Everyone agreed that what passed for literature in this world was mostly trash, or worse, but everyone admitted they found something of value in some of it, especially in some of the older classics, and even some modern works. Sally had then asked the question:

"What are some examples of books that are worth reading, that have something of real value?"

I was eager to hear what books would be named as those my friends had found some value in, and we would probably come to that, but Peter immediately turned the tables on us.

"Before we discuss any other writers, I'd like to address Mark's original question, because it is about those of us who are writers. He asked specifically what the objective value of our work is? It's a good question for us, both because the writers are here, and the only readers that are important to us are here as well. What is the objective value of our work?"

"What a good idea. We can take one writer at a time and think of everything possible that is wrong with their writing," Franz joked.

"Even Margo, Franz?" Sally asked.

"Well, of course. There is nothing wrong with Margo's writing, so she'll be the winner."

"The winner of what?" Ned asked.

Franz just grinned, and winked at Margo. Whether all that had some secrete meaning for Franz and Margo I do not know, but that's the way it went.

"I think Peter's idea is a good one," if I may be so bold," Andrew said. "I think we should address the value of each of our writers' work, because I for one find great value in all of it. And, if I may, I'd like to begin with Jo.

"I know she's given up writing for now, and even repudiated her earlier works, but I found all her work both enlightening and enjoyable, and I adore her writing style and ability. I don't mean I had nothing but pleasant feelings while reading her books, I mean the total experience was positive, both from what I learned and the emphasis she put on independence. Some of the women she described were almost unbearable to learn about, and of course some of the things some men did to them was torture to read. There were also some parts with which I could not agree. I'm sure that Jo would not agree with them now either, but they were minor, as far as I was concerned. I'd say Jo's work, objectively, is very valuable, which for me is what makes it enjoyable.

"Why Andrew, I would never have suspected you are a feminist," Franz said.

"If by feminist you mean a lover of women, I confess I am and have always been a feminist. If by feminist you mean what Jo is today, I'm one of those too. If by feminist, you mean one of those poor creatures who hasn't a clue what being a woman is and blames all her problems on men, society, and those women who do understand what they are and are capable of, I'm certainly not one of them."

"You know, Andrew," Jo said, "I was going to pull all my books off the market, but Roger told me not to because he also thought there was real value in them. When I realized how much I had been deceived by feminism and libertarianism, I kind of wiped my older writing out of my mind. Perhaps I should re-write them, purging all the feminist and freedom movement nonsense, instead emphasizing individualism and independence. Would you care to collaborate with me, Andrew?" "If you are serious, Jo, I would count it a great pleasure and honor," Andrew replied.

"I'm quite serious, Andrew," Jo said. "We'll discuss it later.

"I confess, I've never read any of Jo's books." Joel said. "I really ought to have, because Rena did. In fact I think she read them all and enjoyed them. I'm going to begin reading them as soon as I get home. Can anyone tell me what to expect."

"I can," Francesca interjected. "Jo could too, but I think she'd give you the writer's point of view, and what you want is the reader's impression. You're going to be surprised. Unlike most of what goes by the name, 'feminist literature,' Jo's books are all stories, based on fact, but marvelously fictionalized. The stories are captivating, thought provoking, and extremely moving, even suspenseful. They all have either libertarian, or feminist points, but the same points might just as well be strictly individualist, because, whatever else she thought she was, Jo has always been an independent individualist.

"Personally, and selfishly, I wish Jo would start writing again. Now that she's purged herself of all those feminist libertarian, 'save-society-and-the-world,' ideas, which were never hers to begin with, I know she'd be one of the finest writers ever.

I was watching Jo, and it was obvious she was moved by all that was being said about her writing. When Frank was done, she whispered not quite audibly, "thank you." It was a recognition she perhaps never expected, and appreciated more than she realized herself, because it was Frank that had given it.

"What do you think was wrong with your writing, Jo?" Sally asked. "I know what you said to us at the pool party—how long ago was that?—about how you thought there was no point in what you were writing because you weren't going to change anyone and shouldn't. But I read your last book, Woman Power, and loved it, and agree with the others, you should publish it. What do you think was wrong with it."

