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Overrated Writers
August 11, 2010 10:09 AM   Subscribe

The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers by Anis Shivani

Because slideshows are a PITA:

William T. Vollmann (Prostitutes and Pornography)
Exemplary Sentence: "A squat black telephone, I mean an octopus, the god of our Signal Corps, owns a recess in Berlin (more probably Moscow, which one German general has named the core of the enemy's whole being).

Amy Tan (Mothers and Daughters and Dirty Laundry)
Exemplary Sentence: "'A mother is best. A mother knows what is inside you,' she said above the singing voices. 'A psyche-atricks will only make you hulihudu, make you see heimongmong.'"

John Ashbery (Self-Portrait in a Broken Mirror)
Exemplary Lines: "The sheiks protest use of / aims. In the past / coal has protected their / O long, watchful hour. / the engines had been humming / stones of March in the gray woods / still, the rods, could not they take long / More anthems until dust / flocks disguised machine."

Mary Oliver (Porcupines and Toads and Opossums and Turtles)
Exemplary lines: "My right hand / was holding my left hand / which was holding the tree / which was filled with stars // and the soft rain-- / imagine! imagine! / the long and wondrous journeys / still to be ours."

Helen Vendler (Technicalities and Architectonics)
Exemplary sentence: "No new generalizations about [George] Herbert are proposed in this book."

Antonya Nelson (Alcoholics, Abusers, Addicts, and Adulterers)
Exemplary Sentence: "It was impossible to imagine her cousin having sex with her father--a man with porkchop sideburns whom Edie had met just once long ago--without also imagining herself having sex with her father."

Sharon Olds (Tampons and Lactation)
Exemplary Lines: "If anyone had ever told me / I would sit by him [her father] and he'd pull up his nightie / and I'd look at his naked body, at the thick / bud of his glans, his penis in all that / sparse hair, look at him / in affection and uneasy wonder / I would not have believed it."

Jorie Graham (The Dream of the Unified Field)
Exemplary Lines: "[suddenly] / [breathless with excitement she] / [best not to] / [is different now] / [crown the color of] / [hearing the wild birds in their] / [although it's early morning, I] / [dark forelock combed back, damp] / [days]."

Jonathan Safran Foer (Idiot Savants and Suave Idiots)
Exemplary sentence: "I read the first chapter of A Brief History of Time when Dad was still alive, and I got incredibly heavy boots about how relatively insignificant life is, and how, compared to the universe and compared to time, it didn't even matter if I existed at all."

Jhumpa Lahiri (Nationalities and Meritocracies)
Exemplary Sentence: "He [Gogol] recognizes a few familiar faces tonight: Edith and Colin, who teach sociology at Princeton and Yale, respectively, and Louise and Blake, both Ph.D. candidates, like Moushumi, at NYU."

Junot Diaz (Abuelos and Hijas)
Exemplary Sentence: "Negro, please." OK, a longer one: "He wore his semi-kink hair in a Puerto Rican afro, rocked enormous Section 8 glasses--his "anti-pussy devices," Al and Miggs, his only friends, called them--sported an unappealing trace of mustache on his upper lip and possessed a set of close-set eyes that made him look somewhat retarded."

Louise Gluck (Odysseus and Ostracization)
Exemplary Lines: "This, this is the meaning of / 'a fortunate life': it means / to exist in the present."

Michael Cunningham (Cakes and Ale)
Exemplary Sentence: "There's just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we've ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult."

Billy Collins (Angels on Pins and Walking Across the Atlantic)
Exemplary Lines: "I woke up this morning, / as the blues singers like to boast, / and the first thing to enter my mind, / as the dog was licking my face, was Coventry Patmore."

Michiko Kakutani (Chekhovian and Forsterian)
Exemplary Sentence: "Junot Diaz's Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a wondrous, not-so-brief first novel that is so original it can only be described as Mario Vargas Llosa meets Star Trek meets David Foster Wallace meets Kanye West."
posted by shotgunbooty (167 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
How is Billy Collins on the list as opposed to existed as the Platonic Ideal of overrated-ness against which all others shall be judged and found wanting?
posted by griphus at 10:12 AM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Why not just rename this article "Who The Fuck Is Anis Shivani?"
posted by fungible at 10:15 AM on August 11, 2010 [26 favorites]


Why not just rename this article "Who The Fuck Is Anis Shivani? The Last Fifteen Authors I Read?"
posted by gagglezoomer at 10:18 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm gonna go ahead and assume Anis Shivani is a content farm sharecropper, albeit a well-read one.
posted by ghharr at 10:18 AM on August 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


A) Ranting at postmodernism these days is like yelling at the clouds.

B) How refreshing to find a list of writers qua writers not dominated by white men of privilege.
posted by kipmanley at 10:19 AM on August 11, 2010 [10 favorites]


I was going to jump in and snark "The one most overrated contemporary literature blogger: Anis Shivani." But, you know, at least this list was a little different than the one that I expected -- the one that reflect those old stalking horses of the BR Myers crowd. So, no snark here.

Nevertheless, for the most part, most of these folks don't strike me as over-rated by any reader I know. In fact, most of these authors strike me as just about perfectly-rated as interesting writers who can sometimes let their affectations get the better of them. Their most affected sentences -- offered here as "exemplary lines" -- don't strike me as good bits of evidence with which to try these folks. I have read and enjoyed the writings of most of these authors. I've also rolled my eyes at some other things they've written.

I will say that I was amused by Michiko Kakutani's inclusion on this list. Without a doubt, she's the most formulaic writer in the bunch, and I don't know who takes her opinion seriously anymore. Her reviews haven't helped me for years, with these exceptions: 1) When she doesn't seem to understand a novel, it might actually be interesting. 2) If she's extraordinarily effusive about a new author, I try to stay the hell away.
posted by .kobayashi. at 10:19 AM on August 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Needs more Dave Eggers.
posted by felix betachat at 10:20 AM on August 11, 2010 [19 favorites]


I thought I was fairly well-read, but I haven't heard of most of these authors. Are they truly overrated, or are they just darlings of the ivory tower set?

Or maybe I'm just an ignorant plebe.
posted by jnrussell at 10:20 AM on August 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


To be overrated, I think some of these authors would have to be more highly rated to begin with.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 10:20 AM on August 11, 2010 [10 favorites]


I don't know most of them (though from the excerpts I know now to avoid a number of them), but to not like Everything is Illuminated or anything Junot Diaz writes puts this woman firmly on my enemies list.
posted by opsin at 10:22 AM on August 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


Few adjectives are less illuminating when applied to an artist than 'underrated' and 'overrated.' I would have learned just as much about modern literature from an article called The 15 Most Blurgtyblurpt Contemporary American Writers.
posted by Kattullus at 10:22 AM on August 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


Anis Shivani
Is green with envy
And one of many
Writing for pennies
posted by swift at 10:23 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ahem. Bloke.
posted by opsin at 10:23 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are these well known writers? I've only every heard of two of them (Tan and Collins).
posted by octothorpe at 10:27 AM on August 11, 2010


Oh, buzz off, Shivani. Here for the curious is his less than overwhelming website.

I'm not a guru of contemporary literature, but Amy Tan was a fine writer before she became sick, I can appreciate Foer even if he isn't my favorite, and Billy Collins is an outstanding poet whose name will long survive Shivani's, imo.

I'd add, since I do like older American literature, that I am very fond of the Booth Tarkington novels that won the Pulitzer, think John Hersey is one of the most under-appreciated novelists of the 20th century, and admire both Edna Ferber's So Big and Thornton Wilder's Bridge of San Luis Rey. And what's so great about Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer? (Shouldn't have been banned, but hardly a great read.) And Shivani missed mentioning some really tremendous books by Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, and John dos Passos (including his USA trilogy.)

We may well need better literary critics . . . sadly, their medium, magazines and newspapers, is in sharp decline -- but Shivani isn't a candidate in my book.
posted by bearwife at 10:28 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Most contemporary fiction is just terrible.

However, does anything on Earth take less effort then to make a list of people and call them "overrated?" A *list* for fuck's sake. There are 13 year-olds putting more thought and literary acumen into Live Journal posts right now.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:29 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Anis Shivani is right on target. I just wish he'd included Jonathan Franzen.

Sharon Olds, Louise Gluck, and Jorie Graham are indeed the scourge trinity of modern poetry.

puts this woman firmly on my enemies list.

Anis Shivani is male.
posted by blucevalo at 10:29 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Literary Critic Hates Vaginas
posted by xod at 10:30 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


And Shivani missed mentioning some really tremendous books by Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, and John dos Passos (including his USA trilogy.)

These are not contemporary authors.
posted by blucevalo at 10:31 AM on August 11, 2010


Where's that Dery guy when we need him? I bet he could flame out with 30 or 90 paragraphs of obfuscated fol-de-rol about this.
posted by Babblesort at 10:32 AM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I believe Billy Collins is responsible for one of my favorite observations of all time, in an interview on NPR, saying that new residential development names are essentially epitaphs. "Bear Hill Condominums" "Eagle's Crossing" "Strawberry Fields Retirement" -- basically gravestones for whatever has been replaced by the buildings.

I always credit Billy Collins, even though I'm not sure it was him. I rarely drive past a "Deer Run Condos" without thinking of it.

