Of an orange pig, a wolf, and using literary clips to rescue literature from hyperinflated praise
When the currency of literary praise has been so debased as to be all but worthless, returning to a form of barter is long overdue.
What are we saying?
Before some wily genius invented money – which too often earns its reputation as the root of all evil — people traded in actual things other people wanted, not in symbolic representations of the value of those things. So many of us are fed up of being misled by book jacket hyperbole and dishonest reviews dressing up mediocre or shoddy work as ‘brilliant,’ ‘masterly,’ ‘luminous,’ and ‘stunning’ that it is time to melt down the defunct adjectival coinage, shelve it, and return to the actual substance of literature. We mean that we would love to see a trend for favouring clips of the writer’s own arrangements of words, in drawing attention to works of literature — over the encomiums of word-floggers and other tricksters.
Still making our slow – savouring — way through Storm Damage, John A. A. Logan’s collection of short stories mentioned on this blog in January — we came across one accorded the rare distinction, in our reading over the years, of being read more than twice by us.
Like our photograph in honour of early spring – a gift of the eyes of generous MIL22 – this story, ‘The Orange Pig,’ is the work of an artist interested in satisfying nothing but exacting, deeply interior aesthetic standards. And if that sounds too serious – well, this is a tale that had us shaking with amusement as often as it left us rapt from the recognition of wisdom dextrously confected as a soufflé.
Without further ado we leave you, dear reader, to consider these extracts chosen to avoid giving away too much – and to let you marvel at a publishing revolution that makes it possible to acquire the thoughts that link them together on your e-reader almost instantaneously. All for no more than what it would take to put a frothing coffee into your hands.
‘I only want to walk to the top of the hill,’ said the orange pig.
‘No-one is stopping you,’ said the wolf. ‘But surely you can see that we can’t let incidents like these go unexamined or unreported. I assume you are from the farm.’
‘Where I am from is my own business.’
‘I understand,’ said the wolf, ‘but …’
The wolf waved a paw in the direction of the dead bird.
‘In circumstances like this,’ said the wolf, ‘we all must account for ourselves, our actions, our motives. It may be in the next world we will all be free to move where we wish like phantoms in the mist, but you are from a farm. You know the meaning of a fence, or a gate, a sty or a barn, a wall or a door. Do not pretend to be naïve. I find you here, and then I find this. What am I to think?’
‘The only time is now,’ said the wolf.
‘It is very late.’
‘Not so very,’ said the wolf.
They walked past the dogs like ghosted whispers and soon they were beyond the limits of the farm, their legs working hard against the steep hill’s power.
‘Under the moon there is no market day,’ said a deep, bass voice from further to the orange pig’s left than his thick neck could twist to let him see. ‘No lorry to take us away, no slaughterhouse, no scheduled death.’
‘For scheduled death is dishonour,’ said the black wolf.
‘Amen,’ said all the wolves in a clear chorus.
Somehow, though, the orange pig’s personality had not attracted fame, only a non-profitable cache of oddity. Good enough to bring a few of the farmer’s friends around the orange pig’s sty to stare at him awhile, but nothing solid to build a business on. The newspapers had come once, and taken photographs, but interest had not been ignited in the public.
‘To hell with farms and farmers,’ said a bitter voice the pig had not heard before.
‘Amen,’ said the wolves.
‘It is here in the moonlight things are shown truly,’ said a quiet voice from among the sea of silver heads. ‘With the sun in the morning comes all the illusions and divisions. Here in the silver shining, we are our truest selves, is it not so my brothers?’
‘Amen,’ said a strong chorus.
‘No farm could ever be thought of or established in the moonlight. It is an idea of the day, born of heat and dazzle.’
‘I told this pig I would take him another night to wash in the salt of the sea,’ said the long wolf.
‘The waters of the sea are great, its waves caress and cool us,’ said the quiet voice.
‘That pig’s legs are too short to run with you to the sea,’ said a voice.
‘We will all go,’ said the black wolf. ‘We will go to the sea another night and we will go at his pace. There are thoughts that come when we stand in the sea and feel the waves lap at our legs that can come in no other way. It is time we did go to the sea again.’
[ … continues …]
‘The Orange Pig’ is, without reservation, my favorite Logan short story. In fact, I had a protracted e-mail argument with someone a couple of years ago about its value as an allegory par excellence. But the sheer beauty of the language is enough sans allegorical significance.
