Another offering in last weekend’s NYTBR was (no surprise) Joe Queenan’s smug and feckless essay on bad books: “Indeed, one of the reasons I became a book reviewer is because it gives me the opportunity to read a steady stream of hopelessly awful books under the pretense of work.” Which is not unlike a food critic boasting about how a steady stream of Burger King meals permits him to remain a manic-depressive. One of the reasons I became a book reviewer is because it gives me the opportunity to read a steady stream of books from people who dare to think and write differently. I start off hoping to love a book and I am immensely disheartened when a book lets me down. As Nathan Whitlock observed this morning, Orwell had some interesting thoughts on “good bad books.”
This week at the LBC, folks are offering thoughts on Alan DeNiro’s short story collection.
Scott McKenzie examines the myth of stealing ideas. I’ve written before about the “screenwriter” I once met who seemed convinced that her “idea” about a fallen angel had been stolen for the John Travolta film Michael. When I interviewed Guy Ritchie many years ago, I pointed out that his subtitled streetspeak in Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels was similar to the jive speak in Airplane. He told me that it hadn’t occurred to him and that I was the first person to point this out. Outright theft, along the lines of Mencia, is one thing. But the best artists have no shortage of ideas. They are also intuitively aware that creative people sometimes think along similar lines. I do my best not to steal ideas and, if there is some inspiration, I try to attribute it to others. If I know that someone else has set a precedent, I generally try to avoid pursuing the idea until I can come up with my own unique execution.
A third digression on this topic and then I’ll stop: Many have remarked on how Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” is a grand Elvis homage. But I overheard Elvis playing in a coffeehouse last night and it occurred to me that the “Someone still loves you” part of “Radio Ga Ga”‘s chorus strikes the exact five notes as the fifth stanza line in Elvis’s “Love Me Tender” — A#, A, G, A, A#, if I’m not mistaken. I’m not sure if this was deliberate, but, in light of the song’s commentary on radio’s omnipresence, it does add an interesting nuance to the tune, no?
Whenever I hear some screenwriter claim his/her idea was stolen, I will forever remember my experience watching the very funny Hot Fuzz. I have been tinkering with a comedy screenplay that contains, among other things, a police chief who forces his cops to put money in a swearing jar whenever they engage in “locker talk.”
Imagine my surprise and dismay when Jim Broadbent’s small-town police captain keeps a swearing jar in his office. And they hardly used it! Thank God I hadn’t actually started writing or I would have been P-I-S-S-E-D.
Ideas are just floating in the transom. If two happen to reach for the same one, it’s a race to the finish line — and everything is fair game.
I was about to say that since Freddie was a massive Elvis fan, the homage to “Love Me Tender” is probably deliberate, but I think Roger Taylor wrote the song (originally titled “Radio Ca Ca” b/c of what his then-toddler son said after hearing some music)