As far as this list -- seems mean. Aren't there people way more worthy of taking shots at than writers? Charlie Sheen still has a career and Dick Cheney is still alive. You want me to give Sharon Olds a hard time?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:33 AM on August 11, 2010 [18 favorites]


Look, Indie Rock Pete has a cunning pseudonym!
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 10:34 AM on August 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


Mean-spirited and somewhat random in its inclusions and exclusions. Like any best/worst list.

it looks like Anis Shivani positions himself as an enemy of literary sacred cows - some of his essay commentary is on the uselessness of MFA programs and similar. This has certainly driven a lot of traffic to his column, website, and book pages.
posted by Miko at 10:34 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]



These are not contemporary authors.


I know, but the body of Shivani's article is an attack on the Pulitzer choices from 1918-30 and I am critiquing his opinions on that subject. Which undermine my faith in the reliability of his "list" as to contemporary authors I haven't read.
posted by bearwife at 10:34 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bet this guy has a twelve line auto-sig.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:36 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whoops, you're right. Sorry about that.
posted by blucevalo at 10:36 AM on August 11, 2010


(directed to bearwife)
posted by blucevalo at 10:37 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


This reads very much like an all-but-unknown writer's personal sour-grapes list; any desire to take a look at Shivani's own work to see how it compares is eradicated by his astounding revelation that the books that win Pulitzers often aren't the ones that become the beloved classics of high-school English classes. (Heaven help us if he finds out about the Oscars.) Of the authors he lists,

I've heard of Safran Foer and read only Vollmann, and then only when I was much younger and trying to be a serious reader, if not a serious writer. Even though I put down Vollmann decades ago and have never been tempted to pick him up again, I can't imagine ever being interested in things like notes that he wrote to his editor at Viking, for fuck's sake.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:37 AM on August 11, 2010


I've never heard of any of them, except for Amy Tan and Billy Collins. To be fair, my tastes don't exactly run the "literary." Let me know when someone posts a list of the 15 most overrated fantasy authors; then I'll snark at that author, because s/he will undoubtedly be a pompous ass.
posted by Caduceus at 10:38 AM on August 11, 2010


I love the explanation on the Huffington Post of who Anis Shivani is:

Anis Shivani
Writer


Oh, cool, guess he must know what he's talking about then
posted by Greg Nog at 10:38 AM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


On the other hand, I messed up a paragraph break in a short comment, so who am I to judge, eh?
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:38 AM on August 11, 2010


I like the Jezebel take down xod posted much better than this article.
posted by shothotbot at 10:39 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


1. Dan Brown. 2. Dan Brown. 3. Dan Brown. 4. Dan Brown. 5. Dan Brown. 6. Dan Brown. 7. Dan Brown. 8. Dan Brown. 9. Dan Brown. 10. Dan Brown. 11. Dan Brown. 12. Dan Brown. 13. Dan Brown. 14. Dan Brown. 15. Dan Brown.
posted by Gator at 10:43 AM on August 11, 2010 [12 favorites]


There are 13 year-olds putting more thought and literary acumen into Live Journal posts right now.

This.
posted by callmejay at 10:43 AM on August 11, 2010


I believe Billy Collins is responsible for one of my favorite observations of all time, in an interview on NPR, saying that new residential development names are essentially epitaphs. "Bear Hill Condominums" "Eagle's Crossing" "Strawberry Fields Retirement" -- basically gravestones for whatever has been replaced by the buildings.

Pfft, that was done, like, 50 years ago in a gag strip ("Elm Street... Oak Street... they just name the street after the trees they cut down to build it!") featuring one of Harvey Comics' "Little ..." characters.

COMICS > POESY
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:45 AM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


So a friend who got her MFA and PhD the past few years and is now teaching lit at UTenn posted this on her Facebook and this is what I said:

that barb in the first paragraph about post-structuralists is a little weird and, i think, a little telling (oh huffpo, you never fail!). but anyway, my personal list includes...

jeffrey eugenides
david foster wallace
both martin and kingsley... amis
ian mcewan, AT TIMES (when i finished the cement garden i almost tossed the book at the wall in exasperation, no lie)
murakami, good god
norman mailer, still
dh lawrence!!
(note: obviously not contemporary, but I had just been arguing about him for the umpteenth time with some guy friends)

i agree about jonathan safran foer though, yeah, and yes yes yes to billy collins. where he's not even bad so much as a shining indicator you're talking to someone who doesn't actually bother much with poetry but has settled on this pop lite comfortable version for the most part, YES. the equivalent lazy-service-signaling-wise of palahniuk in poetic form...

BUT: screw him for dismissively sniffily badmouthing hempel and bender et al. grar. what's next, being too cool for berriault? and OH MY GOD, john ashbery?!!!!! are you fucking shitting me?

/idiosyncratic but highly opinionated take!


Sorry Mefi. I know a lot of ya like Collins. And don't get me wrong, I don't think he's bad--just, yeah, like Sedaris and Palahniuk, one of those "the one author who"s--the one writer people will say over and over they read and like. S'weird. Murakami too for that matter.

/inner bitchiness
posted by ifjuly at 10:48 AM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I HATE literary fiction but loved Everything Is Illuminated.

Also that Junot Diaz guy is cute.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:49 AM on August 11, 2010


Yeah, I don't even know what influenced him to throw Junot on this list, exemplary sentences be damned. I like other folks on the list, too, but that's just messed up.
posted by redsparkler at 10:49 AM on August 11, 2010


Why does every entry begin with "[author]'s fans say he/she is X, but REALLY he/she is not X at all," and go on to imply that all of [author]'s fans are deluded, moronic, or possibly corrupt in selecting said author as a beloved role model?
posted by Scattercat at 10:51 AM on August 11, 2010


Can't any of you come up with a criticism less idiotic and hackneyed than "I don't see HIS name on the bestseller list"? Do you not criticize the food at restaurants either?
posted by nasreddin at 10:52 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I dig Junot Diaz, but Foer I can totally see on the list, even though I enjoyed his playful use of language in Everything Is Illuminated.
posted by Mister_A at 10:55 AM on August 11, 2010


Respect you, ifjuly. But I love poetry. I read it a lot. I've even taken courses on it, I like it that much. And I think Billy Collins is amazing. Not all of us who like him are fluffy or "pop lite" on poetry.

With you on Palahniuk though.

Also, gator, I couldn't agree with you more than Dan Brown is worse than dreck, but no worries, no one will ever list him as a Pulitzer contender.
posted by bearwife at 10:56 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sorry, that should have been "that Dan Brown is worse than dreck."
posted by bearwife at 10:58 AM on August 11, 2010


Can't any of you come up with a criticism less idiotic and hackneyed than "I don't see HIS name on the bestseller list"?

We could, but why?
posted by Greg Nog at 10:58 AM on August 11, 2010


Assuming it's not purely calculated as something-for-everybody clickbait (which is probably a faulty assumption), the weird scattershot heterogeneity of this list makes you wonder who Shivani hangs out with. It's very hard to imagine a reader who simultaneously "overrates" William Vollman and Amy Tan, or Billy Collins and Jorie Graham (to say nothing of John Ashbery). Including both halves undercuts the whole project, since it makes it totally unclear whether the point of the utterly predictable condemnations that follow is that the lower-middlebrow bestsellers are insufficiently literary, or that the academic darlings are too insular and cryptic.

But then I guess it's a mistake to expect a coherent, sensible, or interesting argument from this kind of thing, since it's just a Digg-bait list in literary drag, a vehicle for siphoning CPMs from the New Yorker readership.
posted by RogerB at 10:58 AM on August 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


He's right about Jhumpa Lahiri. My God, how self-indulgent can one woman be?
posted by 1adam12 at 10:59 AM on August 11, 2010


Sorry Mefi. I know a lot of ya like Collins. And don't get me wrong, I don't think he's bad--just, yeah, like Sedaris and Palahniuk, one of those "the one author who"s--the one writer people will say over and over they read and like. S'weird. Murakami too for that matter.

Given the choice between people who only read Collins, Sedaris, and Palahniuk, and people who don't read at all, I'll take the former group any day of the week.
posted by Caduceus at 10:59 AM on August 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


William T. Vollman could kick Anis Shivani's ass. Not at writing – I mean, that too, he definitely could – but literally, he could kick Shivani's ass.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:02 AM on August 11, 2010


I don't really know that you can tell how over-rated someone is by a single sentence. Anyway I haven't read any of these people's books. Although I have read some of Kakutani's reviews.
posted by delmoi at 11:03 AM on August 11, 2010


I wasn't familiar with Shivani before this post, but was with the writers he tried to take down a notch. I have nothing to add to the snark on this particular list of his, but after looking at the link to his website, I read some of his other stuff. Another of his lists worth mentioning here, as a contrast to the overrated bit: 15 Feisty Small Presses. I've read a good many books from the presses he mentions there and tend to agree with what he's suggesting - that a fair amount of interesting literary fiction is flying beneath the larger cultural radar. Sure, this isn't an epiphany, but it takes energy to sift through the overwhelming volume of what's being published these days. So to the extent that he's not just a lit-crit naysayer but also tries to broaden awareness of writers/styles he enjoys or finds relevant, then he gets a pass for this bit of overrated silliness.
posted by Hesychia at 11:04 AM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


John Ashbery
YOU SHUT UP NOW
posted by juv3nal at 11:04 AM on August 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


In defense of his Vollman critique, the man's early short stuff (like the pieces in Rainbow Stories and Butterfly Stories) is better than his voluminous novels.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:06 AM on August 11, 2010


Missing Dave Eggers in positions 1 through 15, but also suspect for measuring any writer's worth by one cherry-picked sentence, no matter how rotten that particular cherry.
posted by applemeat at 11:08 AM on August 11, 2010


There's a disproportionate number of poets on this list, which might be why some of them are hard to recognize (Ashberry, Oliver, Olds, Gluck, Collins, Graham), and curiously so- why such a number of poets? It'll be interesting to see who he thinks is "underrated" in this category- although I agree with Kattulus that this is really an empty qualifier- but I can't say he's compelled me to come back and read any of his follow up lists out of anything more than idle curiosity. I do think there's an argument to be made for the literary works flying under the radar, but I'm not sure this is an effective way to make this argument.
posted by questionsandanchors at 11:09 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


The very first shared enthusiasm the then-future Mrs. Beese and I ever found was the early poetry of Sharon Olds.

