Most Overrated and Most Underrated Writers
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What's your opinion on this? And what is the meaning of "overrated" and "underrated"? How do we measure the worth of writers we admire? Do sales and awards effect things? How many Nobel Laureates in Literature have you never heard of? How many writers have fandoms completely at odd with his or her utter lack of talent?
*Overrated: Neil Gaiman -- a good writer, but not a great one. His prose is workmanlike and his stories bleed into each other since they all start sounding the same.
*Underrated: Vasily Grossman -- Started off as a Stalinist-style Socialist Realist then developed his own unique style. More people should know about him. His "Hell of Treblinka" should be read aside the more well-known Night by Elie Wiesel
Having just finished The Blind Assassin, I'm really tempted to put Atwood in at most overrated. That was one mediocre Booker winner, that was.
Gaiman (yep), Robertson Davies, Margaret Atwood (yep--along with the vast majority of Canadian writers of any note or reputation), Allan Ginsberg, J.D. Salinger, Jack Kerouac, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Gene Wolfe, Ted Chiang, Ford Maddox Ford, Joseph Conrad, Henry James, Jay McInerney, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, J.R.R. Tolkien, Saul Bellow.
That should piss off a significant proportion of our group members...
If you can - with a straight face - actually include Ford, Bellow and James as over-rated, then I guess it'll be pretty easy for you to swallow my nomination of Vollman, Burroughs (Edgar Rice or William, it doesn't matter they're both equally juvenile) and Vonnegut. How them apples suit you?:)
For underappreciated, I'd nominate Cynthia Ozick, Guy Davenport, J.F. Powers, Wright Morris and William Maxwell - for an all-U.S. list.
ETA: I'm not trying to spark a war with any fans of my first three nominations. I don't like their writing, but recognize others do. Just having some fun with it...
Henry James is possibly the best writer of fiction to have worked in English, ever. It's mighty hard to over-rate him.
Sorry, Gene, I detest over-writing, long descriptive passages, the author pridefully showing his hand.
Beardo: Have you read CITIES OF THE RED NIGHT? That's WSB's masterpiece. And Vollmann? He writes a lot (too much, probably) but, Christ, he can also deliver something like EUROPE CENTRAL.
More over-rated (continued): Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, China Mieville, Mark Twain.
...and most of the purveyors of the "New Weird" (bullshit sub-category if there ever was one):
Talk about over-writing...
I haven't read that particular Burroughs. We've had similar discussions before, and I still remain unconvinced. Like Kerouac, Ginsberg and, yes, Vollman, I don't need to read all of Burroughs to be unimpressed. I know that you'll never concede the point, but like the authors just mentioned, I see Burroughs as little more than an affectation adopted by college seniors trying to impress college freshmen into bed. Of course, as in all matters, YMMV.
As for James, it helps to remember that he was writing before the entire Hemmingway-sparse prose-bandwagon got really moving. The effort required is more than repaid by the rewards received.
As for James, it helps to remember that he was writing before the entire Hemmingway-sparse prose-bandwagon got really moving
Gawd, I hate Hemingway All macho posturing and sparse prose. Blecch! Overrated, especially by the high school English curriculum. For sparse prose, I'll go with Beckett everytime. And of course, YMMV.
As far as underrated, Alan Hollinghurst His novel, The Line of Beauty is a James-ian evisceration of the homophobic Thatcherite Eighties ... and like Goodfellas, it has Cocaine in the role of Best Supporting Character.
I'll still champion James: His tales of doomed heiresses to banking fortunes and decadent European aristocrats has an immediate relevancy in our age of the Kardashian Konsumer Konfidence Index. Demerits: Glacial pacing ... as in more glacial than Proust Best when read slowly and savored. Like Hemingway, not for everyone.
Hemingway and James were the Sex Pistols and Boston, respectively. One all macho snarl and faux amateurishness; the other an architect of overlong prog rock songs.
I enjoyed The Line of Beauty, but I'd hardly call a Booker prize winner underrated.
9: I don't like The Sun Also Rises but I enjoyed For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.
I despise Bret Easton Ellis and resent that he is considered a voice for my generation (X, that is).
I think Ken Kesey wrote the quintessential Great American Novel, Somewhere a Great Notion.
(Gee, what's up with the KK touchstones? Neither the author nor the work are coming up.)
11: I'd call Alan Hollinghurst underrated to an American mainstream audience. He's pretty well known among us lit snobs, British natives, and the gay fiction subset.
That's another thing that's simultaneously good and bad: niches and sub-categorization. The whole "Best Writer vs. Best Gay Writer" or "Best Writer vs. Best Woman Writer", etc. On the one hand, it is a great as a tool to increase awareness. On the other, it can lead to ghettoization and a condescending attitude. "Sure, Margaret Atwood is a well-known woman writer, but not as a real writer." (Meant to illustrate a point, do not take this as my actual opinion on Atwood.) It's a fine line to hew. It's especially aggravating when sci fi fandom tarts itself up in the deceptive glow of "authenticity", disdaining anything that isn't pure genre or some tripe extruded from a Sci Fi Grandmaster (Asimov, Heinlein, cough cough) as something pure and wonderful, versus the "literary writers" all affectation and over-workshopped prose.
I am exaggerating ... slightly.
To contradict what I previously wrote, Beckett is a highly esteemed literary writer, but I also consider him a masterful speculative fiction writer. Instead of spaceships and little green men, he plumbs the depths of the mind and the self. The Unnameable is excellent science fiction. That's my story and I'm stickin to it!
>10 beardo: - I can't agree with those analogies - the Sex Pistols may have been an artificial construct but Never Mind the Bollocks is still a great album; and subsequently at least two excellent bands arose from their ashes. Does that mean that despite the bluster Hemingway produced great material?
Boston weren't a prog-rock band, they were strictly MOR - no self-respecting prog-rock band would realise an album where their longest song was under 8 minutes, that's the length of a single. Early Yes or Genesis - that's prog-rock, and they have double album concept albums to prove it. I can see your point though, James producing run-on sentences as they produce 7 minute guitar solos. However (ignoring the easy classical references) I would say James was closer to someone like John Coltrane, a virtuoso but one who managed to alienate the mainstream audience by using his masterful technique to solo endlessly.
Going back to the original post which asked a number of interesting questions, primarily amongst them - how do you define over-rated and under-rated?
It's easy for each of us to say "Joe Bloggs is over-rated" but that is a pointless statement - we don't know what his 'rating' is, and why he doesn't deserve it.
Take Henry James, who seems to have generated some responses. It is easy to state he is over-rated because you don't like his style but that doesn't really measure up. If you look at James' influence on the development of the novel then it is difficult to say he over-rated. Not liking someone is not the same as saying someone is over-rated - to analyse if someone is over-rated you have to stand back and determine why they are rated so highly or lowly.
Note - this technique may not apply to music where artists like Julian Cope, Luke Haines and Billy Bragg should hould be revered while artists like Coldplay and Justin Bieber should be shot. (I know this seems harsh but we can't afford to take chances).
Julian Cope's "Safesurfer" is one of the all-time great tunes. Not many people cite him any more so I was tickled to see his name.
Re: Henry James and that kind of effete stylist, I am reminded of the words of poet Stanley Kunitz:
"I dream of an art so transparent that you can look through and see the world."
That's something the heavy breathers of the literary world will never understand. The beauty is in the simplicity, delivering the maximum amount of power and impact with the fewest words.
"Spoken like a true minimalist, Cliff."
Emily Bronte with Wuthering Heights is overrated, in my opinion.
>17 CliffBurns: - but there is no set James style - the style everybody associates him is only really present in the late novels. The early novels, and even much of his later short fiction, is quite straightforward.
