Horror Just Say No to Bad Books

By Paula Guran

The following was written for The Third Alternative #39. It was too long. (A lesson one would think I knew: Pay attention to your editor on word count!) Instead of cutting a third of it, I just wrote a new "guest editorial" for TTA. This left me with this article that is, as far as I know, unsuitable for timely publication elsewhere, so, it wound up in DarkEcho and, of course, here.

I innocently wandered into a couple of stinking swamps earlier this year. They were cleverly disguised as books from respectable publishers. Respectable publishing being what it is -- often impossible to respect -- I suppose I wasn't exactly surprised, but I was a bit disappointed.

Neither book was libelous nor I have a firm belief in freedom of speech and press. I take a solid anti-censorship stance. Sure, more worthy material was passed over while this slime slid onto the lists, but that's common enough. True, these writers were rewarded for ethically loathsome performances, but Western civilization was built on such foundations.

I have nothing against these books being published. I just don't think they should be bought.

The first book in question was the U.S. edition of an "unconventional biography": ANTHONY BURGESS by Roger Lewis. The book was extraordinarily eye-catching (a play on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE featuring Day-Glo orange), especially for a biography, and the controversial, contradictory, and prolific Burgess is certainly fascinating fodder.

It did not take much reading of this alleged biography, however, to realize that the author did not write an "unconventional biography." He was doing a hatchet job -- make that a chainsaw-with-rusty-teeth job -- on Burgess. Perhaps he felt he was using Burgessian black humor and intentionally shocking falsehoods to show the truth. If so, then he failed miserably to get this across and must accept all I say here as Burgessian black humor and therefore laudatory.

Since the book had originally been published in the U.K., I went online to read earlier reviews. Sure enough, this waste of cellulose pulp had received scathingly negative reviews. Some reviewers went to considerable lengths to lay out factual errors and deconstruct Lewis's insinuations. (One counts "three hundred errors of fact and at least fifty malicious distortions.) Citing only one condemnation of many, Blake Morrison ended his "Guardian" review with: Burgess is like a definition of hell," [Lewis] writes. Perhaps he thought to douse the flames by pissing on his subject. But surely the simpler thing would have been to save himself the torture. This is an idle, fatuous, self-regarding book.

Well, I thought, at least my fellow U.S. reviewers will also give the wretched thing negative reviews now that it's squatted on our shores. I was wrong. Perhaps it was, somewhere, put in its place with other fetid waste, but "Publishers Weekly" said Lewis "...eschews the traditional chronological narrative for a highly stylized, psychodynamic reading of his subjects and their creative work..." and mentions the bio's "charming lack of reverence." The "Boston Herald" found the book to be a "digressive, brilliant, self-indulgent biography..."

Since the American reading public was not as well-warned as those in Great Britain, I must assume that some books have been sold to the unwary. I can only hope that the crass American greed that drove Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press to buy such a vile piece of crap is left mostly unrewarded.

One more burden of American shame to bear!

** PART II **

I received THE CROW: THE STORY BEHIND THE FILM by Bridget Baiss from Titan Books. [It came along with the very spiffy THE HELLRAISER CHRONICLES by Peter Atkins, Clive Barker, Stephen Jones and DEVELOPMENT HELL by David Hughes. The first is keen. Of the second, to quote my review:" There's nothing terrifically revealing, but the data is solid enough...and the writing smooth enough to deliver a deft look at some of the gears and wheels of Hollywood's monstrous machine.)"] Thinking it to be a new, original work from England I started reading. Not too many pages in I ran up against some factual errors concerning screenwriter John Shirley and a some direct quotations that I knew, simply from the phrasing, were not his words. But I work for John Shirley, I counseled myself, so maybe I'm being hypercritical and nit-picky. Faulty phone line, poor notes, paraphrasing. I'm sure I've done the same as an interviewer. Nothing too terribly incorrect anyway.

I read on to see how she quoted the film's other screenwriter, Dave Schow, who was on the set and involved in the day-to-day filming. (No, I don't work for Schow, but do consider him a friend.)

Ah. Enlightenment. Something was amiss. She never spoke to Schow. Nor did she speak to Alex Proyas, the film's director, or Ed Pressman, the film's co-producer, or a lot of other pertinent people.

Checking with Schow, my suspicions were confirmed. Turned out that this is the same non-book that Schow had justifiably ranted about and eloquently condemned a few years back. In part: "[T]his casserole of spoiled orts and leavings, is the sort of cut-and-paste scavengery in which the writing itself lacks the passion to inflame actual anger, leaving a residual emotion more on the order of annoyance or irritation-as when a pesky fly persists in planting its feces-smeared feet in your salad dressing, over and over and over. And over." (The essay is available on Schow's Web site:

It had never occurred to me that it was the same book. He'd referred to a tacky self- (or vanity) published tome, not a nice trade paperback from Titan Books. Besides, the Titan edition's copyright page states "First edition January 2004" with no listing of the aforementioned edition from "Making of the Crow, Incorporated" published in 2000 in the U.S.

In her self-serving, self-centered introduction, Baiss offers excuses and insinuations concerning the non-interviewees. Should you believe her? Let me insinuate something -- even the veracity of the review blurb on the back cover is questionable: "'From the original comic strip to the movie's wrap, Baiss meticulously examines every phase of THE CROW's life.' -- Publishers Weekly." Since PW doesn't review self-published books I was surprised to see this. I checked the online database of all reviews back through 1995. Nothing, nada, zip, nil. No mention of either the book or Bridget Baiss that I could find

[Shirley, by the way, had answered her questions in a phone interview and was unaware of the non-cooperation of key players.]

My last hope for unwary consumers lay with intelligent reviewers on the other side of the Atlantic. Sadly, they, too, served poorly. Paul Skevington of "SF Crowsnest" wrote: "true devotees will come away feeling, as I did, that a gap in movie history has at last been properly filled." Andrew Pulver ("Guardian Unlimited"): "The major players, director Alex Proyas, producer Ed Pressman, and the various heads of department, seemingly withheld cooperation, but in the blizzard of detail it hardly seems to matter." "": "This is the definitive account of THE CROW's production and the phenomenon it became, packed with scores of interviews with the film's cast and crew.

I'm not condemning the reviewers. (Well, okay, maybe a teensy bit. But the quality of reviewing isn't the topic here.) They received a nicely-done book from a professional press and, naturally, went to reading with at least an unconscious assurance this was worthwhile material. I felt the same thing with the Burgess bio. (The reverse is true, too. It's hard to overcome initial negativity if the finished product is poorly executed.)

The reviewers -- and, most importantly, readers -- were misled. Again. I can only hope that the crass British greed that drove Titan to buy such a vile piece of crap is left mostly unrewarded.

At least this time the burden of shame can be shared.

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Copyright © 2004 by Paula Guran All Rights Reserved.