Far from enjoying a frisson of pleasure at discovering the cleverness, or brilliance, or aptness of someone else's work, I rarely feel anything other than an unpleasantly familiar sinking sensation. (And it pisses me off that someone came up with the absolutely perfect phrase to describe that elevator-going-down physical manifestation of recognition and jealousy.)
I am sick to the back teeth, had it up to here, mad as hell and can’t take it any more furious that people keep coming up with great ideas - and I don’t.
Case in point: this morning’s newspaper. Happily skimming through the news of the day and sunnily enjoying the guilty pleasure of just a hint ‘o schadenfreude at the falling fortunes of a couple of shamed politicians, fired TV Host Mike Bullard, and perennial dolt Dilbert, I came across a review of a recently released book on the (generally ignored) topic of the proper use of grammar and punctuation.
It’s a touchy subject for me anyway; I know a few of the rules, but conduct my writing life with a sort of dueling banjos, idiot savant style of playing by ear. I’m often right. And often wrong – but when I am, I don’t know it and blithely move on to the next misplaced modifier or dangling something or other. Tra la la, la la….
So anyway, this tome wouldn’t have bothered me overmuch had it not had an absolutely fabulous title: Eats, Shoots and Leaves with the image of a cartoon Panda messing around with a comma. The meaning is explained in a fairly well known, well-worth-a-laugh joke having to do with the antics of a Panda who goes to a restaurant, eats a sandwich, kills someone with a gun and strolls out the door. Clearly, had he not been led astray by a misplaced comma in a wildlife handbook, he would have undoubtedly have been found somewhere in China with a mitt full of bamboo and a satisfied expression on his adorable bandit face.
It’s only the perfect title for such a book: catchy, funny, and after taking a moment to get it, a relationship has already developed between author and reader. The subtext is – we get each other, we laugh at the same things, aren’t we droll? Do you like Pina Coladas? The purchase is virtually guaranteed and visions of buzz-producing press conferences, rave reviews and unheard of sales figures, coupled with a 'goes without saying' nod to the author’s humour, intelligence and cleverness leave me with a taste in my mouth somehow reminiscent of the juice at the bottom of an old jar of cocktail onions. This is the taste of gall.
And now it all comes flooding back: Helen Fielding’s knowing, original style with Bridget Jones’s Diary – imagine organizing a journal-type novel by noting the heroine’s daily weight, and alcohol and cigarette intake? It’s brilliant is what it is. I hate her. And how about the head-bangingly, breathtakingly, fantastic title of Dave Eggers’ debut book - A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I wanted to kill him when I first heard of it. I still sort of do… And Jay McInerny’s breakout hit with Bright Lights, Big City at the hideously, impossibly, wickedly young age of 26? Granted, that success has been mitigated by subsequent mediocrity, but the fact remains that if he once had what it took to do something like Bright Lights, he gets to know that about himself forever.
I feel like Salieri reading The Vienna Bugle the morning after the opening of yet another brilliant Mozart concert; Tonya Harding watching Nancy Kerrigan triumph in Lillehammer; I am all of Scarlett O’Hara’s sisters rolled into one.
And this is to be my gift to the world? My special, second-to-none talent? The ability to spot that which is good and feel that which is bad?
I’m going to need another cocktail onion – and a cocktail to go with it.