See this example from Daisy Miller -
After knocking at his aunt's door and learning that she was indisposed, he had taken a walk about the town, and then he had come in to his breakfast. He had now finished his breakfast; but he was drinking a small cup of coffee, which had been served to him on a little table in the garden by one of the waiters who looked like an attaché. At last he finished his coffee and lit a cigarette. Presently a small boy came walking along the path--an urchin of nine or ten. The child, who was diminutive for his years, had an aged expression of countenance, a pale complexion, and sharp little features. He was dressed in knickerbockers, with red stockings, which displayed his poor little spindleshanks; he also wore a brilliant red cravat. He carried in his hand a long alpenstock, the sharp point of which he thrust into everything that he approached--the flowerbeds, the garden benches, the trains of the ladies' dresses. In front of Winterbourne he paused, looking at him with a pair of bright, penetrating little eyes.
This is 1909 New York revised version of the same paragraph:
After knocking at his aunt's door and learning that she was indisposed he had taken a walk about the town and then he had come in to his breakfast. He had now finished that repast, but was enjoying a small cup of coffee which had been served him on a little table in the garden by one of the waiters who looked like _attaches_. At last he finished his coffee and lit a cigarette. Presently a small boy came walking along the path--an urchin of nine or ten. The child, who was diminutive for his years, had an aged expression of countenance, a pale complexion and sharp little features. He was dressed in knickerbockers and had red stockings that displayed his poor little spindle-shanks; he also wore a brilliant red cravat. He carried in his hand a long alpenstock, the sharp point of which he thrust into everything he approached--the flower-beds, the garden-benches, the trains of the ladies' dresses. In front of Winterbourne he paused, looking at him with a pair of bright and penetrating little eyes.
Shooting musicians is a bad idea: it only encourages people to name airports after them.
I don't think there's any point in looking for an objective way to define overratedness. The only purpose of a statement like "Writer X is over-rated" is to start a discussion in which everyone present can happily deploy uninformed opinions and/or specialist knowledge. It's the literary equivalent of going into a pub and expressing doubts about the competence of the Met. Office or the prospects of the local sports team.
Obviously, you have to choose the right value for "writer X" if you want to provoke an interesting reaction. Dan Brown and Marie Correlli aren't likely to attract as many defenders as Henry James and Hemingway in this group, for instance.
In the past I've often found myself saying "X is over-rated" on little or no evidence and then taking it back later on reading their work in the right circumstances and with the right preparation. So I'm a bit cautious. I was wrong about Beckett, Joyce, Woolf, Henry James, Sir Walter Scott, and many others, and I'll probably see the point of Hemingway one day too.
Until fairly recently, I'd have classified Hollinghurst as "overrated" - one good novel in 25 years of literary prominence isn't much. But The line of beauty is almost as good as The swimming-pool library and more mainstream, so I suppose he's redeemed himself. By contrast, Patrick Gale has written at least a dozen excellent novels in the same time, but attracted very little attention before Notes from an exhibition - he probably counts as under-rated.
What about Patricia Highsmith? does she still count as under-rated in America, or have all the Ripley films made a difference?
and yet, if what you see is the world, you wouldn't seem to require any lens at all. The interesting part of lingerie isn't what it shows; it's what it hides. The beauty/function of a lens isn't to be transparent, but rather to focus. Style and substance are different things.
Hmm - mightn't a window be a better analogy than a lens? - Something that separates you from the world whilst letting you see it as clearly as possible.
It's the literary equivalent of going into a pub and expressing doubts about the competence of the Met. Office or the prospects of the local sports team
What's wrong with that? Pass the beer nuts. As a former resident of Milwaukee -- the land of beer and Harley-Davidson -- and a lover of Irish lit -- James Joyce and Samuel Beckett to name two -- I totally advocate the pub/bar/dive as a place of conversation and cultural enrichment. I've had quite enough of the teetotaling Matthew Arnolds of the planet.
Since I live in the state that enacted the Volstead Act, I enjoy Lit Snobs as my local pub. Cheering for one's local sports team is just as empty and meaningless a gesture as cheering for one's confessional brand, be it monotheist or otherwise.
Re: Hollinghurst, underread is not necessarily underrated. Sadly, here in America, many people are still squeamish (or downright hostile) about homosexuality and might have qualms about reading "that gay book." *sigh* Then again, Sarah Waters is pretty popular. Then again, lesbians are ok. *sigh*
Another vote for overrated IMO is Steinbeck. Then again, I live in Central CA, where we are beaten about the head with him constantly, so I may have some baggage.
re: Gaiman, he would really have to be God's gift to books NOT to be overrated. I've never read him but it's hard to think of someone else who has the kind of hero-worship from his supplicants, um fans, as he does.
Re: Hollinghurst, underread is not necessarily underrated. Sadly, here in America, many people are still squeamish (or downright hostile) about homosexuality and might have qualms about reading "that gay book."
It doesn't stop these same cultural ayatollahs from having gay sex with male hookers. One thing about the US is that the shine it gets from its self-righteousness comes mainly from its moral hypocrisy. Ironically, these same homophobes have helped make Cirque de Soleil -- overrated, anyone? -- into a smashing success, despite the fact that is:
25: Place might have a big thing to do with it too. I live in Minnesota and F. Scott Fitzgerald is given plenty of attention. Although I think Sinclair Lewis deserves a revival, especially with his hilarious satires of small town prejudices. The same people who dislike "that gay book" freely give their hard-earned cash to Elmer Gantries and cornpone fascist demagogues with missing a beat.
Also overrated: The US's image of itself. "Greatest nation in the world"? Please. If only the US had the same libertarian spirit as, say, the Netherlands Unfortunately, we're more like Belgium when not looking like a non-bearded doppleganger of Saudi Arabia
Underrated: Karl Kraus, Joris-Karl Huysmans, and Comte de Lautreamont The onslaught of Realism and pared-down "transparent" prose has been the death of these masterful decadent maximalists.
Underrated: Alexander Theroux
One of the things I like so much about Steinbeck is that by reading him chronologically one can watch him grow as a writer. Dude really knew how to tell a story, also. I wouldn't consider him overrated, in the same way Hemingway has his fans who don't consider him overrated. I think Steinbeck is a matter of taste, like Hemingway. I'm one of those who just don't get Hemingway, but then I don't get Twain, either. So I would say Mark Twain is overrated.
I think part of the issue of over- and underrated authors involves hype and fandom. Steven King is immensely popular, but until recently, no one in the critical community paid attention to him. His books are almost guaranteed to make money, but one rarely sees his name associated with the Pulitzer or the National Book Award.
28: I have my share of authors I "don't get." Sometimes it's the actual content, but sometimes it's trying to figure out why a fandom even exists. I think Steinbeck and Hemingway being Nobel Laureates leads to a lot of resentment and fawning adoration. Both were pretty good writers. Then again, the Supreme Court is made up of 9 above-average lawyers.
Ayn Rand is wildly overrated. Unfortunately, her fans have their cloven hooves on major positions in government and corporations. Nothing like a bunch of billions feeling like a modest tax increase turns them into martyrs. That's just toxic. Not only to literature, but to culture as a whole. Since command of language is a necessity when writing philosophy, it's hard to consider Rand a fiction writer, let alone a decent philosopher. Her command of English is pedestrian (and that assessment is charitable), unlike other masters of English who weren't native speakers (Nabokov, Joseph Conrad, etc.)
30: It doesn't help when the author's name becomes an idea: Kafkaesque, Pynchonesque, etc.
I have a multivolume set from Penguin dubbed "The Other Europe." It is filled with lesser-known authors (Danilo Kis, Bruno Schultz, etc.) and a token "gateway author" Milan Kundera But that's not all bad. A "gateway author" can bring in new readers to different genres, regions, etc.
Full disclosure: I did begin this thread to kick up a little friction and argumentation. Oftentimes, it seems like we can get an echo chamber effect. "Pynchon is awesome." "Yeah, totally." "Don DeLillo is awesome." "Yeah, no doubt."
A little friction and fracas is good for the soul. It prevents us snobs from devolving into drooling fanboy idiot clones.
That SK winter's taking its toll, Cliff. Time for a trip to somewhere warm, eh? :)
It appears we're working with different definitions of "over-rated" . Are you just picking writers you don't enjoy or do you really think Kafka's reputation undeserved?
Going back to one of Karl's earlier questions/discussion points - on what criteria are you making your assessments? Iis there more to it than personal taste? Often I find the fandom surrounding certain authors off-putting (good examples in #31), and perhaps this is why you think Kafka over-rated. I am curious.
