Recently, I came upon a list of the No.1-audience-rated tv shows over 60 years of U. S. viewing Among the shows were Wagon Train, Marcus Welby, M.D., and Laverne and Shirley. Nowhere was there a sign of M.A.S.H, NYPDBlue or Mad Men, all smart, edgy, sophisticated shows highly rated by television critics. This made me realize that there is a parallel in literature. Best sellers, those books that fly out of bookstores and online, like Tuesdays with Morrie, Three Cups of Tea and Eat, Pray, Love,have ranked right up there at the top of the best seller lists, bringing their authors buckets of change and fabulous homes. The writing in each of these blockbusters is often clumsy and awash with dubious premises. However, their messages or moral points are clear to the point of being simplistic: be kind, do good works, get religion. These titles are the No.1 audience-rated books of their times. It makes me think of the oft-stated phrase "Heaven is boring".
Literary buffs prize Don de Lillo, Philip Roth and Lorrie Moore. Any one of those might win a Pulitzer Prize for literature or, sometimes, a McArthur genius grant and if obscure enough, a Nobel prize, but never will their works bring in enough money for the author to buy a house in Palm Beach or Malibu or Bali. And yet, to read any one of them is to be transported to a place where you've never been, never even knew existed, and peopled by characters you've always wanted to know.
And speaking of immortals, the creator of Holden Caulfield might have died last week, but Holden never will.