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April 19, 2010 4:35 AM   Subscribe

The 50 best author vs. author put-downs of all time.
posted by The Mouthchew (89 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
50 best? I dunno about that. A lot of these aren't really biting, and are little more than "I don't like it!". However An enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection cuts pretty harsh.

What is p@# supposed to stand for?
posted by molecicco at 4:44 AM on April 19, 2010


Every time I read [molecicco's comments], I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

Hmmm...this could work.
posted by NoMich at 4:46 AM on April 19, 2010


This is fun, but can't people cite these things? These could be completely made up, as far as we know.

Which reminds me of this gem:

Matt Haughey? I would rather burn books than read his community weblog! -- Jessamyn West, after a night of shooting baby seagulls with Sarah Palin, Kanye West, and George Soros
posted by honest knave at 5:02 AM on April 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Johnny Keats's piss-a-bed poetry.
posted by steef at 5:04 AM on April 19, 2010


molecicco: What is p@# supposed to stand for?

Piss, as in "piss-a-bed poetry."
posted by Kattullus at 5:04 AM on April 19, 2010


Some of these are great! I empathise with Amis on Don Quixote (though little else), maybe it was my translation?
posted by smoke at 5:05 AM on April 19, 2010


There seems to be a "Part II" as well.
posted by RavinDave at 5:08 AM on April 19, 2010


No Henry Miller punching Gore Vidal and Vidal responding "Henry has such a way with words"? Lame.
posted by The Whelk at 5:08 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


... er, nevermind. (Both together = 50).
posted by RavinDave at 5:09 AM on April 19, 2010


10. Oscar Wilde, according to Noel Coward (1946)

Am reading more of Oscar Wilde. What a tiresome, affected sod.


Hmm, somehow I think this might have been meant with just a scant twist of sarcasm.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:11 AM on April 19, 2010


Also:

27. William Faulkner, according to Ernest Hemingway

Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked? You're thinking of Faulkner. He does sometimes -- and I can tell right in the middle of a page when he's had his first one.


I wonder why it is that Mr. Hemingway is so acutely aware of this phenomenon? At least with Faulkner you can tell when he started drinking, with Ernie, you can tell when the bender of testosterone and cheap scotch was over when you reach the last page.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:19 AM on April 19, 2010 [9 favorites]


Damn you, steef!

honest knave: This is fun, but can't people cite these things? These could be completely made up, as far as we know.

Some of these I've read before in reputable sources (e.g. Pepys on Shakespeare, Bloom on Rowling), so I'm inclined to trust the list. At least nothing jumps out at me as suspect, though in a list this long that includes so many Mark Twain quotes, at least one or two must be misattributed.
posted by Kattullus at 5:20 AM on April 19, 2010


Someone (less lazy than me) should make a flow chart of this list illustrating who said what about whom.
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 5:23 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


James Joyce's Ulysses, according to George Bernard Shaw (1921)

I have read several fragments of 'Ulysses' in its serial form. It is a revolting record of a disgusting phase of civilisation; but it is a truthful one; and I should like to put a cordon around Dublin; round up every male person in it between the ages of 15 and 30; force them to read it; and ask them whether on reflection they could see anything amusing in all that foul mouthed, foul minded derision and obscenity.


This is not a take-down. That is precisely what Joyce was going for.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:35 AM on April 19, 2010


The Samuel Johnson ones are legit, but sadly what would be the best Johnson smackdown isn't.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:36 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Humph. It seems to me that if you read enough of an author's work to denigrate it in biting, incisive terms you probably enjoyed the experience more than you let on. The gig here seems to be slamming down authors of repute -- i.e. allegedly contrarian thinking (Everyone loves Jane Austen, right? Ho ho, not me! etc.). The real diss is not reading someone at all, not, as Noel Coward says, carping about reading more Wilde. How bizarre is it that Mark Twain goes out of his way to remark on a book that the ship's library doesn't have? Also, Twain goes off on Austen: "every time I read Pride and Prejudice..." er, why read it more than once if you hated it? (Or twice, just to make sure.)

