Every dude with a copy of Breakfast of Champions on his nightstand
December 3, 2017 9:45 AM   Subscribe

20 Authors I Don’t Have to Read Because I’ve Dated Men for 16 Years, or, if you’ve spent enough time around dudes, you’ve basically already read these.
posted by acb (276 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm sorry about your dating career.
posted by stinkfoot at 9:57 AM on December 3 [59 favorites]


I read this yesterday and thought of metafilter! The article is better than the headline, especially towards the end as she admits to genuinely liking some of the authors.

Kurt Vonnegut, JD Salinger, Thomas Pynchon, Donald Barthelme and Ernest Hemingway are writers I'm happy to have read. Admittedly, I read them in high school before I started dating.

Last year I read Money by Martin Amis (on the recommendation of David Bowie), and I felt as though I was actually being abused that book was so horrible.
posted by maggiemaggie at 9:59 AM on December 3 [14 favorites]


you lucky b*tch, where can i date guys who read books? I, personally, have never owned or driven a tractor or milked a cow but i have a good working knowledge of how to do both due to dating. And also, how to divorce a wife when you're both aged about 45, and how to half-cope with depression, in ways that don't work for me. None of which interests me, but i'm in rural area (and middle-aged) so it's inevitable. I'd give quite a lot just to date a guy who would turn the tv off for one second during a conversation.
posted by maiamaia at 10:00 AM on December 3 [56 favorites]


12. Ayn Rand: I’m sorry about your start-up.

LOL
posted by cron at 10:00 AM on December 3 [58 favorites]


Man, I'd also add Robert A. Heinlein. (sp?) I had to quit Stranger in a Strange Land after the main character met a woman and his eyes just about popped out of his head because feeeeeemales. Plus Starship Troopers is militaristic garbage.
posted by scruffy-looking nerfherder at 10:01 AM on December 3 [36 favorites]


The only truly feminist thing I have ever done is never finishing a Hemingway novel.

I haven't read enough Hemingway to have an informed opinion on the content of this sentence, but I appreciate the wit of the wording.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:05 AM on December 3 [22 favorites]


I want to have that Bukowski quip embossed onto a giant rubber stamp. I suspect I'd get a lot of use out of it.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 10:05 AM on December 3 [19 favorites]


vonnegut: slaughterhouse 5 is like catch 22, absolutely unique and absolutely essential and tells you something unique and true about war and violence. Hemingway is a writer of two parts: the silly stuff like the one about a woman who dies who literally never says anything but 'darling' in the whole novel (she says that constantly, it's not that she's silent it's that she's braindead), and the one about a fish The Old Man And The Sea, which is way better and very short. DFW is so boring, what is it with americans and dfw? Also, you can tell this woman is very young, or the list would basically consiste of Faulkner (intellectuals) and Steinbeck (everyone else). (Faulkner is great but, and Steinbeck is a writer of two parts: the weird misogyny of East of Eden, and the nostalgia of Cannery Row (great) and The Red Foal.)
posted by maiamaia at 10:05 AM on December 3 [16 favorites]


I've read small amounts of Vonnegut (Cat's Cradle) and Pynchon (The Crying Of Lot 49). I read the first few pages of Salinger's Catcher In The Rye but ended up putting it down, partly due to having absorbed enough about it by osmosis that there was not enough tension/suspense/curiosity to keep me reading on. The same with Bukowski's Ham On Rye, which, under its seedy, two-fisted masculinity, seemed content-free.
posted by acb at 10:06 AM on December 3 [2 favorites]


Mirror List:
Audre Lorde
Virginia Woolf
bell hooks
Anne Tyler
Naomi Wolf
Joyce Carol Oates
Margaret Atwood
posted by leotrotsky at 10:08 AM on December 3 [27 favorites]


DFW is so boring, what is it with americans and dfw?

Literature as an endurance exercise: do the hard yards of parsing 500+ pages of six-page paragraphs and two-page sentences, and then you've earned your “I've Read Infinite Jest” badge of merit. It's Boot Camp for litbros, and what you do if you can't climb mountains or hunt your own food or something.
posted by acb at 10:08 AM on December 3 [45 favorites]


I've just read Player Piano when I was a teenager and the pervy bits from American Psycho... am I still a guy?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:09 AM on December 3 [1 favorite]


also i thought Catcher in the Rye was really good at the ending until i read Lolita (now that is a masterpiece) and realised it was cribbed from that. Like when you read War and Peace and realise Dr. Zhivago is cribbed from it, or the first volume of Chateaubriand and realise the whole of Proust is based on it. Prefer chat. meself. Did like the efficiency of the character writing in Catcher though, eg one guy's irritating way of squeezing his pimples all the time is his whole character, but it works
posted by maiamaia at 10:09 AM on December 3 [2 favorites]


This is a great list, because none of my favorite authors are on it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:11 AM on December 3 [10 favorites]


"It's Boot Camp for litbros." You know what i went and did? Waded through the whole of Proust till the last fifty pages. So if i am ever to finish it, i have to reread all six chunksters/doorstoppers. Boot camp for litbros seriously is The Book Of Memory by that Hungarian chap, i can't believe that i read it. I've read some long stuff, eg i recommend the Penguin translation of that Story of the Stone, gripping, but that was the worst slog ever. (And proust was bad, but the good bits here and there are extraordinary.)
posted by maiamaia at 10:12 AM on December 3 [4 favorites]


Your favorite bandook sucks.
posted by mzurer at 10:14 AM on December 3 [12 favorites]


13. Jack Kerouac: One of the greatest things about getting older is that nobody has tried to talk to me about Jack Kerouac in at least five years.

Huh, lucky her. :(
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 10:15 AM on December 3 [13 favorites]


I re-read Catcher a few years ago and found that it was kind of hilarious. Holden Caulfield takes himself so seriously, and he's such an idiot.
posted by thelonius at 10:16 AM on December 3 [27 favorites]


What a lot of these writers have in common is a kind of aesthetic that's like, "Yeah that's right, I just blasted out that sentence/paragraph, is your feeble mind and weak stomach able to handle it?" and they naturally attract a kind of guy who fancies himself to be some bold and daring iconoclast but is actually dead average and so he utilizes these authors as a kind of armor. And I am bored shitless of these dudes.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 10:16 AM on December 3 [109 favorites]


I also fiercely love Thomas Pynchon, but yes.

