In a recent piece for Literary Hub, writer Ben Dolnick talks about the shame he felt when he heard a book he enjoyed being described as “junk”:

“Until then I’d existed in a literary Eden: a book could be good or bad, dull or transfixing, but there was no way of predicting its quality other than to plop down on the couch and read it. Yes, I’d observed that some books—often the ones involving detectives and/or serial killers—had protagonists whose names had a certain extruded-plastic quality (Jake Brigance, Rob Reilly). And sure, I’d wondered why some novels included ten-page previews of others of the author’s books. But these had been curiosities, no more substantively telling than the font in which a book happened to have been printed. Now, though, I’d eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Junk, and when I looked at a book whose back jacket consisted of nothing but an enormous author photo, I felt shame.”

You’ll be pleased to hear that Dolnick’s story has a happy ending.

Sarah Marshall explores our continued fascination with one of the strongest female protagonists in the popular imagination
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Jodie Foster as FBI trainee Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs (dir. Jonathan Demme, 1991)
“People will say we’re in love,” Hannibal Lecter tells Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs. The movie that made these characters into American icons turned 25 years old this February. More specifically, it celebrated its birthday on Valentine’s Day, the almost unbelievably ballsy release date director Jonathan Demme chose for his adaptation of Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel. Maybe it’s because of this particularly suggestive anniversary date that people really have spent the last 25 years saying exactly what Hannibal Lecter once predicted. In any case, it’s a shame that Hannibal and Clarice’s story has become—with Thomas Harris’ 1999 novel Hannibal and Ridley Scott’s 2001 film adaptation—something of a Byronic romance. In Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, we find two characters searching for something far more elusive than limerence and luxury: mutual respect.

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David Sexton explores the lineage of one of modern literature and film’s most chilling villains in his critical study, The Strange World Of Thomas Harris
Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs
Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs
One of Lecter’s most obvious fictional precursors is Sherlock Holmes and before him, therefore, Poe’s Dupin. Many of Lecter’s observations are pure Holmes in style, if not content. As he tells Clarice: “‘You use Evyan skin cream, and sometimes you wear L’Air du Temps, but not today.'” On their next meeting, he detects a Band-Aid under her clothes.

Compare Holmes on his first meeting with Watson in A Study In Scarlet: “‘You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.’ ‘How on earth did you know that?’ I asked in astonishment.’ ” When, at their next meeting, Holmes explains his deductions, the amazed Watson says, rightly enough, “You remind me of Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin. I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories.”
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