Brimstone (YGtCTO Words #17)

Book written by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Guilty pleasures! What a strange concept… The words ring with illicit activities performed in the shadows (wouldn’t any addiction come closer to the mark?), but we inevitably talk about mere diversions as guilty pleasures. They fall just outside of the spectrum of behavior that we perceive as expected of ourselves. In the end, whatever we deem thus doubtless says more about how we imagine ourselves than our actual taste. No one ever reveals an actual horrible truth with the preface “You know, one of my guilty pleasures is…”

Having filled this series of blogs with sometimes portentous works, I wanted to leaven the list with… one of my guilty pleasures: the Agent Aloysius Pendergast series. They chronicle the adventures of a bizarre FBI agent and a regular staple of characters as they investigate strange crimes that come from the far side of weird science.

The books are great fun and I don’t appear to be the only fan. The first was turned into a movie by Peter Hyams about 20 years ago. For the past decade, the collaborators have published annually. The New York Times even takes note in their weekly book reviews (well, I remember being pleasantly surprised to see it, but I can’t find it online…). None of this destines the books for posterity, but I’m not alone in the corner with another book no one has ever heard of, at least.

So, why a guilty pleasure? Austen, Cervantes, Waugh, Dickens, etc. carried off the pleasure part very well. Honestly, they had their shares of humor, so the pleasure bit was extant.

Brimstone is a good example- these are action-packed books from the get-go. The characters are well-drawn and seem more alive than half the books out there. (Brad Meltzer ticks both those boxes as well.) On the other hand, the world of these books is a cartoon of science and morality and heroics. I think it is easy to forget how seductive clarity can be. As I have gotten older, those old westerns with obvious good and bad guys no longer hold interest. But if you add in some interesting history, wacky characters, and dashing protagonists, then you have something. Dan Brown mines this vein with great success. Hours and hours of modern television follow suit.

The flip side of the guilty pleasure is the art that asks much and that we give our time. All those paperbacks in the supermarket checkout line make it hard to focus on that Anton Chekhov short story waiting on the nightstand back home. The fact is that anyone who has managed to place a bunch of words together for our edification clearly had something to say. The mistake is faulting the author(s) for digestibility. In art, there are no guilty pleasures. As a culture, we embrace certain works to pass along to future generations. Michelangelo had many, many unknown contemporaries. They have faded from the common consciousness, which may indeed speak to the quality of their work. Or it may say more about the methods of storage and communication of the times in which they lived. Serendipity is the rule with posterity.

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 250 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out are released regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry are posted irregularly. Notifications are posted on Facebook which you can receive by friending or following Craig.

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