Thursday, September 29, 2011

Absolute Potboiler? Well, Not So Much

Here is the front-cover blurb from Peter Abrahams' book Bullet Point: “’An absolute potboiler.’ —Gordon Korman, New York Times bestselling author of One False Note and Pop.”
The book in question

Did they change the meaning of “potboiler” while I was out surreptitiously excising misplaced apostrophes from increasingly illiterate signage? Does it now mean “thrilling,” “amazing,” “most excellently keen?”
Because I was under the impression that it still meant pretty much “writing done by a hack.”
So I went to the arbiter of all things wordish and otherwise (thank you Wikipedia) to discover that “potboiler” still means what I thought it meant: “Potboiler or pot-boiler is a term used to describe a poor quality novel, play, opera, or film, or other creative work that was created quickly to make money to pay for the creator's daily expenses (thus the imagery of 'boil the pot', which means 'to provide one's livelihood'). Authors who create potboiler novels or screenplays are sometimes called hack writers.” (
The longer blurb from which the cover blurb was taken appears on the back of Mr. Abraham’s book: “With characters that are vivid and 100% believable—this is an absolute potboiler. I wish there were more books like this aimed at teens. —Gordon Korman, New York Times bestselling” et cetera et cetera.
Sounds like he thought it was a good book. Sounds like he enjoyed it. Sounds like he was trying to say something nice about it so that its writer could sell a lot of copies. Although I suppose it’s always possible that a writer HATES his audience, and wishes there were more MEDIOCRE books written to annoy them.
So this is what I want to know: how did a WRITER fail to know that “potboiler” is not praise but pejorative; how did the PUBLISHER, who works with actual WORDS on a daily basis—who employs people who are paid to know what actual, individual words MEAN—allow a blurb DISSING the book on its front cover, even if it was written by a New York Times bestselling author; and is Peter Abrahams—who, by the way, did NOT write a potboiler, at least not in any sense that Wikipedia I and recognize—going to send Mr. Korman a dictionary?

The Best Cat Ever

 This was the picture on my computer screen yesterday:

That’s Popeye, the best cat ever.
Here is another photo of her lounging, this time on the computer desk in our apartment in France, where we lived for four years with her and our elderly Standard Schnauzer, Loki. You'll notice that she was an accomplished lounger:
Rembrandt would have adored to paint me.

She was also a phenomenally good traveler, especially for a cat. When she had to go to the Vétérinaire in France, I took her on the bus. I would put her in a soft carrier and zip her in. There was a space for her to put her head out, and invariably when she poked her sweet little face out after I’d boarded the bus, everyone who saw her would crowd around me to pet her, and call her mignonne, adorable. She accepted their adoration and caresses with her usual charm, purring great guns, obviously tickled to be the center of attention.
When we were moving from Tours to Paris and I needed to go to Paris to sign the rental contract for our new apartment, she went on the train with me, riding on my lap.  She charmed the conductor so completely that he didn’t make me buy a ticket for her (I hadn’t realized that I needed to). At our new apartment, she stole the agent’s heart. He couldn’t believe that a cat could be so good about being put in a carrier, slung on my shoulder, and schlepped around Paris on public transit. 
When we returned from France, she traveled in the cargo hold, and there was some sort of mix-up at the airport. Instead of being delivered to the bag-claim area, as pets should be, she ended up in the international freight hangar. We had to drive a couple of miles from the airport to the freight office, show our import documents for her, and complete some more paperwork. Then we were allowed to drive to the freight hangar, show our documentation to the burly men there who looked like they spent their spare time competing in the caber toss at Highland games, and try to make ourselves heard above the whine of forklifts and the banging of freight being transferred from one place to another: “YOU HAVE OUR CAT.”
The supervisor got on his radio, and in a minute, one of his colleagues zoomed up in his forklift with probably the smallest cargo he’d ever carried on it: Popeye’s crate.
We thought she’d be frantic, but she was completely at home, mistress of all she surveyed. It also turned out that she’d made friends with every freight handler in the place. They all lined up to tell us how wonderful she was, and to wave goodbye as she left.
She died three years ago, at the ripe old age of 21, and I still miss her. So, I imagine, do some freight handlers in Newark.