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Unpublished Rage Intoxicated, Inc.


I once wrote a story where the main character beats up a Wal-Mart.

Specifically, he destroys the book and magazine aisle.

The About the Author on a book jacket sparked all the rage: the character’s envy that this bald bearded schmuck and his dog—and who cares about his dog?—were somewhere in Oregon right this very minute typing away some crappy story almost everyone would want to buy.

He throws the book to the ground and stomps on it.  He rips the whole top-ten new release section to the tiles; grabs a thin “non-fiction” book about a religious man who spent some time south of purgatory and tears it clear in half; kicks and punches and grunts as he ravages the Oprah Book Club.  He runs down the aisle with his fist along the shelves, the books landing first in a cacophony of joyous thuds, the magazines last in a thousand splashes of flipping, flying, glossy, pretty pages.

He looks back to the books; he missed one.  The Bible.  He lifts it carefully off the shelf.  He gets on his knees.  He places the Good Book in front of him.  And he starts punching it.  Hard.  Crying now, speaking in tongues as he hits the bloody thing.  He forgets where he is, who he is, why he is; he becomes that deadly sin of Wrath.  Remember when Ralphie beats up the bully in A Christmas Story?  Like that.  To the Bible.

Heaving, spent, sweating, he reels back his hands and slumps his shoulders.  He looks down the aisle of his devastation.  His heart jumps and stops with a bit of fear.  He looks behind him.  He gets up, peeks out the aisle.  Nobody’s anywhere.  No customers.  The only employee is far away in the kid’s clothes section, and with his back to him: he can almost make out the “How can I help you?” on the blue vest.  He can see Smiley Faces everywhere, at the beginning and end of every aisle.  They really do seem to be smiling at him.  Is it possible that nobody noticed?

He heads calmly to the exit.  He’s afraid of getting caught but also annoyed that the customer service is so bad that nobody would hear a maniac upsetting the natural order of a retail planogram with such vehement precision.  He’s like the toddler who makes a scene and gets confused—hurt, almost—when everyone ignores him.  He decides to test it; he buys a Coke before leaving.  Surely, some disgruntled manager will come running down the checkout lane with a police officer.  Surely, they’d have received word, calls, or caught him on camera.  Somebody heard; somebody saw him.  They had to.

He’s still expecting an angry hand on his shoulder as the automatic doors slide open.  He takes one look back, nothing there but a feeble, white haired greeter who didn’t greet him, the young, pierced-nose girl who sold him the Coke, and a mom buying big jugs of water.

The book aisle in ruins and nobody knows.

Back at work now, sipping his Coke, he tells his manager what he just did.

“Jesus, dude,” his boss says.  “Why do you hate the Bible so much?”

“I don’t hate the Bible,” he replies, “I just hate bestsellers.”


Unlike my character up there, it’s hard for me to say I hate bestsellers, because I read, own, and buy so many of them.  Plenty of great books happen to sell well.  The Grapes of Wrath sold well.  The Catcher in the Rye sold well.  I haven’t read the Twilight series, but I have read Harry Potter, which sells almost as well as the word of God.

But most bestsellers—I think even the richest of writers might agree—are 100% pure bullshit.  When I’m in a bookstore, I’d be lying if I said no part of me wants to rip the shelves down in a sad, jealous stupor like my vigilante hero.  I might keep a few up there—the way Jack Nicholson as The Joker in 1989’s Batman says something like “I kinda like that one,” and keeps one of his thugs from spray painting a work of art in a museum.  But most of them, I could do without.

In the weakest of moments we sometimes place our rage in the wrong places; instead of infusing all that anger into a great story, we might want to be cynical and walk through Borders with disgust.  (Or if you’re a guitarist slash retail worker who can’t get a band going, maybe you feel the same thing at Guitar Center.  Or if you’re a failed filmmaker maybe you feel this way at any Regal…)

Mixed with that disgust, for me, is inspiration to finish something: a novel, a screenplay, a short story, a sestina, a haiku for Christ’s sake.  Anything.  I’m even inspired to blog, heaven forbid, sometimes just by one word on the cover of a book.


It’s 11:00AM.  Cool and sunny outside.  Inside it’s bright like a hospital waiting room.  I’m early for work.  I’m killing time.  Wandering Borders.  Aimlessly.  I’m never more thrilled, appalled, cynical, and inspired than when wandering aimlessly through a gymnasium-sized bookstore that is also a movie store, a music store, and a caffeine ware/whorehouse.

I see something that irks me: some author’s name in MASSIVE LETTERING and then this itty bitty little title.

Then another the same way.  Then another.  And countless more.

Did Dickens put his name real big on shit?  Not according to this picture below, where his name is smaller than the title, but who knows?

Bleak House

Maybe, like Stephen King, once Chuck got huge he upped the ante on his name’s font.

It’s distracting and rude to have the writer’s name bigger than the title; I want to know who makes that decision: the writer?  The agent?  The publisher?  Either way, the answer is: Some asshole.