(I'd definitely add Jonathan Lethem and Haruki Murakami to this list).
posted by thivaia at 10:18 AM on December 3 [9 favorites]


Wait wait wait, the kind of dudes that you meet at an n + 1 party, like the left wing journal of that name? I mean, admittedly, I am not interested in dating right now, and while I would not totally exclude straight cis men from the dating pool they are not my primary demographic, and I've never been to a party attended by people who are associated with n + 1, but I have both read it for a long time and known one person who wrote for them (anarchist, AFAB, non-binary, Finnish - I miss you!) and I would actually say that people around/who write for n+1 are almost categorically uninterested in any of those writers up to and including the "classy" ones like Barthelme that it's okay to like if you're not a cis straight guy. So I am confuse! I had always assumed that an n +1 party would be where I'd go to meet people into, like, WG Seybald and Donna Haraway and so on. Is it that the magazine is massively better than the people or something?
posted by Frowner at 10:29 AM on December 3 [2 favorites]


The solid burns really set up the OK ACTUALLY DFW twist pretty good
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:31 AM on December 3 [18 favorites]


It's either a humble-brag, or a complaint, that she dates the kind of guys who read literary novels once they're no longer assigned school reading, given that the vast majority of dateable men tend to fall into the ex-jock or (ex)-nerd reading categories of sports, business news, or SF/comic book reading, if they read at all...
posted by MattD at 10:31 AM on December 3 [6 favorites]


Wait wait wait, the kind of dudes that you meet at an n + 1 party, like the left wing journal of that name?

no, there was no "theory"; it would need at least Foucault and Baudrillard to be a real hibro list
posted by thelonius at 10:33 AM on December 3 [8 favorites]


I LOLed when Philip Roth was #1 because he was the first one I thought of when I read the headline, followed closely by Updike. And I would also add Milan Kundera. I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being in high school and even then thought to myself, “what the shit is this?”
posted by something something at 10:36 AM on December 3 [26 favorites]


I've read books by nearly all the authors on the list, as well as the others in this thread. I haven't finished all of them. But I don't date people. How terrible of a person am I?
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:36 AM on December 3 [5 favorites]


I've mentioned before that Hemingway can be interpreted as more subversive than he appears on the surface. All of his stories start with tough guys on macho adventures, but they all end up being about the pointlessness of masculinity.
posted by ovvl at 10:37 AM on December 3 [58 favorites]


“Beware those in whom the urge to lit-shame is strong.” — some guy in a book on one of her ex-boyfriends’ nightstands, probably
posted by Barack Spinoza at 10:38 AM on December 3 [10 favorites]


I'm going to put in my OKC profile that I haven't read hardly any of this stuff.

Bukowski fandom has always been a red flag for me, personalitywise, as much as Ayn Rand. I get that innovation happens at the margins, and perhaps my antipathy towards him is envy on that front, but sorry no.
posted by rhizome at 10:38 AM on December 3 [10 favorites]


The kind of man she is dating is the kind of man that would only ever live in Portland or Brooklyn, maybe Chicago, maybe Austin. Literally every last one of them moved there because it was his destiny to be among his bold, iconoclastic, individualistic peers.

If you don't live in one of those places you probably won't meet one. If you do live in Portland or Brooklyn you'll find them impossible to avoid.
posted by the turtle's teeth at 10:39 AM on December 3 [15 favorites]


Back around the time GWB became President David Brooks thought that it’d be meaningful to lump people together based on the stuff they consumed - liberals like lattes and Volvos and organic food and are out of touch with Real Amercians who like drip coffee and Fords and burgers.

That was a really shallow way of looking at human beings and examining their politics and it became the most popular lens and, as this article demonstrates, has now been adopted by the very liberals Brooks was painting with his very broad brush to describe themselves to each other. So I guess he won that.
posted by eustacescrubb at 10:39 AM on December 3 [90 favorites]


And I would also add Milan Kundera

he seems to have fallen low on the bro canon, yes, in recent decades. Peaked about 1990, I'd say.
he was right about graphomania though
posted by thelonius at 10:39 AM on December 3 [3 favorites]


lol Updike, and sick burn on Bukowski. I definitely have been given a Bukowski book as a gift by a romantic partner (yeah, he's a little twisted). Updike, I was lucky enough to first read in the context of critiquing him in a suburban-lit class, so that worked out. I don't recall Salinger really saying much about women at all, though. Maybe I've forgotten, 'cause I read that ish back in high school.

Miller, Hemingway, Pynchon, and Vonnegut we read in school too, and mostly no one has tried to talk to me about them since, unlike the author's experience, I guess. Maybe I got that out of the way early. I read Kerouac back then too (one of the young-dude coaches who taught social studies at the time said I wouldn't really get his work until I was older—I guess because drugs and sex?—but I think I got it just fine). As a result, I'm amused when I see lines from him or Ginsberg in people's dating profiles or whatever. On one hand, I like that stuff, taken in context, and it informed my world view; on the other hand, lol.

I've talked about this before, but I read and really enjoyed Rand in high school too—eventually I learned enough to get why her work was ultimately nonsensical, but I did get something out of it at the time. I did learn to code a bit and I did work for a couple startups, though, so...

DFW I lost all interest in reading after this editor dude I worked with passive-aggressively sent me a copy of the notes DFW had written to his editor about the revenge he would take upon him or whatever if a precious word of his work were modified. This thing. Regardless of how DFW meant it, I know how the fanboy editor meant it, so no thanks. American Psycho in movie form is dear to my heart, and I saw Less Than Zero too, so I don't feel a need to actually read much by Ellis, though I'm sure there are nuances I'm missing.

But I legit enjoyed works by Roth, Palahniuk (well, at least until Rant, and I used to quote him in my own dating profile once upon a time), Wolfe, and yes, even Franzen. The others I have no interest in, and I hope no one tries to talk to me about them.

I thought it might get around to Fitzgerald, but it didn't, and actually I'm the one who keeps giving people copies of This Side of Paradise, so... Fitzgerald was perhaps less macho than most of these guys, I can say. Or maybe it was like "What about Fitzgerald?" "Uh, what about him?"
posted by limeonaire at 10:41 AM on December 3 [1 favorite]


It's either a humble-brag, or a complaint, that she dates the kind of guys who read literary novels once they're no longer assigned school reading,

This is published on a lit-focused website of interest to readers who can for sure relate to the complaint. I would even say that most of these choices are a bit tired at this point, people have been making fun of franzen, Hemingway and DFW prophets for years now.
posted by Think_Long at 10:42 AM on December 3 [5 favorites]


> "DFW is so boring ..." "Literature as an endurance exercise ..."