Anyway, I can't resist:

Metafilter: Feel this teapot. Is it not beautifully warm? Yes, but there ain't going to be no tea.
posted by chavenet at 5:36 AM on April 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


“That’s not writing, thats typing.”
- Truman Capote on Jack Kerouac
posted by Shepherd at 5:40 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


that's

God damn it I spent 15 minutes trying to track down the right quote which wavered from it's to that's , to the point that I began to think the whole thing was apocryphal, and then I finally tracked down a sourced-enough version that I figured it was the right one and then I replaced the it's with the that's for the sixth time and then I left out the goddamn apostrophe, which Kerouac probably would have been cool with but Capote definitely not.
posted by Shepherd at 5:43 AM on April 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


(and yes, that's typing).
posted by Shepherd at 5:43 AM on April 19, 2010


bob dylan to mick jagger: "i could have written 'satisfaction'. you couldn't have written nothin i wrote".
posted by kitchenrat at 5:46 AM on April 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Kerouac is the least of it. Capote has a whole bunch of snark for a whole bunch of his contemporaries in Laurence Grobel's Conversations With Capote. Very funny, very mean, but more often than not spot on.

At least in my opinion.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:51 AM on April 19, 2010


Vidal on Capote "He has the mind of a Kansas housewife."
posted by The Whelk at 5:52 AM on April 19, 2010


A great put-down must be funny, first of all, so that eliminates more than half of this list right off. Points for including Mailer's review of A Man in Full, but minus several million points for forgetting Mary McCarthy's legendary put down of Lillian Hellman: "Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'."
posted by octobersurprise at 5:57 AM on April 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Twain's notorious complete takedown of James Fenimore Cooper (the 114 out of 115 possible errors) is legendary in its snark, rivaling some of Metafilter's own at their best.

Look it up for a guilty pleasure sometime when you are in a particularly curmudgeonly mood.
posted by misha at 6:16 AM on April 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


I hope some day to rise to the point where someone calls me "the very pimple of the age's humbug." That would be some day!
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:20 AM on April 19, 2010


Composers were also not above getting a few digs in on one another, I've found.
posted by Dim Siawns at 6:20 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Misha: Heh, I came in here to comment on that. It's called "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses."
posted by Toothless Willy at 6:22 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


To mis-quote Dorothy Parker, this isn't a list to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
posted by DreamerFi at 6:22 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Turns out Twain was just as biting in his marginalia, labeling one book “The Droolings of an Idiot.”
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:32 AM on April 19, 2010


"I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone."

I say we do this to Dan Brown, even though he isn't dead yet.
posted by bwg at 6:32 AM on April 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


Twain's Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses is a masterpiece of snark, and I'm deeply disappointed that they put it as #47 on the list. Especially as Twain provides reasons other than "I don't like it" for his slamming of Cooper.
posted by sotonohito at 6:34 AM on April 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


kitchenrat, the direct quote was, "I could have written 'Satisfaction,' but you couldn't have written 'Tambourine Man.'"
posted by mediareport at 6:42 AM on April 19, 2010


GenjiandProust, you sir, are.... a pretty good person.

Damn. That's not how it works, is it?
posted by Ghidorah at 6:51 AM on April 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


If you click to go to the next page, it opens a window. What the hell?

What? Well, yes, I have been reading books about UX lately, why?
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:55 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Humph. It seems to me that if you read enough of an author's work to denigrate it in biting, incisive terms you probably enjoyed the experience more than you let on.

A book can have enough narrative force that you want to read it all the way through even though you aren't enjoying it. This happened to me with Ann-Marie MacDonald's Fall on Your Knees. I hated that damn book, except for Kathleen's lovely "diary entries" describing her musical studies in New York. I complained bitterly about it to a friend of mine, who in exasperation ordered me to stop reading it, but I just couldn't stop reading until I was done. I won't be reading it ever again though!

I've got a book review site, and it's actually more fun and more interesting to write reviews about books you don't like, or even if you only like some aspects of it, than those you really love. It's hard not to sound like a gushing fan when you love a book; by contrast, examining the ways a book failed and making fun of it is way easier and more enjoyable.
posted by orange swan at 7:07 AM on April 19, 2010


Yeah, I wrote a big essay on how unbelievably bad Clive Barkers's Jericho is and I sure didn't enjoy what I went through to be able to write it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:10 AM on April 19, 2010


I complained bitterly about it to a friend of mine, who in exasperation ordered me to stop reading it, but I just couldn't stop reading until I was done

If I'm already halfway through a book I don't like, I tend to stay with it out of sheer spite and self-loathing for theses are the bitter drops for which I water my wretched garden.

