Sunday 25 Sep 2016

Groaner
David Simmonds

The opening of a new bookstore chain confirms what most of us already know intuitively: there are a heck of a lot of bad books out there.

The new "Groaners" bookstore chain - with fifteen stores opening across North America this month - sees this as a marketing opportunity. Company president Bill Pulpitt puts it this way: "Andy Warhol said we'd all be famous for 15 minutes. Sometimes, it seems like we all get to write a book that no-one wants to read - a groaner. It's a fact of life, so let's have some fun with it, and give people incentives to take the groaners off our hands."

Here's how it works. Half a Groaners store is devoted to new books and bestsellers, while half is stocked with groaners. You can buy a new book or bestseller at the published cover price. But if you take some groaners home with you, you get 5% off the purchase price of the new book, up to a maximum of 25%. (In an unguarded moment, Pulpitt acknowledged that the store was essentially giving customers the industry standard discount, so long as they took home some groaners. "Not that there's anything wrong with that!" he stated Seinfeldishly).

It's the fun of bad books that makes Pulpitt think the stores will succeed. "Take a look for yourself", he states - and a quick survey reveals he is probably right. For instance, I find in the cooking section the following classics:

"Just off the truck: 100 exciting new recipes for turnip, squash, rutabaga and other root vegetables".

"It need not be compost: a new vegetarian cookbook for those motivated primarily by planetary stewardship".

"Carbie on the barbie: adventures in cooking pasta outdoors."

"Custard, cold toast, kippers and blancmange: a search for the redeeming features of English cooking."

I stroll over to the self help and memoirs sections and find some more intriguing titles:

"Dames, broads, chicks and women: 100 pickup lines that still work in the era of gender equality", by Joe Namath, foreword by Bill Clinton.

"Any fool can be a parent" by Michael Jackson and Britney Spears.

"100 great places that can wait till after you die", by Arthur Frommer.

"Call me Benny: an intimate portrait of our new Pope" by the editors of Time/Life books.

And whafs coming down the pipe that gets him excited? Pulpit pauses for a moment, and offers up the following examples:

"The deluxe illustrated Abba lyrics", from Rolling Stone magazine.

"Truth, reconciliation and a knee to the groin: Nelson Mandela's favourite rugby songs." "Sundays counting my money: how to churn out tearjerkers," by Mitch Albom.

"100 more great places: see them before you're born" by Arthur Frommer.

Come to think of it, with titles like those, who would really want to read a boring bestseller? Maybe groaners will become our new bestsellers.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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