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"The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion"
October 17, 2012 5:07 AM   Subscribe


 
Like the "he" in the Wuthering Heights review. Classy.
posted by nathancaswell at 5:25 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


“Mr. Scott Fitzgerald deserves a good shaking."

I can't help reading these in the Countess of Grantham's voice. Although she would probably be way more open minded.
posted by Tarumba at 5:27 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't entirely disagree with the American Psycho review though.
posted by nathancaswell at 5:29 AM on October 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Lolita
Huckleberry Finn
Wuthering Heights
Catch-22
Moby Dick
The Great Gatsby
American Psycho


One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

posted by Mayor West at 5:32 AM on October 17, 2012 [21 favorites]


On Madame Bovary: “Monsieur Flaubert is not a writer.” — Le Figaro, 1857.

You can still read incisive criticism like this in Le Fig any old week.
posted by Wolof at 5:44 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Like the "he" in the Wuthering Heights review. Classy.

It was published under the pseudonym Ellis Bell, so there was some understandable gender confusion. For a short while, some critics thought that all the Brontes were the same person (male or female), writing under different pseudonyms.

The Salinger parody-as-review is far more clever than most of its neighbors in this list.

And...what is American Psycho doing here?
posted by thomas j wise at 5:54 AM on October 17, 2012


Like the "he" in the Wuthering Heights review. Classy.

Well, it was originally released under a male pseudonym (Currier Bell? or was that somebody else?) so it's not the reviewer's fault.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:55 AM on October 17, 2012


Well, despite their "classic" status, it must be said that some of these books are terribly tedious. There's probably a very large percentage of the population who would never have chosen to read them if it weren't mandated in their high school English class.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:11 AM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm imagining Mr. Clemens chortling as he reads that review... no, guffawing, that's what he's doing. It probably actually pissed him off, I guess, but one can hope.
posted by Huck500 at 6:19 AM on October 17, 2012


it must be said that some of these books are terribly tedious

If it must be said then at least say which ones.
posted by ninebelow at 6:24 AM on October 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


If you like this kind of thing, Slonimsky has a whole book of bad reviews of great musical works: A Lexicon of Musical Invective
posted by nosila at 6:26 AM on October 17, 2012


On The Catcher in the Rye: “This Salinger, he’s a short story guy. And he knows how to write about kids. This book though, it’s too long. Gets kind of monotonous. And he should’ve cut out a lot about these jerks and all that crumby school. They depress me.” — James Stern, The New York Times, 1951

With biting whit and incisive commentary like that, it's a wonder that the novel sold any copies at all.

Allow me to join in to the "huh?" on American Psycho.

They could have taken this critique of Frankenstein:
This novel is a feeble imitation of one that was very popular in its day,--the St. Leon of Mr. Godwin. It exhibits many characteristics of the school whence it proceeds; and occasionally puts forth indications of talent; but we have been very much disappointed in the perusal of it, from our expectations having been raised too high beforehand by injudicious praises; and it exhibits a strong tendency towards materialism. - The Literary Panorama and National Register, n.s., 8 (1 June 1818)

I was never a fan of The Awakening, although that novel was taught by a particularly horrible English teacher I had my junior year of high school. He almost succeeded in destroying The Great Gatsby. (I wanted to talk about Gatsby's criminal past and how that informed his character, he did not.)
posted by Hactar at 6:27 AM on October 17, 2012


On Where the Wild Things Are: “The plan and technique of the illustrations are superb. … But they may well prove frightening, accompanied as they are by a pointless and confusing story.” — Publisher’s Weekly, 1963

Ah, but this one is reasonably accurate isn't it? Now, whether you see this as a bad thing or not is really the big question.
posted by Winnemac at 6:32 AM on October 17, 2012


Emily Brontë was also called a "man of uncommon talents but dogged, brutal and morose" in a review, which amused her sisters greatly.
posted by kyrademon at 6:32 AM on October 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


" it exhibits a strong tendency towards materialism."