"I'm not sure now, Sally. At the time, of course, my intention in writing the book is one I no longer agreed with, not necessarily what I wrote or how I wrote it. I'm always completely honest in my characterizations, ensuring that all my characters' behavior is consistent with their beliefs and personality. I try to make all the situations realistic—not actual of course, but realistically possible. I'm going to have another look at it."

"You wrote another book?!" Frank exclaimed. "Oh, Jo, even if you do not intend to publish it, you must let me read it. I'll buy it! How much do you want?"

"You've already paid for it, Frank. I'll send you a copy."

"Thank you, Jo. You have no idea how I'm looking forward to it."

There were other comments indicating that just about everyone had read Jo's work and had appreciated and enjoyed it. I was surprised that most of the men had read at least some of her works too. I had read only two of Jo's books, No More Cops which she had mentioned when I introduced her to Roger, and the one I interviewed her for and planned to review but was never published, the one Sally mentioned, Woman Power. I did very much enjoy them.

"Well so far, it looks like our female authors, at least Ruth and Jo have produce works of real value. Of course there is Margo" Peter concluded, the last phrase dripping with innuendo.

"Yes, of course there's me." Margo agreed cheerily. "If you read what I write, you deserve what you get."

"And that depends on who you are," Peter said. "What I get is a huge reward. Everything you write is challenging, and frequently startling, and so subtle the points sometimes do not prick you until long after being read. You're always an adventure to read, Margo. It's almost like being around you—dangerous but irresistible.

"I'm not a great reader, I admit." Bill said. "I've only read a few of Margo's short stories, and some of her poems. What else have you written, Margo, if you don't mind my asking."

"I'll answer that, if you don't mind," Franz interjected. "I'm her greatest critic, so I know what's she written, and can tell you anything you want to know about it. She can't, because she's in a stupor when she writes."

"Stop it!" Margo commanded. Franz just laughed.

"No, I'll tell Bill what Margo has written, Franz. In this one case, I'll be more objective."

"Thank you, Mark," said Margo, glaring at Franz.

"You already know she writes short stories and poetry, too much for me to remember and list, although I'm sure we can provide you with just such a list. She's written several books, eleven actually, isn't it Margo?"

"Eleven that got published, hundreds that didn't, and thousands that never actually got put on paper," she said.

"Yes, well," I continued, "in my opinion her best books were Sex, and What Of It?, which is a collection of her poetry and what she calls, 'not quite verse,' or word paintings. The work is very sensuous and filled with irony. It is a stark contrast to all that phony ignorance that feigns sophistication.

Nasty Little Bitch is a novel, or as Margo calls it, 'a not so novel,' about a brilliant and ambitious girl, who does everything right, but is despised by everyone 'less' than she is. She is constantly persecuted and unjustly accused of evils she could not even imagine. The title comes from what she was called as a young girl by all the girls at her school where she excelled at everything she tried. She had few friends, but did not need any. Even the teachers resented her. "Nasty little bitch thinks she's better than everyone else," her classmate said to the others when she refused to go along with any of their vile games. Though it seems she is destined for failure, because everyone and everything seems against her, she is nevertheless a complete success, though not in the eyes of anyone that hates her. Margo despises the concept of vengeance, nevertheless the final justice imposed by reality seems very much like it.

The one I enjoyed the most is The Odiousy, a collection of both published and new essays on various international politicians, celebrities, artists, writers and "news-makers," exposing their crooked and vile souls, but all presented as though she were praising them for their virtues. Odious, every one, and thus the title. It was much like Twain in flavor, but a bit more acerbic. There are also some collections of her short stories that are some of her best writing, too."

Margo had the strangest expression on her face I had to ask, "what's the matter Margo?"

"Who is this writer you have been talking about? Do you know how strange it is sitting in a room where everyone is talking about you in the third person. It's like being invisible. Am I invisible?"

"Hardly!" Peter said a little too vociferously.