I have no problem with someone not enjoying a particular author. I love Melville, Hawthorne, Dickens and James. Many others don't. What begins to concern/bother me, however, are suggestions that the author is therefore somehow lacking. Why is it not enough to say "I don't enjoy his writing" (cue up those "pot calling kettle black" references, folks), without denigrating the author or novel in question? The down-side of this argument, however, is that it will invariably be thrown back in your face by fans of demonstrably inferior writing - Patterson, Rand et al. Oh well.
This isn't, of course, the first time we've tackled this issue, but Cliff got me thinking - even as I took my comments beyond what can be fairly read into post #30.
Overrated: the idea that "the US" thinks any one thing in particular. I'm American, and I'm pretty tired of empire and capitalism and political wingnuts. And I'm not the only one.
To my ear, James' writing is precious, over-wrought, utterly lacking the spareness and simplicity I admire. One may call that personal taste, I suppose--my inner ear also refuses to acknowledge the aesthetic relevance of most jazz and rap musicians/groups and 99% of the female vocalists out there. But I have a heightened acuity for prog rock, ambient/space music, surrealism, poetry, bullshit and a crushing open ice body check.
An interesting coincidence: my wife's friend is creating a libretto based on Henry James' novella "The Beast in the Jungle". She read some of the excerpts to me this morning, the bits that incorporated actual lines from the novella. Again, I thought the writing was contrived and dull, and the concept behind the novella (a man waits all his life for something BIG to happen to him and all along, right under his nose, etc. etc.) to be silly and trite.
"Turn of the Screw"--good Lord, there's more suspense wondering what I'll find in my refrigerator crisper next time I open it.
Sorry, I'm crazy involved in a project so I'm not giving this the time and thought it deserves.
Another James I detest: M.R. James. Ghost stories for people dead above the neck.
To my ear, James' writing is precious, over-wrought, utterly lacking the spareness and simplicity I admire
But this brings up a good point: spareness for the sake of spareness or spareness that goes in concert with the content of the narrative? My tastes lean towards the promiscuous and ecumenical. One of the sparest pieces of fiction I've read -- that I could still consider a novel -- is Beckett's How It Is (A novel that is underrated within the Beckett canon, since Waiting for Godot and Molloy get all the attention.)
I also enjoy a good maximalist romp. Laura Warholic and Gargantua and Pantagruel are fun, excessive, satirical, and verbally encyclopedic.
I don't think Kafka is overrated, I just think a lot of the praise is misdirected. I gt the suspicion that a lot of people who praise him are unfamiliar with his work.
I'd also like to do my becoming-regular Alan Garner plug, I think he's terribly underrated.
Whoa! A thread full of mines!
I love and was gobsmacked by Ford Madox Ford, my love for Virginia Woolf will never die, and Europe Central killed me for a solid week.
so, overrated: Hilary Mantel, Joyce Carol Oates
Underrated: Sarah Hall, Robert Musil
Sarah Hall's not under-rated. She was nominated for the Arthur C Clarke Award.
>34 CliffBurns: - Cliff, are saying that all writers have to have a pared back style in order to be good?
As this is easier to do using music, as an example take prog-rock - 95% of it self-indulgent twaddle but there is 5% that is worthwhile. Gensis The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Yes Close to the Edge possess all the elements that people hate in prog-rock but it is done so well that they end up good albums. They may require a little listening to appreciate the level of musicianship but that doesn't make them bad.
At the same time the first Ramones album is great back to the basics rock music - fun, instantly gratifying, etc. However listening to the Ramones any length of time gets boring - it just becomes too repetitive.
I imagine the stripped down plot of most novels sound a little trite and silly, or in a lot of case just very very silly, but that doesn't make them wrong - there are probably lots of people who do sit around waiting the BIG event to happen to them. But then again, the plot is not what great writers are about, it is merely the mechanism to push the narrative on.
This is James Wood on Pynchon (review of Against the Day):
This is doubtless a rough division, but it has some application to the contemporary postmodern novel. Commentators like to go on about Thomas Pynchon's daunting modernity -- the indexical learning, the fierce assays and essays in thermodynamics and polymers and mathematics, the brilliant parodies and pastiches of different novel genres -- but fewer point out that in some ways he is a very old-fashioned novelist, one whom Fielding (and Cervantes, for that matter) would instantly recognize. Mason & Dixon, written in a flawless pastiche of eighteenth-century prose, was not eccentric, but the logical fruit of Pynchon's aesthetic interests: a busy eighteenth-century novel -- itself already, in some ways, a "postmodern" artifact, because a self-conscious one -- selfconsciously rewritten by a twentieth-century postmodernist.
Is Pynchon all style and surface but no depth?
Given the richness of the English language, stripping it down seems a complete waste to me. Any writer who does not use the full breadth of the language - without going to extremes, of course - is of no interest to me. Someone once said that "prose should be transparent, to let the story shine through". Bollocks.
Nothing wrong with baroqueness--as long as the writer has the talent to manage the profligacy and richness of the language. Pynchon, yup, Delillo and Cormac McCarthy are prime examples. But they're a rare breed (why I love them so). For the most part, when I come across writers (Henry James but one example) who take forever to get down to business, who intrude their authorial voice and "style", a part of me wants to haul out my red pen and commence cutting.
42: Well said, my Canuck compadre. Baroque, Rococo, and other maximalist flourishes need a steady hand. Maximalist capaciousness should not be confused with common bloat. Oftentimes, a thousand-page novel is seen as a self-evident proof that the author is a smarty pants. Case in point, An Adultery by Alexander Theroux. AT writes with his satirical capaciousness, but the story is pretty straightforward (adultery, natch) and the novel is pretty short (under 400 pages), yet it feels like a much longer novel ... in a good way. The same is true for Earthly Powers, Anthony Burgess's magnum opus. It is a large novel, but it goes down so easily. Then there's the bloated, overrated, poorly written crap-monument Atlas Shrugged, which, at more than 1000 pages (in small, cramped font) feels much longer. Reading the Des Moines Yellow Pages has more excitement and better pacing.
Has Frazen reached the point where we can consider him overrated? I still don't see how he isn't making waspy, middle-class, dissonant, house wife fictions. And, the way I know this is that my Aunt reads him and tells you about it when she does (She's Oprah-like in all her reading habits and opinions). He makes a big display of tetchiness as a sort of indie-level posturing for critics and readers. I know this is common in the music industry, so I guess this is the publishing world version of it, because he's absolutely more about contemporary publishing than writing in and of itself. There's a certain smugness to him as well. The graduate school bully. He's a birder, so can't fault him entirely, and to be honest, I've read only a few chapters in to any one of his books. But, like many of his fellow novelists, he simply doesn't possess the ability to create characters.
I like your original question. I'd hope it could be an objective thing, but seems like there's so many different varities of being overrated, as well as a reader's own personal objections, you could probably never have a general consensus and probably can only arrive at a definition by citing our own personal opinions and whittle it down from there. Personally, I think Pyncon is overrated, but if he hadn't written Vineland, and the last two, I wouldn't have that feeling. I can underestand how McCarthy can be criticised, but I really enjoy the experience of reading him. I feel Faulkner is overrated, but I wouldn't argue with anyone who is a fan and reads his work, or even not enjoy listening to that person speak about that author. Same thing with James. Then there are some writers who I feel compelled almost to hate or dislike. Your typically underrated people don't rate in quite the same way. That is, unless it is an overrated writer who others, through a twsiting of individual perspective, feel is underrated. Probably someone like Rand, who you've managed to berate all over the LT boards. Although, she really does occupy her own bizarre place in the world of literature. You can't really say she's overrated because she's not respected critically. But then if you dislike her so much (not you personally kswolff, but just to continue with the Rand example) that you feel that even being read is a form of being overrated, then that's even another whole aspect to this. Like the "is King, or isn't he, overrated" debate. There is also the scenario where a reader hears so much about an author and finally reads them, doesn't enjoy what they write, then instantly feels they are overrated, when it may be more matters of taste than merit, or simple ignorance. But that person has a sort of vendetta and you hear it, or see it on Amazon reviews, etc. projected loudly. For some reason I think that Melville, Joyce, Shakespeare, Flaubert seem to have this effect on this type of reader.