At this point, bagging on DFW and everyone who likes him (and also Salinger, at least on the websites where I hang out, like, um, here) is the new I-Don't-Even-Own-A-Television type of shibboleth, and I wish it would stop. Love him, hate him, or ignore him, but it'd be great if people would stop cluttering up every thread where DFW gets mentioned with comments about how much he suuuuucks and everyone who enjoys his work suuuuucks.
posted by kyrademon at 10:43 AM on December 3 [83 favorites]


> also i thought Catcher in the Rye was really good at the ending until i read Lolita (now that is a masterpiece) and realised it was cribbed from that.

Wait, what?
posted by cjorgensen at 10:47 AM on December 3 [5 favorites]


Didn't catcher come out before Lolita?
posted by Think_Long at 10:50 AM on December 3 [6 favorites]


Holden Caulfield takes himself so seriously, and he's such an idiot.

Correct, Holden Caulfield is a teenager.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:50 AM on December 3 [102 favorites]


I've read books by nearly all the authors on the list, as well as the others in this thread. I haven't finished all of them. But I don't date people. How terrible of a person am I?

It depends. Do you lecture people about either Big Star or Kanye?
posted by thelonius at 10:54 AM on December 3 [9 favorites]


I don't get this piece at all. Sure, maybe some of the guys she dates are insufferable, but that doesn't make anything on this list something one should remain willfully ignorant of. I'm not going to advocate for any particular work, but I always find it weird when people take pride in not doing something. I mean, I understand it. I don't watch sports. I take pride in that I haven't burned out years of my life watching a thing go back and forth. Sportsball and all that, but we're talking books here. I haven't read any Rand for example, but I'm not exactly proud of this, nor would I mock those who have. Some of these authors I've read every single title. One or two I've never heard of. I know I am more proud of the former than the latter.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:54 AM on December 3 [20 favorites]


So, I’m a magic pixie dream girl? I feel so... pretty!
posted by valkane at 10:57 AM on December 3 [6 favorites]


It depends. Do you lecture people about either Big Star or Kanye?

I don't know who Big Star is. I have had nearly zero conversations about Kanye. I do live in Austin though.
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:04 AM on December 3 [1 favorite]


Back around the time GWB became President David Brooks thought that it’d be meaningful to lump people together based on the stuff they consumed - liberals like lattes and Volvos and organic food and are out of touch with Real Amercians who like drip coffee and Fords and burgers.


I think you're giving David Brooks a lot of credit here for what is just regular ol' stereotyping. Please don't tell me not to prejudge people who love Ayn Rand.
posted by graventy at 11:14 AM on December 3 [37 favorites]


What should we read into the fact that Helena didn't include F. Scott in her list?
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:14 AM on December 3 [1 favorite]


I don't know who Big Star is.

seminal indie/bedroom pop gods

this would be a good variant of the Žižek game, especially in Austin
posted by thelonius at 11:18 AM on December 3 [9 favorites]


I don't get this piece at all. Sure, maybe some of the guys she dates are insufferable, but that doesn't make anything on this list something one should remain willfully ignorant of.

The difference is you're just reading the books. The dudes she dates are using them as affectations, totems to show who they are to the world. Nightstand part is the key.
posted by zabuni at 11:18 AM on December 3 [42 favorites]


I don't even own a nightstand!
posted by thelonius at 11:20 AM on December 3 [47 favorites]


Are you not supposed to keep a rotating pile of books on your nightstand?
posted by The Gaffer at 11:22 AM on December 3 [5 favorites]


I've only listened to that one song, but Big Star seems OK. Oddly enough they sound almost modern, I guess stuff kind of goes in cycles. If I heard this in a movie I'd assume it was by a new band I hadn't heard of yet.
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:23 AM on December 3 [3 favorites]


> "What should we read into the fact that Helena didn't include F. Scott in her list?"

I guess not many of her boyfriends were that into singing the National Anthem.
posted by kyrademon at 11:24 AM on December 3 [19 favorites]


My husband is super great and has a lot of neat and brainy interests but reading fiction is not one of them (though in one day he will devour a book on, say, building your own outside wood-fired pizza oven), and I honestly miss talking about books with my partner. I mean, I'm glad he's not the kind of person who thinks Catcher in the Rye is going to change my life, but... it'd be nice to talk about books. I'd even talk about Salinger.
posted by obfuscation at 11:24 AM on December 3 [3 favorites]


Are you not supposed to keep a rotating pile of books on your nightstand?

I have 2 piles on the floor, next to the nightstand. "Read" and "To Read." I move them upstairs to the bookshelves when my wife complains, or I can't open the nightstand drawers, whichever comes first.

I hope I never have to date again. I don't think I have the fortitude to do it. Bless all of you out there working your way through it, whatever it is you like to read.
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:25 AM on December 3 [7 favorites]


I prejudged people who read Ayn Rand long before I prejudged people who prostylize David Brooks.
posted by herda05 at 11:30 AM on December 3 [17 favorites]


Does this kind of guy still read Tom Robbins? Some of these references seem a little dated to me. I'll admit, though, that I don't have a ton to do with those guys anymore and am not super clear on what they're reading these days.

(I have read many books by many of the authors on that list. At some point in college, I went on a Martin Amis kick, which was probably ill-advised. But there was also a time when I thought I needed to read prestige fiction even if it was terrible and unpleasant, and luckily for me, that time has passed.)
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:31 AM on December 3 [4 favorites]


Speaking as someone who probably passed through a horrible lit-bro phase in my 20s before (god, I hope) growing into a more decent, rounded reading adult, I have a whole bunch of feels here. My big-picture takeaway is that there's no shame in reading most of these writers (even with Rand, I think the years I've spent internal debating why Atlas Shrugged is a crock of shit have served me well, and wouldn't have happened if I hadn't read it), but it's a very terrible thing if you read some subset of them, stop there in terms of finding new voices and perspectives, and just coast for a the rest of your life in "hey, I've read the Sun Also Rises, I know how the world works" mode. Because that attitude is pervasive and toxic.

The presence of Tom Robbins on the list made me just about sigh myself to full deflation. I really feel awkward about the pedestal I put Robbins on when I was an undergrad and just after; I really, really thought he was the Ultimate Dude Who Had Figured Shit Out. Going back and checking him out again in my late 30s led to a whole lot of literary soul-searching; I actually turned that into an article that I'm pretty proud of, that pays particular attention to Robbins' shitty attitudes about women and what a bad thing that was to be loading into my head as a not-fully-formed adult. And MAN did I get a lot of hate mail about that article; there's definitely a Tom Robbins Army who do not like reevaluations of the man.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 11:32 AM on December 3 [31 favorites]


20 authors on whose work I have involuntarily ended up with a strong opinion due to my unfortunate heterosexuality.

