I love lists of things and I found another good one this morning. It is “18 Films You’ll Never Watch Again”, courtesy of the folks at movieseum.com. It’s not that the films that make the list are poorly done; they are not. They are by and large wonderfully done, but their subject matter is of the type with which you don’t want to deal, unless you have a half-gallon or so of bleach to pour into your sulci when you’re through. There is plenty to agree with (Bad Lieutenant made the list, as did Sophie’s Choice to name but two) and with which to disagree (The Devil’s Rejects? Are you kidding?!) but the list is worth perusal when you get a moment as it is wide-ranging and lists a few films that even the most ardent film buff might have missed.
So. Where is the list of books that are worthy of being read but, topic-wise, were more than could handle? I imagine that a number of folks would put THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy on that list (the film version had its own entry) because of the dark, unrelentingly grim, subject matter. I would not, even though there are passages in that book which in their entirety haunt me still. No, my entry is PET SEMATARY, by Stephen King, the novel, which, according to King himself, the novelist Tabitha King begged him not to write. I agree with her; while I was reading the book, I screamed, I cried, I through it across the room, I stomped it, and then I finished it. The book concerned two things that I handle: the death of children and the death of pets. That PET SEMATARY deals with those subjects (and I’m not going to tell you how, if you haven’t read the book; no spoilers here, Bucko) would have been bad enough, but then King, God Bless him, takes things a step further with a very subtle, brilliantly conceived and wondrously executed “what would you do” scenario. I know what I would do, in a circumstance similar to that which confronted Louis Creed: I would do exactly what Creed did, even knowing what would happen, on the chance that something different might occur. And that, my friends, is what I can’t deal with. I have more stories unpublished than otherwise, with mayhem and mortality and violence visited upon the innocent and the guilty alike, but I have never harmed a child or a pet in any of them. It’s someplace I can’t go.
If I may, then: what book did you find fearfully and wonderfully written that you nonetheless refuse to ever read again? Why? What elements of that book for you are the spiders in the shoes at the bottom of the closet, those shoes you won’t wear anymore? And can you write about your fears in your stories, or do you leave them unspoken, so as to rob them of life?
I’m like a cat when it comes to books or music: whatever I have immediately at hand is never quite what I want. It’s a ridiculous predicament to be in, particularly when you have a collection/accumulation of either/or which exceeds five hundred or so, but it is what it is. There is Pandora for music so that if, for but one example, you like Guided by Voices but aren’t necessarily in the mood for it you can find something close to it. For books, there is now a website that will get you close to what you want to read next. It’s called Whichbook — http://www.whichbook.net/ — and it’s not perfect, at least not yet, but it’s pretty cool.
Okay, most of you have stopped reading this and clicked on the link, and that’s fine, I understand. For both of you who are still with me, however, let me give you a brief one and back on how the site works. You will find a menu running down the left side of the home page consisting of a series of fields, each of which contains two antonyms (those would be opposite words, for those of you who started school after 1978), such as “Happy/ Sad,” “Safe/Disturbing,” “Expected/Unpredictable,” and “Optimistic/Bleak.” Click on one and John Gilstrap will come out to your house and mow your lawn for a month. Oops. Wrong website. Let’s try again. Ahem. Click on a field and a red cursor pops up which you can set closer to one word or another. You can do that for up to four word pairs; then click on “Go” field and you get a list of books that match the qualities you input. Using the fields I mentioned above, I chose “Sad,” “Disturbing,” “Unpredictable,” and “Bleak,” pressed “Go,” looked up, and Courtney Love was in my office, pointing a shotgun at me. Just kidding. I got a list of about fifteen books which were recommended to me, with reviews, summaries, excerpts, and links to Amazon to buy them. I had never heard of many of them, which is fine. That might be just what you want with a site like this. I found it passing strange, however, that something like The Road by Cormac McCarthy wasn’t listed. But Whichbook has that covered too. There is a suggestion page — more on that in a minute — and a page which lists the authors featured on Whichbook . You can also go to another page where you can make selections based on character, plot and setting, which is nicely done (though not perfect) as well.
This looks to be a great tool for readers. However, it has the potential to be a great tool for writers and already-published authors as well. For authors…I see no problem with suggesting your own books for inclusion, or having your spouse, significant other, or even both of them doing that for you. For writers, Whichbook is a quick tool for framing the underpinnings of your basic plot. Go to the character, plot and setting page. After due deliberation, you have decided that your next potential bestseller is about a mixed race, bi-sexual female between the ages of 26 and 50 who succeeds against the odds in a tale set in Ohio, who becomes involved in a violent, disturbing, and unpredictable series of situations with lots of sex. Okay. Maybe using Whichbook’s search engine to begin your next project is a little like using a hammer for a screwdriver. At the very least, however, Whichbook will get you thinking about what you want to read next. And for authors? Whichbook has the potential to be yet another tool to get your book in front of that ever-elusive reading public.