I mean, who is this “Darkfall” person and what the hell kind of title is Dean Koontz?

Bored, angry, not finding anything interesting, I turn one of these bestsellers over.

That’s when I find that stare, that writer’s glare, that pose you see from some prick who obviously thinks he or she knows more than you, your mom, and Jesus combined.  Usually unsmiling, not confident so much as arrogantly sure, totally invulnerable in that frozen half-second; that look makes me want to punch you in the face, not purchase your book.  If you’re petting your dog while giving me that look, stop using a prop to attract a bigger audience, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Poetry magazines that include pictures are the worst: not only did this person write a poem way better than anything you could muster on literary steroids, they are sexier than you too, and they know it.

You’d think younger hotshots would be the only ones doing this:

Jonathan Safrawhosewhatsit

But the older folk do it too:

Hell, some writers have done both.  Here’s the annoying shot of Anne Tyler, whom I love:

Anne Tyler Bad

And here’s the nice, seemingly genuine one:

Anne Tyler Good

Of course, I still buy these books.

I still buy these magazines.

I’m a sucker.


I come across a relatively new bestseller.  Attractive cover.  I’ve seen it everywhere.  This is obviously a historical romance with a twisty plot and lots of stuffy rich people having sex.  I’m also sure murder and private detectives get involved.

I smirk as I notice the top, of course: #1 New York Times Bestseller.  I pick it off the shelf and admire the cover art.

To the right, a woman in a lush red dress of satin or silk seems to hover in the snow.  In the background, a dark train streaks across a lonely winter landscape.  At the very bottom, the writer’s name: Robert Goolrick, in a surprisingly small font compared to the title, A Reliable Wife.  I’m automatically more inclined to grab for my wallet, even though I’m quite certain Goolrick’s next book will feature a woman in a yellow dress, a plane, and it will be called Robert Goolrick.

His picture, a few pages from the back, is dark and black-and-white, and he looks pissed and uncomfortable, like an annoyed grandfather rather than someone trying to prove something.

I buy the thing.

Reliable Wife

A lunch break and a night later and I’m almost finished.

It’s not really historical, except there are a couple of dates and cities here and there.  1907.  1908.  Florence.  St. Louis.  Lots of research was done on flowers, but only because one of the characters does lots of research on flowers.  It’s overwritten, but I want to find out what happens, and I guess that’s the writer’s most basic duty: make you want to turn the page.

But one thing I can tell you: I didn’t buy the book because of what The Washington Post wrote…printed right there near the lady’s flowing dress on the cover, to the left of “A Novel,” describing what I was about to open as “Intoxicating.”

It’s not, really.

I can’t help it.

I think Rowling gets me drunker.

24 responses to “Unpublished Rage Intoxicated, Inc.”

  1. Avatar angela says:

    Kail, there are so many brilliant moments here—my god. "He’s afraid of getting caught but also annoyed that the customer service is so bad that nobody would hear a maniac upsetting the natural order of a retail planogram with such vehement precision." "Either way, the answer is: Some asshole." And more.
    How many of us do this, you think? Let best sellers, or the writers of best sellers, or the plot lines of best sellers, get under our skin? I wish it would motivate me to do something other than scowl, but—. Working on that.
    Actually, I should probably go work on that right now.

  2. Avatar The Tailor says:

    Kail, I find myself in the same position of incoherent rage a the successes of "bestselling" authors, and I'd be fine witrh it if it wasn't for the smug photographs.
    Well said.

    • Kail Kail says:

      Smug. That's a great word for it; I don't mind if it's, you know, some academic shot of Hemingway, Steinbeck, Eliot, Twain, Dickinson, etc. Those folks often looked stuffy, proud; they were big-time assholes who wrote big-time stuff. That's fine. And I love them all. It's shots like this that kill me: Firm Look
      Even though I dig some of his work, I can't stand Grisham's FACE. In almost every shot I see of him on any book or any magazine article, he's got a smugly sinister twinkle in his eye that says "Yeah, that's right. I wrote The Firm. And I could easily sleep with your wife."
      At least this guy, whose work is bestselling but not my mug of beer (or cup of tea), doesn't look at me like I'm a fool being hypnotized into buying a book: Book of Note His look says: "That's right, your wife read my book. See the movie with her, get a little something in your eye, you're in like Flynn."
      This shot drives me nuts: Steeley Gaze Clearly this look says, "Yes, that's right. I write intoxicating, bestselling novels. For a living."
      I much prefer this shot of a different bestseller: Higgins! because the look seems more genuine, seems to say "Yep, I write books for a living, and I love it."
      Then again even Sparks and Higgins Clark gloss entire back covers with what I perceive as nicer, more respectful poses. The size of the photos could be a sign of evilness.
      It's all about what the publishers think will help sell books. Publishers don't realize that once a writer is that huge, they are actually turning off some people with those massive pictures!