Case in point: Dry, which I knew I was going to hate within 3 pages but kept at it out of morbid curiosity into just how bad this can get*. This is also why i suffered through My Friend Leonard cause I could not believe that anyone if more then a passing knowledge of narrative, character, action, or basic English syntax could have read it and not been crippled with laughter.


*really really bad FYI
posted by The Whelk at 7:13 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


theses are the bitter drops for which I water my wretched garden.

Reminds me of my last semester in grad school.
posted by runningwithscissors at 7:22 AM on April 19, 2010


It makes me really happy that The Whelk's post about hating Dry is immediately followed by a comment by runningwithscissors.

/booknerd
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:27 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


For me, life's too short to spend it reading books I don't like.

Having said that, on more than one occasion I have disliked a book enough to give up on it a third of the way through, only to pick it up later and love it. Case in point, The Man in the High Castle.
posted by That's Numberwang! at 7:28 AM on April 19, 2010


Horace Rumpole: "It makes me really happy that The Whelk's post about hating Dry is immediately followed by a comment by runningwithscissors."

I didn't think of that! Damn book, ruining my username based on my love for crafting.
posted by runningwithscissors at 7:30 AM on April 19, 2010


Sword of Shanara, by Terry Brooks. Given my, uh, low standards as a kid(you wouldn't believe how much Hickman and Weis I consumed), yet Sword of Shanara got the boot after roughly five pages.

Somehow, though, I made it through The Corrections. To this day, I wish I'd spent that time picking at scabs.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:33 AM on April 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


This list omits Ernest Hemingway's dig at T.S. Eliot (after hearing Eliot compared to Joseph Conrad): "If I knew that by grinding Mr. T.S. Eliot into a find dry powder and sprinkling that powder over Mr. Conrad's grave Mr. Conrad would shortly appear, looking very annoyed at the forced return, and commence writing, I would leave for London early tomorrow with a sausage grinder."
posted by onlyconnect at 7:37 AM on April 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


Case in point: Dry, which I knew I was going to hate within 3 pages but kept at it out of morbid curiosity into just how bad this can get*.

I sympathize. I am nine books into the Steven Erikson Malazan books, driven more out of some unholy compulsion than any expectation of enjoyment. It's like watching atrain crash into my own head in slow motion, and I can't stop myself!
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:06 AM on April 19, 2010


Mark Twain really just hated everyone.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:11 AM on April 19, 2010


Philip Hensher's review of James Thackara's The Book of Kings is one of my favourite scathing reviews. The entire review is hilarious, but some highlights follow:

And it's terrible. Startlingly badly written, with no apparent understanding of what drives people or how people relate or talk to each other, it is a book of gigantic, hopeless awfulness. You read it to a constant, internal muttering of 'Oh - God - Thackara - please, don't - no - oh, God, just listen to this rubbish'. It's so awful, it's not even funny. There is not one decent sentence in the book, nothing but falsity and a useless sincerity. It may be the very worst novel I have ever read.

...

The awful thing is that Thackara really wants to say something. He is utterly sincere and will probably be admired by people who believe that sincerity, rather than art, is the basis of a great novel. He is probably a nice man. He obviously cares deeply about these great historical movements and has done a great deal of research - my God, he has researched and researched and researched. But on the evidence of The Book of Kings, he could not write 'Bum' on a wall.
posted by sagwalla at 8:28 AM on April 19, 2010


One of my all-time favorite (non-literary) takedowns was in the ruling issued by an Irish court in an entirely bullshit suit brought by an uncle of mine. After explaining at length all of the reasons the plaintiff was full of beans, the court found that "his case is untrammeled by merit." Which even scans nicely.
posted by bokane at 8:55 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Samuel Johnson ones are legit ...
Although the list does suggest that Johnson was so offended by Swift, he continued to rail at him seven years beyond the grave. Which he may well have done—who knows?

