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December 21, 2009 10:05 AM   Subscribe

The Top 10 Literary Feuds Of The Aughts, as compiled by Toronto journalist and author Shaun Smith.

Some highlights:

#8: Dale Peck vs. Rick Moody [previously]
#7: Jonathan Franzen vs. Oprah Winfrey [previously]
#4: Christopher Hitchens vs. Henry Kissinger [previously]
#3: James Frey vs. Oprah Winfrey [previously] [previously]
posted by The Card Cheat (52 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
He left out People Who Got Book Deals With Snarky Tumblrs vs. People Who Got Book Deals With Snarky Twitters
posted by mpbx at 10:10 AM on December 21, 2009


Writers... IN A STEEL CAAAAAGE!
posted by brundlefly at 10:19 AM on December 21, 2009


I nominate for an honorable mention the Julie Powell backlash.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:19 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Bah. What happened to Brian Herbert vs. his father's legacy (or if you prefer, vs. the fans of the Dune novels)? Or is genre fiction not allowed on this list?

As to this list's merits, all it does for me is remind me that it's a shame that Hitchens had his conversion to the Right. He's got the ability to take on subjects who are hard to take on (Mother Teresa, frex) but not the hard principle to, say, oppose the Iraq war. His current work is essentially an attempt, having lost any political audience who'll listen, to find some kind of a base inside the weird and ill-defined New Atheism. He remains, sadly, a "drink-sodden ex-Trotskyist popinjay" (as George Galloway put it).
posted by graymouser at 10:19 AM on December 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


...saying the book’s very font “endured unspeakable molestation courtesy of McLaren’s prose.”

If you're writing a harsh review as revenge, you could do worse.
posted by graventy at 10:21 AM on December 21, 2009


James Frey took it slightly too long, and came out looking terribly. Instead, when the mask started to slip, he should have immediately pulled a 180, and honestly claimed that the whole thing was a fiction. Either make it seem he pulled an Andy Kaufman, or better still, act shocked that people didn't realize it was a fiction the whole time. "Wasn't it obvious!?" he could have cried, "The cliches, the unbelievable details!"

Instead, he was exposed as the liar he was, rather than being clever enough to dodge Oprah's wrath.
posted by explosion at 10:30 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Despite the kafuffle (or perhaps, in part, because of it?), The Corrections would win the National Book Award in November and remain on the bestseller list into the new year

I always thought it was kerfuffle. Was I wrong?
posted by Think_Long at 10:31 AM on December 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


I might mistake Chris Hitchens for a lot of things, but "holocaust denier" is not one of them. And after 30+ years of "Henry Kissinger, War Criminal", why did Kissinger even respond? Man-up a little, Henry.

#6, over how well- or poorly-organized was the Toronto Book Fair, strikes me as a great exemplar of the old adage that the fight gets meaner as the stakes diminish. That seems to fit #9 (the Ryan Biggs / Leah McLaren thing) as well.
posted by lodurr at 10:34 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm just amazed that someone other than Leah McLaren gives a shit about Leah McLaren. What's next, people taking Margaret Wente seriously?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:36 AM on December 21, 2009


How can "__ vs Oprah" be a literary feud when Oprah doesn't write books?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:37 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was really expecting (hoping) this would be, like, "#4: Dr James's assertion that Dracula is primarily an antisemitic stereotype vs. Dr. Frank's insistence that he is a stand-in for 19th-century homosexuals."
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:43 AM on December 21, 2009 [6 favorites]


#314: Dale Peck refuses to choose between Ali Smith's The Accidental and Ian McEwan's Saturday in the third round of the 2006 Tournament of Books, claiming that "books like these make me want to make join Al Qaeda." T.O.B. Commissioner Kevin Guilfoile's response deploys the phrase "narrow as a childless panda’s urethra."
posted by Iridic at 10:50 AM on December 21, 2009 [6 favorites]


Sorry for the derail, but there's something remarkably bland about that website.