If her work leaves you cold, so be it. But given how the critical hostility against her seems to focus on her vagina, I suspect more than literary discernment is at work.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:11 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised Charles Baxter didn't make this list. The most technically proficient and bland MFA-driven prose I've ever read. That said, there is a special place in Hell reserved just for Anis Shivani for calling out John Ashbery like that. (He does give John Berryman props, nearly in the same breath, which for a moment makes me think we should spare his content-farming soul. But only for a moment.)
posted by slogger at 11:17 AM on August 11, 2010


If her work leaves you cold, so be it. But given how the critical hostility against her seems to focus on her vagina, I suspect more than literary discernment is at work.

Sorry, but if your entire schtick as a poet consists of waving your vagina in front of you like a battle standard, you don't get to call sexism when people get irritated.
posted by nasreddin at 11:17 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anis Shivani
Typist

Fixed that for you.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:20 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hey bearwife, thanks for being so kind about my rant. I know it could rub some the wrong way; it's just been my experience talking with folks, and this is one of those topics I like to bicker about the way less nerdy people punch each other in the arm about sports teams, I guess. And to be clear, I don't think Collins is bad--I don't!!--it's just that every.single.person I know who loves him doesn't seem to read any other poetry, and it starts to feel like it shows. Also, I'm a little bitter about this phenomenon in contemporary poetry workshoppin' that leads to people I love like James Tate even churning out poems now that are like "here's what I had for breakfast, and the field outside is wheat-colored." I know I've ranted about this before, going to search for it...
posted by ifjuly at 11:33 AM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]



Can't any of you come up with a criticism less idiotic and hackneyed than "I don't see HIS name on the bestseller list"?


That might be a valid criticism if Shivani didn't lard his rants with inside-baseball bullshit like Vollmann's notes to his Viking editor, or Susan Olds' fandom among female poets at workshops. To address your example: yes, I would look askance at the fulminations of a food critic if they turned out to be an aspiring chef that had failed to break into the big time.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:33 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow. I'd only heard of two of them.
posted by Decani at 11:35 AM on August 11, 2010


I briefly confused John Ashbery with William Ashbless and smiled broadly.

Then I realized my mistake, and was sad.

(It's true that Ashbless is completely overrated, though. I don't care what "they" say; Twelve Hours of the Night is just awful.)
posted by ErikaB at 11:35 AM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Ooh, looks like somebody doesn't like poetry.

The quote from Diaz inspired me to run to the library and grab a copy of Oscar Wao. Anyone who could read that sentence and not smile is way too precious for me.
posted by trunk muffins at 11:39 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


What juv3nal said. Maybe you think John Ashbery is the single most important American poet of the last fifty years, and maybe you only think he's in the top ten, but putting him on this list is (to quote a recent poster on another topic) like arguing that the Beatles suck. You can do it, of course, but you'll be wrong and you'll just seem a little silly.
posted by The Bellman at 11:40 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Kakutani and her coterie have made reading the New York Times Book Review almost pointless. I feel like they just self-link and publish reviews of their friends' books. The only ones I vaguely believe are the bad reviews - and that doesn't help me find good books to read. The one nice thing is the "New and notable in paperback" column which seems to be less linked to the Kakutani lovefest.

My proposal for overrated writers: Zadie Smith, Alan Hollinghurst, Tom Robbins, John Irving

I think that some of the above comments are talking not about writers being overrated but being status symbols. If you're holding a book by one of them it puts you in a particular social pigeon hole.

Your favorite band sucks.
posted by sciencegeek at 11:40 AM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm one of the most overrated writers on Metafilter. Seriously. I wrote this comment and 4 people favorited it!
posted by mullacc at 11:41 AM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


if your entire schtick as a poet consists of waving your vagina in front of you like a battle standard, you don't get to call sexism when people get irritated

If you truly believe that this is "her entire shtick", I question your knowledgeability on the subject.

If anything, her most frequent subject has been the dysfunctional family she was raised in. There is that volume of poems about the death of her father. And just off the top of my head, I remember "Things That Are Worse Than Death" - which concerns torture in Chile.

Again, if you want to call her stuff dreck, go right ahead. But to claim she's "waving her vagina around in front of her" reads like the comment of someone who saw one mention of the dreaded orifice in one of her poems and had a hard time dealing with it.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:43 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just read this list. Results:

Change in appreciation and understanding of literature: 0

Change in opinion of and interest in the "literary scene": -25
posted by Pants McCracky at 11:44 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is completely an academic exercise. These writers write. It's the publishers and the critics who promote them. Why fire an arrow through the writers? They don't overrate themselves.
posted by Rashomon at 11:44 AM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, I suppose that's one way to create a buzz about yourself in the literary world...
posted by honeydew at 11:47 AM on August 11, 2010


These writers write. It's the publishers and the critics who promote them.

So writers have no desire to promote themselves? That's not how it works, especially when you are at the fame level of these writers.
posted by blucevalo at 11:48 AM on August 11, 2010


Also -- not to thread derail, but:

that barb in the first paragraph about post-structuralists is a little weird and, i think, a little telling (oh huffpo, you never fail!). but anyway, my personal list includes...

jeffrey eugenides
david foster wallace
both martin and kingsley... amis . . .


This is from a person who apparently has an MFA and a PhD and teaches literature at UTenn. Can we stop with the affectation where we're too cool for capital letters?

Correct capitalization is important. Consider the sentence: "She helped her Uncle Jack off his horse."
posted by The Bellman at 11:48 AM on August 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


Tough to tell myself why I should read past the hilariously off-base Vollmann assessment. Almost every single assertion left me shaking my head. Can't tell if Shivani himself knows what he means by "Third-rate Pynchon," not that it stops him from bringing up TP three more times. And to paint Vollmann as essentially conceited is ... a weird character critique.

This is a pretty crappy throw-critical-shit-at-wall,-see-what-sticks piece, even for HuffPo Listicle clickbait.
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 11:53 AM on August 11, 2010


I'm not sure what brittle, middlebrow universe I'm stepping into here, but far better writers than these have suffered much more caustic reviews for stronger reasons. I agree with the article (the actual article/slideshow, not the choice quotes, as it includes details like Ashbery having once been good) just enough to appreciate the snark and accept the label "overrated" even for writers here I've enjoyed. But it's no more than a snark piece, and if you feel compelled to defend your favorite author, let me just say, as a general truth, your favorite author sucks.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:56 AM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


reading what earlier authors said about other earlier authors is a nice palate cleanser for this. Like what Mark Twain said about Jane Austen or Herman Melville. Far nastier than any list.
posted by angrycat at 12:04 PM on August 11, 2010


ifjuly, it hurts me, it really hurts me, that Eugenides is on your list. And that too at the top. Ouch. I read Middlesex in college and it was like storytelling heaven. Also because I damn near agree with all the other names on your list (although I don't think DFW belongs on any lists). Sigh.

As for the OP, I've read some of several of the writers on it (Tan, Olds, Lahiri, Ashbery, Gluck, Collins); I think they're not overrated as much as college bookstore staples; kind of contemporary alternative poetry / lit fic. Less calories than some of the people on ifjuly's list and easier to talk about at parties and in laundry rooms. Those are always easy to criticize, I guess, but I also think it's partly that only a struggling writer can summon much anger at writers who're making a good living and being comfortably popular without doing a particularly exceptional job. Because this is fairly new in the history of civilization, right? Professional writers, I mean, especially those who teach "creative writing" on the side? So, not overrated, but trendy, I guess. And trends are always somewhat silly.

Really enjoyed his exemplary sentences though... some of those are dead on! :)
posted by mondaygreens at 12:05 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Correct capitalization is important.

Generally I'd agree with you, but on the other hand, ee cummings didn't give a hoot about caps, necessarily, though he wasn't a faddist about it, either.

As the editor's preface to the first edition of his collected poems points out,

FIRST: if I don't use capitals for e. e. Cummings, it isn't just a stunt. He had his name put legally into lower case, and in his later books the titles and his name were always in lower case. And I have a weakness for Edmund Wilson's rendition of Cummings, in his FINNEGANS WAKE parody, as hee hee cunnings. So be it—all this goes with the iconoclasm of the twenties, with its unpunctuated, uncapitalized Poetry. The lower case is a kind of continuing talisman of cummings, though it doesn't embed him in the twenties.

Not to say that this anonymous UTenn person is on a par with cummings, and it's true also that cummings' widow was furious at the editor's writing (falsely) that cummings had legally changed his name to lowercase. Nevertheless, the estate allowed subsequent editions of his work to stand with the lowercase rendering.
posted by blucevalo at 12:05 PM on August 11, 2010


Consider the sentence: "She helped her Uncle Jack off his horse."