Actually, the list could have been filled almost entirely with Nabokov quotes, which are frequently hilarious (if not always critically well-directed):

On Catch 22:
a torrent of trash, dialogical diarrhea, the more or less automatic produce of a prolix typewriter.
On Dostoevsky:
A good third [of readers] do not know the difference between real literature and pseudo-literature, and to such readers Dostoevsky may seem more important and more artistic than such trash as our American historical novels or things called From Here to Eternity and such like balderdash.
On Dostoevsky again:
Tolstoy is the greatest Russian writer of prose fiction. Leaving aside his precursors Pushkin and Lermontov, we might list the greatest artists in Russian prose thus: first, Tolstoy; second, Gogol; third, Chekhov; fourth, Turgenev.... This is rather like grading students' papers and no doubt Dostoevsky and Saltykov are waiting at the door of my office to discuss their low marks. (More like that here.)
On E. M. Forster:
My knowledge of Mr. Forster's works is limited to one novel, which I dislike ...
On Alexander Blok:
Blok's ... long pieces are weak, and the famous The Twelve is dreadful, self-consciously couched in a phony "primitive" tone, with a pink cardboard Jesus glued on at the end ...
Actually, this whole interview is packed with them. Nabokov really was one of the great literary haters.
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:08 AM on April 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Sometimes there is elegance in simplicity.

"The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good." - Stephen King
posted by kafziel at 9:12 AM on April 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


What's up with the Examiner.com? Is it nontent?

And nothing from Philip Roth? That bah-humburger usually eviscerates my favorite authors in less than 5 words.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:23 AM on April 19, 2010


All of these seem to be taken from Poisoned Pens by Gary Dexter, a worthwhile read BTW. Poor old Austen does get it in the ear a bit and one of the most common detractors appears to be Arnold Bennett. He had a go at everyone. And is, of course, not much read these days.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 9:34 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


What is p@# supposed to stand for?

"Your poetry is complete p at-sign octothorpe!"

It's a Victorian proto-mechanical-relay-punk insult.
posted by zippy at 9:57 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Humph. It seems to me that if you read enough of an author's work to denigrate it in biting, incisive terms you probably enjoyed the experience more than you let on.

I am so tired of this argument.

You see, I hate the Harry Potter books. "Have you READ them?" Yes, I read the first couple. "Well, you have to read more than that, they get better! You can't say you hate all of them without reading them!" Ok, I read more. I still don't like them. "Well, you should see the movies, then you'll like them." Ok, I've seen the movies. Still think the series is crap. "Have you read all the books? You have to read all the books to fully understand how good they are!" OK, fine, I've read all the books, seen all the films. Still don't like it. "Ha HA! See, they must be good! If they were crap, why did you keep reading them? Why are you so vehement about disliking it? The lady doth protest too much!! I know you secretly LOVE Harry Potter and you're just saying you don't because you want to be contrary!!"
posted by The otter lady at 10:15 AM on April 19, 2010 [9 favorites]


For non-fiction takedown of amusing and inspired nastiness it is hard to do better than the American historian Bernard Bailyn. I always perked up when I saw he had reviewed a book or an article I had to read, because the man writes with bile dripping from his pen.

To give you a sample of the sorts of things he was accustomed to say in reviews, here's an excerpt from his review of Traian Stoianovich's book surveying the French historical school commonly referred to as the Annales school. The whole review is biting, but I've always enjoyed this bit.
Indeed, one can argue that what Stoianovich has isolated and summarized are not the strengths of the Annales school- which lie in the substance of their often brillant writing, their flair for bringing together otherwise isolated data, and above all their gift for assembling and using imaginatively new bodies of documentation- but their weaknesses: their penchant for high-flown theories, their infatuation with polysyllabic language, their sheer verbal intoxication. Stoianovich takes all their vaporizing seriously, though it is often prefatory or sealed off in the articles on meta-history, meta-social science, meta-everything that crowd the pages of the Annales and other French scholarly journals. Like Braudel, endlessly refining the theoretical structure of his famous Méditerranée as if it were some heavenly disposition, whereas in fact it is the weakest part of that extraordinary work (extraordinary because Braudel is a brilliantly imaginative and remarkably learned historian in a very traditional sense), Stoianovich mistakes what these scholars say about what they do, and what they think about what they do, for what it is they in fact do. And what they say and think about what they do is often couched either in that awful jargon that seems to be attractive to French social historians or in the gasping declarations apparently made fashionable by Lucien Febvre.
posted by winna at 10:27 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


A friend and I have graphed the putdowns using some experimental software we're working on.

