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Hungry for a Book?

John C. Wright points us to some very insightful observations made by sf author Steven Brust on the range literary range books offer:

Books can be broken down into four classes: popcorn, steak, caviar, and celery.

Popcorn is pretty obvious. Anyone here enjoy The Destroyer novels by Sapir and Murphy as much as me? gobble gobble gobble Steak is the stuff you can bite into, chew, swallow, and gain sustenance from. Some of us use spices on our steak, or do interesting things with it by stir-frying it, adding ginger and various vegetables, and so on. In my case, paprika. But at the end of the day, it is steak. Niel writes particularly good steak–range fed, the spicing is different every time, always delectable, and some of it obviously comes from places where cattle are not indigenous, making you go, “Wow. How did they ever think of doing that?” as you go for the next bite.

Gene Wolfe and John M. “Mike” Ford write caviar. It is a lot of work to get to. You have to open the can, you have to make sure the refrigeration is exactly perfect. You have to have the right atmosphere, and you have to approach it with the proper reverence if you’re going to get anything out of the experience. But if you do, my god, is it worth it!

Celery is that stuff you have to chew and chew and chew and, by the time you’re done, you’ve gotten even less nutritional value from than the popcorn. I won’t name any names.

Some turn up their noses at popcorn. Well, that’s okay. Just don’t bring ’em to a ball game. Most of us like steak, in one form or another. Some object to caviar because they have just never got into the glories of eating–into food that is worth the work. For them, the payoff just isn’t there.

The interesting thing, to me, is that there really are people out there who like the celery because it is so hard to chew, and the fact that there’s nothing of substance there doesn’t bother them.

Okay, so, probably not as deep as I’m making it sound. But fun to think about.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

3 Comments on Hungry for a Book?

  1. I’ve used terms like “snack food”, “potato chip” or “popcorn” for a while for books by folks like Weber. You enjoy it while you consume it, but it doesn’t give you much (literary) sustenance and doesn’t stick around too long.

    Everybody needs a mixture of literary food. It can’t be all War and Peace all the time!


  2. The Destroyer series was great popcorn!


  3. Bob Hawkins // January 23, 2007 at 8:07 pm //

    The explanation for celery books is simple. To hold yourself superior to the masses, you have to first be distinguishable from the masses. In the literary context, this means liking books that the masses don’t. Since there are many people who are not superior but want to hold themselves superior, there is a market for books designed to be disliked by the masses. Celery books.

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