Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Good Garbage of Mickey Spillane

“I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends.”

“ My work may be garbage, but it's good garbage.”

Mickey Spillane

Today is the date on which Mickey Spillane was born in 1918. (He died in 2006).

Spillane was always a controversial figure in the mystery world because critics tended to hate his work. But as Spillane himself pointed out, his "garbage" sold well: Wikipedia says that he can boast of "seven titles among the ten best-selling American books of the 20th century."

Spillane was said to have a feud with Hemingway, who had publicly criticized his writing; however, when asked by an interviewer if he had read Hemingway's review, Spillane said, "Hemingway who?" This earned him a huge laugh from the audience and the permanent dislike of Hemingway.

The debate of books as products versus books as art still goes on today, often within an individual author. There's no doubt that authors would like to earn fine reviews for their work; there's also no doubt that authors would like to make money as much as the next person would. There's a certain wild appeal, therefore, in Spillane's claim that he had plenty of "customers" even if his books were considered trash.

Not everyone disliked Spillane, of course, which was why he had all those customers. His books were raw, different, new, in a time when the world was still recovering from war and was ready for heroes who were a bit larger than life, a bit more violent and a bit sexier than heroes had been before. Mike Hammer was as much of an icon as was Mickey Spillane, and in fact Spillane played his own character in the film Ring of Fear. (No, wait--my friend John Dandola has corrected me. He says Spillane played Spillane in that movie, and "He played Mike Hammer in the equally dreadful The Girl Hunters." :) Thanks, John).

There's no doubt that Spillane influenced the modern world: its literature, its film, even its perception of heroes. And of course he remains an icon in the world of the hard-boiled mystery.

(This blog was first posted in 2007).


Anonymous said...

I like Mickey Spillane. There are writers whose books work for me even though I can see the defects that irk the critics. H.P. Lovecraft is another such author. I guess if one could as easily quantify why a book connects with readers the critics would all be writing books themselves. There are certain writing factors that can be pointed out but a lot of what goes on between writer and reader is very complex and maybe impossible to really figure out.

Julia Buckley said...

My husband is also a Lovecraft fan (and I think would like Spillane, too). He enjoys the florid sentences and over-the-top descriptions which, he says, lend to the atmosphere of horror.

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