Yep. EARTHLY POWERS is the best English language novel I've ever read. A magnificent work of art.
#44 Franzen would top my list of overrated authors. I think if he hadn't been friends with DFW no one would have noticed him.
As for Hilary Mantel, I've only read Wolf Hall, but I definitely thought it was way overrated. And some people just don't get it. I recently overheard someone telling their friend about it, and she insisted that it was historically accurate and that Cromwell "really was a nice guy." Perhaps that's the joke, but I'm not sure we want regular people who vote thinking like this.
Thanks for that exceprt. Wood sums up what I find tiresome about Pynchon pretty nicely. I've tried to articulate that, with a little less success, a few times.
I haven't read all the authors. I've interviewed some but that was just a blur job. I like Robertson Davies and Stephen Leacock because they remind of the little places in which I worked in newsrooms. Thamesville and Orillia and the little goings on which are bon fide stories in the former small town Ontario media.
I guess these guys are my roast beef, mashed potatoes and corn in that they remind me of my long journey. Therefore, my appreciation list includes: Farley Mowatt(for WW2 stories), Greg Clark,Roch Carrier, Pat Capponi(for when life catches up), and if I may list a teacher..W.O. Mitchell. That's it. No big antagonism Old Son Burns. Thanks for helping me recall the memories. The best of amplitude modulation. -30-
40: It is typical of Wood to diss Pynchon in favor of basic run-of-the-mill "realism." Granted, Pynchon's massive canvases are farcical and artificial ... but so is Ubu Roi, Gargantua and Pantagruel, and Tristram Shandy When I read Pynchon, it is for an entirely different narrative vibe than reading Flaubert -- a writer Wood tirelessly champions. And to universalize the reading experience in that way seems a bit tedious and narrow. Surely a literature professor like Herr Professor Doktor Wood must understand that the pleasure of the Canon lies in its variety and the basic fact that not every writer will fit into his Procrustean Bed.
As I've in other threads, I enjoy having a tent big enough to accommodate both Ferdinand Celine and Paul Celan
I rarely hear people mention Fernando Pessoa. It's a pity Knut Hamsun had stupid political ideas. Felisberto Hernandez is a writer's writer.
I am dying to dive into Pessoa's THE BOOK OF DISQUIET, which I got for Christmas. That one has "winner" written all over it.
"Toastron"--Canadian literature is entirely too concerned with PLACE and hitting certain cultural touchstones. We're so worried about preserving our national identity against the Yankee elephant next door that we've fallen into the trap of becoming navel gazers. Thus, our literature is safe, tepid, undemanding, in-bred--with exceptions that I've mentioned in other threads. Any work published in our home and native land must, by definition, meet a checklist that includes: 1) aboriginal characters 2) historical re-tellings 3) multi-generational immigrant families or 4) a lonely, misunderstood woman in the central role.
Anything with a hint of genre, a smattering of experimentalism, a trace of political incorrectness and you're OUT.
Makes for DULL reading, to my mind. Clearly, you disagree. That's cool and I hope you keep reading the books and stories you love...and posting about 'em here.
Off the top of my head, the only Canadian writers I can think of are Atwood and Rohinton Mistry (whose books are mostly about India, anyway)
>45 CliffBurns:: Having looked up Earthly Powers, I definitely will have to give that one a try after I make my way through the other dozens of books lying around my apartment...
'Speak of the devil, 'ya know I'm STILL trying to bull through that bawdy doorstop? I'm only into Book 4 of Gargantua and Pantagruel. When finally finished, I shall be able to converse comfortably with longshoremen.
...or at least early 16th century longshoremen.
53: I worked for 4 summers with stevedores (Teamsters, no less!) And one summer I read Ulysses by Joyce. Needless to say, I have a promiscuous appreciation for the Vulgar Tongue. Obscenity is the engine that propels language forward.
If you enjoy broad satire, vomiting, pissing, and crapping galore, read Death on the Installment Plan by Celine. The glorious smattering of filth and poetry that sounds like dialogue from The Wire
Re: Earthly Powers, an underrated book from an author known for basically one book, A Clockwork Orange -- at least to readers from the Yankee mammoth who liveth southward from Atwoodland. To some, Burgess seems like a one-trick pony, but his catalog is worth diving into with both feet. The Enderby series are great comedic novels; The Wanting Seed has its moments; and he writes great essays, reviews, and criticism. His 99 Novels has been my gateway into Alexander Theroux and others.
Burgess can be too clever for his own good at times - cf M/F. He had to write an essay explaining all the jokes in it, because no one got them. His Any Old Iron is often seen as one of his lesser works, but I enjoyed it. Devil of a State is fun, Nothing Like the Sun is good, as are A Dead Man in Deptford and 1985. His short story collection The Devil's Mode is excellent. The End of the World News is another one that's a bit too clever, likewise Mozart and the Wolfgang. He was still a bloody good writer, though.
>49 kswolff: - it's not as simple as that. Woods published this list of the best books since 1945 (cir 1994) in response to Harold Bloom - Woods Best. There are quite a few non-realist books on it by authors like Burroughs, Barth, Ballard & Pynchon. (Earthly Powers also makes the cut).
His attitude to Flaubert is that the Frenchman essentially created the template for the modern novel in Madame Bovery, for good and bad. His championing of Flaubert is not without pointing out his flaws, he has stated a number of times that some of Flaubert's other work is not very impressive and highlights the problem with this type of novel - introspective, self-obsessed, navel-gazing.
What I like about Wood and Bloom and others of their ilk is that even when I think they have it completely wrong it does make think about the author/work in question. It is probably in that questioning we come to the conclusion about whether a writer/work is over-rated or under-rated.
Anyway, here's another one from Wood, this time from a review of No Country For Old Men -
Still to read the book but it's a fair summary of the film.
Any pal of Borges is a pal o' mine. I have THE INVENTION OF MOREL--what the heck is taking me so long to get to that one? Time to bump it up in the TBR queue.
59> He wrote a short book with Borges called Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi. It's awesome.
Jargoneer's right about Wood: he doesn't champion Flaubert. And I love that excerpt about McCarthy--it gathers all my complaints about him into two sentences.
Great group opinions, I've learned a lot and have some stuff to look in to!
"impacted prose" and "logical result of a literary hostility to Mind" are a succint summation of McCarthy's work. But maybe because he fills a void, it doesn't quite alter my appreciation for him. It's not a great appreciation however as he seems to lack, or I think, avoid, a fully formed, mature view of the world, of humanity. He's defended himself well enough, aided through his lack of interviews and his own reluctance to engage the literary world and by peppering in Nietzsche and other existentialist trappings. But, a sweet and seemingly innocuous Checkhov love story can be--quite frankly is--more existential than 300 pages of relentless bloodshed and angry philosophising cowpokes.
But I feel he's expolited a niche well. I do think comparisons to Melville are misguided; and some of those descriptive fireworks McCarthy uses can be found, employed more intentionally, in Ted Hughes' work.
I didn't watch much of the Sunset Limited, but what I did see was awful. Tommy Lee Jones was acting the heck of the lines, like he was working from something the Bard did, which ultimately belied the inadequacy and limit of McCarthy's philosphy, and if you want to go further, talent.
New York Review of Books does a fine job publishing lesser known writers. John Williams is underrated, they've publshed Stoner and the McCarthy-esque Butcher's Crossing. Then again, in a certain sense, maybe he's excactly where he should be.
But, a sweet and seemingly innocuous Checkhov love story can be--quite frankly is--more existential than 300 pages of relentless bloodshed and angry philosophising cowpokes
Can you qualify the term "existential" for me? There's a lot to go, everything from the oft-cited atheist existentialism of Nietzsche to the Christian existentialism of Kierkegaard It just seems like another empty weasel word, in the spirit of "indie" and "alternative" and "edgy."
Chekhov aside, Russia has known a bit of relentless bloodshed and Stalin loved his cowboy movies.