Sometimes something is a classic because it makes more sense to the readers of the future than to its own time.
posted by idiopath at 6:36 AM on October 17, 2012


Tedious? A whole chapter on whaling technique! With all due respect, Mr. Melville, that's good research you got there, but did you really need to put it in the novel? Moby Dick is actually a clever device for torturing high school sophomores.
posted by tuesdayschild at 6:37 AM on October 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sadly missing my own favourite bad review, a perfect exercise in missing the point.
The author of ‘The Golden Age’ and of ‘Dream Days’ has disappointed us. There is no getting away from that melancholy fact. He has written in ‘The Wind in the Willows’, a book with hardly a smile in it, through which we wander in a haze of perplexity, uninterested by the story itself and at a loss to understand its deeper purpose. The chief character is a mole, whom the reader plumps upon on the first page whitewashing his house. Here is an initial nut to crack; a mole whitewashing. No doubt moles like their abodes to be clean; but whitewashing? Are we very stupid, or is this joke really inferior? However, let it pass. Then enters a water rat, on his way to a river picnic, in a skiff, with a hamper of provisions, including cold tongue, cold ham, French rolls, and soda water. Nut number two; for obviously a water rat is of all animals the one that would never use a boat with which to navigate a stream. Again, are we very stupid, or is this nonsense of poor quality? Later we meet a wealthy toad, who, after a tour of England in a caravan, drawn by a horse, becomes a rabid motorist. He is also an inveterate public speaker. We meet also a variety of animals whoso foibles doubtless are borrowed from mankind, and so the book goes on until the end. Beneath the allegory ordinary life is depicted more or less closely, but certainly not very amusingly or searchingly; while as a contribution to natural history the work is negligible. There are neat and fanciful passages; but they do not convince. The puzzle is, for whom is the book intended? Grown up readers will find it monotonous and elusive; children will hope in vain for more fun.
E. V. Lucas
posted by howfar at 6:40 AM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


A bit rich to see L. P. Hartley, future author of The Go-Between, complain of The Great Gatsby that "the characters behave as if they were entitled to grieve over a great sorrow, and the book closes with the air of a tragedy." The Go-Between is a wonderful book, but that's like, exactly what's wrong with the ending.
posted by ostro at 6:50 AM on October 17, 2012


The Twain review is the most interesting to me. There's a great George Saunders piece about Huckleberry Finn and how it seemingly emerged from no then-existing literary tradition. Even Twain seemed confused. Critics hated it. In a lot of ways, the story is unsatisfying. Saunders traces the development of the novel in several different tones, speculating that it began as a comic novel and then acquired this humanist flavor halfway through, which grew into a dark tone that Twain followed for a while but ultimately abandoned because to follow it to its completion scared him. The gist of the essay is that literary masterpieces aren't masterpieces because they are flawless.
posted by deathpanels at 6:57 AM on October 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, to draw on the recent thread about Jimmy Savile and the past acceptability of child abuse, it's pretty telling that not just this review of Lolita, but the majority of reviews at the time, took it for granted that Lolita was just as "corrupt" as Humbert and that what happened between them was an "affair."
posted by ostro at 6:58 AM on October 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Again, are we very stupid, or is this nonsense of poor quality?

A smart person would not ask this sort of question.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:59 AM on October 17, 2012


It's good to know that at least one other person's reaction to The Great Gatsby was other than fawning. Ditto for The Catcher in the Rye.

(Herman Melville's ghost: ignore the haters!)
posted by kengraham at 7:09 AM on October 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


In a similar vein to the comments on Emily Brontë, contemporary references to Alice Sheldon (who wrote as James Tiptree Jr.) are often pretty hilarious:

"... [T]here is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree's writing. I don't think the novels of Jane Austen could have been written by a man nor the stories of Earnest Hemingway by a woman". -- Robert Silverberg

"[Kate] Wilhelm is the woman to beat this year, but Tiptree is the man." -- Harlan Ellison
posted by kyrademon at 7:10 AM on October 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


Whoa, the Leaves of Grass review is on par with "shit sandwich."
posted by Corduroy at 7:19 AM on October 17, 2012


There's no way American Psycho can be considered a classic of English literature.