(firefox and safari only) graph of putdowns

screenshot of raw graph
posted by honest knave at 10:28 AM on April 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sword of Shanara

That first book in the Shannara series was just so bad. I remember reading it in my early teens while on vacation, and being dreadfully bored, shocked that anyone could make such a blatant copy of Tolkien and get away with it. But I had nothing else to do, and stayed with it. I remember the climax as being quite creative and unexpected, but the endless derivative tedium to get there was extremely unfulfilling. It amazes me that he built a career on such a weak foundation.

Oddly, though, I've quite enjoyed some of the later ones. He did redeem himself. I certainly wouldn't call any of his stuff Literature, not even close, but his books eventually became worth killing trees to print, quite unlike that first execrable effort.

I gather that first one sold really well, too, and I'm sure I picked it up BECAUSE it was selling well, likely encouraging yet more people to do so..... a positive feedback loop for a poor novel. It took probably a decade before I was willing to chance another. And, let me tell you, if a 13- or 14-year old thinks you've written a bad book, and can give you solid reasons why he thinks that, chances are pretty good that it's terrible. :)

Yet, somehow, he wrote steadily the whole time, so I assume others weren't as disapproving as I was.
posted by Malor at 10:37 AM on April 19, 2010


mediareport: i surrender the point. you were obviously there, i wasn't.
posted by kitchenrat at 10:44 AM on April 19, 2010


sagwalla: Philip Hensher's review of James Thackara's The Book of Kings is one of my favourite scathing reviews. The entire review is hilarious

Equally hilarious is James Thackara's Wikipedia entry which is so over the top in praise one suspects that it was written by Thackara himself on a coke-bender. Here are some highlights (I've removed the citations):
The vast landscapes and range of themes and character in his most recent novel The Book of Kings have frequently been compared to works of the definitive Russian and German writers. However, the fusion of narrative styles, storytelling across social classes, and a transcontinental canvas are New World and contemporary. Thackara’s concerns, unusual in his time, are aesthetic and moral. He uses literature’s incantatory powers to make his subjects’ often tragic dilemmas the reader’s felt experience. Reading Thackara can equally be an escape into realms of sublime beauty or a harrowing confrontation with possible personal damnation or universal extinction.

[...]

His extended time in Rome from 1956 until 1971 occurred during Italy's film’s golden age, which was to have important implications.

[...]

In London from 1967 to 1971, Thackara wrote two novels, a book of philosophy and a study of a no-growth economy, nature preservation, and wars between the sexes over reproductive laboratories; but he did not submit them for publication.

[...]

The basis of some disapproval of Thackara is that his language can become inhumanly exalted; his characters’ metaphysical conjectures weigh down the text; and the sprinkling of different languages requires a skill not found in most readers.
Almost all of it seems to have been written by one Wikipedia contributor called Lumenlitt, who seems to have contributed little else to Wikipedia.
posted by Kattullus at 10:57 AM on April 19, 2010


You see, I hate the Harry Potter books. "Have you READ them?" Yes, I read the first couple. "Well, you have to read more than that, they get better! You can't say you hate all of them without reading them!" Ok, I read more. I still don't like them. "Well, you should see the movies, then you'll like them." Ok, I've seen the movies. Still think the series is crap.

Wizard People, Dear Reader
posted by mrgrimm at 10:58 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


At least everyone agrees Jane Austen is terrible.
posted by Juicy Avenger at 11:29 AM on April 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


No Henry Miller punching Gore Vidal and Vidal responding "Henry has such a way with words"? Lame.

I heard that it was Norman Mailer who punched Vidal and that Vidal said "Words fail Norman Mailer yet again".
posted by kenko at 11:36 AM on April 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


Lots of negative assessments of artists by other artists in the same fields to be found in David Markson's recent output, btw.
posted by kenko at 11:38 AM on April 19, 2010


The list missed Ezra Pound on Finnegans Wake - "Nothing so far as I can make out, nothing short of divine vision or a new cure for the clapp can possibly be worth all that circumambient peripherization."
posted by scodger at 12:07 PM on April 19, 2010


Yeah, Navokov can screw right off. There's nothing "best" about put-downs all based on his obessive belief that literature is about sentence structure and word play. I'll take character, themes, plot and the "general ideas" he contemptuously mocked over "clever" anagrams any day.
posted by spaltavian at 12:13 PM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


"If Mr Shaw attacks Shakespeare, he acts in justified self-defense." —Karl Kraus
posted by Syme at 12:24 PM on April 19, 2010


"Mr. Bentham's works have been translated into French. They should have been translated into English." --Hazlitt.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 12:40 PM on April 19, 2010


I very rarely just stop reading a book and put it away. In 1992 a book stole about 3 weeks of bedtime reading from me, and I want it back!