Although I'm American I've had some experience with the Canadian publishing world, and I've always found it kind of amazing the degree to which Canada's active literary scene is government subsidized. Don't get me wrong: I don't think it's necessarily bad, but I can see how it has its drawbacks as well. I think it's a double edged sword, since among other things it sometimes seems like everyone in Canada is a writer. Not that that's bad, by any means. Fwiw, according to the "about" section of Open Book Toronto, Canada Council for the Arts last year invested $20.1 million in writing and publishing throughout Canada. For a country of 30 million people, that's not insignificant.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 10:50 AM on December 21, 2009


1. They like the term crapstorm
2. They do not like Oprah
3. There was a small series of things in the article that grated, such as T_L's observation "I always thought it was kerfuffle. Was I wrong?" kerfuffle is correct, the name/term "Dubya" (sorry, Dubya may be acceptable at Dkos, or even Metafilter, but using it here diminishes the article)
posted by edgeways at 10:52 AM on December 21, 2009


> I'm just amazed that someone other than Leah McLaren gives a shit about Leah McLaren.

I don't think anyone does these days, but back at the beginning of the decade she tried her hand at op-ed writing about social issues (the G&M was promoting her as a younger, sassier Margaret Wente). The results were...poor...and she went back to writing about things that were, for her, steadier ground (shopping, dating English men, etc.).
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:53 AM on December 21, 2009


I'm not sure what you're getting at HP LJ. That Canada spends a lot on literary promotion? That a lot of Canadians are writers? Nothing you mention is the other edge of the sword, it all seems like win to me.
posted by edgeways at 10:56 AM on December 21, 2009


Many of these are more like TKOs than feuds, including the Goldman/Simpson complete rout of OJ/Regan, the Hitchens destruction of Kissinger, and Oprah's unmasking of Frey. And as a person who read a Million Little Pieces before Oprah discovered it, I'd add that to my way of thinking Frey is one of the Top Ten Literary Frauds of the Naughts.
posted by bearwife at 11:02 AM on December 21, 2009


it all seems like win to me.

Yeah sorry for the derail, but the economics of it sometimes seem a bit specious, since while it's good that writing and publishing is getting funded, it sometimes seems like more books are being produced than there are readers for. And also that websites like the one linked to in the FPP are being funded to write unadventurous pieces that one might expect to read in Publishers Weekly. Even though I lean socialist in politics, with arts subsidization I can see how it sometimes ends up giving rise to blandness. Hence the double edge I was referring to. Just my two cents.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 11:05 AM on December 21, 2009


HP, you’d have to back that statement up with something pointing to literary overproduction in Canada or the blandification of Canadian writing in order to make that anything more than a hunch. I see your point though, and I know you didn’t mean for a derail, so that is all
posted by Think_Long at 11:19 AM on December 21, 2009


Yeah, Leah McLaren is pretty tired. I could never figure out why she had a column, although I found her less offensive and narcissistic than Rebecca Eckler, which isn't saying much.

the G&M was promoting her as a younger, sassier Margaret Wente

Really? Good god. I don't always agree with Wente but at least the woman has depth and can write. Mclaren? Her column was basically Facebook status updates before Facebook existed. I kept wishing the Glob would un-friend her.
posted by GuyZero at 11:27 AM on December 21, 2009


Iridic - that may be the funniest link I have read in eons. Thanks. There is nothing quite like the bitchy throttle of a good literary feud. It's like a MMA fight where an arched eyebrow and a snarky turn of phrase are the preferred kung fu moves.
posted by helmutdog at 11:28 AM on December 21, 2009


but the economics of it sometimes seem a bit specious, since while it's good that writing and publishing is getting funded, it sometimes seems like more books are being produced than there are readers for

No more so than anywhere - every market has a bottom 10%. And besides, everything is subsidized in Canada in one way or another. Heck, software companies get SRED and IRAP money. It's next to impossible to find any business that isn't get some sort of sector-specific tax credit/deduction or indirect support via a government-funded marketing agency. That's the way it works. $20M is a lot for 35M people I guess but my guess it goes mostly to marketing events and such and not so much to cutting cheques to writers.
posted by GuyZero at 11:30 AM on December 21, 2009


I always liked Margaret Drabble vs her sister A. S. Byatt. Literary squabble plus sibling rivalry.
posted by gladly at 11:31 AM on December 21, 2009


HPljetc.: it sometimes seems like more books are being produced than there are readers for

Now this is an interesting thought. Not just about Canada, either. It would mean that the amount of money involved from the authors' perspectives, gets smaller all the time. And I'd circle back to the "smaller the stakes" argument.