It isn't nearly old enough.
posted by griphus at 7:20 AM on October 17, 2012


Metafilter: Two-thirds of it is incoherent, and the passages that are plainly written are devoid of wit, displaying only a coarse salacrity [sic] intended for humour.
posted by ersatz at 7:24 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pretty surprised not to see The Recognitions on that list, especially given that it resulted in the awesome Fire the Bastards! critic smackdown.
posted by ReadEvalPost at 7:29 AM on October 17, 2012


A whole chapter on whaling technique! With all due respect, Mr. Melville, that's good research you got there, but did you really need to put it in the novel?

The answer is clearly yes. The whaling technique related bits make the book a masterpiece. Without them, it is just a pretty good sea-story.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 7:31 AM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


oooooOOOOOooooo

Agreeing with these views should embarrass you more than it appeeeeeEEEEEEEAAaars to
posted by the ghost of shakespeherian at 7:37 AM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I just recently loaded up my e-reader with a bunch of the books I've always felt I 'ought' to read, and after finishing Pride and Prejudice I eagerly began Moby Dick. I expected to love it because, frankly, I'm a snob and I like to think my tastes are highly refined compared to the hoi-polloi. I finished Chapter One, in which nothing actually happens except for a guy waxing eloquent about the sea for 15 pages straight. I then gave up and switched to American Psycho, which I also had on the e-reader, and so far I'm enthralled. What does this say about me?
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:47 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's no way American Psycho can be considered a classic of English literature.

It isn't nearly old enough.


It's also dull. Dullllllll.

But still not as dull as "Wolf Gift" by Anne Rice. That has to be by far one of the worst books I've ever read. I'd rather read Twilight five times in a row.
posted by Malice at 7:49 AM on October 17, 2012


But still not as dull as "Wolf Gift" by Anne Rice. That has to be by far one of the worst books I've ever read. I'd rather read Twilight five times in a row.

I left Interview with the Vampire on the subway because I didn't even want to bother bringing it to the used book store, and the less said about those abhorrent Sleeping Beauty books, the better. And I'm like the target audience for those books
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:57 AM on October 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


The review of Catch-22 is not that far off. But the reviewer doesn't get that those things presented as negatives were probably completely on purpose. At any rate, the broad strokes and cartoonish narrator is all part of the charm of that novel.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:27 AM on October 17, 2012


Sometimes something is a classic because it makes more sense to the readers of the future than to its own time.

Frankenstein was an immediate success in its day--this reviewer didn't misunderstand it, he was just opposed to the book's political implications (implications which, of course, modern readers by and large do not pick up--not being steeped, like Mary Shelley, in the English political debates about the successes and failures of the French Revolution).
posted by yoink at 8:36 AM on October 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I finished Chapter One, in which nothing actually happens except for a guy waxing eloquent about the sea for 15 pages straight.

No one has to like everything, and maybe this book just isn't for you, but you might want to go back and give it another try. Moby Dick is not a book you read for the plot--it's all about the writing which, personally, I find intoxicating.
posted by yoink at 8:39 AM on October 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think that the review of The Catcher in the Rye is ironic:
On The Catcher in the Rye: “This Salinger, he’s a short story guy. And he knows how to write about kids. This book though, it’s too long. Gets kind of monotonous. And he should’ve cut out a lot about these jerks and all that crumby school. They depress me.” — James Stern, The New York Times, 1951
and that the reviewer is purposely reacting/talking like Holden Caulfield.
posted by jb at 8:40 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


In a similar vein to the comments on Emily Brontë, contemporary references to Alice Sheldon (who wrote as James Tiptree Jr.) are often pretty hilarious:

Did they know that she was female, and were thus writing ironically, or were they just that ignorant and sexist? (Not surprised by anything I've heard from Ellison, but Silverberg? He disappoints me - I thought him better than that.)
posted by jb at 8:44 AM on October 17, 2012


> Did they know that she was female, and were thus writing ironically, or were they just that ignorant and sexist?