Why? What had the poor horse done to either of them? Sorry, sorry. I love unintended meaning, even when it depends on a slangy reading.
posted by bearwife at 12:07 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Both this list and the one other piece of his HuffPo criticism that I've read make Shivani seem like a guy with a lot of ideas about literature but not enough analytical acumen to substantiate those ideas. (Or maybe HuffPo just won't give him enough space to do a proper analysis, in which case the obvious solution is to write for someone else.) Instead of going into any detail about why he thinks what he thinks, he just states his opinion and then attempts to support it with a quotation that seems like convincing evidence only if you already agree with the opinion (if I don't already think that Jorie Graham is too abstract and pseudo-philosophical, quoting some random lines is not going to convince me that she is) or else he cites some biographical or reception-historical factoid that doesn't have anything to do with whether the writing is any good (who gives a shit if Vollmann thinks he might get a Nobel?).

This lack of analysis makes Shivani useless as a critic. Anyone can like or dislike a book; any asshole can start a fight by saying "Man, you know who's really overrated? James Joyce (or Dan Brown, or any writer with any name recognition whatsoever)."
posted by DaDaDaDave at 12:08 PM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sorry -- the preface I quoted was not to cummings' collected poems, but to E. E. Cummings: The Growth of a Writer, by Norman Friedman.
posted by blucevalo at 12:09 PM on August 11, 2010


The critique was almost incoherent, but god, Volmann is awful. And "third rate Pynchon wanna-be" is exactly why.

I liked Oscar Wao. I don't know as how anyone I know overrated it though. It was an entertaining novel.

Otherwise, are poets even rated at all? Let alone overrated?
posted by rusty at 12:10 PM on August 11, 2010


Vollman can be infuriating and exhausting and even intimidating, but the man can write.

Plus, he hearkens back to a time when writers lived interesting lives full of booze and dope and sex and violence, and those are four of my favorite things.

As to the rest of the list: I had no idea that anyone considered Amy Tan an "important" writer. Popular, sure. "Important"? Uh, OK.

And yeah, I came to the list for Dave Eggers, left disappointed.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:10 PM on August 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


As far as this list -- seems mean.
This reads very much like an all-but-unknown writer's personal sour-grapes list

Etc.

It's a troll. It is a cliched, tried-and-true formula for generating web hits. Write a list, because people can easily process lists and it gives you a hook to advertise. Make your list critical and hit several different targets, because people will be more likely to talk about (forward/blog/etc.) your list if they feel compelled to retort. Now spread your list across several pages to maximize ad views. Profit!

This is the definition of troll. It's old and tired and dumb, but clearly it keeps working because hey look, FPP.
posted by cribcage at 12:11 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure what brittle, middlebrow universe I'm stepping into here, but far better writers than these have suffered much more caustic reviews for stronger reasons. I agree with the article (the actual article/slideshow, not the choice quotes, as it includes details like Ashbery having once been good) just enough to appreciate the snark and accept the label "overrated" even for writers here I've enjoyed. But it's no more than a snark piece, and if you feel compelled to defend your favorite author, let me just say, as a general truth, your favorite author sucks.

Eh, it's a lot less the causticity of his critiques / "Woe, my favorite sacred cow author has been slain! Shivani, feel my outrage!" and more, "Huh, this is pretty worthless snark-by-numbers."
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 12:13 PM on August 11, 2010


Missing overrated American writers, in my honest (and correct) opinion:

Cormac McCreativewritingasshat
David Foster Wankage.
Chuck Pileofyuk
Dave Smeggers

I hate those guys so hard.
posted by Decani at 12:13 PM on August 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


Foer's Extremely Loud etc. is one of the worst books I've ever read.

That exemplary sentence actually makes me want to read Junot Diaz.
posted by Houyhnhnm at 12:15 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


bearwife: Excellent! I had never even thought of the third meaning.

If you like multiple meanings, consider: "She made the robot fast." This sentence appeared in a computer language speech recognition text I read once with a challenge to the reader to come up with as many meanings as possible. I posted it to MeFi years ago and I'm pretty sure we came up with over a dozen.
posted by The Bellman at 12:16 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hate slideshows on my blackberry- thanks for the recap.
posted by variella at 12:17 PM on August 11, 2010


My last writing teacher taught our class that it is unfair to judge writers at their worst. If you use that method we all fail.

I have never cared much for Collins. I have adored Oliver from the moment I read my first line.
posted by bukvich at 12:17 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dude, that's because it's what I typed to her at Facebook at 2 in the morning after a glass of wine, and the thing is a straight cut + paste. Sorry. I only mentioned her credentials because it explains why the hell I'd be chatting about this stuff on Facebook prior to this post--she brought it up actually because she had beef with his listing Jorie Graham.

Though I post erratically here without caps anyway, especially back in the day (say in '03 and '04) when I was still a kid. Still going to comment in a thread like this though--my favorite chatty thing. By the way, not that it matters, but I found what I was ranting about 7 (!) years ago. Apologies in advance since it's the same deal, no caps, sorry.

i'd read the highly-hyped shaughnessy book last summer. upon that first read: it was better than a lot of contemporary poetry i read these days... good, but not transcendant. it had that taste to it that is so common in a lot of younger throughthepomowringer published poets' work. i can't explain it, just. it usually includes geometric terms and voyeurism and barbs at the modern daily way of life. you know. i think sex toys might have been involved. which is fine, that's not the problem you may anticipate, but. do you know what i'm struggling to explain here? it's always either so much (and ONLY, alone) russet-colored wheat field nature, birch trees and youths in fields, and cows, being 50 plus and having a slow-and-"wise" tone to everything--i mean, ruminating creakedcrookedly about apples and snow but that's as far as it goes, and yes i know metaphor but--aaaaugh--or it's the metro and lookseeicansignalthatitookarthistory101asanundergrad and black coats and waitresses in coffee shops and sexual possibility that always collapses too quickly into the cliche if true "reaffirmation of loneliness, selfishness" and namedropping nyu theory. i sound really picky, sorry. it's hard to explain. there's an austerity that can be modern but still fill the room, be sensory without being obviously so, but it's hard to find that lately.

This too, the same year. Guess it was bugging me more then.
posted by ifjuly at 12:18 PM on August 11, 2010


I got curious. According to this site, Mr. Shivani writes like H. P. Lovecraft.
posted by hanoixan at 12:19 PM on August 11, 2010


Articles like these give me and my unpublished novel hope. Cheers.
posted by New England Cultist at 12:24 PM on August 11, 2010


And I think people got confused anyway: that's MY list, uncap'ed and all, it's my friend who has the poetry credentials (and my undying gratitude as she published some of my poems back in the day). And I didn't mean to mention those things in a dickwaving way, just a, this is her bread and butter so it was a hot topic for her, that's what got us talking about it in the first place before seeing this on Mefi. That's all, dudes. Eeep.

Re: Eugenides, I really, really wanted to like him. Sex and gender and the weird way it wraps around identity are things I love. And his diction is good for conveying the way you can be observant in some ways but totally repressed and unreliable narration-wise (a favorite theme of mine) in others. I read The Virgin Suicides before the movie was a twinkle in Kirsten Dundst (sp)'s eye and all that, and then Middlesex, and I appreciate what he's trying to do--it feels vaguely like parts of Ballard who I also appreciate coolly but don't have a torch for personally--but I don't think he's as great as those book displays and pamphlets from those hazy summers a few years ago would have us all believe. I think in some ways that's my real problem, the way books have to be marketed now where publishers pick a couple every season and act like OH MY GOD WE MUST ALL BE READING THIS NOW. I get the reason for it, but it's sad, both the reason and the homogenous middle-of-the-road feeling it creates. It's harder to find the good little corners of estoeric writer's writers type fiction and poetry than it used to be.
posted by ifjuly at 12:28 PM on August 11, 2010


I actually just posted on the mefi Goodreads group about my inability to remember much of Middlesex:

Middlesex is an odd one, 'cause I remember liking it, but I was also well aware at the time that like 90 percent of that was because I really dig explorations of gender, and I'm Greek. Then I finished it, and promptly forgot almost all of it, except for:

A) incesty clarinet-playing
B) they buy their house with cash
C) the ending seemed shockingly Mary-Sue-ish in its easy resolution

So I wanna say I liked it? But... is that accurate?


I will say that I was somewhat surprised that so many people I knew recommended Middlesex without any caveat about "Oh heads up there's a magic asian girl that solves broseph's problems"
posted by Greg Nog at 12:33 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


FIRST: if I don't use capitals for e. e. Cummings, it isn't just a stunt. He had his name put legally into lower case, and in his later books the titles and his name were always in lower case.

This is complete and utter bullshit. Cummings never had his name legally changed. He signed his name with proper capitalization. A French translator of his poems asked him which was correct, and Cummings told him he preferred it to be capitalized correctly.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:35 PM on August 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't usually get involved in these kinds of dust-ups, but anyone who wants to talk shit about William T. Vollmann (aka William The Blind) is cordially invited to meet me in the parking lot of their choice to experience some improvised amateur dentistry.

From the article: "But there's the institutional apparatus telling them, You're a fool if you don't appreciate this book."

In the case of Vollman, I have to pretty much side with the institutional apparatus. Note that Shivani labels his anti-Vollman screed "Prostitutes and Pornography". Yeah, sorry his bracing approach to taboo subject matter makes you uncomfortable, Anis Shivani. Oh you called him a mysogynist, what a trenchant and original perspective on his work.

Enjoy the extra page hits you got from trashing your betters, douchebag.
posted by chaff at 12:36 PM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


As for the list, Jhumpa Lahiri is excellent, and his criticism of Diaz makes no sense (he describes the plot of Oscar Wao as if that is the point of a book). I'm no great lover of Collins, as I tend to think his poems go on about 30% too long typically, but his imagery is strong and his ear is great.