There seems to be an ongoing argument about whether the publishing industry is actually in decline. I keep hearing it argued that they make the same margin they always have. But that could be true while the authors make less money. Again, smaller stakes, rougher fights.

All that said, I'm thinking these may not be all that rough as literary feuds go. I haven't got any counter-examples, though. Someone want to completely knock the legs from under my speculations with some good literary-skirmish gems?
posted by lodurr at 11:34 AM on December 21, 2009


Oops, screwed up the rivalry link.
posted by gladly at 11:35 AM on December 21, 2009


> I found her less offensive and narcissistic than Rebecca Eckler, which isn't saying much.

Eckler makes McLaren look like Margaret Atwood.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:47 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sigh. I long for the good old '70s, when all literary feuds had to involve either Norman Mailer or Harlan Ellison.
posted by aught at 12:03 PM on December 21, 2009


All that said, I'm thinking these may not be all that rough as literary feuds go. I haven't got any counter-examples, though. Someone want to completely knock the legs from under my speculations with some good literary-skirmish gems?

One of my all-time favorites is Ezra Pound vs. Lascelles Abercrombie:

The focus for [Pound's] ire was the group known as the Georgians, which included John Masefield, Rupert Brooke, JC Squire, Lascelles Abercrombie and others. [. . .] Pound challenged Abercrombie to a duel, on the basis that "stupidity carried beyond a certain point becomes a public menace." Permitted a choice of weapons, Abercrombie suggested the two poets attack each other with unsold copies of their own books. Even Pound saw the joke.

Ben Jonson vs. John Marston is pretty good, too:

[Jonson] had many quarrels with Marston, beat him, and took his pistol from him.
posted by DaDaDaDave at 12:04 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Frey

Man, what an incredible dick. First he passes off a pile of bullshit as real, then he's all "maybe I know Oprah's biggest secrets, maybe I don't."
posted by graventy at 12:21 PM on December 21, 2009


How can "__ vs Oprah" be a literary feud when Oprah doesn't write books?

She's a magazine editor and shit! Anyway I'm pretty sure she's had her people write books for her.

Anyhow, whatever her qualifications, if you roll in the 50 Cent flap I think it becomes clear: If you are having a feud with Oprah it most likely means you are an utter dick.
posted by Artw at 12:46 PM on December 21, 2009


Clearly pro-Canadian prejudice is what has lead to Margaret Atwood's stupid and embarrassing rolling feud with the entire genre of Science Fiction not being on this list.
posted by Artw at 12:51 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Kindle. Arrgh. Amazon fuckers....

Also Google is on the wrong side of taking public domain books and charging for people to read them. WRONG WRONG WRONG.

Fuck the Kindle, forever with a 20 inch dildo in Jeff Bezos butthole. Blah
posted by Skygazer at 1:05 PM on December 21, 2009


I am sad that I got here to late to join in the Leah McLaren pile on. I'm am guessing she's thrilled to be included in a list of literary feuds, as it the first time anyone anywhere has mistaken her output as being literary. It's like if you called me one of Metafilters dumbest intellectuals, I'd still be thrilled to be on the list, even if at the bottom.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:05 PM on December 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


Now, on the other hand, that Russel Smith, I have some bro-mantic feelings for him.
posted by GuyZero at 1:07 PM on December 21, 2009


Artw: Clearly pro-Canadian prejudice is what has lead to Margaret Atwood's stupid and embarrassing rolling feud with the entire genre of Science Fiction not being on this list.

