Last week, having engaged in lively and utterly useless banter with wine writers Joe Roberts and Frederic Koeppel regarding the efficacy of scoring wine, I found myself having sort of epiphany that Brian Wilson must have had when he kicked Charlie Manson out of the Beach Boys.
You see, I have been a professional critic for all of my so-called adult life, mostly for corporate publications and mostly for editors who insisted that a specific ‘score’ be given for whatever entity I was tasked to review—films, restaurants, wines, whatever—evidently presuming that my targeted reader had the attention span of botfly larvae and preferred to have a nice, easy-to-digest number to gulp rather than having to Google words like ‘efficacy’.
I disagreed, of course, but even though I was being paid to have an opinion, I was apparently not being paid to have an opinion that differed from theirs.
And unfortunately, just as one gets in the habit of saying silly things like ‘Thanks! You too!’ whenever anyone wishes one well—even if it is the cab driver telling one to have a nice flight as he drops one off at the airport—I find myself assigning scores to everything around me, virtually as rote. For example, when my adolescent daughter leaves for school, I score her outfits on a hundred-point scale, giving numbers in the upper 90s to Laura Ashley jumpers, burka-type cardigans and pleated, calf-length Catholic-girl skirts while panning hip-hugging jeans and cleavage-revealing Abercrombie & Fitch crop tops because I don’t want her teachers thinking the same thing I think when I see the neighbor’s barely legal daughter in a bikini.
Speaking of my neighbor, every year I critique his Christmas decorations using Wine Specthusiast’s inimitable, frequently copied scale. This year I gave him a 79 because he had the historical audacity to have a black Wise Man standing by the crèche, and as a Evangelical Christian, I believe—as did Henry Ford, Detroit’s figurehead for national identity, unity and pride—that the colored races evolved to be servants, not kings.
Anyway, my epiphany happened while I was kneeling by said crèche—not to pray, but to cover up Baby Jesus’ Holy Baloney Pony, for which my neighbor loses another ten points because if God wanted us nude we would have been born that way—I realized that in the years I spent reviewing books for The Detroit News, I was never asked to score literature the way The Detroit Free Press demanded I score wine and Orbit’s inimical, oft-copied Jerry Vile insisted I score restaurants.
And seriously, why not? I mean, if the man-in-the-street has the IQ of a Javan stink badger, why would my editors assume they would have the slightest desire, let alone ability, to read a review of a book they can’t read in the first place?
How much more efficacious would have been to simply assign a number with a SparkNotes summary of Cliff’s Notes summary of the book?
Genius is pain, huh?
Ergo, here is the first installment of my new venture, Ineruditology Report, complete with scores and synopsises of tour de force belles-lettres which should keep my fifteen-year-old’s Lit teacher’s mind off her abecrombies as well as her fitches.
95-100—Classic: A commendable work of literary art.
90-94—Damn Readable: An opus of superior character written by a lunatic who, sooner or later, probably killed him/herself.
85-89—Okay: An otherwise pointless tome with really graphic sex scenes.
80-84— Dreadful Drivel: Any book written by a French or German existentialist whose name you try, but fail to pronounce correctly when trying to appear smarter than you are. Also reserved for beloved children’s books written by pedophiles.
60-70—Tumid Tripe: A moronic waste of ink written by someone without the literary chops to write ‘fuck’ on a shithouse wall.
3 – 21—Inutterably, Unrelentingly Awful Hack Fodder: i.e.; Stephen King, Karl Marx, J.K. Rowling, Marcel Proust, Mitch Albom.
Criteria: Finished books, reviewed after blind readings, are given a single score. A score given as a range (e.g., 90-94) indicates a preliminary score, usually based on a blind reading of galley proofs that have not been spell-checked. As of March 2014, I will switch to rolling four-point spreads for unfinished books. For example, one inanity may be scored 12-21, another 28-33. I will believe this will better reflect the subtle differences between unreadable garbage and dangerous books which may actually bore you to death.
Naked Lunch by William Burroughs, 1959: Of the entire Beat Generation, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Burroughs, et al., only one had enough genuine talent to write his way out of a paper bag. Guess which one?
‘Alice In WonderBra, or, Through The Good-Looking Ass’ by Lewis Carroll, 1865: The original, unedited manuscript of the pervie old Victorian’s magnus opus, it concerns the misadventures of a nubile pre-teen and is filled with all sorts of nasty coitus metaphors like ‘penetrating the hole’ and Alice’s phallic ‘telescoping neck’. In 2013, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s nom de plume would have been Inmate # 389941.
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, 1884: It’s fun to read and say the bad words out loud, but seriously, Mark? You couldn’t come up with a more plausible storyline than an escaped slave running hundreds of miles south, when Illinois, a free state, was right across the river?
The Old Testament by The Supreme Deity, 3500 BC: One-hit-wonder God creates man, and everything man does pisses God off.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1866: Enough said: Mankind has not invented the crime heinous enough that having to read this ponderous prolix pulp-pile would not be punishment both cruel and unusual.
‘Life of Samuel Johnson’ by James Boswell, 1791: How would you even market a desperately tedious, mostly-fake biography of an obscure doctor who did nothing but walk around, get plastered and make silly, drunken observations that were neither cute nor particularly acute? Why this stultifyingly stupid book is considered a ‘literary gem’ is truly one of humanity’s great mysteries.
‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ by Mitch Albom, 1997: The only conceivable value in this pretentious bucket of bilge—whose sage advice, ‘Don’t trade dreams for a bigger paycheck’ is the diametrical opposite of how the author has lived and continues to live life—is to use it as tinder to burn down The Detroit Free Press building.