Listing Ashbery and Gluck is just embarrassing.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:38 PM on August 11, 2010


Shivani's 10 Best Books of 2009 - 8. Dave Eggers, Zeitoun

Yes, I am trying to cause trouble.
posted by xod at 12:48 PM on August 11, 2010


Harold Bloom’s Old Age

In my hands, the canon found a friend dear,
I pray; my memory-stained evening candle
fanned the fire Cervantes lit, and Shakespeare,
and Dante and Keats, all who’d manhandle
trivial fate in its fiendish sparks of life.
It was not a consumptive Mann I met
on that Magic Mountain, or in the strife
of Venice, where death was the strangest fete.
No, it was a summer shower, when Wilde
whispered in praise of my fleshy memory:
You’ll have prophesied our God-wounds, dear child,
you’ll have lost our collective victory.
Oh, count me your strong acolyte, your fan!
I’ve shadowed the lively symbol’s wing span.
If I’ve lived at all, I’ve counted my breaths,
as each day I’ve murdered my sad Macbeths.

Anis Shivani
posted by xod at 12:54 PM on August 11, 2010


Vollman can be infuriating and exhausting and even intimidating, but the man can write.

What frustrates me about Vollmann is that he's clearly capable of writing well, but he doesn't have any self-control. Every time I try to read one of his books, I get the feeling that he's just spraying his thoughts across the page, and I just can't get into it. Imperial should have been brilliant, but it was a fucking mess, because Vollmann couldn't be bothered to winnow down, refine, and structure his material. I love the way he gets out there and engages with the world at great personal risk, but I really wish he'd slow down and focus on producing one masterpiece a decade, instead of putting out another thousand-page first draft every year or two.

Also, from the article:

Others hide behind a smokescreen of unreadable inimitability--Marilynne Robinson, for example

I have a really hard time respecting the opinion of a critic who thinks Marilynne Robinson is unreadable. Her writing is not difficult, unless you're trying to skim one of her books in an hour while watching TV or something.
posted by twirlip at 12:54 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


According to this site, Mr. Shivani writes like H. P. Lovecraft.

I tried that with a couple of different short-stories and novels I've been working on. I was told I write like:

Chuck Palahniuk
Dan Brown
Stephenie Meyer
David Foster Wallace

I don't think that the analysis was very subtle, though. For example, the excerpt that compared to Palahniuk was very heavy on dialogue, the Dan Brown excerpt used the word "code" and words like "giveth" and "taketh" several times, the Stephenie Meyer excerpt was written in the first person and the DFW one was a rambling text with sparse punctuation and no dialogue.

But in reality, how would one code an analysis software like this? At some point you have to break down characteristics of writing into quantifiable chunks. Which makes metnioning iwl.me kind of a nice foil to Mr. Sivani's piece.

It's easy to dismiss something like iwl.me as being a hack, because it is a hack. If we call Sivani a hack, well that's not very fair, is it? And yet this article was written with exactly the same kind of intent. There's no in-depth analysis here. It's just shallow comparison. It's clickbait.

Like Pandora.com, with its very sophisticated music genome engine that analyzes your tastes and serves you up new and interesting artists you'll probably like. It only works half the time because in nearly every case we don't like music because it has "acoustic instruments", "major chord progressions" and "dynamic male vocals." We like music for all kinds of reasons that we often struggle to put into words.

So it is with literature, which I suppose is why it's much easier (and more profitable) to hate on something rather than attempt to understand or - perish the thought - appreciate it.

Regardless of his credentials, and even regardless of any intellectual merit to his claims, we shouldn't give shallow lists like these the time of day. They do little to further enjoyment or enlightenment beyond the gratification of wounded egos.

Also: iwl.me says that this post was written like DFW. LOL!
posted by jnrussell at 12:55 PM on August 11, 2010


Lists like these are just a way to put down people who don't share your tastes. The authors themselves couldn't care less, I'm sure, it's all just in the name of "oh yeah well your favorite band SUCKS!"

Amy Tan blows! Yeah, those stupid Oprah's Book Club soccer moms!! Those plebeians don't realize how terrible their taste is, what business do they have enjoying her books?!
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:59 PM on August 11, 2010


Frustrated writer likes reading different things than you do. Full story at eleven.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 12:59 PM on August 11, 2010


Who knew the guy from Parks and Recreation was so well-read?
posted by turaho at 1:02 PM on August 11, 2010


Totally agree with twirlip regarding Marilynne Robinson.
posted by questionsandanchors at 1:05 PM on August 11, 2010


waving your vagina in front of you

That is one messed-up vagina.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:11 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Who knew the guy from Parks and Recreation was so well-read?

Boy they sure do both have non-European names!
posted by shakespeherian at 1:12 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Eh. I haven't had time for Anis Shivani since his truly terrible "takedown" of the most recent Best American Poetry. This is what this dumb juicebox writes about Terrance Hayes' breathtaking poem "A House Is Not a Home":

An example is Terrance Hayes's "A House Is Not a Home," part of which reads: "I decided then, even as my ears fattened, / to seek employment at the African-American / Acoustic and Audiological Accident Insurance Institute, / where probably there is a whole file devoted / to Luther Vandross." Hayes continues later: "I already know there is a difference / between hearing and listening, / but to get the job, I bet I will have to learn / how to transcribe church fires or how to categorize / the dozen or so variations of gasping, one of which / likely includes Ron and me in the eighth grade / the time a neighbor flashed her breasts at us."

What? What is the "African-American Acoustic and Audiological Accident Insurance Institute"? You'll find lots of this made-up capitalized stuff in current American poetry--an easy way to import portentousness when the material is flimsy to the point of nonexistence. Luther Vandross, transcribing church fires, eighth grade breast flashing--what the hell is going on?


This is something Joan Houlihan used to do--disingenuously take a line of poetry or a fairly basic metaphor and be like, "NOW WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? You can't just go around making things up, you know! Not in a poem! The African-American Acoustic and Audiological Accident Insurance Institute??? That isn't even real!" Because you know what kind of "poetry critic" makes a dumb juicebox criticism like that? A person who doesn't even like poetry. A person who's in it for the hits, a person who's in it to spread his own name around. To refute him, let's all breathe in the good air of Terrance Hayes.

A House is Not a Home

It was the night I embraced Ron’s wife a bit too long
because he’d refused to kiss me goodbye
that I realized the essential nature of sound.
When she slapped me across one ear,
and he punched me in the other, I recalled,
almost instantly, the purr of liquor sliding
along the neck of the bottle a few hours earlier
as the three of us took turns imitating the croon
of the recently-deceased Luther Vandross.
I decided then, even as my ears fattened,
to seek employment at the African-American
Acoustic and Audiological Accident Insurance Institute,
where probably there is a whole file devoted
to Luther Vandross. And probably it contains
the phone call he made to ask a niece
the whereabouts of his very first piano.
I already know there is a difference
between hearing and listening,
but to get the job, I bet I will have to learn
how to transcribe church fires or how to categorize
the dozen or so variations of gasping, one which
likely includes Ron and me in the eighth grade
the time a neighbor flashed her breasts at us.
That night at Ron’s house I believed he, his wife,
and Luther loved me more than anything
I could grasp. "I can’t believe you won’t kiss me,
you’re the gayest man I know!" I told him
just before shackling my arms around his wife.
"My job is all about context," I will tell friends
when they ask. "I love it, though most days
all I do is root through noise like a termite
with a number on his back." What will I steal?
Rain falling on a picket sign, breathy epithets–
you think I’m bullshitting. When you have no music,
everything becomes a form of music. I bet
somewhere in Mississippi there is a skull
that only a sharecropper’s daughter can make sing.
I’ll steal that sound. More than anything,
I want to work at the African-American
Acoustic and Audiological Accident Insurance Institute
so that I can record the rumors and raucous rhythms
of my people, our jangled history, the slander
in our sugar, the ardor in our anger, a subcategory
of which probably includes the sound particular to one
returning to his feet after a friend has knocked him down.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 1:14 PM on August 11, 2010 [22 favorites]


He's wrong about Vollman, but i was totally cheering aloud reading this article UNTIL he called Marilynne Robinson "unreadable". Are you kidding? The essays I could do without, but her novels are wonderful, especially the first two.
posted by Roachbeard at 1:17 PM on August 11, 2010


This is probably a good place to link to Tobias Wolff's Bullet To the Brain (PDF, sorry.)

Our hero, the critic, is in a bank as it is robbed:

Anders burst our laughing. He covered his mouth with both hands and said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” then snorted helplessly through his fingers and said, “Capiche – oh, God, capiche,” and at that the man with the pistol raised the pistol and shot Anders right in the head.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:21 PM on August 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Heck, I can't even name 15 contemporary writers.

Tough crowd, but not as tough, I wager, as the crowd that would have piled onto "The 15 Most Underrated Contemporary Writers by Anis Shivani".

That Bullet in the Brain story is terrific, by the way, and not just for what it has Wolff doing to a snarky literary critic. It's for Wolff turning his (and our) sadism against himself (and us), with this:
The others will think he’s being a jerk, ragging the kid for his grammar. But that isn’t it, not at all – it’s that Anders is strangely roused, elated, by those final two words, their pure unexpectedness and their music. He takes the field in a trance, repeating them to himself.

The bullet is already in the brain; it won’t be outrun forever, or charmed to a halt. In the end it will do its work and leave the troubled skull behind, dragging its comet’s tail of memory and hope and talent and love into the marble hall of commerce. That can’t be helped. But for now Anders can still make time. Time for the shadows to lengthen on the grass, time for the tethered dog to bark at the flying ball, time for the boy in right field to smack his sweat-blackened mitt and softly chant, They is, they is, they is.
posted by notyou at 1:36 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've only read 3 of these authors. I'd say he's on the mark with Safran Foer and Junot Diaz, but I disagree as to Jhumpa Lahiri.