It's true Margo could not be in a room without being noticed, with her always trim black hair naturally framing her small face, and eyes so dark, though they were blue, in most light they appeared black. But Peter's expression would have been much more befitting the outrageous Franz, today attired entirely in tweed, except for his saddle shoes. We all thought Margo might tame the sartorial eccentricity of Franz after they became, 'an item,' as Sally describes it. If anything, Franz only became more flamboyant.

It was, in fact, Franz who was about to become the next victim of our ad hoc literary inquisition.

"Do you two talk about your writing," Sally asked addressing both Franz and Margo.

The always sardonic Margo answered, "no, we only talk about Franz's writing. I'm not sure he considers me a writer."

"Of course I do," Franz retorted. "I read all your emails."

"What do you think of Franz's writing, Margo?" Sally asked, intentionally provoking her.

Her answer was surprisingly without any sarcasm.

"I love his writing, which I think is greatly underestimated, simply because it is so subtle and precise. I think Franz as able to say with ten words what few writers can say in less then ten paragraphs. It's almost poetry," she said with a rare seriousness.

"I love Franz's books, but I've always had the impression they are primarily satire, and wonderfully cutting and, as you say Margo, 'subtle,' which is what I really enjoy in all his books. I guess I've missed some of that depth," Ruth said.

"Oh, you haven't missed it, you just haven't identified it. You simply read and enjoyed his books, without noticing the precision of his descriptions, the richness of his characterizations, or the complexity of the plotting that no matter how complicated, always flows perfectly."

It was obvious that Margo's honest appreciation of Franz's work, without any prejudice in spite of her love for him.

"Margo's right," Peter chimed in. "The quality of Franz's writing is greatly underestimated just because it is so well crafted. If you've ever watched someone who has developed some skill, what they do looks easy and natural. The actual work, the development of technique, and devotion of the performer is never seen. That's much of why the real quality of Franz's work is underestimated. There is not another writer in this world that could write what Franz writes.

"Do you want to give us a rundown on what Franz has written, Mark," Bill asked.

"I think Peter might be able to that better than I, if he's willing. He's obviously more familiar with Franz's work than I am.

"I'd be glad to," Peter said. "I'm not going to try to recite a list of everything Franz has written, but will mention what I think are his most important books. Of course he's written countless articles and stories, but his books are his most important work.

"Blood Lines was not his first novel, but it was his first very successful one, and perhaps his best ever. It is about nobility, wealth, and insanity. It appears that he is writing about the strange fact that so many noble lines of the wealthy are plagued by insanity as an inherited defect. Behind the appearance is the truth that the insanity is the result of the hubris and ignorance of those who inherit unearned wealth and political power which far from being good fortune demands of them what they have no ability to be or do. The ignorant reader might assume the insanity is inherited, but the discerning reader is struck with the profound truth that unearned wealth is a curse to those who assume it makes them something they are not and can never be.

"His equally successful, The Warriors, seems to praise the 'heroes' of war, those who 'have given their lives or had their bodies or minds destroyed, fighting for their country.' By detailing the actual experiences of those heroes, the true pointless horror of war is illustrated. The climax comes by a wonderful device which brings one of the heroes, whose body and future were destroyed, into direct conflict with the war-industry tycoon who produced the very weapon that destroyed his life.

"Franz's last book, Love Free, has not been quite so successful, yet, but I predict it will be. The public has accepted it as an affirmation of the sexual hedonism dominating today's society, but the title gives away the real meaning, which is that today's view of sex has essentially destroyed the possibility of true love, hence a society that is, 'love free.' Without a message, the story would still be a gripping love story, a romance in the old sense of heroism, passion for truth, and real virtue."

His other works are not quite so subtle, some quite obvious in their mockery of academic smugness, phony artists from painters to playwrights, crooked politicians, and the international elites of banking and finance.

I personally find real pleasure and objective value in all of Franz's work," Peter concluded.

"Thank you, Peter" Bill said. "I read and enjoyed Blood Lines very much, but have not read his other novels, but will now. I have read, and enjoyed, his articles whenever I've come across them.

"I'm sorry Franz, but I haven't read any of your works," Jo confessed. "I have no idea why I've missed them, and I have apparently really missed something, but I intend to correct that immediately. I've read may of your articles, however, and have enjoyed every one."