It's been a long time since I read up on it but IIRC it did start with a very unflattering and not-so-borderline sexist review in the SF press of The Handmaid's Tale. This is a hazy memory though and I may be conflating her and Lessing, for instance. Either way, fandom hasn't always been welcoming of outside authors writing SF (often for good reason... a lot of first-time SF by established non-SF writers is terrible, though of course some of SF's greatest classics are by such authors, e.g. Brave New World and 1984).
posted by Kattullus at 1:41 PM on December 21, 2009


Eh? That's certainly not reflected in the awards it received from the SF community upon release. Oryx and Crake certainly had a harder time, but she was well into declaring herself "not really science fiction" by then. Also whilst handmaids tale is a pretty cool peice of social SF O&C sounds decidedly ropey and full of cliche.
posted by Artw at 1:52 PM on December 21, 2009


And while it's bad form to speak ill of something I haven't read, one review of The Year of the Flood, which followed the Atwood line of it "not being science fiction", was so choked full of awkward neologisms that it not only sounded like science fiction, it sounded like absolutely the worst kind of amateur science fiction.
posted by Artw at 2:02 PM on December 21, 2009


Those who don't study the tropes of SF are damned to repeat them.
posted by GuyZero at 2:14 PM on December 21, 2009 [4 favorites]


Literature + Oprah = Does not compute.
If these really are the biggest literature feuds of the decade in North America, I weep for your cultural climate.
posted by mr.marx at 2:53 PM on December 21, 2009


so, come on, mr.marx! I renew my challenge! give us some better feuds, dammit! please?

also, it's not just north america. after all, martin amis is on it.
posted by lodurr at 3:24 PM on December 21, 2009


After spending entirely too long looking for anything about the SF community reaction to Handmaid's Tale I've given up and unless someone drags something up I'll consider this a case of faulty memory on my part.

That said, and somewhat more on topic, nothing quite makes me like Dale Peck as much as other people's replies to him. Well, that and the video where he gamely took a creampie in the face from Rick Moody. Also, he wrote a very good appreciation of Kurt Vonnegut, which I appreciate, because he's terribly undervalued by Anglophone literary critics.
posted by Kattullus at 3:47 PM on December 21, 2009


They forgot Michael Chabon vs. Jonathan Franzen on the Simpsons. Shay Bon! Fran Zone!
posted by fixedgear at 4:04 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


And as a person who read a Million Little Pieces before Oprah discovered it, I'd add that to my way of thinking Frey is one of the Top Ten Literary Frauds of the Naughts.

And coming in at #1
{drum roll}
*open the envelope*

JT Leroy
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 4:19 PM on December 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wait wait wait. "Aughts"? Seriously?
posted by jabberjaw at 5:09 PM on December 21, 2009


For my money, the best literary feud ever was Joyce v. Lawrence. Two dirty-minded old perverts arguing back and forth about which one of them was a dirty-minded old pervert.
posted by Limiter at 5:15 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Top 10 Arguments Over What To Call The First Decade of This Century
posted by brundlefly at 5:42 PM on December 21, 2009


I stopped reading at James Frey, because I was too pissed off about remembering that he exists. As someone who has lost friends to the kind of shit he pretended to have done in his book in order to seem "worldly", there's no pit deep enough for that fucking fraud.
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:58 PM on December 21, 2009


Also Google is on the wrong side of taking public domain books and charging for people to read them

What? I just checked on this a bit and I don't know what you're talking about. Public domain books are free to read and print from Google Books.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:50 PM on December 21, 2009


The Top 10 Arguments Over What To Call The First Decade of This Century
I haven't seen a name for them that doesn't make me shudder, and it's been 10 years already. I dread to see what name people will try to glue to the next decade.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 12:41 AM on December 22, 2009


Leah McLaren can be a good writer when she puts her mind to it. Perhaps she's not quite as good as James Joyce. I'm not. Are you?

Margaret Wente can be an idiot/contrarian: "What's not to love about my SUV?"
posted by ovvl at 10:45 PM on December 27, 2009


Now, on the other hand, that Russel Smith, I have some bro-mantic feelings for him.

I'm not down with the word 'bro-mantic', but Russell Smith is a literary genius.
posted by ovvl at 11:04 PM on December 27, 2009


Leah McLaren can be a good writer when she puts her mind to it. Perhaps she's not quite as good as James Joyce. I'm not. Are you?

That's a great argument, maybe you could parlay it into a Globe columnist gig.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:49 AM on December 28, 2009


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