Riding The Reputation Seesaw:
September 25, 2002 5:30 PM   Subscribe

Riding The Reputation Seesaw: I'm a sucker for underrated/overrated lists anyway, but this series of short articles from underrated American Heritage magazine is one of the best I've ever read. I specially liked the haphazard criteria for selecting the categories, leaving out some of the most obvious.
posted by MiguelCardoso (17 comments total)

Historical novel:
Overrated "The Scarlet Letter"

"I would venture a guess that a very high percentage of students slog through the novel’s allegorical murk without ever discovering that it is about sex; the characters are far too disembodied for that, the dialogue too oblique for anybody ever to explain just what is going on.
It would be a better world if the book were a satire and Voltaire had written it."

I wholeheartedly agree. This book made me wish I had passed on my High School's "Early American Literature" class and taken "Recent American Literature" instead.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 5:58 PM on September 25, 2002

A great call to action for American writers in Overated Novel:

Any novel published, to critical acclaim, during the last 50 years that “reveals the torment” of the dysfunctional American middle-class family . . . The pity of it all isn’t the waste of talent. In a nation as large as ours, talent is cheap. But the contemporary American novel should be a grand and glorious thing indeed, given the subject matter available to us. Our novelists are the citizens of the most powerful, innovative, complex, and various nation in history. They don’t have to approve of American power and prowess, but one wonders why they insist on writing little exercises in self-absorption when such a wealth of themes and settings lies all around. We have plenty of novels by Americans these days, but where are our American novels? We live in an age of endless, turbulent, dazzling human frontiers, yet our novels can’t seem to get beyond the fears of the child’s bedroom. Where is the collision of glory and vainglory, where is the bigness of it all, and where, for that matter, are our novels of empire?

I'll second that emotion.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 6:07 PM on September 25, 2002

since American Heritages site is down.

From Peter Andrews story "The Press" (Oct.94')

He relates a story when Woodrow Wilson.
while Wilson was president of Princeton he gave on speech on rural migration...'Whatever else may be said of the habit of chewing tobacco, this much must be admitted in its favor, that it makes men think because they must stop between words to spit." Next day headlines read,


Andrews said that he "violated two cardinal rules of modern day- spin doctors: never deviate from your prepared text, and never make a joke. The press will mangle a joke everytime."

Another article has a neato story on tobacco tarding cards from the 1880s: cards featuring newspaper editors.
posted by clavdivs at 6:47 PM on September 25, 2002

Very interesting post, Miguel, as usual. (You'll never have to worry about being the most overrated person here at MeFi.)

I just finished writing an article for American Heritage of Invention & Technology (about the design of TV sets, and a fascinating new TV museum in Toronto), but for some reason I never see American Heritage much any more. That under/over list, which I enjoyed, certainly did consist of a (nicely) haphazard criteria.
posted by LeLiLo at 6:49 PM on September 25, 2002

links work here/now.

under W.W.II generals:
underrated: Truscott
amen, georgies warhorse got the job done.

Under poets:
Pound, hmmm. very little poetics in him in as much as his body of work. The lesson of pounds life is somewhat poetic. It involves redemption. What makes me a little kranky is that the author claims that his fame saved him from treason. It was in fact other peoples fame that saved him. The greatest Insanity plea of the 20th century. (nixon is a runner up) the irony is a man whom wished to transform the previous 'regime' of poets believed in greater lies then his predessors. and i dont like the author picking on Marianne Moore. Also MacLeishs' "Poetry and Opinion" concerning this matter is important when confronted with what Plato believed: The poet has no place in the republic.
Milosevic being the newest example.

*cough* 'Mothernight' *cough*

mefi gold miguel (as usual)
posted by clavdivs at 7:29 PM on September 25, 2002

Two disagreements (already!):

I hate I-40. It's flat, straight, and sterile, and takes you around places instead of through them. There are still places in Oklahoma where you can follow the path of Route 66, if not the actual road surface, and see the small towns which that original blue highway joined together, until it was replaced by the soulless I-40.

And Mick Jagger never intended to be a teen idol. Hell, the Stones were the anti-Beatles!

