ongoing abuses by religious zealots.

That's a pretty diverse set of posts. So thanks for recommending the book.

John Evo said...

Ex, first of all, instead of REVIEWING our reviews, I would rather have seen you describe some new thought you had based on all of those posts!

Secondly, you said: I come at the deficiencies of the book in a manner intended to shock, but also from the perspective of a writer thinking seriously about his craft. And you find, even within the admittedly over-the-top events of the novel, reflections of real ongoing abuses by religious zealots.

That's not what I got from your post at all. I think you've missed the true, and deeper, meaning of what you wrote.

The Exterminator said...

Evo:
Ex, first of all, instead of REVIEWING our reviews ...
Summarizing, not reviewing.

I would rather have seen you describe some new thought you had based on all of those posts!
Unfortunately, I had no new thought based on all of those posts.

Here's what I said about my post. I come at the deficiencies of the book in a manner intended to shock, but also from the perspective of a writer thinking seriously about his craft.

Note: The second sentence you quoted was aimed at Ridger. Perhaps I should have written, "And you, Ridger, find ..."

In any case, aside from the hyperbole of the word "shock," what "true, and deeper, meaning" did you find in what I wrote?

the chaplain said...

Exterminator said: "I come at the deficiencies of the book in a manner intended to shock, but also from the perspective of a writer thinking seriously about his craft."

You were writing about writing? How about that! I thought you were writing about fucking.

John Evo said...

In any case, aside from the hyperbole of the word "shock," what "true, and deeper, meaning" did you find in what I wrote?

I'm not sure the author wants that revealed...

Lynet said...

I read this when I was only a few chapters into the book (I started reading a little late). I have to say, having read the opening bits before the plot kicks in, it felt awfully apt. You may have coloured my perception of the book somewhat, but I don't think I'd have thought that much of it whatever I did. At any rate, I had great fun snarking about it from my (sex-positive) feminist perspective.

Mind you, I felt bad for The Ridger. The book did have some good points. And like Ex says, don't feel guilty! Variety is the spice of these things -- it's great reading books in lots of different styles. The last thing we want is people trying to pick 'safe' choices!

The Ridger, FCD said...

It just bumfuzzled me, because I love this freaking book, and I love a lot of Brookmyre's stuff.

yinyang said...

Apparently I have lower standards than almost everyone else in our group. I can handle that, though.

The Exterminator said...

Yinny:
Apparently I have lower standards than almost everyone else in our group.

Maybe not. Perhaps we're just more tight-assed than you are. Of course, we'd need a proctologist to test that theory.

Anonymous said...

Passing through and noticed that
"atheism" here seems to have a
somewhat narrower meaning (xians
bad) than the one I am used to
(god ain't).

Reminds me why anti-fur is hot and
anti-leather is not--bikers are
harder to oppress than rich women
who no longer need tampons.

At least you're on the right track!

PhillyChief said...

Well since "god ain't", there's hardly anything practical in addressing that if it weren't for the believers, since they are, as you say, bad. THEY cause harm, not their god, because it "ain't", as you say, and therefore incapable of causing harm.

As for the rest, your point is lost on me. Are you saying that if we're strong we can't be oppressed or that christians are like "rich women who no longer need tampons" and as such they're easy for us to pick on?

The Exterminator said...

Anonymous:
What the fuck are you talking about?