I wouldn't presume to speak for DanMat, but I took his use of 'existential' (in 66) to mean "feels like actual existence." If that's what he means, I completely agree. Often 2 or 3 sentences from Chekhov are worth more--in the sense that they actually capture what it feels like to live life--than a whole McCarthy novel. Another way to say it is that McCarthy is engaged in something that's probably best described as philosophy, while Chekhov is writing fiction.
I wonder when folks are complaining about McCarthy's perceived shortcomings just how much of his work they've read. I'm familiar with a great deal of it, from various stages of his career, and though I am no fan of baroque or descriptive writing (as previously mentioned), he's one guy who's the exception. THE ROAD, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, these are "minor" works by the author, whereas offerings like SUTTREE, CHILD OF GOD, BLOOD MERIDIAN & OUTER DARKNESS are among the finest novels I've read in the past 10-15 years.
If that's the sense in which DanMat meant "existential," I'd say he was being pretty unclear in light of his use of the phrase "existentialist trappings" (referring to Nietzsche) in the prior sentence.
I think it's more likely that he meant that an understated Chekhov story can more effectively dramatize that sense of being capital-A-Alone, without fixed stars to steer by, than can McCarthy's relatively flashy narratives.
Whether that feeling is equivalent to "actual existence" depends on who's doing the experiencing, but then questions about the particular effects produced by two works of art are (obviously) going to be subjective every time.
"They walked off in separate directions through the chaparral to stand spraddlelegged clutching their knees and vomiting. The browsing horses jerked their heads up. It was no sound they'd ever heard before. In the gray twilight those retchings seemed to echo like the calls of some rude provisional species loosed upon that waste. Something imperfect and malformed lodged in the heart of being. A thing smirking deep in the eyes of grace itself like a gorgon in an autumn pool."
- All the Pretty Horses
Existential should also not be confused with Absurdism Samuel Beckett, whose praise is manifold yet deserving, deals with existential dilemmas in nearly all his works. Amidst the bleakness, despair, and nihilism, he injects humor and a bent vaudevillian hopefulness.
"Shall we hang ourselves?"
"We haven't enough rope."
That is the 20th century in a nutshell.
Yeah, that passage sort of highlights why more critics seem to identify McCarthy's aesthetic vision with Gnosticism than with Existentialism (the phrases "something imperfect...lodged in the heart of being," and "the eyes of grace" seem to imply Something Greater). The consequences are similar, but with Gnosticism there's always the potential for things to get much, much worse (witness the Judge). That can seem melodramatic or heavy-handed sometimes, depending on how it's done, so I can understand why some people might find McCarthy's stuff relatively unsophisticated compared to, let's say, Chekhov. Deciding that question one way or the other doesn't really interest me all that much, I have to admit.
I've read a few of McCarthy's novels and while I agree he is a great stylist I don't think he's a great writer.
From the Quarterly Conversation's (positive) overview of his career:
It is strange to charge McCarthy with not caring about anything more than surfaces, as his single most famous public utterance indicates otherwise. This is the author who declared “I don’t understand Proust and Henry James. To me, that’s not literature” because real literature “deals with issues of life and death.”
This basically shows the simplistic nature of his work - he thinks life and death are always literal and that these are issues that can only be explored through violence. I'm sure lots of people agree with him but they are probably male adolescents who haven't come to terms with life yet, or survivalists. Great literature ia also about how people live, their failures and successes, the choices they make in their lives (beyond who to shoot next), etc. Great literature is also about creating believable characters of both sexes and McCarthy has sometimes struggled to create believable male characters. While you are reading him none of this seems to matter because his prose is (usually) excellent, his mock biblical tone creating a feeling that what you are reading is somehow 'True'. However the more you think about his work the emptier it seems, perhaps because he shoots first and then can't be bothered asking any questions.
I do find his resolutely anti-modern stance (he even looks back to the US of the 1950s as a golden age) particularly wearing - what is the difference between his approach and innumberable novels that harken back to the good old days. His good old days may be violence sodden but at least men were men in those days, blah blah blah.
The more I read McCarthy's earlier and supposedly more powerful novels, the more clear it becomes that he found early his particular schtick, and really hasn't deviated from it since. Like John Wayne or Bruce Willis, McCarthy increasingly looks like a one-trick pony. Same themes, rural and bleak settings, and cartoonishly Gothic/stoic-man-of-few-words characters.
I enjoy his novels and will continue to read them, but am no longer convinced he's the literary master I once thought him. Like Louis L'amour, McCarthy found what worked and saw no reason to substantively change. And like L'amour's fans, we tolerate the same themes and characters over and over. Still fun to read, but IMHO not the high point of late 20th century fiction.
The passage in 72: A perfect example of McCarthy falling in love with his own voice. Kind of like his use of androids in a particularly ridiculous descriptive passage in Outer Dark. The more carefully you read it the more silly it looks. I guess that puts me in the melodramatic/heavy-handed camp a la #74.
I would hardly compare McCarthy & L'Amour. On any level.
And I would argue his writing has evolved substantially, which is why I like his early novels far more than the period which begins with ALL THE PRETTY HORSES.
As for passages that seem awkward or out of place, I'm sure we can pluck such things out of the works of every single great writer in history. Nobody's perfect...and that includes Joyce, James and the modernists McCarthy reputedly detests. As well as McCarthy too, of course...
Same themes, rural and bleak settings, and cartoonishly Gothic/stoic-man-of-few-words characters
I thought you were describing the work of Samuel Beckett? All those tramps and bleakness. Gawd, what a hack.
This seems like the Chuck Berry Argument. Yes, Chuck Berry's songs sound pretty much the same. He really only wrote one song, but wow! What a song!
Using the term "shtick" is pretty derogatory and shouldn't be confused with either Form or Trope. The pivotal factor is overreliance on said trope or form. And the interpretation of whether an author is overusing it can either be quantifiable or simply subjective.
I would. I think it an apt comparison - both in terms of their persistence in returning over and over to the same themes and character types, as well as in the loyalty they inspire among their readers.
His syntax has indeed changed (whether it's an evolution is truly debatable), but essentially he's rewriting the same novel each time.
I mentioned the androids, because, like the passage in 72, it illustrated that what fans misread as an authenticity is often no more than a fondness for misplaced metaphor and descriptive passages that describe only McCarthy himself. Unfortunately, these examples are far from isolated.
YMMV (Your mileage may vary)
Having been raised on the "death of the author" form of lit crit, I tend to appreciate the work for how I interpret it rather than what the author may pontificate on (in different fora than the novels themselves). If I were to refuse to appreciate an author because he refuses to appreciate some older author I like, I'd be part of the problem, wouldn't I?
I think reading a good McCarthy novel is like once in a while watching a good old fashioned Western movie. Sure, it's not Proust, but very little is. I liked Suttree because of the character's refusal to live up to what other people wanted of him. He was a very alive character in his very refusal, like Bartleby. I also liked it because it was about poor people and the settings and descriptions were wry and yet touching. I felt this way about parts of Infinite Jest. Good description of gritty reality is fun to read.
That's not really an 'either-or.' You can quantify all you like. This stuff is always subjective.
And yeah, the one book of McCarthy's that people should read is Suttree. I think it's definitely the best thing he's written. The violence is a little more incidental than in his other books, though I like the other ones too.
Chuck Berry indeed wrote one great song. But let's not fool ourselves that each one was a new and unique masterpiece. Same with McCarthy.
I thought you were describing the work of Samuel Beckett? All those tramps and bleakness. Gawd, what a hack.
You seem to mention in this thread that you've yet to read McCarthy. I think, however, you must have read some Beckett, because you wrote: "Amidst the bleakness, despair, and nihilism, he injects humor and a bent vaudevillian hopefulness". Humor - absolutely!
McCarthy does none of this. Not only does he avoid injecting humor and hopefulness, but the bleakness, despair and nihilism his fans point to often appears as little more than the mimicry of the style found in O'Connor and Welty - two infinitely superior and more talented authors for those interested in rural Gothic. I guess I'm uncertain why you'd make the comparison.