They were just that ignorant and sexist. The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there (to keep the Hartley theme going).
posted by languagehat at 8:56 AM on October 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think American Psycho lives up to the claims made for it. But the violence went past the point that would have been necessary for effect. It felt like the author was sincerely engaged with his material.

That's not necessarily a compliment.
posted by Egg Shen at 8:56 AM on October 17, 2012


You know what keeps ...bugging me about working in a creative field? It's impossible to tell if you've done a good job, like you've completed your task successfully. Sure, you can you think you did a good job but that's not evidence of anything, everyone loves what they make (or are proud of finishing things but way to aware of the flaws to actually like it - you still want everyone else to see it tho). Other people can say you did good but, who can trust them. I bet they like all kinds of wrong things! I know it's something everyone has to deal with I just miss the concept of clear, objective, definable success points. Yes you did good cause the house didn't fall down or the turkey came out perfect or all the puppies lived or ..something.

grade me! rank me and evaluate me! I'm good good good and so smart GRADE ME!
posted by The Whelk at 9:10 AM on October 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


> "Silverberg? He disappoints me - I thought him better than that."

Three years after writing that, Silverberg did write the following:

"Just before Christmas, 1976, came a letter in the familiar blue-ribbon typing, hesitantly confessing that 'Tiptree' is the pseudonym of Dr. Alice B. Sheldon and hoping that I would not be too upset about having gone so far out on a limb with my insistence on 'Tiptree’s' maleness. Quite a surprise package; and there I was in print upholding the ineluctable masculinity of 'Tiptree’s' writing. Okay: no shame attaches. She fooled me beautifully, along with everyone else, and called into question the entire notion of what is 'masculine' or 'feminine' in fiction. I am still wrestling with that. What I have learned is that there are some women who can write about traditionally male topics more knowledgeably than most men, and that the truly superior artist can adopt whatever tone is appropriate to the material and bring it off. And I have learned – again; as if I needed one more lesson in it – that Things Are Seldom What They Seem. For these aspects of my education, Alli Sheldon, I thank you. And for much else."
posted by kyrademon at 9:20 AM on October 17, 2012 [9 favorites]


The review of Catch-22 is not that far off. But the reviewer doesn't get that those things presented as negatives were probably completely on purpose. At any rate, the broad strokes and cartoonish narrator is all part of the charm of that novel.

I'm in the midst of rereading Catch-22 for the first time since I was 17 or 18 years old, 40 years ago. It's turning out to be a much more unrewarding slog than I remember it to have been (on the other hand, I remembered very little of the novel, which may speak to the amount of impression it made on me on first reading). I mostly agree with the NYTBR reviewer but don't find the fact that the "negatives" were intentional really redeems them.

It probably also doesn't help that the novel I (re?)read just beforehand was For Whom the Bell Tolls. Granted that they are entirely different in tone and purpose as war novels, Heller still doesn't hold up well in the comparison. (Even after taking points from Hemingway for the mawkishness of the Jordan/Maria love plot.)
posted by Creosote at 9:41 AM on October 17, 2012


There's no way American Psycho can be considered a classic of English literature.

It isn't nearly old enough.