This is all so subjective, though. There are probably people who love Diaz and Safran Foer and hate everyone else on that list.
posted by reenum at 1:41 PM on August 11, 2010


Ratedness, under or over, is a necessarily problematic concept. If people agree with your list it is wrong. Ratedness lists depend on an us who get it. Who are in. Our tastes matter. Not them. They like the things they like too much. They need to be like us. Dan Brown is over rated in that he is well loved by the wrong them, but since the right them hates him and we hate him too, he is not over rated. It's really a weird problem of recursion and interest group politics. It's a problem without a solution. If everyone agrees something is overrated it isn't.
posted by I Foody at 2:01 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is complete and utter bullshit. Cummings never had his name legally changed.

shakespeherian: I mentioned that this claim was false. Re-read my comment.
posted by blucevalo at 2:14 PM on August 11, 2010


Others hide behind a smokescreen of unreadable inimitability--Marilynne Robinson, for example--to maintain a necessary barrier between the masses and the overlords.

Whoa. Even aside from the fact that I'm fairly sure it should be "inimitable unreadability"--as the other way around doesn't make a lick of sense--how did he decide to write that about somebody whose language is always crystalline and direct?
posted by Dr.Enormous at 2:16 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Late to the thread, and I have a feeling I'm going to illustrate ifuly's post well, but...

I hate 99% of contemporary poetry. Let me rephrase that: I HAAAAAAAAAAAAATE 99% of contemporary poetry. All of it looks like essays with funny linebreaks, and the staccato poetry-reading voice most poets employ to read their words drives me up a fucking wall. Free verse just sets my teeth on edge.

Billy Collins is one of two contemporary poets who doesn't make me want to throw a chair at him. (The other is Kevin Young.) Yes, Billy Collins writes free verse. However, his poems are very artfully witty and wry (like, not bang-you-over-the-head-with-a-joke funny), and he reads his poems in a "natural" voice, not in the staccato we-ARE-saying-SOMETHING-seriously-RIGHT-now loud-quiet-loud voice found so commonly in poetry slams.

Just throwing that out there. As you were.
posted by pxe2000 at 2:20 PM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Thank you, Powerful Religious Baby, for sharing that wonderful poem. I wasn't aware of Terrance Hayes before this but that poem was exactly what I love about poetry.

I'm still not entirely sure what the African-American Acoustic and Audiological Accident Insurance Institute is, but I want to find out. And isn't that the point of good writing. If we can grok it in one sitting, where's the replay value?

Also, this line kind of blows me away:

When you have no music,
everything becomes a form of music.

posted by jnrussell at 2:25 PM on August 11, 2010


yeah, now thinking about it, unless you're talking about
Dan Brown
Stephanie Meyers
maybe J.K. Rowling
James Patterson
maybe Stephen King

There are no overrated writers. Because of the death of the novel and all that cheery shit I love to think about when I'm trying to find an agent for the first book and working on the second.

And poets, fuck me. I remember reading a poetry compilation in which the editor mused that most of the poets she knew survived on a) disability b) inheritance or c) a day job. How can a poet be overrated?
posted by angrycat at 2:26 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Solon and Thanks: The authors themselves couldn't care less

You clearly haven't spent much time around authors. The World's Most Thin-skinned Author competition would be won by everyone.
posted by Kattullus at 2:27 PM on August 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Wow...fantastic...25% of the overrated writers are non-white. Way disproportionate to any statistic regarding whole american population or whole of contemporary american writers.

So is anis taking action against the "we're gonna read something other than old, white, male writers"?

Or maybe there's a tinge of racist attitude.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:27 PM on August 11, 2010


And poets, fuck me.

What a great band name .....
posted by blucevalo at 2:29 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or maybe there's a tinge of racist attitude.

He's racist because he doesn't list enough overrated old white male writers? Aren't they pretty much overrated by definition?
posted by blucevalo at 2:33 PM on August 11, 2010


Or maybe there's a tinge of racist attitude.

Yes, I'm sure the non-white writer's motivation is racism against non-white writers.
posted by nasreddin at 2:34 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


That essentially all of Vollman's defenders in this thread have (independently?) decided that the best way to defend the guy is to threaten to beat up people who don't care for him, or (hilariously) to threaten to have Vollman beat up people who don't care for him, pretty much confirms all of my assumptions about Vollman, his appeal, and his audience.
posted by enn at 2:37 PM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]



Yes, I'm sure the non-white writer's motivation is racism against non-white writers.


You don't think that that's a possibility? Really?
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:39 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


He's racist because he doesn't list enough overrated old white male writers? Aren't they pretty much overrated by definition?

Yes, I'm sure the non-white writer's motivation is racism against non-white writers.

No, the structure of the establishment he's attempting to impress (do note the Great Men of humanist criticism he repeatedly cites, wishing they could any one of them come back to clean up this one-horse town) is itself quite racist and sexist, and has had its usual distortive effect, though in an illuminatively reversed direction.
posted by kipmanley at 2:42 PM on August 11, 2010


You don't think that that's a possibility? Really?

I suppose it is, but I don't see any reason to think that. Especially since his book of short stories is about "a undocumented Indian worker in Dubai, an Issei man in a California internment camp, a persecuted minority novelist in contemporary Tehran, and a loyal-to-the-core Jewish trader in the Ottoman empire [who] are the kinds of sympathetic characters who bridge place and individuality in this powerful collection"
posted by nasreddin at 2:43 PM on August 11, 2010


Also I should probably go on record as a slavering Vollmann fanboy who nonetheless does not wish to beat up any of his detractors nor to have Vollmann himself engage in fisticuffs on his own behalf; he walks like a shambling bear, like an old friend of mine who coughs too much though that might be the cigarettes and sits improperly before the computer for too many hours at a stretch and who complains bitterly of fatigue, and so I can't help but conflate them, because of their shared gait, and draw from this the doubtless erroneous conclusion that he'd, y'know, lose--really, to dismiss him for this reason and this reason alone is to miss any of a number of gorgeously digressive points.
posted by kipmanley at 2:48 PM on August 11, 2010


No, the structure of the establishment he's attempting to impress (do note the Great Men of humanist criticism he repeatedly cites, wishing they could any one of them come back to clean up this one-horse town) is itself quite racist and sexist, and has had its usual distortive effect, though in an illuminatively reversed direction.

I disagree. I'm as much a critic of the establishment as the next guy, but I hardly think disliking precious feel-good multi-culti immigrant fiction is a sign of "attempting to impress" the racist and sexist old guard. I don't think there is such a thing a racist and sexist establishment in contemporary fiction, either--who has the teaching jobs? Who fills the bestseller lists? Who wins the prizes? I'll give you a hint: it's not T. S. Eliot anymore, or, for that matter, John Updike. (I'm not saying that this is a bad thing.)
posted by nasreddin at 2:48 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I hardly think disliking precious feel-good multi-culti immigrant fiction is a sign of "attempting to impress" the racist and sexist old guard.

That's not what I'm knocking him for. He's pulled together from the presumed pool of All Contemporary Writers a list of 15 overrated writers, and unlike every other list most people would unthinkingly pull from this presumed pool, women and writers of color are over-represented all out of proportion. --Now, there's almost certainly innocent explanations for this (there almost always are): for instance, perhaps they're overrepresented in his own reading, for one reason or another, and he's just drawing on his personal experience.

But when you set this list of bad, overrated writers next to the lists most people would unthinkingly pull from this presumed pool, lists of good books, great writers, people one should pay attention to, lists on which women and writers of color are much more likely to be underrepresented, well, the picture's clear: this type of writer is fine and good and valid, and this type of writer is overrated.

That no one at any point in the process meant or even dreamed this might happen is why the problem's systemic. We don't need an establishment to fuck this up. We do it just fine on our own. You try to be aware of the system and its problems and how what you're going to do might look and you try to listen when people tell you you botched your play and you try to do better next time.

This play got botched. Badly. For any of a number of reasons. (Who had any idea poetry at all was so highly rated?) But also this, yes.
posted by kipmanley at 3:06 PM on August 11, 2010


But when you set this list of bad, overrated writers next to the lists most people would unthinkingly pull from this presumed pool, lists of good books, great writers, people one should pay attention to, lists on which women and writers of color are much more likely to be underrepresented, well, the picture's clear: this type of writer is fine and good and valid, and this type of writer is overrated.

I'm sorry, but an accusation of racism or pandering to racism or unconscious racism is serious enough that it needs more substantiation than a hypothetical "list most people would pull." I happen to disagree that most people would pick a selection with fewer women or people of color--I know my list would include, e.g., Toni Morrison and Hanif Kureishi. Even if there were such a "most people's" list, however, your argument proves precisely nothing, and your football metaphor appears to be simply a bizarre and nonsensical handwave to cover up that fact. 15 writers is not a large enough sample to draw conclusions of this sort.
posted by nasreddin at 3:13 PM on August 11, 2010


Another way of putting this is that the world of contemporary poetry and literary fiction is really not the right battlefield for an invisible-knapsack game. In this instance resorting to that particular style of argument amounts to poisoning the well in a pretty egregious way.
posted by nasreddin at 3:16 PM on August 11, 2010


Football?
posted by kipmanley at 3:17 PM on August 11, 2010


For me, "botched play" normally refers to football, but if you meant a different sport, whatever. That's really beside the point.
posted by nasreddin at 3:21 PM on August 11, 2010


nasreddin, I'm not so sure. His critique of Terrance Hayes' poem that I posted above goes on to say this:

Because it is an African-American writing this poem, we must impute jazziness to it--its saving grace, its code of honor, its point of entry.