Sing it, sister. I, too, love that Roth is #1 on her hit parade; he gets a mention in this Ursula K. Le Guin interview linked in an FPP just yesterday:

Q. Does being in the Library of America make you feel you’ve joined the immortals? You’re now up there with all the greats — Twain, Poe, Wharton.

A. I grew up with a set of Mark Twain in the house. Collections of authors’ work were not such a big deal. And my agent was hesitant about the contract, since the pay upfront was less than she’s used to settling for. She’s a good agent. Her job is to make money. What I did not realize is that being published in the Library of America is a real and enduring honor. Especially while you’re still alive. Philip Roth and I make a peculiar but exclusive club.


It could be read as less than complimentary toward Roth, if you're so inclined. Which I am.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:34 AM on December 3 [6 favorites]


Of the ones I've read:

Roth-I spent my 20's assuming that I could get away with hating him without reading him. I was challenged to read him so that I could hate from a position of knowledge. It turned out that he was amazing, so I had to read all of his books. That said, I can see where a woman might be less thrilled by him. Both my mother and grandmother have read and liked them, but my mother likes her books even more dudely than I do, so I'm not sure what that says.

Vonnegut-If you haven't read him as a teenager, you haven't read him at the right time. I never got that into him, but I liked him well enough as a 15 year old.

Robbins-My mother really liked his first 5 or so, and still keeps up with him. I was okay with the one with the cig pack on the cover, but he seemed pretty light, in general. With one exception, I've only met women who are into him.

Miller-Death of a Salesman was okay in Lit 101, but it didn't inspire me to go out and find more.

Franzen-He is a pretty decent writer, but he often reaches into areas that he should stay out of. When he isn't writing about mid/upper class educated dudes, he stumbles. He also seems like a dick and he can pry the cats out of my cold dead hands.

Foer-I stopped resisting Foer a few years ago. He is talented, but a little heavy on the cheese sometimes.

Palahniuk-I liked everything up to Choke as a young man. Most of his stuff is pretty brutal in retrospect.

Bukowski-I had that phase. His novels are decent. His poetry is less so. I run into more women that read him than guys these days, probably because I will put up with more silliness from women than I will from guys. Never date a woman who likes Bukowski (and probably never date a guy either, I'd imagine). In general, he is a poor man's Henry Miller.

Updike-The same thing that happened to me with Roth happened to me with Updike. He was talented. I wouldn't recommend him to a woman. He whiffed on Vietnam.

Ellis-I hate the guy and his recent alt-right leanings have made me vow to only steal or borrow his next book, but I really like his writing. The much maligned Glamorama is the best.

Rand-Atlas Shrugged was brutal. Her devotees are even more brutal.

Kerouac-Another phase. Big Sur was worth it. In retrospect, most of what I read by him wasn't.

Pynchon-His longer books are great. His smaller books seem a bit like Tom Robbins on hard mode.

Amis-I like Amis and his father. Much like his father, his books vary greatly in quality. He's a lot less offensive than his father was.

Barthelme-His book about Snow White was horrible. I couldn't get into his short stories.

Wallace-He has gone down in my estimation over the last decade, but he was a good gateway.

Hemingway-He is so ridiculously overrated. Some of his stuff is okay, but barely.

I'm glad that I haven't read Wolfe and Mailer (even if Mailer is on my shelf), or this would be even more embarrassing.

I wish guys read more translated fiction. For the most part, that is where it is at. I certainly wouldn't throw all of these authors out with bathwater, but I also wouldn't recommend any of them to a woman or anyone else. They can get those recommendations from other people. I would rather throw something unique at them.
posted by bootlegpop at 11:49 AM on December 3 [7 favorites]


I'd say Bellow should be on the list, but I guess he's covered by Roth and Updike.

(I liked Him With his Foot in his Mouth but I couldn't finish Herzog once it was clear that the author and I had markedly different sympathies for the protagonist.)

I hadn't thought about it, but I suppose F. Scott Fitzgerald is a bit outside of the zietgiest right now, and so probably doesn't merit a spot on the list. A dude trying on Fitzgerald as an affection today would seem... comic? Misguided? Maybe Fitzegerald's too effete, or his writing is too technically correct without being appropriately colloquial or vulgar. But in another time I can totally see him inspiring young insufferables. This Side of Paradise (which I loved deeply because it was the right book at the right time for me) is basically begging to be some sensitive undergrad-bro's Werther.
posted by postcommunism at 11:50 AM on December 3 [5 favorites]


And I would also add Milan Kundera. I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being in high school and even then thought to myself, “what the shit is this?”

Milan Kundera is the Dave Matthews of Slavic letters, a talented hack, certainly a hack who's paid his dues, but a hack nonetheless, or so Maciej Cegłowski says.
posted by acb at 11:53 AM on December 3 [7 favorites]


Kerouac-Another phase. Big Sur was worth it. In retrospect, most of what I read by him wasn't.

It's a pretty harsh look at the endgame of lifestyle alcoholism. They ought to issue it with every copy of On The Road.
posted by thelonius at 11:54 AM on December 3 [5 favorites]


I am vehemently opposed to telling people what they shouldn’t read.
posted by chavenet at 11:55 AM on December 3 [17 favorites]


Rand-Atlas Shrugged was brutal. Her devotees are even more brutal

To put Rand in her place, the total negative impact of all of her writings is slightly less than the total negative impact of the methodologically flawed wolf study from the 1950s that gave the world the term “alpha male”.
posted by acb at 11:58 AM on December 3 [31 favorites]


I'm also vehemently opposed to telling people what they shouldn't read, and what they shouldn't like. I've dated dudes with Breakfast of Champions on their nightstands and have been dismayed to find American Psycho shelved right next to The Fountainhead at another former BF's house. However, I'd read those books. It's OK to like some of these authors, too. It's OK to know things, even if those things don't agree with your worldview or some internet-prescribed okayness.

Ignorance isn't a badge of honor. Honestly, I think all women should read these books so they know just what ideas their dates are feeding off of.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 12:07 PM on December 3 [8 favorites]


Didn't catcher come out before Lolita?

Cribbing from Wikipedia:
Catcher in the Rye: 1951
Lolita: 1955
Looks like it: Salinger was obviously short on ideas and had to crib from the future that month :)

(Plot resolutions are ten a penny, it’s the execution that counts.)
posted by pharm at 12:10 PM on December 3 [7 favorites]


Now, this may not apply to meat-market literary parties, but it strikes me that I'm more interested in why people like what they like than in dismissing them out of hand. Perhaps this is a provincial lower middle class thing, but most of the people I know who read tend to read according to fairly idiosyncratic purposes (or read based on what's available in the library - that's how I grew up reading), so being totally into, like, Saul Bellow might mean that there was a lot of Saul Bellow at the library, or your favorite English teacher in high school was totally into him, or there was a big display at the downtown Chicago Waterstone's (like, I think of Bellow as a regional writer a la Nelson Algren - my dad was super into him because he wrote about Chicago, although because my dad was always talking him up I stubbornly refused to read him and never have).