I have Views on American Psycho. They are these: About a quarter of the way through, it becomes the thing it purports to satirise. The remaing 300 odd pages serve merely to deaden the reader's sense of empathy, and do not deserve the shelter of being named art. They are filth.
posted by Diablevert at 9:51 AM on October 17, 2012


These works stand out because they are special--they communicate something to us strongly, or change a stale paradigm, or perhaps offer a refreshing and different worldview. But the point is, things that deviate from the norm are rarely embraced when they first appear. We humans need some time to get used to new works, to warm up to them and decide they are "great". It doesn't happen overnight--especially if the work in question is ahead of its time. What makes Ulysses great is also what makes it difficult.
posted by kinnakeet at 9:55 AM on October 17, 2012


True story, I read American Psycho at the time it came out. I read until the end because I was expecting it to get better, possibly even to get good. When I finished it I threw it my neighbour's dustbin because I didn't want the binmen to think that I read that sort of trash. It is porn without any redeeming qualities whatsoever.

I think it is in this list because there are a sizeable number of people who regard it as a "good book" if not "literature". The review is infinitely better written than the book.
posted by epo at 10:29 AM on October 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


“[Ulysses] appears to have been written by a perverted lunatic who has made a speciality of the literature of the latrine"
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:34 AM on October 17, 2012


Well, that's not wrong.

(There was a fantastic article on Joyce in the New Yorker this summer for anyone who is interested.)
posted by griphus at 10:38 AM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


They were just that ignorant and sexist.

I think that's slightly uncharitable. Tiptree's real gender didn't quite came out of the blue; there had been doubts and queries for several years before she revealed herself. People like Ellisson and Silverberg were making their comments about Tiptree being ineluctably male in this context, as part of a debate raging through fan circles.

Furthermore, these were people who had been in private communication with "him" as well, in which he didn't present himself differently than from his public personal, somewhat unlike more ordinary female writers hiding behind male pseudonyms or male sounding names (Andre Norton, C. J. Cherryh, but who didn't pretend to be male in their personal/fan lives.

Finally, the whole Tiptree debate wasn't about omigosh, this dude is such a good writer and has such a masculine bearing and background, no way the dude's a lady. It was that science fiction was going through a period of having its consciousness raised (sometimes at the point of a lasergun, through) and here there was this male writer who could write well about women, from a female point of view as well as a Russ (who was also taken in) or a LeGuin. Quite a few doubters had this empathy as their main reason Tiptree must be a woman, as no male writer was that sensitive.

Sadly, they were right, but people like Silverberg kept wanting to believe in his masculinity until she herself revealed all, in part because they wanted to believe a male writer could be this sensitive...

And I understand that feeling all too well, because I didn't want to believe the cartoonist behind Oglaf (funnier than it has a right to be and surprisingly sex positive porn web comic) was a woman either because I liked the idea of a (straight) bloke being able to write porn that was woman friendly and not afraid of teh gay either.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:05 AM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


American Pyscho is an Americanized Sade; and it's rhetoric of pornography as it attaches to philosophical questions of capital and Society make it both difficult to read and really worthwhile. Also, I fucking love the sea faring chapters of Moby Dick.
posted by PinkMoose at 12:20 PM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: In bombast, in caricature, in rhetorical artifice — generally as clumsy as it is ineffectual — and in low attempts at humor, ... [Mefites] never write naturally.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:41 PM on October 17, 2012


"Just before Christmas, 1976, came a letter in the familiar blue-ribbon typing, hesitantly confessing that 'Tiptree' is the pseudonym of Dr. Alice B. Sheldon and hoping that I would not be too upset about having gone so far out on a limb with my insistence on 'Tiptree’s' maleness. Quite a surprise package; and there I was in print upholding the ineluctable masculinity of 'Tiptree’s' writing. Okay: no shame attaches. She fooled me beautifully, along with everyone else, and called into question the entire notion of what is 'masculine' or 'feminine' in fiction. I am still wrestling with that. What I have learned is that there are some women who can write about traditionally male topics more knowledgeably than most men, and that the truly superior artist can adopt whatever tone is appropriate to the material and bring it off. And I have learned – again; as if I needed one more lesson in it – that Things Are Seldom What They Seem. For these aspects of my education, Alli Sheldon, I thank you. And for much else."

That's how to write an apology.