The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. Seriously, Allan Guganus owes me big. I picked it up somewhere and began reading. It was tedious, but I kept thinking, "hey, he's going somewhere with this," so I kept on reading. Where it ended up...I threw the book against the wall and was disappointed that it didn't disintegrate into a pile of dust.

DAMN IT! I'm still pissed off!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:56 PM on April 19, 2010


What about academics' put-downs of other academics? I particularly like Housman:

"If a man will comprehend the richness and variety of the universe, and inspire his mind with a due measure of wonder and of awe, he must contemplate the human intellect not only on its heights of genius but in its abysses of ineptitude ; and it might be fruitlessly debated to the end of time whether Richard Bentley or Elias Stoeber was the more marvellous work of the Creator. Elias Stoeber, whose reprint of Bentley's text, with a commentary intended to confute it, saw the light in 1767 at Strasburg, a city still famous for its geese. This commentary is a performance in comparison with which the Aetna of Mr S. Sudhaus is a work of science and of genius. Stoeber's mind, though that is no name to call it by, was one which turned as unswervingly to the false, the meaningless, the unmetrical, and the ungrammatical, as the needle to the pole."

Or perhaps still worse:

"Not only had Jacob no sense for grammar, no sense for coherency, no sense for sense, but being himself possessed by a passion for the clumsy and the hispid he imputed this disgusting taste to all the authors whom he edited; and Manilius, the one Latin poet who excels even Ovid in verbal point and smartness, is accordingly constrained to write the sort of poetry which might have been composed by Nebuchadnezzar when he was driven from men and did eat grass as oxen."
posted by dd42 at 1:22 PM on April 19, 2010


I heard that it was Norman Mailer who punched Vidal and that Vidal said "Words fail Norman Mailer yet again".

I think that's right. Here's Mailer vs. Vidal (et al) on the Dick Cavett Show. (more, from Dick Cavett himself)
posted by mrgrimm at 1:32 PM on April 19, 2010


I stand corrected!
posted by The Whelk at 2:01 PM on April 19, 2010


Truer words were never spoken of Bulwer-Lytton, who deservedly has a bad writing competition named after him:

7. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, according to Nathaniel Hawthorne (1851)

Bulwer nauseates me; he is the very pimple of the age's humbug. There is no hope of the public, so long as he retains an admirer, a reader, or a publisher.


Also, too bad we can't set Twain and Nabakov up for a semi final round to see which is the champion of hating other authors.

Finally, is it just me who read the exellent putdowns of composers (esp. Wagner) by other composers in Dim Siawns' link above, and wondered why the composers' critiques are so much more succinct and witty than the authors'?
posted by bearwife at 2:05 PM on April 19, 2010


I particularly like Housman:

Housman's true masterpiece in this line is a poem, Fragment of a Greek Tragedy (1884), which is a double whack at classical drama and Victorian translations thereof.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:16 PM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mary McCarthy criticizing Salinger sounds oddly like a Salinger character herself.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 2:20 PM on April 19, 2010


As a Victorianist, I must say with great regret that Bulwer-Lytton, alas, is an important novelist. He invented, popularized, or significantly influenced just about every genre on offer at the time. It's kind of annoying, really.

More acerbic literary criticism in poetic form: Swinburne on Tennyson.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:22 PM on April 19, 2010


It seems to me that if you read enough of an author's work to denigrate it in biting, incisive terms you probably enjoyed the experience more than you let on.

One can enjoy a weekend bender while in the middle of it, but that doesn't make you proud of the fact or look back on it as time well spent. Indeed, weird but true, one can hate oneself for every page of read but still keep turning.