I would enjoy reading that debate, Aine — but I expect that it’s gone with the wind, by now. As I have yet to get to the end of Storm Damage, it’s too soon to say whether I can second your opinion on a favourite. A guess: I expect to feel as I do about Isak Dinesen’s Seven Gothic Tales — that it would be impossible to honour one without feeling guilty about snubbing others that have given just as much pleasure, if of a different sort. Like hers, John’s stories cannot be lumped into any single category (never mind her title, which was just a convenience). Comparing would be something of a pineapples vs. grapefruit exercise. I could not agree more about the language, though. Its rhythms are subtle and very much of their place — though you, I suspect, are going to say you can hear old Gaelic in them.
Simple and good solution. In order to judge whether to trust somebody’s recommendations it would also be useful to see their history of recommendations and non-recommendations (there would need to be a clear-cut line between these, so one could see how selective the person in question is). There would probably need to be some kind of framework for letting people supply this information though. I first thought about this in relation to things in general and not only literature, but although literary clips is a better solution the recommendation-non-recommendation system might perhaps be helpful too.
In this context I guess I should avoid superlatives, but The Orange Pig really is the best short story I’ve read in quite a while. :)
Greetings and salutations, Post-Gutenberg and 5th. I agree that one should avoid hyper-inflation and that a clear-cut delineation between “recommendations and non-recommendations” would be helpful so that a reader can make an informed decision. The rules for Kindle Book Review, for which I write some reviews, stipulate that one cannot give a book less than a “3” out of a possible “5” stars or points, and that if a book deserves less than a “3” the reviewers are to quietly notify the author that a review is not possible. One does, however, have the option to give less than 3 stars on her personal site, although this reviewer probably would not read a book to the end, were it that poorly written. Hence, her site will probably not have books she did not like.
If she were paid to review bad books, obviously then a web traveller would find some “2” and “1” and “0” calibre books there. So, perhaps she should put a caveat on my site to that effect? She has, in the past year, read enough of 5 books for KBR to know that they were “less than 3 stars.”
Now back to the first person:
I have to admit to an occasional flight of hyperbole, but for “indie” authors, my small transgression boosts their spirits when they are in the daily struggle to be noticed in the internet sea of “flotsam and jetsam.”
Áine: It’s not always easy giving points to books relative to an abstract scale, and the number of points awarded depends on the reviewer’s subjective view of how to use the scale.
There are so many good books now that I couldn’t possibly read them all even if I spent my whole life trying. As you say, it may very well be that one does not in general read (or at least not finish) bad books, but even when reading only reasonably good books I think it would be useful to have some kind of system where only a small proportion of those read books are put in some special category (“recommended reads” or something with a better name). Say I read 20 books a year (though unlikely), then I could choose to promote ten percent (on average) of all books I read. Anybody who comes to my review page will have a pretty good chance of reading those books that really matter, instead of being caught in a whirlpool of good, reasonably good, pretty good, awesome, excellent etc books. If used in this sense, “non-recommendations” don’t need to point to books that are bad, it’s just not that they are among your chose top layer of books.
This isn’t and doesn’t need to be very different from Amazon’s review system, but I think there should be a clear difference between the top layer and the rest, and a number indicating how large share of all books reviewed by a particular reviewer are in the top layer. Not exactly revolutionary. What do you think?
Have been travelling, hence this delayed reply … sorry. I’m enjoying your discussion, 5th and Aine, and don’t have much to add. 5th is right to say that a record of not merely what a reviewer likes but is unimpressed by would be useful. The trouble is, I can’t be bothered to say I dislike a book or why, unless in reaction to a mad consensus among professional reviewers that reminds me of Andersen’s emperor and his overpraised clothes … when this is particularly hollow.
A Private Eye reviewer has recently been the lone dissenter, as far as I can tell, about one especially inflated reputation. It was a relief to see my scepticism justified. But I can’t even bring myself to name the author here. It’s someone famous for having had a particularly miserable life, so I’m inclined to say nothing — though I might have praised the hatchet job if the Eye was online and had a comments section, because then I’d be rewarding the reviewer’s honesty.
5th … I meant to add that I was pleased to see another wholehearted recommendation of ‘The Orange Pig’ — and we know that Aine agrees with you. I suspect that it will be seen as a classic, some day. As far as I know, we three are strangers to each other, and I only know John Logan from internet chat — because I like his work. … This is the most reliable sort of praise.