I also liked this, from the Amazon reviews of Sendak's 'Where the Wild Things Are', even though the kid's wackier than a walleyed coot for dissing on the Sendak:

I am almost 7 and my teachre said we have to say why we like a lot of books or do not like a lot of books this summer on amazon and then print out them and give them to our new teacher next year So I am starting with this book.

My dad reelly likes this book because he said it was good when he was a kid. I dont like it. The pictures are boring and the story is not long. My dad reads this to me a lot and I like the books that are newer. New books have pictures that are pretty and the storys are funner and longer. This book has pictures that look old. I wish my dad would read this to himself and let me read something diferent. Nichole

posted by Sebmojo at 2:05 PM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


"That's the idea, let's abuse each other."

"Moron!"
"Vermin!"
"Abortion!"
"Morpion!"
"Sewer-rat!"
"Curate!"
"Cretin!"
(with finality) "Crrrrrritic!"
Oh! (He wilts, vanquished, and turns away.)

posted by sarastro at 2:20 PM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Three years after writing that, Silverberg did write the following: [...]

But years after that, he'd write:
"I still think that Ernest Hemingway wrote like a man and that Jane Austen wrote like a woman, and that there are discernible differences both in style and content."

And he concludes with asserting that a man couldn't have written Tiptree's "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?"
Yes, that's right, Tiptree's stories were examples of things that couldn't have been written by a woman, but a Tiptree story was also an example of something that coludn't have been written by a man.
posted by Zed at 2:57 PM on October 17, 2012


> "Finally, the whole Tiptree debate wasn't about omigosh, this dude is such a good writer and has such a masculine bearing and background, no way the dude's a lady ... people like Silverberg kept wanting to believe in his masculinity until she herself revealed all, in part because they wanted to believe a male writer could be this sensitive ..."

This isn't entirely accurate either, though. Yes, Silverberg's comments were made in direct response to the idea that Tiptree might be a woman. But the argument he made was hardly that a man could write about women sensitively. One of his main points was that Tiptree wrote with clear inside knowledge about professional espionage, and it didn't occur to him that this might be possible for someone who wasn't a man (she was in fact a Major in the Army Air Forces photointelligence group during World War II and later worked for the CIA.) And the Austin vs. Hemingway comparison he makes is rather telling, if you think about it - consider why he chose those two authors instead of, say, Mary Shelley and Gustave Flaubert.

I'm glad he owned up to his assumptions when he found out, but his point of view most certainly *was* informed by ingrained assumptions he had about men and women, what they did, and what they wrote about.
posted by kyrademon at 3:03 PM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am startled about how many of those reviews I agree with. I guess I was just born too late.
posted by Bugbread at 3:05 PM on October 17, 2012


(And to be fair here, Ellison is actually pretty much totally innocent as far as what he said about Tiptree goes - it was pretty much just an offhand comment about who the best male and female SF writers were that year, which ended up being thought-provoking comment in retrospect because they were actually both women. It's only a problematic statement if you want to ask why he was making a distinction between male and female authors at all, which is certainly a fair question, but it's hardly on the level of Silverberg's assertions about what women are capable of writing about, or the literati who pronounced that the rumors that the author of Wuthering Heights was a woman could not possibly be true.)
posted by kyrademon at 3:19 PM on October 17, 2012


yeah, I realised that Ellison was just making a pun of a sorts and not saying anything about men or women. I've just been bitter ever since I was a kid, after I saw him abusing Trekkies on tv.
posted by jb at 3:25 PM on October 17, 2012


I have really never, ever understood this "men write like this, women write like that." nonsense.

It's true that men and women have different experiences and thus sometimes different knowledge - men might struggle, for example, to describe the feeling of menstrual cramps or know what life is like at all-girls boarding school (except for transmen who just happened to go to an all girls boarding school). But the Brontes, of course, all wrote under men's names and people didn't twig.
posted by jb at 3:30 PM on October 17, 2012


In one of those interesting coincidences, I once took a writing class taught by Richard Stern, the fellow who wrote that review of Catch-22.