Sure, it's not Proust, but very little is
As if anyone cared about the minutiae of Second Empire aristocratic dingbats as told in long sentences by an asthmatic yenta.
***Now with more Sarcasm!***
Chuck Berry indeed wrote one great song. But let's not fool ourselves that each one was a new and unique masterpiece
"New and unique masterpiece"? Are you talking about the same Chuck Berry? It's pretty much assembly-line songwriting. The same can be said for The Ramones, aka "Chuck Berry on speed." But both are awesome and influential.
Underrated writer: DAF Sade His work still disturbs after centuries and he inhabits a realm of pure freedom and pure violence. For a writer with such a notorious reputation, he isn't read by many, if at all. People tend to dismiss him in absentia. Come on, snobs, open the ultimate Pandora's Box ...
Yes, my point exactly. "Let's not fool ourselves that each one was a new and unique masterpiece". You kindly rephrased this as "It's pretty much assembly-line songwriting". Which is very close to the point I was making about McCarthy. Fun to read, sure. Influential, okay. But as I said before, the more of his work that you read, the clearer it becomes that McCarthy is content to stick with the themes, settings and character types that he first explored forty years ago.
That's a pretty broad generalization. Granted, many aged writers undergo a certain decline in their winter years. It's not that I disagree with the charge -- I don't an opinion that way, never read C McC -- but your tool is too blunt.
Instead of Cormac, I'd say James Patterson is the most pure example of Assembly Line Writing. He doesn't even do the writing himself. He gives an outline to a trained crew of lackeys and they pound it out. His production is phenomenal, his quality is atrocious. And then you have the non-prolific Dan Brown, whose quality is also terrible. (I couldn't get beyond Chapter 1 of Angels and Demons I blame my eyeballs bleeding from the awful prose.)
Another thing is separating the personal animosity from actual critical accusation. I dislike Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald -- both are a tad overrated -- but they occupy a valuable place with American Modernism and The Western Canon
The Pulitzer for The Road reeked of "too little, too late."
I have read a bit of McCarthy: Suttree, Child of God, The Crossing, Blood Meridian, Orchard Keeper, half of No Country For Old Men, but I know how some people are, who read one book and form an opinion. I'm not that person. Though...kwsolff, tell me, are you going to read another Ayn Rand book? Please don't put yourself through that misery, if you haven't already, for our sake at least. The boards just can't take it.
I like McCarthy's work and will continue to read him. But he is essentially a genre writer. He tweaks the genre, to a sort of modern, hyperreal level, because no serious writer wants to write genre, or be considered a writer of genre. I feel his understanding of philosophy is probably as informed as mine, yet he consistently inserts tedious, rambling pseudo-philosophical soliquies into the mouths of his characters (especially minor ones) every twenty pages or so to make it seem more profound. It is only saved by his unique ability to describe things. He gets sloppy in places, because in it's own way, it's typewriter writing. Still, it is fun to read. I feel Melville, in terms of writing or intelligence, far surpasses him without the violence or logorrhea. McCarthy would never produce a Confidence Man.
I do think he is writing existentialist novels, or trying to, in the vein of books like Camus' The Stranger. None of his main characters interact with others, they are harshly influenced by the outside, random acts. And I don't feel the boy in The Road counts, or the girl in All the Pretty Horses.
I think Chekhov just speaks deeper (not that he was the best example to use), and I think it's infinitely harder to do, magic even. Whether it's really tied into existential philosophy, or if that was the term to use, I can't say.
Harold Bloom reads too much into McCarthy. The judge is a amusing foil to the kid, but he's not half the stuff Harry claims he is.
It'll be interesting to see how he handles this New Orleans story. Maybe he'll pull an Esther Summerson.
I don't consider De Sade a good writer, he's really quite boring, unless you enjoy the literary equivalent of torture porn, then subjecting yourself to overlong philosophical ramblings to mask contrition, then repeating ad infinitum.
A group LT dedicated to the Cult of Alexander Theroux:
90: re: Sade, depends if you're reading him "straight" or as an arch satirist. Justine reads like a pitch black satire of misogynistic romance novels, since the heroine is literally a doormat to all manner of erotic and psychological atrocities.
Again, not for everyone. But anyone who retains that level of shock values centuries after he wrote his book, that's an impressive achievement.
For real barbarity, one only has to read accounts of Spanish conquests. Sade is small fish by comparison. Sade had the decency of killing fictional characters, rather than using cheap excuses to massacre millions like Cortez and other conquistadors did. Sade relished every fictional murder and atrocity, whereas the conquistadors saw it as nothing more than a line on a ledger book. That is truly horrifying.
I guess it depends on one's perspective of cruelty, power, and justifications thereof.
Wow, groups are really getting specialized. I think I'll start one on "The Cult of Ian Sales". But I'm worried about the class and quality of individual it would attract...
THAT should be Ian's next author's photo.
"Would you buy a book written by this man?"
When I used to drive a white van, I was the very model of courtesy and decorum on the road, I'll have you know. So there.
I think you mean when you were taken AWAY in a white van.
Everyone is courteous on thorazine.
We call them "ambulances" here - perhaps because we can handle words of more than one syllable...
I've started a PayPal account: those wishing to donate funds to cover the cost of my flight to not-so-great Britain in order to send Sales to the hospital in a white-van-also-known-as-an-ambulance, please consider giving generously. I promise to hold up my end of the bargain.
98: I'll pay extra if Cliff is dressed up as a Dickensian street urchin while sending Ian to the land of padded rooms and people who think they are Jesus and/or Napoleon.
"British writer receives savage beating at hands of Artful Dodger."
I like it.
I suspect Cliff would make a better Uriah Heep than he would an Artful Dodger.
But I am "ugly and repulsive"? You're just digging yourself in deeper, Sales.
A nice overview of the work of Alexander Theroux:
How about a list of overrated Canadian writers, to warm the cockles of Cliff's heart? Lots of sacred cows here, but no Atwood. (One of the authors of this piece said that Atwood was a candidate but on the other hand is sui generis, and therefore escapes the overrated list.)
And the corresponding list of underrated Canadian writers, who of course nobody has heard of:
Despise Bukowski's prose but have enjoyed some of his poetry.
Over-rated, under-rated...feh! It's all subjective, eh, A.J.?
Still, I'm glad David Adams Richards made the "Over-Rated" roster. Have never understood what anyone could see in the man. On the other hand, Joseph Boyden's THREE DAY ROAD was one of the finest Canuck books of the last decade, so he wouldn't be over-rated (in my view).
A chat to have around the water cooler, something a bit more highbrow then "what did ya watch on TV last night".
Yeah, I don't think Boyden belongs on that list. I think he got there just because one or both of the authors disliked Through Black Spruce, which of course won the Giller. But he's only written three books.
The Giller often results in a head-scratcher: The Sentimentalists (unreadable), Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures (really?), Late Nights on Air (thoroughly hackneyed writing), twice (?!) to M.G. Vassanji, etc., etc. It's a manufacturer of overrated reputations.
Cliff, did you see my pictures of my dad's autographed Bukowski books? (on my profile)
I'm generally pretty harsh on bad prose, but I read both Ham on Rye and Post Office last year and liked them. I found Bukowski's prose (if not his ideas or characters) in those two books to be a lot more subtle than I'd been led to believe I would.
Overrated (as a fiction writer, though still worth reading): David Foster Wallace. His essays are better than his fiction.
Most prize shortlists are head-scratchers to me. The usual suspects, political correctness and circle-jerking pretty much the norm.
Autographed Bukowski? Ah, yes, I see your profile pics. Very neat. A signed book is icing on the cake. Only have a few of them (some of them picked up by accident) but they are treasures, no question.
At the moment, there is a real risk that even David Foster Wallace's grocery lists will be published and treated as literature. In a few years, I trust that we'll have a more sober appreciation of his significance.
OK, let me really put a bee in the collective bonnet: Pynchon is overrated. After Gravity's Rainbow, he's imitating himself.
I'm staying out of this one, Geoff. The guy wipes the floor with me, aesthetically and intellectually.
I know when I'm licked and Pynchon is just in a whole other league than the vast majority of scribblers out there.