There's also this rhetorical move - a sort of upsell - that I've engaged in wish I hadn't. It's like when you buy what you think is a nice pair of shoes that were quite expensive by your standards and someone sees you being enthusiastic and sneers about how they're just corrected-grain leather or whatever, and then you know that nothing you can ever access is good enough, not really.

What you do is find someone who is super-enthused about a writer or a book, and sneer about how they're not really good, not like something you've read. If someone really learned and grew by reading David Foster Wallace, you should say something about how trite DFW is and name-check someone "better", or at least more obscure. If they've read something classier, you sneer and name something else higher on the list. It gets tricky when you meet people who are into, like, Ulysses or Henry James or Bertha Harris or whomever, but you can always name something more obscure that you've read and allege that it's better, or attack the subject matter. The key part of this game is destroying the person's enthusiasm and confidence in their own interests - ideally, if you play repeatedly against the same person, you can utterly destroy any sense they have of their own tastes and render them utterly dependent on whatever is trending on whatever the most ideologically and socially correct literary website is in your circle.
posted by Frowner at 12:11 PM on December 3 [118 favorites]


I have a degree in English Literature so I've read through pretty much all of these authors. Thankfully, I read them through the lens of criticism and so these take-downs were really enjoyable.

I will admit there was a time when I was blown away by Roth, Vonnegut, and Franzen but I think I was more in love with the cult of their writing than their actual writings itself. I still see value in their work but I also feel that I've grown as a reader and so these particular writers don't speak to me as much as they once might have.
posted by Fizz at 12:15 PM on December 3 [2 favorites]


One thing that a surfeit of such books seems to suggest is the idea that there's no such thing as a human point of view, just male and female points of view. And that dudes can only think themselves into male points of view (one of Hemingway's bullfighters or Bukowski's bums or some Brooklyn Jonathan wearing his suit jacket over a T-shirt or something), because the two are like chalk and cheese: male points of view are rugged, self-reliant and action-oriented, whereas female ones are squishy and pink and relationship-oriented. So, in other words, a buildup of books from this list could imply a (somewhat cultivated, but nonetheless real) toxic masculinity.
posted by acb at 12:21 PM on December 3 [6 favorites]


I haven't read a lot of this because it doesn't appeal to me. But I'm not going to post a list on the internet of "things I haven't read but I'm sure are so shitty I'm going to judge other people harshly for". That just seems odd, except in the context of getting clicks.
posted by bongo_x at 12:22 PM on December 3 [4 favorites]


Also, in re David Foster Wallace: reading The Broom of the System and Girl With Curious Hair was huge for me in high school. I loved those books. What little metafiction I've read, I read because I started out with DFW - I read Lost In The Funhouse because one of the stories in Girl With Curious Hair is partly about it, for instance. And both those books taught me things and gave me ideas on a very basic level - I'd never thought about, eg, the social apparatus by which people appeared on talk shows, or what it would be like to appear on one; I'd never thought about how authors tend to give names to characters and so I puzzled and puzzled over the weird names in Broom of the System. Sexual harassment and creepy-stalky behavior is a big theme in BotS - it's not a towering work of staggering feminism or anything, but it made me feel more prepared for both frat-ish and literary creepiness.

I didn't really keep up with DFW - I mean, I read Infinite Jest a long time ago (although even there I read it because I was abroad and English-language books were in short supply and someone had a copy) but it seems more like a sort of intellectual readymade to hate him as one is supposed to do now.
posted by Frowner at 12:22 PM on December 3 [6 favorites]


Telling this story, I always imagine Roth holding a box that just says BAD DICK CREAM.

chefkiss.gif
posted by poffin boffin at 12:27 PM on December 3 [8 favorites]


I guess I'd say I liked DFW because, at the time, he stretched my reading skills. Okay, lol, how dumb and pathetic it was, I could have been reading, like, Lolita or Kathy Acker or something, but on the other hand I could also have been reading nothing, or airport thrillers, or evangelical Christian novels. If the point is to learn, grow and think - well, people learn, grow and think by reading all kinds of things.
posted by Frowner at 12:27 PM on December 3 [8 favorites]


The curious thing about DFW, at least with my own experience of him and his writings, is that I've read more ABOUT him than from him. I've made so many posts about DFW on MetaFilter. I enjoy reading about people who read DFW and reviews and articles about his life.
posted by Fizz at 12:28 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


downtown Chicago Waterstone's

I wish this existed.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 12:29 PM on December 3 [6 favorites]


It is actually a much better idea to read a lot of books and understand men secondhand, classifying them by what sort of books they like, than to date a lot of men and understand books secondhand, classifying them by what sort of men read them. you don't have to do either and you can do both. but if you had to choose exactly one option, I mean.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:41 PM on December 3 [25 favorites]


it strikes me that I'm more interested in why people like what they like than in dismissing them out of hand. Perhaps this is a provincial lower middle class thing, but most of the people I know who read tend to read according to fairly idiosyncratic purposes (or read based on what's available in the library - that's how I grew up reading), so being totally into, like, Saul Bellow might mean that there was a lot of Saul Bellow at the library, or your favorite English teacher in high school was totally into him, or there was a big display at the downtown Chicago Waterstone's (like, I think of Bellow as a regional writer a la Nelson Algren - my dad was super into him because he wrote about Chicago, although because my dad was always talking him up I stubbornly refused to read him and never have).