On the first day he declared that no one would be allowed to turn in any science fiction stories, since the genre didn't constitute real writing.

This being right after Less Than Zero had come out, the entire quarter we were treated to stories of jaded college dormitory drug use and bisexuality. I eventually snapped and yelled at everyone in the class, saying that I was fine with their college experimentation, but could they just please write something fucking else. That was a day I was greet with a lot of blank stares.

Many years later I had my first novel -- science fiction -- published, and knowing that I was the only one of the people from that class who had in fact published, I sent it to Richard Stern with my compliments. I am almost certain it spent its days unopened.

Also, American Psycho is terrible.
posted by jscalzi at 4:26 PM on October 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


You know what keeps ...bugging me about working in a creative field? It's impossible to tell if you've done a good job, like you've completed your task successfully.

As Lucille Ball said to Richard Burton: "An Actor? Stick to Plumbing!"
posted by ovvl at 7:44 PM on October 17, 2012


On the first day he declared that no one would be allowed to turn in any science fiction stories, since the genre didn't constitute real writing.

My creative writing teacher was an otherwise lovely woman (and great critic - she'd cover your work in red ink and it was all really helpful) who was skeptical about science fiction or fantasy - she knew Ursula K. Le Guin had written some good stuff, but thought the rest was all pulp.

Okay, most of it is pulp, but at the end of the year I have her a copy of Zamiatin's We as a thank-you gift, and as an introduction into the world a literary SF&F. (Maybe I should have gone with something more contemporary like Geoff Ryman, but Zamiatin was my favorite at the time).
posted by jb at 8:25 PM on October 17, 2012


Of course Zamiatin's We is already grandfathered into Proper Literature as being about Serious and Important subjects like the perils of Stalinism, just like 1984 and Btrave New World...

I can't help also but think that most encounters of literary authorities dismissing science fiction out of hand end up with the bright and eager pupil giving their teacher a favoured Heinlein novel and confirms both sides' prejudices...
posted by MartinWisse at 10:45 PM on October 17, 2012


Richard Stern sounds like a cock, jscalzi, but I agree with him about Catch 22.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 3:47 AM on October 18, 2012


jscalzi

why is american pyscho terrible?
posted by PinkMoose at 5:11 AM on October 18, 2012


That's why I mentioned Geoff Ryman who (in retrospect) I should have used: he's Canadian (as she is), contemporary and definitely a stylist. (There are great SF&F writers who as good or better on character and plot, but literary creative writing people tend to respect style above these).

Interestingly, she hadn't read (or heard of? can't remember) We. This was a while ago and the most recent translation had just been released.
posted by jb at 5:23 AM on October 18, 2012


Then, there's the classic 1959 review of Lady Chatterley's Lover in Field & Stream magazine, which argued that the "extraneous material" limited the book's usefulness as a gamekeeping manual.
posted by jonp72 at 8:46 AM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Count me as another one who fully agrees with Motion's review of American Psycho.
posted by Decani at 8:48 AM on October 18, 2012


> Finally, the whole Tiptree debate wasn't about omigosh, this dude is such a good writer and has such a masculine bearing and background, no way the dude's a lady. It was that science fiction was going through a period of having its consciousness raised (sometimes at the point of a lasergun, through) and here there was this male writer who could write well about women, from a female point of view as well as a Russ (who was also taken in) or a LeGuin. Quite a few doubters had this empathy as their main reason Tiptree must be a woman, as no male writer was that sensitive.

I know, I was there. I assure you that at that point the sexism in sf was so thick that if slightly more condensed it would have collapsed in on itself and formed a star. I was not trying to say Silverberg was any more sexist than was standard for the period, just answering the question.
posted by languagehat at 8:56 AM on October 18, 2012


Though I am a bit late to the discussion, I have to highly recommend this lovely bio of James Tiptree/Alice Sheldon.
posted by thebrokedown at 6:57 AM on October 19, 2012


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