Sorry, Migs - I call these analyses (at least so far) "over-rated".
posted by yhbc at 8:02 PM on September 25, 2002

I think subjective lists pretending to be objective canons are terribly overrated.
posted by semmi at 8:41 PM on September 25, 2002

Is this a good place to divulge that I absolutely despise The Catcher in the Rye and it's whiny snot protagonist? Same goes with the post-WWII German novel The Clown. Self-indulgent writing, the feel-bad books of the year.

Sorry for the almost off-topic comment, but I've wanted to bring this up ever since this post.
posted by wolfgangnorton at 10:05 PM on September 25, 2002

I think subjective lists pretending to be objective canons are terribly overrated.

"objective canons"? can you point me to one?
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 11:13 PM on September 25, 2002

wolfgang: Continuing off-topic, let me say that I always kind of liked Holden Caulfield, who comes in #2 on this post, but I absolutely never could stand Jay Gatsby, who ranked as #1. I read The Great Gatsby in my 20s, hated it, then read it again in my 40s, thought it was even worse. It's as mysterious to me as the popularity of U2.

Having said that, it's just a list. And the short pieces making up the American Heritage list are just somebody's (o.k., some of the time, stupid) opinions. As someone once said, nothing to get hung about.
posted by LeLiLo at 11:14 PM on September 25, 2002

I'm not as old as you are, lelilo, and probably haven't read as many books, but I have to step up defend Gatsby.

I agree with the American Heritage writer that it's near perfection as a novel.

It's like a pool that you gets deeper every time you dive into it. More themes show themselves, and the characters grow finer layers. I'm personally baffled as to how someone could dislike it. Though it took me to the third read to really embrace it.
I'm with you on U2 though.

I'll leave you with my personal nomination for most underrated novel: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett.
posted by SoftRain at 12:04 AM on September 26, 2002

[offtopic, yeah, I know]

That's so cool. Invention & Technology is one of my favorite magazines (both my father and stepfather are engineers, so it was always around). Is that a freelance gig?

[/offtopic, yeah, I know]
posted by Vidiot at 4:02 AM on September 26, 2002

I agree with yhbc and semmi -- this list is just one of those "we've got some column inches to fill, let's round up some willing babblers and have them toss off a few random thoughts" deals. Some of them are mildly provoking, but by and large it's cocktail party chatter. And J.D. McClatchy knocking Ezra Pound is like Immanuel Velikovsky attacking Stephen Hawking: good for a smirk, but not worth the time it takes to read. I entirely understand why people who don't spend much time on "modern poetry" have a hard time with Pound, and gawd knows he gave plenty of ammunition to critics, but for someone who has a reputation as a poet to fail to understand the genius of Pound at his best (and to parade the utterly irrelevant political stuff -- hey, check out Milton's politics, he must have been a lousy poet too!) is sad.
posted by languagehat at 7:21 AM on September 26, 2002

clavdivs -

I have my dad's old tobacco trading cards from Israel in the 40s and 50s, only these are all of famous jews - mostly scientists you've never heard of and zionists you've never heard of.

Separately, up with Gatsby and down with Caulfield. Catcher in the Rye basically elevated the most irritating side of teenage angst to the level of the central truth of life. Utter crap and twaddle. Gatsby is, as the author says, about as perfect as a book can be.
posted by fluffy1984 at 7:33 AM on September 26, 2002

Is that a freelance gig?

Vidiot: Thanks for asking. Just about everything I do (editing, writing, proofreading, photography, tour guiding, etc.) is freelance one way or the other; I don't work well in everyday structured situations. My previous AH of I&T articles involved the invention of the Mason jar, and the history of Lionel trains.

I have a very wide range of shallow knowledge, as you can see from this list of some of my published articles.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:18 PM on September 26, 2002

"objective canons"? can you point me to one?

Give me your position.
posted by semmi at 10:34 PM on September 26, 2002

i don't think they will respond semmi, they rarely ever do. Game of cards? beverages on me.
posted by clavdivs at 8:04 AM on September 27, 2002

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