116: Hard to live up to the hype of being "the next Pynchon"...
And why would DFW want to live up to that hype? Calling him "the next Pynchon" just reveals the utter poverty of the popular critical press. See Cormac McCarthy as the Next Faulkner and Neal Stephenson (really?) as "the next Pynchon." The sign of a truly great artist is one who outlives the shadow of his influences. DFW was something entirely different than Pynchon. Besides, Pynchon Clones, how totally uninteresting. And just because a writer has WW 2 as a topic or uses 10-dollar words by the fistful hardly makes one "the next Pynchon." Hell, Gravity's Rainbow is similar to Ulysses in that you see all these budding "literary writers" throwing up their hands in exasperation and saying, "Christ, now what do I do?" Gravity's Rainbow is less a novel than a pansexual surrealistic singularity, a whirlpool of linguistic chaos.
Sometimes analogies get in the way of just appreciating a great writer for himself. I often wish I could have a discussion about something unfamiliar to people without having to rely on analogies. Too often it seems to me people are insisting on comparing two entirely different things and assigning each relative merits which is unfair to both of them.
In fact this problem goes beyond literature - it's kind of a general issue with me. I can't tell you how many times I've had the tiring discussion with Westerners about whether Islam "had a Renaissance" or "had a Reformation". Not all other histories in the world progress according to a pre-approved European model guys. Maybe you could just try learning about the history of Islam on its own terms without constantly trying to jam it into a Christian model so that you can understand it.
Hard to shake off preconceptions--cultural, religious or what have you. We judge the world/reality based on our own experiences and observations, which are wholly subjective and, thus, untrustworthy.
And you can see it in everywhere--I read an article recently stating that science, too, takes an anthropomorphic view of the universe and that life out there is unlikely to be anything remotely like what we can imagine. Would our SETI program even recognize an advanced communication from a species utterly unlike our own? Etc.
I think it's pretty fair to ask if Pynchon is overrated. Which then raises the question, who would want to be the next Pynchon?
>123 CliffBurns: - re SETI - that's why they look for patterns especially something numerically based (language and culture may be radically different but the binary is universal).
The question about DFW's reputation is interesting - at present he is being touted as the greatest American since the year fill in as required but there is an artificiality about it due to his untimely death. His true status won't be revealed until all the hoo-ha has settled in a few years. Until a writer has been dead a few years it is difficult to say where a writer's reputation really lies.
And now for something completely different - the top 10 earning writers in the year to April 2011:
1. James Patterson - $84m
2. Danielle Steel - $35m
3. Stephen King - $28m
4. Janet Evanovich - $22m
5 = Stephenie Meyer/ Rick Riordan - $21m
7. Dean Koontz - $19m
8. John Grisham - $18m
9. Jeff Kinney - $17m
10. Nicholas Sparks - $16m
Okay, I know five of the authors listed.
King - horror
Steele - rich people
Grisham - lawyers
Meyer - glow in the dark vampires
Sparks - sad eyed love stories
Haven't read any of them. Who the heck is James Patterson? He's first place by a wide margin and I've never heard of him.
OK my turn, 127.
Patterson - Thrillers? Have seen books in stores. Have never read.
King - Horror and yes, I have read some of his books.
Steele - soft porn, and I have read one or two (look! There was nothing else there! It was that or the phone book! Oh forget it)
Evanovich - silly crosses between a rom-com and a detective story. I have read all of them.
Grisham - Lawyers (yes I have read ENTIRELY TOO MANY of these. They are potboilers. Scott Turow is better. But I keep reading them.)
Meyer - Vampires and No thank god i have not read these stupid YA novels.
Rick Riordan - YA fantasy, my son has read most of them.
Deen Koontz - Horror usually involving really disturbing rape and stuff. Have read one or two and did not like.
Jeff Kinney - this is the only one I have not heard of.
Nicholas Sparks - No, will not read. Emotionally manipulative tearjerkers a la Jodi Picoult.
But Nicholas Sparks says that Nicholas Sparks is a better writer than Hemingway.
Shakespeare- probably didn't write alone.
Homer- just an oral tradition.
I just wanted to join the snarkyness.
I think Nicholas Sparks is a better writer than "Sparks", the local fire dog...
I wonder how much of that money Patterson gives to the team who actually writes the books published under his name.
So who's Jeff Kinney? Does he write self help books or something?
132: Come, now. The stuff Sparks writes on fire hydrants in urine is better than anything Nicholas Sparks does.
Ah, but have you really read every American writer of his generation?
OK, I'll join in:
1. James Patterson - Nope
2. Danielle Steel - Not a chance
3. Stephen King - Some short fiction, but I could see myself reading some in a pinch
4. Janet Evanovich - Related to Brockavich?
5 = Stephenie Meyer/ Rick Riordan - My wife and my 11 year old, but not me
7. Dean Koontz - No
8. John Grisham - I worked with lawyers, I don't need to read about them, but that said, not the worst on the list
9. Jeff Kinney - Wait, who?
10. Nicholas Sparks - It's on my list. No it's not.
Just goes to show you, the great unwashed are a bunch o' fuckin' morons.
If that's what "general readers" are seeking out, to hell with them.
Jeff Kinney did write Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which my eight year old loves. I'm less impressed with its anti-school stance, implying that schools are boring, teachers are useless, and it's best to ditch your daggy friends in the search for "coolness". Well, yes, schools and teachers can be boring and useless but rarely are in reality; and I'm really not running into much for kids that suggests the opposite, and I'm worried that it'll colour his view of school. (Although his reality is quite different, so I'm not fretting too much.)
Luckily we seem to have come to the end of the series.
I've read one Janet Evanovich, and never shall again. I've read one Stephanie Meyers, and never shall again. And I've read one Nicholas Sparks, and never shall again.
The rest remain unread, although I may one day pick up a Stephen King to see what all the fuss is about. (Hang on, that's how I read the above, plus Dan Brown.... You'd think I'd learn by now.)
I'm in trouble for giving my books away for free. It is supposed to 'devalue the craft.' Maybe earning loads of money has the same effect?Odd, that.
If that roster represents what the marketplace deems worthy of purchase, oldstick, I'll give away my books free too.
Traditional publishing is being gutted by the new technologies...and I couldn't be happier. If they insist on publishing "novels" by the likes of Stephanie Meyer and the Kardashian sisters, I say let 'em burn...
CliffBurns wrote: Just goes to show you, the great unwashed are a bunch o' fuckin' morons.
If that's what "general readers" are seeking out, to hell with them.
Hey, I resemble that remark! I'm just here to let you know that we members of the great unwashed, we who are not literary snobs, (the ones of us who can read anyway), are keeping our eyes on you. We don't want you to take over the world and force us to read Pynchon and Flaubert. And just to prove that I am a truly a spy in this highbrow group, not some highbrow trying to look lowbrow:
Patterson - Have read something by him and his minions but don't remember which of his millions of books it was.
King - Have read several, like some, not so much others.
Steele - Tried, didn't like it, like anna_in_pdx said, soft porn. And poorly written soft porn at that.
Evanovich - Formulaic, predictable, but they make me laugh.
Grisham -I've liked the ones I've read. I don't go out of my way to read them, but enjoy those that cross my path.
Meyer -Have read a couple of the Twilight series, thought they were entertaining for the YA crowd, but didn't finish the series - completely lost my interest.
Rick Riordan - Never heard of him before this thread.
Deen Koontz -Like some of his stuff, especially the earlier books, but he sometimes falls into "let's churn out another book, good or not" trap.
Jeff Kinney - That name didn't ring a bell but I do know about the Wimpy Kid books - how can you not? Haven't read any of them.
Nicholas Sparks - Tried one, don't remember which one. Too much romance and cliche.
Okay, now that I've 'fessed up to my lowbrow reading, are you going to try to kick me out? As soon as I finish my morning coffee and get in the shower, I technically won't be one of the great unwashed anymore.
The appeal with zombie movies and books is that THE ZOMBIES ARE ALREADY HERE.
Plumping up those fatcat authors on the bestseller lists or plunking their asses into movie theater seats for the latest CGI orgy.