      • Avatar The Tailor says:

        You bring up Grisham and Sparks, and I believe that their smugness is increased by the fact that they are formula authors of the highest order. It's like the look says "I write shit, but my name makes money. Eat it."

  3. Avatar WreckedUm says:

    I liked that. I've been that guy destroying a Wal-Mart aisle out of rage…But for me it was the snack food aisle. Great piece.

    • Kail Kail says:

      Now I want some Reese's Butter Cups. King Size.

      • Avatar WreckedUm says:

        For me, it was about Trail Mix…Wal-Mart sells their own house brand of fruit and nut mixes (I loves me some nuts), and I always get the Mountain Trail Mix. They were sold out one day, and all i could find was the "Indulgent Trail Mix", a totally fru-fru blend of chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, and vanilla chips with nuts and cranberries or some such shit. It was all the had…Sitting there…Mocking me with it's multi-flavored chips and big words like "indulgent"…

  4. "the books landing first in a cacophony of joyous thuds, the magazines last in a thousand splashes of flipping, flying, glossy, pretty pages."
    I love this.
    You aren't going to be one of those writers who turns his nose up at best sellers right up to the point where his photo is sneering at you from the back cover of one, are you?

  5. Avatar llxt says:

    i love that this piece is about rage but it isn't written with rage. the prose is constrained and very well-controlled. no chance of you ending up anywhere near a back cover! ha ha. you're stuck with us…

  6. Kail Kail says:

    My prose has never been described as constrained. For me that is a compliment of the highest order, and I thank you. Good to be stuck with ya 😉
    I should add, ragelessly, that I'm actually a big fan of Jonathan Safran Foer.
    And though I love his late wife more, I still dig the late Former British Laureate.
    I have also enjoyed King, Koontz, a few James Patterson books, a few Sue Grafton books, almost all of Crichton's books, and every page of The Da Vinci Code in which the sentence "Langdon looked incredulous" did not appear.

    • Jason Jason says:

      Ahhh, James Patterson. He is the curdled creme de la creme on this topic. Let us not forget that he not only commits the several sins above, but he goes further by starring in ads for his own books. Television ads.
      Oh: what a great, great, great friggin' piece.

      • Kail Kail says:

        Thanks Jason. TV ads for novels are kinda weird anyway. I haven't seen these w/Patterson. Must youtube.
        I listen to WFAN, the New York sports talk radio station, and occasionally I'll hear ads for thrillers. Also weird. They have that movie-voice-guy…"In a world where a man can't walk through a field without his shirt ripping open…"
        And then music…intense, low, slow rhythms building up to some high violin notes when he says something about some character realizing something or other and saving the day.
        "The new thriller from the author that brought you…[fill in the blank bestseller]".
        These never make me want to read the book, of course.

  7. BB222 BB222 says:

    Thanks for this one Kail, you had me walking around the past two days stewing over pompous and overstuffed writers. What influence do writers think they have anyway to deserve such ridiculously self-important jacket photos? Please write this again next month, so I can continue to relish the ire I feel

    • Kail Kail says:

      Glad you liked it but hope I didn't inspire too much rage at any bookstores! What's funny is the writers with the most influence are sometimes the hermits you barely ever see pictures of…JD Salinger, Harper Lee…that's about all I could think of on the spot. The rest love pics of themselves 😉

  8. Sam Sam says:

    I spat my ginger ale at the screen a la Camille when I saw the author photos. Safran Foer, that smug bastard who shares my birth year but has more bestsellers than I by…well…by all…ugh. Great piece.

  9. Kail Kail says:

    Thanks Sam. Anytime I make someone spit or spill something, I'm pleased.

  10. Avatar Thomas pester says:

    What gleeful abandon. A joy. And a side note, have you caught any of the “and zombies” Situation. Should I laugh? Should I cry? Advise!

  11. Kail Kail says:

    Thank you, Mr. Pester. I have very mixed feelings about this whole zombie situation. I love the classics and I love zombies. But until I see Seth Grahame-Smith write a real book, I won't really be inspired to read the mash-ups.
    I mean, I could have written To Kill an Undead Mockingbird when I was fifteen.
    I should have.
    I should now…
    "When he was nearly thirteen my brother Jem got his arm badly bitten at the elbow."

  12. […] the professor arrived, Walter recognized him immediately from his book jacket picture; a bit heavier with more lines around the eyes, but it was clearly the same white-haired gentleman […]

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Benjamin Kail About Benjamin Kail

Benjamin Kail served as Sports Editor of his high school's news magazine and as the school's Poet Laureate. He reestablished and edited UConn at Avery Point's newspaper and literary magazine. 30POV's Tailor was right there with him in those years, writing and editing.

Read more by this author on 30POV .


December 2010
November 2010
On My Honor
October 2010
Witch Hunt
September 2010
If, Then.
May 2010
Small Crimes
April 2010
February 2010
"It's Complicated"
January 2010