"We have all his books, if you'd like to borrow them," Sally said.

"Thank you, Sally, but I want to buy them, because I want Franz to reap all the profit he can from his work, and I know I'll want to own my own copies."

"Well that leaves Peter, doesn't it?" Ned said.

"You forgot, Mark, Ned," Ruth reminded him.

"Oh, sorry Mark. Of course you started the whole thing, wanting to know if your own work had any objective value. Let's do Mark next. What has he written?" Ned asked the group at large."

"Well he hasn't written any books, yet," Sally said, "and all his other work consists of articles, reviews, and short stories. He's thinking about collecting some of his short stories into a book. If you haven't read any of Mark's articles or stories, there is not much to point to, at least until some of that work can be published as collections. Mark's going to be a hard one I think to discuss." "Well I don't think so," Frank said. "Roger's entire interest in Mark was his brutal honesty. There's one work of Mark's you've forgotten. I know Mark has been working on it since he first met Roger, at Roger's request. Mark agreed with Roger to record everything about Roger and those Roger befriended, and to publish that record in any way Mark chooses to publish it."

"Well there can't be any question about the objective value of that work," Jo said. "I had forgotten that Mark was working on that, even though Roger told me about it. He also told me that I should help Mark, if I liked and if he ever asked for it, since I worked with Roger so much."

"Have you decided how you're going to publish it yet, Mark?" Ned asked.

"Well, I think so," I said. "I'm going to publish it as separate snapshots that are short enough to read in one sitting, but that will all be tied together into as complete a record as I can make when all the snapshots are included. I'm thinking about calling the separate snapshots, 'Roger Stories,'" I explained.

"You know, I've read a lot of Mark's articles, and some of his stories as well," Bill said. "Even though I really enjoyed them, before I met Mark, I had no idea who he was, and never gave much thought to the fact all those articles and stories I liked were by the same person. Now that I know, or at least am aware of it, I'd have to say I've found Mark's work some of the most valuable I've ever read. It's exactly as Frank said. When I read anything he's written, I know I'm reading the truth. I don't mean I take his word for it, I mean he makes me understand why it is true."

I was beginning to like Bill more all the time.

"Now can we do Peter?" Ned asked.

"What do you mean, 'do Peter?'" Peter asked pointedly.

"I mean criticize," Ned said plainly.

"Oh, OK then," Peter feigned acquiescence.

"Well Ned, you seem very interested in Peter's work, what is your opinion of it?" I asked.

"The truth is, I don't really know," Ned said, holding up his hands. "Whenever I read Peter's stuff, I have the impression I'm missing something. Sometimes I get it, but sometimes I know what I think Peter is saying cannot possibly be what Peter would mean. Even then, I still like to read it, but it does bewilder me a bit."

"Ned's a literalist," Frank said. "He has to be. He can't be fooling around with subtleties and innuendos. For him, every fact has to be clear and straight, no fogginess and no angles. For someone studying literature, that literalness might be a defect, but for someone who has to always know what the facts are, literalness defines the difference between certainty and missing important facts, very possibly facts making the difference between life and death.

"Peter's writing is just not for everyone. No author's work can be for everyone, just because everyone is different, with different abilities, interests, backgrounds, and experience. For those that can appreciate and enjoy Peter's work, there is no better work of the kind, in my opinion. For those who cannot appreciate the kind of writing Peter does, his work will seem either pointless or absurd," Frank concluded.

"I think Peter's work is very difficult to appreciate, because it is very subtle and complex. Very few authors are capable of pulling it off, but none is better at it than Peter. For those of us capable of enjoying Peter's work, there is little that is more fulfilling, or entertaining," Ruth said.

"In one sense, good literature is like good food, I think," Sarah said. It was the first thing she had said, and everyone was very interested in what she had to say.

"'Good food,' does not mean good for everyone. It's exactly as Frank said. 'Good literature,' also does not mean good for everyone. I might enjoy milk, and for those who do enjoy it, milk is very nourishing. But it's not good for everybody. Many people are made very sick by milk. So, while some people can enjoy and gain value from one form of literature, others will neither enjoy or gain anything from it. Even in Objective terms, no literature is valuable to everyone."