I'm with you on this, Frowner. The line that's in my head right now: "Yeah, I read that too." Heh. That bit from Good Will Hunting always resonated with me, as someone who went to the library a lot and got some large portion of this list of authors out of the way before I was out of high school. The snark is fun for me 'cause I know these authors; I could see it being an entirely different kind of fun if I'd dated many people who were into them. (I want a version of this for sci-fi–and–fantasy geeks.) But yeah, why people like what they like is super interesting to me too—if we like the same things, or you like the same books as a number of other people I know who've liked X or Y thing or grew up in A, B, or C place or way, and we can connect on that, or talk about the typology of that, that's fascinating to me. Quick-hit ways to read people can be ultimately shallow, but they've always interested me—it's a place to start the conversation, not end it. And you'll get a good bit of excited fast talking (or fast typing) from me if we happen to like or be influenced by the same stuff for similar reasons.
posted by limeonaire at 12:41 PM on December 3 [11 favorites]


downtown Chicago Waterstone's

I wish this existed


There was one up through about the mid-nineties, wasn't there? Or at least one that was sort of near downtown? My family and I drove up there once, and I seem to recall I bought the Norton Anthology of contemporary SF, the controversial one that Ursula Le Guin edited.
posted by Frowner at 12:42 PM on December 3


It probably sucks for him, but this list makes me slightly glad that Vollmann has stopped being popular. Despite doing a full photobook of himself dressed up as a woman, he is very dudely in many ways, and I remember a time when it seemed like Wallace/Vollmann/Franzen were a band or something due to how often they got mentioned together. So, he probably would have made this article 15 years ago.
--------
It has become bad form for someone cursed with masculinity (no, really, it's often a curse, both to those who wield it and those around them) like myself to say so, so I initially refrained from doing so, but articles like this are pretty rude and kind of a knock on both men and women, really. I mean, my mother introduced me to Harry Crews, Jim Harrison, and a bunch of other "problematic" authors who were far more excessively duded up than anyone else on this list. I think that she thought that DFW was too feminine tbh. She finds a lot of what my grandmother and I read to be too "soft" and literary, I think. People will surprise you. Generalizations can blind one to how often they can do so. That said, some of it was pretty funny, and Houllebecq really should have been included.
posted by bootlegpop at 12:46 PM on December 3 [6 favorites]


I know the conceit of this piece is not having to have read these authors, but I think the piece would have been better had the author actually read these authors and been able to write more incisive burns. For instance, the joke “Kurt Vonnegut is the manic pixie dream girl of literature” just shows a lack of understanding of both Vonnegut and the concept of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. And the Rand joke was the laziest possible Rand joke.
posted by ejs at 12:47 PM on December 3 [17 favorites]


When I was in college, Robbins was popular, but I only remember one male friend of mine talking about him. His popularity seemed (in that place at that time, at least) to be driven by women readers. I tried rereading one of his books a few years ago and didn't make it very far.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:48 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


If the point is to learn, grow and think - well, people learn, grow and think by reading all kinds of things.

This 100%. I hope I'm not judged forever by the books I read when I was younger. A month or so ago there was a thread where I admitted to having read a lot of Ayn Rand and Tom Clancy and there were some jokes about my taste. And I can appreciate that, I look back and laugh at my own tastes as a teenager and what I was interested in and my politics and passions do not directly correlate with those authors and that genre of reading.

I matured, I grew up, I found myself reading things I never thought I'd read. I used to make fun of people who read Robert Jordan. It's an easy joke to make in the fantasy genre because a lot of people like to talk about how wordy the Wheel of Time is and how it lives in fantasy cliches and tropes. Then one day I made a particularly snarky comment on a fantasy board and R.A. Salvatore happened to read my comment and he sort of put a check on my ego and arrogance. He mentioned that he wouldn't be the writer he is without the likes of Robert Jordan and that even if I wasn't a fan of his writings, that his significance and influence in the genre and the book industry changed things for all kinds of people.

I appreciate these take-downs and there's certainly a conversation to be had about white dudebro privilege in the publishing world and in how much of that makes up the English Literary Canon, but I guess I've just personally learned to let people like whatever the fuck they want to like. I might judge you in my brain or disagree with an individual's tastes but whatev.
posted by Fizz at 12:48 PM on December 3 [8 favorites]




yeah this kind of thing is cute and I can relate as a former bookstore clerk more than as a girlfriend, because I have a professionally developed eye for these types and they can't sneak up on me. but it still makes me tired. can't somebody write a listicle of bad boyfriend types, on a tolerable to intolerable scale of St. John Rivers to Charles Bovary to Jerott Blyth? it wouldn't be very funny and has probably been done many times, but I would just like these things to assume the target audience has read a lot of books, rather than has dated a lot of people who have read books.

it is an area of some sensitivity to me, as to many women who read more sexist books before middle school than most pretentious Kerouac-loving dipshits will read in their whole lives. amuse me all you like, but imagining a world where some terrible boyfriend has read a garbage book I haven't read is not in my gift
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:52 PM on December 3 [5 favorites]


There was one up through about the mid-nineties, wasn't there?

Yes--it was eventually done in by the Barnes & Noble around the corner.

It may be that my doctorate in English strikes terror into the hearts of men, or something, but the gentlemen of my acquaintance are most likely to bring up lit in order to ask me for a recommendation, not to opine themselves. In any event, I'm usually happy to hear that someone enjoys reading, no matter what the reading matter is, so my response to this article was pretty much Frowner's.
posted by thomas j wise at 12:54 PM on December 3 [5 favorites]


There was one up through about the mid-nineties, wasn't there?

Yes--it was eventually done in by the Barnes & Noble around the corner.


Wow, I had no idea Waterstone's ever made it to North America.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 12:56 PM on December 3


I feel bad for everyone in this article. Both (A) the men who either leave a copy of Infinite Jest on the nightstand totemically or who actually read it and get weirdly judged by (B) this insufferable listicle-writing twit. I'm glad I don't have to date her.
posted by axiom at 12:56 PM on December 3 [12 favorites]


I always thought of Vonnegut as the "crusty old man who gets the kids" of literature, and before this article, I thought that Robbins' core demographic was women who smoke enough pot that they go through an excessive amount of incense.

RE: Books That Literally All White Men Own: The Definitive List

Having read everything that has been translated by Grass yet never having met anyone who has read anything by him, I sure wish that every white dude owned The Tin Drum.

In general, just finding a partner who reads more than one book a month has always been pretty difficult, and I have only tended to succeed at doing so once or twice a decade so far.