Note the belittling tone. Best American Poetry is a lily-white anthology, for the most part, and Shivani is holding up an almost unimpeachably tight poem that speaks to the African-American experience and accusing it of incoherence and "jazziness." Racism isn't off the table here, not by a long shot.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 3:29 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, it's nice to see poets making any sort of writers list.
posted by Shit Parade at 3:29 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Note the belittling tone. Best American Poetry is a lily-white anthology, for the most part, and Shivani is holding up an almost unimpeachably tight poem that speaks to the African-American experience and accusing it of incoherence and "jazziness." Racism isn't off the table here, not by a long shot.

I think, like you, that that's a piss-poor example of poetry criticism, and that Terrence Hayes's poem is great. But I don't think the "jazziness" jibe is an example of racism--rather, I think he's commenting in a hamhanded way on the attitude many critics have towards poetry by black people, which that it shouldn't be judged by the criteria applied to poetry by white people but rather on some sort of imputed natural rhythm, soulfulness, and authenticity (and yes, jazz and spirituals are frequently referenced in these instances). I do think he has a point, although he's way off in his choice of target.
posted by nasreddin at 3:37 PM on August 11, 2010


Lists like these always just seem like they are meant to stir up the shit pot.
Both Jonathan Safran Foer and Junot Diaz are worth reading even though I don't count either of them in my top 10...15...20...25 favorite authors of all time.

May Oliver on the other hand...the lady has published more poetry than I ever will, but I don't really understand why. All of her poems are cloying and hard to choke down. As a friend of mine said on facebook today: "If hating Mary Oliver's poetry was a piano, I would be considered a bold and unpredictable new talent." Hear, hear.
posted by LeonBernstein at 3:47 PM on August 11, 2010


(hilariously) to threaten to have Vollman beat up people who don't care for him,

I hope that the "hilariously" in that sentence is sincere and not sarcastic, because it was intended to be funny, and if you're just being sarcastic and trying to say I'm dumb I'll have to have William T. Vollman beat you up.

pretty much confirms all of my assumptions about Vollman, his appeal, and his audience.

Are you saying we're all armchair tough guys or that we're striking an ironic "armchair tough guy" pose? Seriously, I'm asking, because honestly I can't even tell anymore.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:51 PM on August 11, 2010


I do think he has a point, although he's way off in his choice of target.

Doesn't that mean something, though? That he applies that criticism indiscriminately, to people who don't deserve it? Couldn't that mean he has a broad stereotype of "African-American literature" in mind, and a grudge against the supposed "different standards" by which white critics judge it?

Because the right target of his scorn in that case would be the critics, not the poets. If your more charitable interpretation is on the mark, then it's a problem that he's holding African-American writers themselves responsible for the attitudes of critics, and is furthermore allowing it to affect his judgment of their work. He's bringing his own weird baggage into the reading, and I don't blame people if it trips their alarms.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 4:01 PM on August 11, 2010


First, the sheer joy in Mary Oliver's poetry lit my entire teenage self afire when I was 17, and I still haven't recovered. Shivani refers to her "optimism" as "a slap to the face of history". I don't even know how to begin to bridge that divide.

Second, I can't help noticing that while one of Shivani's ten best books of 2009 (and 3 of the 11 honorable mentions) was written by a woman, fully eight of his "overrated writers" are women. Fear of vaginas indeed.
posted by epj at 4:06 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Because the right target of his scorn in that case would be the critics, not the poets

I'm pretty sure it is the critics. He says "Because it is an African-American writing this poem, we must impute jazziness to it--its saving grace, its code of honor, its point of entry." The "we" here clearly refers to critics--that is, what he's saying is that it's a bad poem that's considered to be good because of the jazziness that's been imputed to it. It's a "point of entry" because the jazziness is what allows the poem into the privileged sphere established by critics and editors. Hayes isn't being blamed for anything here except having written the bad poem in the first place.
posted by nasreddin at 4:10 PM on August 11, 2010


This guys first name rhymes with anus. Snort. Wink....nudge.

Seriously though, he has a good point here in terms of the nepotism involved in the giving of teaching positions, fellowships and prizes etc. It is all a bit of an incestuous world between the MFA programs the teachers/published writers/mentors and the students and the whole rest of the collective known as the literary world. And it can seem doubly corrupt and in need of a good asskicking slash de-lousment treatment at times, at least to keep it somewhat honest and free of the rot of favoritism and corruption. I welcome Anus's noble attempt at taking the whole self-important academic, entitled, ivy league connected elitist bunch down a notch.

That being said, good writing seems to me be in such a delicate state that it seems sorta mean to pick on it. I mean, sorry if this is a tight group that is trying to keep itself going. As elitist and trust fund supported the whole culture is, most of these folks have their hearts in the right place. And I see no reason to pick on talented people like Junot Diaz and Foer....both who I hope have many years of great work ahead of them to supplement the great work they've already done. I think he's especially mean to Foer ("he would still be looking into Joseph Cornell boxes"), for reasons I don't get (why cos he was a sculpture?? Oh...that's a great reason /tongue cheek etc). Everything was Illuminated was a mindblowing hilarious beautifully written literary fuckin' blast. Sounds like Anis just didn't get it. Or else again, his disdain isn't so much with the writing as it is with elements auxillary to the publishing world. The fact that he doesn't like it makes him sound sour grapy to me.

Also the putting down of Junot Diaz is just blowhard city...On Drown alone, Diaz is easily something truly great and special, and YES, worthy of a Pulitzer...of fucking yes....absolutely.

The rest seems to be more sacred cow kicking, which can be fun, but John Ashberry?? Wow. Glad he pointed that out, before the guy went ahead and put a thousand great poems under his belt across the last half century or whatever.

Sure there are those in academia who're more writer's writers than anything else, but again, if people enjoy and respect them so what?? Why does that take away anything from Anus?

I too, hated the MFA program incestuousness until I sorta became caught up in one thanks to a scholarship based on my admissions example, and then further mentoring by a professor, not really known for it, who has encouraged, challenged and pretty much opened some doors if I have the balls to do it right and to want it, and to stop wasting time on anything NOT having to do with one's work, as Mr. Anus is doing here...
posted by Skygazer at 4:12 PM on August 11, 2010


...and I am.
posted by Skygazer at 4:15 PM on August 11, 2010


Sorry about the flippant threats of violence, enn. I was irked that the article author decided to position himself nose-in-the-air above several arguably great novelists, one of whom (WTV) has created work that has moved me tremendously and changed my thinking about what novels can be and do. I made what I hoped was an obviously over-the-top post filled with mock outrage. In reality, Anis Shivani is free to hold whatever opinion he wants, and more power to him for getting someone to buy his articles.

I may or may not represent the typical Vollman fan, but I want it known that I have never been in a fistfight and I do not own, nor have I ever owned, a fedora.
posted by chaff at 4:20 PM on August 11, 2010


Sure there are those in academia who're more writer's writers than anything else, but again, if people enjoy and respect them so what?? Why does that take away anything from Anus?

This is another one of those idiotic and hackneyed arguments. If you don't want to read criticism, don't read it, but appreciate the reasons why people write it. Having discussions about what makes particular books and writers good or bad is an integral part of enjoying and understanding literature for many people, even when they disagree with each other's judgments. I don't think this article is the gold standard of such criticism by any means--and I agree with what's been said about "ratedness" being an unhelpful concept--but you and many of the other people in this thread are really displaying an unhealthy inability to distinguish between beliefs and the people who hold them. So what if he ragged on writers that you like? Don't whine about how he's mean or a pansy or a bad writer or a racist asshole, give arguments that support your position. Fer chrissake.
posted by nasreddin at 4:22 PM on August 11, 2010


I want it known that I have never been in a fistfight and I do not own, nor have I ever owned, a fedora.

I have lost several fights. I own several fedoras; when fedora-based hipster-hate eventually recedes into the background (as did mesh trucker-hat-based hipster-hate not so long ago), they will still be one of the few types of hat that look good on my weirdly-shaped head.
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:26 PM on August 11, 2010


Yeah, that Terrance Hayes poem is absolutely stunning. Shivani's criticism (at least the parts quoted of it) is so clumsy as to render it laughable, even if he has some point buried in it somewhere.

Here's another Hayes:

Lighthead's Guide to the Galaxy
Ladies and gentlemen, ghosts and children of the state,
I am here because I could never get the hang of Time.
This hour, for example, would be like all the others
were it not for the rain falling through the roof.
I'd better not be too explicit. My night is careless
with itself, troublesome as a woman wearing no bra
in winter. I believe everything is a metaphor for sex.
Lovemaking mimics the act of departure, moonlight
drips from the leaves. You can spend your whole life
doing no more than preparing for life and thinking.
"Is this all there is?" Thus, I am here where poets come
to drink a dark strong poison with tiny shards of ice,
something to loosen my primate tongue and its syllables
of debris. I know all words come from preexisting words
and divide until our pronouncements develop selves.
The small dog barking at the darkness has something to say
about the way we live. I'd rather have what my daddy calls
"skrimp." He says "discrete" and means the street
just out of sight. Not what you see, but what you perceive:
that's poetry. Not the noise, but its rhythm; an arrangement
of derangements; I'll eat you to live: that's poetry.
I wish I glowed like a brown-skinned pregnant woman.
I wish I could weep the way my teacher did as he read us
Molly Bloom's soliloquy of yes. When I kiss my wife,
sometimes I taste her caution. But let's not talk about that.
Maybe Art's only purpose is to preserve the Self.
Sometimes I play a game in which my primitive craft fires
upon an alien ship whose intention is the destruction
of the earth. Other times I fall in love with a word
like somberness. Or moonlight juicing naked branches.
All species have a notion of emptiness, and yet
the flowers don't quit opening. I am carrying the whimper
you can hear when the mouth is collapsed, the wisdom
of monkeys. Ask a glass of water why it pities
the rain. Ask the lunatic yard dog why it tolerates the leash.
Brothers and sisters, when you spend your nights
out on a limb, there's a chance you'll fall in your sleep.
posted by blucevalo at 4:33 PM on August 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


As long as Richard Price and Tim Sandlin didn't make the list, I'm cool with it.
posted by jonmc at 4:45 PM on August 11, 2010


No, I get what you're saying, nasreddin. What I'm saying is, why does he consider the poem to be so terrible? Why is his reading so harsh?