"Hmmm," Peter said looking very thoughtful. "That raises a question I'd really like to take up later. Remind me, will you Sarah."

"Sure," she said, "if I don't forget."

"Who wants to tackle a list of Peter's work?" Ruth asked.

"Oh I'll do that, Franz said. I'm his greatest critic and detractor, so I know all about it."

"You're everybody's critic and detractor, Franz," Irene quipped.

"That's true, that's true," Franz replied. "It's my role in life."

"This should be good, Sally whispered to me."

"All of Peter's work is marvelous because he doesn't care about it at all," Franz began. "He writes whatever comes into his mind, but his is not just any mind. He doesn't just have ideas, like the rest of us; in his mind ideas become jewels of brilliance, weapons of destruction, or seductive poisonous drugs. Because he doesn't care, it all comes pouring out in his work, sometimes like fireworks, sometimes like a flow of lava destroying everything before it, and sometimes like a brass band that is impossible to ignore. The reason Peter doesn't care is because he is not a writer at all, he is a philosopher—a philosopher who never writes philosophy."

"The reason he does not write philosophy is because he does not regard this world worthy of it. Of course he's quite right. But what difference does that make; what if the world tramples his pearls under its feet. What about those of us who are thirsting and starving for a few drops of refreshment and morsels of nourishment of real philosophy. Who is Peter Sterling to keep us all starving?"

"So he doesn't write philosophy; instead he writes fire, like his first really big success, Diet of Apes, in which he proves that human behavior should not be modeled on paleolithic man, but the Apes from which both paleolithic man and modern man evolved, because all of the important characteristics passed on to man already existed in the apes. It was a huge and hilarious send-up of evolution, evolutionary psychology, and "paleo" fads, made all the more hilarious because it was taken seriously, and still is.

"I readily admit I resented the success of his, Deadly Glamor, because it made some of the same points my own Blood Lines made, only much better and more thoroughly, covering not only unearned wealth and political power, but those other unearned, 'advantages,'—looks, talent, and fame—which are sometime more self-deluding than wealth. The theme, in his case, was the rash of early deaths brought on by the behavior of the so-called beautiful people—the rich, the famous, and the celebrities worshiped by the ignorant masses. Though he makes it clear all the deaths are caused by the behavior of those that died, the fact is hidden in the fog of false tragedy and disaster that always surrounds those deaths.

"We all know about his most recent success, the Wannabe Bible. The title is based on those who have the BIDism orientation, cruelly identified by the psychological community as a mental defect called Body Identification Disorder. Peter defends them as perfectly normal individuals who, far from being abnormal, are in fact only exceptional. 'Just because most people have two arms, two legs, two ears, a nose, and genitals, that does not make them normal, it only makes them common or average. Wannabees are special,' he wrote. 'Those who want to have a limb or two hacked off, or some other part of their body mutilated suffer terrible prejudice and persecution. It is time that Wannabes were recognized as normal and their contributions to society recognized as well," Peter wrote. He advocated the promotion of wannabeism in the public schools.

"Of course he's published countless articles in the same vain, and now has his own regular column, his 'advice' column which he writes under the name Priscilla Van. Most people believe there is a real Priscilla Van, and Most people love the column, or love to hate it, but everyone reads it, because it is outrageous, shocking, making people angry, or making them laugh, or making them think.

"In spite of all that, I still consider Peter a failure as a writer, because the only thing I want him to write is philosophy—and he refuses to. Oh, I know he's trying to make up for it by having Jo write it for him. I am thankful for that, and I'm glad he picked Jo, because I know I'll be able to understand it if Jo writes it, and I'll be forever grateful to Jo for writing it. I'm not giving Peter any credit for that writing, however."

One could never be perfectly sure with Franz, but I'm pretty sure he was not quite serious about this last criticism of Peter's failure to write his own philosophy.

There seemed to be no more pending discussion of the writers in the present company, and Sally was still very interested in the answer to her original question, which is where the discussion turned next, but I will have to provide the details of that discussion next time.

—Mark Halpern