I usually keep books that I haven't read on my bed stand. I currently have Isabel by Tabucchi, Scar by Sara Mesa, My Unwritten Books by George Steiner, and The Macguffin by Stanley Elkin on my bed stand; along with a giant crappy 5 dollar Amazon history of Art book that I got as a gift which I am currently using to mask the fact that one of the glass panels on said bedstand is busted (and to elevate my books to a point where they will not get a drink spilled on them if one happens to spill).
posted by bootlegpop at 12:57 PM on December 3 [3 favorites]


I mean who reads, amirite people
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 12:58 PM on December 3 [4 favorites]


This is a bad thing I did once - an actual bad thing that I actually regret, not like the time that I let the baby mouse out of the trap and into my messiest housemate's crumb-covered room:

So some years ago I was at a cafe with some friends, and we were talking about, like, radikewl anarchist stuff. And this girl started talking with us. She was clearly from a small town and a lower middle class background and she'd just moved to the city and was just finding out about activist stuff. So we were talking about activist things and anarchism and so on, and I made a bunch of stupid, lazy riffs on how libertarianism is just anarchism for the selfish and lazy, because I was, you know, just that cool and insightful, dropping truth bombs, etc. So she gets really quiet, and it turns out that she was a libertarian - but the kind you are when you've grown up in an authoritarian, right-wing, super Christian small town and being libertarian is actually both more reasonable and one of the few accessible alternate philosophies. And that was that - instead of bringing this girl in so that she could be welcome to some of the neat stuff happening locally at the time (and don't judge the neat stuff by my behavior here) I had shown her that who she was was not good enough, and stupid, and risible. Instead of making the circle bigger, I made it smaller. And why? Basically because I wanted to show off to my friends about what a - well, I guess whatever "edgelord" is for anarchists - I was. Basically, I was a dick to someone who had made herself at least somewhat socially vulnerable to me because I was conforming to the smelly little orthodoxy of my kind.

It is for this reason that even with Ayn Rand fans and libertarians I like to at least find out where people are coming from before unleashing the power of, like, being right-on and politically correct.
posted by Frowner at 1:00 PM on December 3 [123 favorites]


Frowner, just want to say I appreciate all of your well thought out comments in this thread/discussion. Thanks for sharing.
posted by Fizz at 1:07 PM on December 3 [6 favorites]


I'm not going to advocate for any particular work, but I always find it weird when people take pride in not doing something. I mean, I understand it. I don't watch sports. I take pride in that I haven't burned out years of my life watching a thing go back and forth. Sportsball and all that, but we're talking books here. I haven't read any Rand for example, but I'm not exactly proud of this, nor would I mock those who have.

It's not so much taking pride as expressing gratitude for being spared suffering that so many people did not escape.
posted by straight at 1:07 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


it strikes me that I'm more interested in why people like what they like than in dismissing them out of hand

I think you could offer the same charity to the writer of this article. What is it that makes so many men who read certain books to be so insufferable to women that it's common enough to joke about?
posted by straight at 1:12 PM on December 3 [29 favorites]


I loved Ayn Rand as a 14-year-old girl, which is when you should like her, before you know anything at all about the world but after you have decided you know everything about the world.

Most of the others I agree. They are all about male issues. Even when I had nothing else to read, I couldn't get into them because at some point I said (I was young, I apologize), "I'm so sorry about your genitalia" and drifted away.

When I was a kid Heinlein was one of the few SF authors who thought women could be intelligent, and he was a good story-teller. But then I grew up when no one had female protagonists except him and when women didn't really exist in literature.
posted by Peach at 1:13 PM on December 3 [10 favorites]


In my experience, women listing Still Life with Woodpecker (Robbins) as a favorite book on their OKC profiles is like a top five online dating trope, up there with the phrase "looking for a partner in crime". It is legion. Never talked to a man, ever, about Tom Robbins. In my entire life. William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and Terry Pratchett, on the other hand... now that is a dudely list of writer dudes. Perhaps they are not literary enough for this author, or dudes assume they will accrue negative cool points by leaving these books on the nightstand and keep them hidden in a hope chest.

These types of lists, barring extensive and expensive polling, will always be a weird reflection of your own life and desires, and (assuming she is deriving this list from her history of dating and not just kinda freestyling) very dangerous to go public with. Like, I honestly wonder why I seem to self-select women who love Tom Robbins, when I don't like Tom Robbins.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 1:18 PM on December 3 [2 favorites]


Weird, I read every Tom Robbins novel round about 1998. I didn't know anyone else who'd read any. I was already a big Uma Thurman fan, largely thanks to the role playing game Paranoia, and I remember going to see "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" at some repertory theater.

As an aside, Holy shit, that was directed by Gus van Sant, I had no idea. I didn't know who that was at the time.

I haven't read any Robbins since then and I suspect I would not like it as much now.
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:23 PM on December 3 [2 favorites]


I've mentioned before that Hemingway can be interpreted as more subversive than he appears on the surface. All of his stories start with tough guys on macho adventures, but they all end up being about the pointlessness of masculinity.

It probably helps to know how Papa ultimately went out.
posted by srboisvert at 1:24 PM on December 3 [5 favorites]


Yeah I have difficulty buying that interpretation of Hemingway, especially considering how he chose to live. Sounds a lot like "no see Lars von Trier actually loves women; that's why he shines a spotlight on their pain".
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 1:33 PM on December 3 [9 favorites]


That was a really shallow way of looking at human beings and examining their politics and it became the most popular lens and, as this article demonstrates, has now been adopted by the very liberals Brooks was painting with his very broad brush to describe themselves to each other. So I guess he won that.
posted by eustacescrubb

Well, then color me shallow because I believe that one's underlying values are communicated by what one "consumes".

I'm not going to judge based on coffee preferences, but I do want to know where you get your news and what you put into your head. One of the wonders of online dating is that you can screen incompatible folks upfront. E.g., I will never again find myself discussing Ayn Rand with someone I thought might be a potential romantic partner.

Re DFW: I'm surprised he made the list as the DFW lovers I've known have been women. I love DFW—I believe I've read everything he's written except Infinite Jest. I don't insist others share my love, but I don't want to hear him dismissed by those who have only read that novel.

Re: Ernest Hemingway: The only truly feminist thing I have ever done is never finishing a Hemingway novel.

If I dated women, I would rule-out a potential partner based on this line. Not because I love Hemingway (I do not—I really, really do not), I just wouldn't what to hear that not finishing a Hemingway novel is the only truly feminist thing you have ever done.

Do you lecture people about either Big Star or Kanye?
posted by thelonius at 10:54 AM

I don't lecture, but I do expect an informed discussion about the merits of/over-ratedness (respectively) of both.

(I plan to re-enter the dating pool as soon as I move somewhere that I'm more likely to find like-minded people, so I want to be on the record re important issues.)
posted by she's not there at 1:36 PM on December 3 [4 favorites]


I usually keep books that I haven't read on my bed stand.

Well obviously. Then you can read them in bed.
posted by chavenet at 1:37 PM on December 3 [2 favorites]


ALGERNON. Oh! it is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn't. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn't read.
JACK. I am quite aware of the fact, and I don't propose to discuss modern culture. It isn't the sort of thing one should talk of in private.

- Oscar Wilde, “The Importance Of Being Earnest,” Act 1
posted by eustacescrubb at 1:39 PM on December 3 [23 favorites]


For future reference, are there any online dating sites that allow you to narrow your search to those who have read (and loved, of course) Stoner?
posted by she's not there at 1:44 PM on December 3 [3 favorites]


Well, then color me shallow because I believe that one's underlying values are communicated by what one "consumes".