It's a "point of entry" because the jazziness is what allows the poem into the privileged sphere established by critics and editors.

Right, and his criticisms indicate that he doesn't think it belongs in that sphere, and that perhaps it got there because critics can't say what they really think where poems by black poets are concerned.

"Because it is an African-American writing this poem, we must impute jazziness to it--its saving grace, its code of honor, its point of entry."

The implication being, of course, that if critics could say what they really thought they would all admit this poem is terrible. Which is a really troubling insinuation, because it's a patently fantastic poem--and if he thinks it got into BAP on anything other than its own merits then seriously I question both his judgment, and, yes, his prejudices.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 4:47 PM on August 11, 2010


Nasreddin: but you and many of the other people in this thread are really displaying an unhealthy inability to distinguish between beliefs and the people who hold them. So what if he ragged on writers that you like? Don't whine about how he's mean or a pansy or a bad writer or a racist asshole, give arguments that support your position. Fer chrissake.

Whoa, take a breath, yo.

I think you're missing the point of his article, and the very point that I'm addressing in my comment. There's very little in the way of "criticism" in his piece. He's mostly ragging on people who he sees as part of an incestuous literary/academic clique that gives each other awards and fellowships, and teaching positions and so on and so forth.

Pray tell what does Shivini's snark at Foer's being trained in sculpture and liking Joseph Cornell's boxes, and commenting on the 11 years Diaz took between Drown and The Brief and Wondrous Life of OScar Wao have to do with criticism based on their work.

That's just bullshit for the sake of being a wise ass.

I don't think any writer is above criticism of their work, (I am not sure how you came to that) if it's serious and in good faith. I don't care if it's mean, but this is not what Anis is seeking to do here.
posted by Skygazer at 4:52 PM on August 11, 2010


And to be clear, I don't think Collins is bad--I don't!!--it's just that every.single.person I know who loves him doesn't seem to read any other poetry, and it starts to feel like it shows

If it helps, ifjuly, I've got an MFA in poetry and I like Collins a lot more than many other modern writers. There's that poem he wrote about the first dream ever, that one was cool. And the nostalgia one. Dug that one.

But I hated 90% of the poetry I encountered in graduate school (which, to be fair, was written by like six different people--very narrow tastes, my professors had). My favorite book of poetry written over the past five years or so was Only Revolutions by Mark Danielewski, which no one has read, much less poets. Well, that and Richard Siken's Crush. Which I was told in graduate school was bad. So, I don't know, my opinion isn't worth a damn, I'm sure.

Also, as evidenced by this thread, I have really similar tastes to bunches of mefites, which makes me want to hug you guys. Greg Nog, I also thought it was fucked up that the hero of Middlesex is fixed by an Asian dream woman and moves into heteronormativity instantly and all I remember about the book was the butterflies and the sex scenes, because I'm a perv. Loved The Virgin Suicides, though.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:57 PM on August 11, 2010


A good thread for many reasons, including loving how literate MeFis are, but also because now I am ready to read a lot of Terrance Hayes. Thanks for the two poems quoted.
posted by bearwife at 6:19 PM on August 11, 2010


Underrated writer lists are invariably more rewarding than overrated writer lists, in my experience, even when I agree with the creator of such a list that some author's reputation exceeds their merit.
posted by clockzero at 7:04 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I know formal, metrical, generic concerns ("numbers" did they used to call it?) are not so important these days in the writing of poetry, but I think the Terrance Hayes pieces that are being fawned over are a little loose. There are some good lines, but I also found the "Acoustic and Audiological Accident Insurance Institute" a bit of too-clever whimsy. I've seen this comical use of absurdist bureaucratic titles before and it has stopped being cute for me. Also, in the second poem, the line (actually lines - what's with all the enjambment? are these pieces not laid out as prose just for the sake of making them more readable?) "Other times I fall in love with a word / like somberness" gives me what the kids these days are calling "douche chills".
posted by Roachbeard at 8:08 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


This isn't criticism, just 'provocative' posturing, and it's not even going after fish anyone could describe as, y'know, 'big'. When Myers wrote 'A Reader's Manifesto' and went to town on, among others, Cormac McCarthy, it was bracing and invigorating, not to mention erudite and well-argued, if, ultimately, still a hatchet-job. This is just junk.
posted by Football Bat at 8:28 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whither Dale Peck?
posted by scratch at 9:52 PM on August 11, 2010


Dale Peck gets a lot of hate directed his way, but the man was a very good critic. He wasn't just an axeman, he also penned the best appraisal of Vonnegut I've read by an American literary critic. And he did argue his case, didn't just spew opinion. I quite liked his stuff. I wish more critics were like him. The reaction to him was ridiculous, frankly, and a poor reflection on literary culture in the US.
posted by Kattullus at 10:08 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll throw William Logan out there as a critic whose excoriations are beautiful and snarky, and basically belong to a whole other, higher, universe apart from stuff like this. Rather than barfing up a long list of unsubstantiated, unhelpful quibbles, Logan can focus in on what he loves (or, more often, dislikes) about a poet/poetry collection. For the mountains of highly-stylized, pre-blog snarking he does, he manages to sound fair even when he's raking someone over the coals without sounding like a twit.

IMO, his Verse Chronicle column in New Criterion is about as fun as criticism gets, and put stuff like Shivani's pointless listicles to shame.
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 6:15 AM on August 12, 2010


IMO, his Verse Chronicle column in New Criterion is about as fun as criticism gets, and put stuff like Shivani's pointless listicles to shame.


Wow, that's fantastic, thank you!
posted by nasreddin at 7:17 AM on August 12, 2010


Fuck 'writing', tell a fucking story.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 7:26 AM on August 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Fuck that fancy pickin', play a fucking song. Stop messing about with all that color bullshit, draw a goddamn picture. Christ we could give two shits about your mise en scène, just film something already.
posted by kipmanley at 9:27 AM on August 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


I love ago came to terms with the fact that I do not enjoy reading modern, well respected writers of smart fiction. Give me some good old fashioned schlocky sci-fi every day. The only person I've heard of in this list is Amy Tan, and that's only because of the Joy Luck Club.
posted by antifuse at 12:00 PM on August 12, 2010


I'll throw William Logan out there as a critic whose excoriations are beautiful and snarky, and basically belong to a whole other, higher, universe apart from stuff like this. Rather than barfing up a long list of unsubstantiated, unhelpful quibbles, Logan can focus in on what he loves (or, more often, dislikes) about a poet/poetry collection. For the mountains of highly-stylized, pre-blog snarking he does, he manages to sound fair even when he's raking someone over the coals without sounding like a twit.

Hehehe, William Logan! <3>not being my thesis advisor), I've come to believe he's a truly genuine reviewer--he believes everything he says, and passionately.

Even if he's widely hated for it. Which he is. Most hated man in American poetry, death threats and all.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:10 PM on August 12, 2010


Whoops. Bungled the HTML. That was supposed to say, yadda yadda yadda, he's a peach of a guy and was nearly my thesis advisor in grad school. We have really disparate tastes, hence my not ultimately working with him, but . . . yadda yadda.

Really good guy, was my point. And he knows amazing factoids, too, which is always fun.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:14 PM on August 12, 2010


Ha, I met someone who had done some grad work w/ Logan and had nothing but good things to say about him. Got the impression that she might have been in the habit of saying stuff like, "No, no, he's actually not an asshole." It is a shame that his rep in the poetry world isn't all that great; I've always had the impression that some like to denigrate his poetry as payback for his criticism.

I've always wished that "Verse Chronicle" found a new home at Harper's or Atlantic so he could have a wider readership, especially since his criticism prose is exceptionally readable (The Undiscovered Country was my goddamn beach reading a few years ago). But yeah, his reviews never sound like hatchet jobs in the least; his reviews never come off as disingenuous. Plus, I think he's one of the best critics at incorporating poetic lines into his review for explanations. That in itself is a real art in poetry reviewing/criticism, and he has an incredible capacity at it.
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 6:32 AM on August 13, 2010


Ha, I met someone who had done some grad work w/ Logan and had nothing but good things to say about him. Got the impression that she might have been in the habit of saying stuff like, "No, no, he's actually not an asshole." It is a shame that his rep in the poetry world isn't all that great; I've always had the impression that some like to denigrate his poetry as payback for his criticism.

Yeah, you get used to that pretty quickly. When I got accepted to Florida, my undergraduate professors gave me lots of warnings about how "mean" he is. That being said, I'm really not a fan of his poetry--it's utterly not my style. But his reviews? They're beautifully written, entertaining, and a perfect roadmap to his tastes. Can't ask for much more from a reciew.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:37 AM on August 13, 2010


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