This has become a predictable moment in my life: My wife and I get together with friends. There is the usual chitchat — Donald Trump bad/Elizabeth Warren good; our children thriving/other people’s not so much — and then, around Minute 45, somebody pops the question: “So, what are you guys watching?”
To repurpose a famous Dorothy Parker line: Constant Weader want to fwow up.
I am so sick of academics, clerics, white collar salary people, and the suburban booboisie — my tribe — discussing “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” as if they were parsing the grand inquisitor scene from “The Brothers Karamazov.’’ The London Daily Telegraph wrote of HBO’s “The Wire” that “it merits comparison with the works of Dickens and Dostoevsky.”
Please. Can you imagine our parents discussing “Sea Hunt,” or the latest episode of “Three’s Company”? But now polite society has adopted oxymoronical “quality television” as the new benchmark for intellectual attainment. My wife and I are thinking of starting “Game of Thrones” so we’ll have something to talk about after church.
Books? Books are done.
In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, “Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak explained that the show hardly ever asks contestants to solve for book titles now. “We rarely do books anymore,” Sajak said, “because fewer and fewer people read them.”
Statistically, sales of so-called trade books, which you and I read, are flat to down. The numbers are a bit squirrely, because “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “The Hunger Games” sold so many copies that they distorted sales data for the past five to seven years. Children’s books and young adult fiction still sell OK.
“Books,” that odd category of nonliterary proto-books dominated by Bill O’Reilly (“Killing Everybody”) and this week’s bestselling author, TV star Mindy Kaling (“Insert Millennial-Bait Title Here”), continue to sell well. Everything else? Blah.
Don’t you love the ritual photo op of the vacationing Obama family visiting the Bunch of Grapes bookstore on Martha’s Vineyard, charging up an armload of hardcover books? It’s so quaint, as if the president took the girls to watch a flax-spinning demonstration at Plimoth Plantation. I wonder how many of those books actually get read. . . .
The only people I can discuss books with nowadays are book club members, almost invariably women. You can ask a woman “What are you reading?” and you will hear about books by Elena Ferrante or Alice Hoffman. (Not geniuses on a par with “Mad Men” creator Matt Weiner, but talented writers, nonetheless.) Ask a man what he’s reading, and it’s probably the score crawl underneath ESPN2, or the latest FanDuel updates on his Twitter feed.
Not me, babe. I’m not part of the problem. I’m reading “Crooked Heart,” a wonderful novel by Lissa Evans, and I just finished Lauren Groff’s massively hyped “Fates and Furies,” which is sharp and excellent. I downed David McCullough’s understated, superb“The Wright Brothers,” too. That old fella still has plenty of pitches in his repertory, believe me.
And I’ll be buying more books in the future, including but not limited to: some guy named Trollope and most of Charles Dickens — I hear his best novels rival Season Three of “The Wire.” I need to read Nick Tosches’s “Dino,” James Welch’s “Fools Crow,” Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow,” and of course “The Century Hit Puberty,” by Mat Gleason, the author of “Most Art [Stinks].”
But if you want to talk about Rachel McAdams in Season Two of “True Detective,” well — I’m all ears. I thought she was terrific — didn’t you? I’ve heard “Detective” creator Nic Pizzolatto compared to Dante Alighieri — whoever that is.
Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at email@example.com.