Nope, I refuse to associate with them useless, braindead damn zombies...
146: Yesterday my SO played a wargaming scenario in which the Americans were attacking a Nazi secret underground lab - it was producing zombies. Maybe they all escaped and started writing airplane books for escapists to read!
inaudible: This might be another discussion, or just plain too big a question, but I'd be curious to know why you like DFW's short stories. I don't hate them, but they always strike me as really wanting to be essays.
But Nicholas Sparks says that Nicholas Sparks is a better writer than Hemingway.
Then he should get some whiskey and a shotgun and conclude his writing career properly.
I'm going to stick my neck out and nominate Jonathan Franzen for "overrated", specifically the "tries WAY too hard" category. "Ohh look at me, look how smart I am. Look at all the $10 words I throw around. Look at all the angst and misery I generate." (Ok, feeling better now.) I will give him this, though. He really knows how to string prose together.
As for "underrated," I would nominate one of the literati's favorite whipping boys, good ol' Steve King. In my opinion, his commercial success overshadows some very high quality stories. No Nobel Prize material, but strong STORIES. (Especially his short stories.) Yes, he has his share of clunkers, but some real gems, too.
Another underrated would be John Crowley. Everyone who reads his really good stuff (i.e., Little,Big, Engine Summer) LOVES it, yet he never really broke out.
Looking over that list of genre tripe some more, if I had to read one of them, it would be King. And since I'm not a horror fan (I like them creepy and twisting, not gorey and disgusting) that is unlikely to happen.
Even on LibraryThing, the majority poll is somewhat disheartening. Most reviewed book? Twilight. Book with most members? The first Harry Potter, followed by the other six before The Da Vinci Code kicks in.
I don't expect the popular polls to be filled with, say, Naked Lunch, but couldn't there be something just a little bit challenging in there?
Oh well. In the words of that old argument (always with exclamation point) "at least people are reading!"
Well, that's why folks come here to hang out with the snobs. Escape the proles, and all that...
I don't expect the popular polls to be filled with, say, Naked Lunch, but couldn't there be something just a little bit challenging in there?
What ever gave you the impression that the American would in any way want to be challenged? Granted, some middle class bourgeois "What White People Like"-types read a challenging book here and there, at least so they can give the impression that liberal arts degrees have some use. Other than that, reading, like watching TV, is the equivalent of taking handfuls of Valium and washing it down with box red wine. While I agree with Barthes that reading should be pleasurable, pleasure is not numbing your mind to the events and personalities around you. Reading Nicholas Sparks is the literary equivalent of shooting heroin on a street corner in a sketchy neighborhood. And addiction is all about doing the same thing again and again and again. See also voting "for the lesser of two evils" with the same group of addlepated, microcephalic xenophobic morons, this time in the voting booths.
But what do white people like? Luckily there is a blog to inform us:
Ooooh, goody! I came here so I could see one of those real literary snobs in the wild, and sure enough, if you sit still and watch, put out a little bait...here they come! The pretension, the expressions of superiority, the big words that they think we can't understand, the stereotyping and grouping into "the American"...I'd heard about all this but hadn't seen it for myself. I'm so excited! This one is going into my Superiority Log. I already have the:
Expensive Shoes Snob
Ridiculously Large House Snob
Better Education Than You Snob
but the elusive Literary Snob was missing. Each time I thought I'd found one, I find some genre mystery or romance hidden behind the big boy books, usually written by a hack who dares earn money by writing this stuff.
Want to hear something really frightening? I vote.
Dang it, false alarm. I guess I'll have to keep looking. I thought I'd found a real Literary Snob in kswolff until I read wolff's profile: I will read pretty much anything put in front of me. Such disappointment. Well, I'm off to hang out with my own kind for awhile.
Yep, just be glad it wasn't an enormous pin through your body, attaching you to a specimen board.
...with a little card beneath, "snobbus canadianus"...
I wonder what genus or phylum me old pal Ian Sales would fall under.
155: Yep, I'll read pretty much anything that's put in front of me, usually for review purposes.
Seriously, Mr. Busy Reading, I haven't heard someone so enamored with their own voice since reading random columns of Albion's Greatest Living Writer: Jeremy Clarkson
You know what's more annoying that snobs, faux philistine poseurs. "Lookit maw, I is a populist!"
Your post was so full of fallacies, false parallels, and inflammatory rhetoric, I won't even bother dissecting it. Now back to something important, like this month's MAD Magazine
162: Clarkson needs his own island:
>31 kswolff: Writers From The Other Europe published by Penguin Books in the 1970'a were edited by Philip Roth a writer I believe is under appreciated by many.
His bringing to life "...The Other Europe" series during the Cold War when many of these writers were still being censored was a masterful contribution to world literature and, in and of itself, adds to Roth's stature, deserving of the Nobel Prize.
165: I agree. I couldn't believe I found the series (5 volumes, slipcased) at an antique store in Red Wing, MN. A little bruised and faded, but a wonderful collection of underrated writers. Danilo Kis especially, Sontag writes about him, since he represents that unique phenomenon of a Yugoslavian writer. Kis lived and died during Yugoslavia's existence, prior to its ethnic fragmentation.
To take another tack entirely, I think Doctor Who and Warhammer 40K are under-appreciated ... at least in the US. Granted, in the UK both have the status of having more followers than the Church of England, but over here, fewer than you'd expect would give you the answer, "The hell is that?" when asked about their favorite Doctor regeneration or who is cooler, Necrons or Space Marines.
George Saunders is now, I think, overrated. Another writer who's imitating himself so as not to endanger what he's built.
Can't agree George Saunders is over-rated. Mebbe BRAINDEAD MEGAPHONE was a misstep (as someone here has indicated) but otherwise I think he's right up there with Jim Shepard and Ken Kalfus. Have you read his kid's book, THE VERY PERSISTENT GAPPERS OF FRIP? Lovely...if you've got a kid with a lot of character and wit on your Christmas list, pick that one out for them and become a new favorite aunt/uncle.
In Persuasion Nation, Saunders's latest book of short stories, doesn't (in my opinion) hold up very well. There is one very good story (out of 10 or so), and it goes back over ground he's already trodden flat. (Main character works in a near-future theme park in an age when personal and public can no longer be distinguished, when our language has been infected with the language of the market and our bodies by prescription drugs; main character gets his first glimpse beyond this dystopic omniverse by trusting the irrepressible human urges toward beauty and libido. Saunders has written this story 7 or 8 times now, which is my complaint.)
While I'm being a jerk--sorry, it seems to be in the DNA--Jim Shepard's latest, You Think That's Bad, was a disappointment too. (Though I like both Saunders and Shepard in general.)
I haven't read Shepard's latest (will put it on my library loan list); I do have IN PERSUASION NATION but haven't tackled it yet. It's just a pleasure to read writers who sculpt sentences by look as well as sound (DeLillo does it too); pleasing syntax, terrific rhythm, displaying literary sensibilities far beyond the herd of mediocre writers that have proliferated on the writing scene over the past X number of years.
And you're not being a jerk, chum. You're a writer, you've got well-developed tastes in what you like and don't like AND you're a member of this group.
Snobbery, ol' buddy, is de rigueur with our bunch.
I've read thru most of these comments and have not seen mention of Lydia Millet. I'd recommend HOW THE DEAD DREAM and OH PURE AND RADIANT HEART. Her new one is well-reviewed too.
While I would not consider Robert Musil underrated, THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES is under-read primarily because of its length--1700+ pages--but well worth it!
Overrated: Margaret Mitchell. Blows my mind that many adults list Gone with the Wind as their favorite book.
Underrated: William Boyd. He's well-known, but I think he deserves more respect as a literary author. Just because what he writes is humorous doesn't mean that it's not well-constructed and beautifully written.
Overrated: the late Ray Bradbury. I mean, Fahrenheit 451 just isn't that good - not to mention that a) Bradbury himself kept on changing his mind what it was about, and b) paper doesn't ignite at 451 F but at a much lower temperature.
Underrated: well, perhaps not underrrated but certainly hardly read any more, my "new" discovery Malcolm Lowry.
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