Narrative flow, though it can make an author rich, cannot of itself make an author good.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:37 PM on April 19, 2010


Metafilter: Everyone loves (x), right? Ho ho, not me!
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:39 PM on April 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wonder why it is that Mr. Hemingway is so acutely aware of this phenomenon? At least with Faulkner you can tell when he started drinking, with Ernie, you can tell when the bender of testosterone and cheap scotch was over when you reach the last page.

Oh goodie, it's time to play "let's pretend Hemingway was a poor writer by retroactively applying modern concepts of gender roles to someone who lived in the 1920s." And anyway, that hyper-masculine persona he cultivated is not really even in his work that much, if you read it.

This reminds me of when one my dad's blowhard "literary" friends told me Hemingway wasn't a great writer because he "never wrote a great female character." To which I respond:

a) Wrong. There is at least one in "For Whom The Bell Tolls," and certainly one in "Garden of Eden." and

b) He never wrote a story about a sass-talking penguin either- what the fuck is your point?

Faulkner, on the other hand, is unreadable and deserves to be forgotten.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:45 PM on April 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


(drop that "of")
posted by IndigoJones at 2:51 PM on April 19, 2010


This reminds me of when one my dad's blowhard "literary" friends told me Hemingway wasn't a great writer because he "never wrote a great female character." To which I respond:

...

b) He never wrote a story about a sass-talking penguin either- what the fuck is your point?


Do you really think that these are comparable?
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:18 PM on April 19, 2010 [8 favorites]


'Paradise Lost' is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is.
This is so true of so many classic books...
posted by aesacus at 4:18 PM on April 19, 2010


drjimmy11: Oh goodie, it's time to play "let's pretend Hemingway was a poor writer by retroactively applying modern concepts of gender roles to someone who lived in the 1920s." And anyway, that hyper-masculine persona he cultivated is not really even in his work that much, if you read it.

This reminds me of when one my dad's blowhard "literary" friends told me Hemingway wasn't a great writer because he "never wrote a great female character."


At his best Hemingway wrote great female characters, and wrote wonderfully about things that at his time, and even to this day, are mostly the preserve of female writers. Hills Like White Elephants is one of the most sensitive stories about abortion I've ever read. At his worst he was misogynist of myth and legend. It's not changing gender mores that make his chauvinistic material so painful to read but rather the quality of his better work
posted by Kattullus at 4:19 PM on April 19, 2010


I think many people have this image of Hemingway in their head that messes with their perceptions of his work. "Indian Camp", just to name one example, seems really critical of the way men treat women (particularly non-white-women) that people tend to miss.

Of course, it's Hemingway's own fault since he cultivated this hyper-masculine image. He's a wonderful writer (and so is Faulkner, one is allowed to like them both) but he was basically a huge jerk to a lot of people. I think it's necessary to acknowledge both facts.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:23 PM on April 19, 2010


Oh goodie, it's time to play "let's pretend Hemingway was a poor writer by retroactively applying modern concepts of gender roles to someone who lived in the 1920s.

Even though I like Hemingway, this is so silly. Mrs. Dalloway came out in 1925. Ulysses came out a few years earlier. A Doll's House came out in 1879! Viewing women as people was hardly a crazy avant garde idea in the 20s, and feminist criticism of Hemingway is perfectly reasonable.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:28 PM on April 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


Friend of mine likes Hemingway but can;t really love Hemingway (in the re-read for pleasure sense) cause of the random "And then he touched her with his horrible Jew-Hands!" stuff. I have the same problem Chandler, like "I'm enjoying-I'm enjoying-I'm enjoying- "nasty like a fag"- what?" and then I'm out.
posted by The Whelk at 5:31 PM on April 19, 2010


in that it's so casual and out of left-field that it makes me more uncomfortable then something that is more blatant.
posted by The Whelk at 5:32 PM on April 19, 2010


I'm reading Don Quixote at the moment, and quite enjoying it FWIW.
posted by FusiveResonance at 6:02 PM on April 19, 2010


Faulkner, on the other hand, is unreadable and deserves to be forgotten.

This elevation of personal preference into normative proscription strikes me as the very essence of "blowhard".
posted by Wolof at 11:36 PM on April 19, 2010


What? No Hunter S Thompson calling Tom Wolf a Thieving pile of albino warts?
posted by Hickeystudio at 1:24 AM on April 20, 2010


Metafilter: The very pimple of the age's humbug.
posted by h00py at 3:58 AM on April 20, 2010


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