I won’t do that; one can apply a shallow method of analysis without being shallow oneself.

I know plenty of feminist women who listen to Tupac’s music even though he went to prison for sexual assault. I know plenty of conservative men who’ve read and enjoyed books by Margaret Atwood. Enjoying a certain type of literature or art is no indicator of a person’s politics or character, not really, and if the recent revelations about sexual assault are any indication, even a person’s politics or the source of their news tells us little about their character.
posted by eustacescrubb at 1:47 PM on December 3 [9 favorites]


Point taken.

Enjoying a certain type of literature or art is no indicator of a person’s politics or character, not really, and if the recent revelations about sexual assault are any indication, even a person’s politics or the source of their news tells us little about their character.

I think "no indicator" is off—it's "an indicator", i.e., should be considered among other things.

(That said, anyone surprised that Matt Lauer has been in the news hasn't watched more than about 15 minutes of that morning show.)
posted by she's not there at 1:58 PM on December 3 [3 favorites]


Years and years ago I decided I was tired of not getting all the pop-culture references to the Noted Male American Authors by reading a few of them. So I read Roth, Updike, Pynchon, a couple of others. And my reaction was mostly the same as when you're passing through that wing of the national art gallery where all the Great Masters hang: this isn't really my cup of tea, but I get why they're here.
posted by um at 2:02 PM on December 3 [4 favorites]


Plus Starship Troopers is militaristic garbage.

Not wrong. But I'd say about half of it by length is Socratic discussion about politics in a classroom. From that half, the central thesis is simple: end the draft. At the time of its writing, Starship Troopers was radical in its proposal of a volunteer army. The bits about no citizenship without service is a kinda authoritarian, but isn't thoroughly enough explored within the novel to really say one way or the other. And... we debate all the time whether a politician who avoided military service is fit for the role of Commander-in-Chief.

The other half of the book motivates the debate's purpose, by essentially concocting a just war, leaving the debate to how to wage war, rather than should. And it betrays the book's pulp fiction origins, I suppose, and is a valid criticism. The bit about women and men serving different purposes because genetics or whatever rings about as true as the 'women are better at multitasking than men' factoid the women in my life continue to bring up; I'll choose to quietly disagree. But I guess since I'm kinda defending the work, I should mention that setting women in military theaters of combat at all in the 1950's was somewhat controversial.

Now, would I recommend it to random women I meet? No. In fact, the only times I recalll ever thinking about this book is at all is the few times it gets brought up on MeFi. I haven't read any other heinlein, so I can't say I'm a huge fan. And thinking about it, I really haven't read fiction in a long long time, so my bookcase reflects the reading preferences of a high school aged boy. Perhaps I should dispose of the Orson Card and Stephenson books, or at least move the bookcase out of the bedroom!

tl;dr -- as militaristic as it is, Starship Troopers was pretty progressive for its time
posted by pwnguin at 2:03 PM on December 3 [9 favorites]


The same with Bukowski's Ham On Rye, which, under its seedy, two-fisted masculinity, seemed content-free.

I was big into Bukowski (and a couple of the others listed) in my mid-to-late-teens, and Ham on Rye was without a doubt the one that resonated best with me. I think it's his strongest novel. But, yeah, I got rid of my Black Sparrow Press collection of his works a long time ago and, flicking through one of his short story collections recently at a bookstore, it didn't light any fire in me.

Without shame I will say I love Easton Ellis' Glamorama and think it is absolutely hilarious.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:07 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


It is for this reason that even with Ayn Rand fans and libertarians I like to at least find out where people are coming from before unleashing the power of, like, being right-on and politically correct.
posted by Frowner

Important point and something I need to keep in mind when dealing with (relatively) young people. Unfortunately, if someone my age (60-something) is a libertarian or Ayn Rand fan, I can't imagine that further discussion will be as enlightening to me as the situation you described.
posted by she's not there at 2:11 PM on December 3 [7 favorites]


What a lot of these writers have in common is a kind of aesthetic that's like, "Yeah that's right, I just blasted out that sentence/paragraph, is your feeble mind and weak stomach able to handle it?" and they naturally attract a kind of guy who fancies himself to be some bold and daring iconoclast but is actually dead average

the great thing about this comment is that it applies equally to the writer of this listicle
posted by entropicamericana at 2:15 PM on December 3 [12 favorites]


I have difficulty buying that interpretation of Hemingway, especially considering how he chose to live.

I think it's entirely possible to live life as a macho piece of garbage, as Hemingway did, and still have the acuity and insight to produce art that reflects critically on that. Given the misery that Hemingway's life seems to have brought him, he had good reason to be bitter about the myths of masculinity he worshipped, and his work certainly doesn't portray lifestyles like his own as leading to much in the way of happiness, success or even dignity.
posted by howfar at 2:16 PM on December 3 [7 favorites]


Bret Easton Ellis [...] A super-favorite of a guy who doesn’t mention his real estate license is how he actually makes money until you’ve known him for a couple months.

Man, I don’t even like Bret Easton Ellis and this one really bugged me. Like, fuck the dude in question for working a job to pay bills but not making it the central bit of his personality, I guess?
posted by Itaxpica at 2:22 PM on December 3 [12 favorites]


“In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven't Read, which are frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you...And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You'll Wait Till They're Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out in Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody's Read So It's As If You Had Read Them, Too. ”
posted by Sebmojo at 2:32 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


the great thing about this comment is that it applies equally to the writer of this listicle

that was actually a better burn than any in the linked piece.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:33 PM on December 3 [10 favorites]


Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills
Did you ever publish a book with a title as great as this? No. No, I didn't think you had. Bukowski did.
Last Night Of The Earth Poems
A woman who loved me and who I loved right back just as hard bought me that book and I'm glad she did. IMO everything Bukowski did was uneven but there were pure gems in this book, he was looking out across and back across his life.I loaned it out and the son of a bitch didn't return it and god only knows where he's at. I wish him ill.
Tom Russell recorded Bukowski's Crucifix In A Death Hand and appended a bit of Warren Zevon's Carmelita to the end of it, it's on Russell's record Modern Art. I was in my pickup on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and heard it on the radio, I turned and drove to Waterloo Records and bought that cd and I'm glad that I did, I think Russell did it justice.
Bukowski came from nowhere, came from a horribly violent childhood and boils all over his face and still had something left, turns out he had plenty left, he decided he was a writer and that is what he did. No matter what. I'll call him great and I don't give a shit what this woman thinks about it, he sat down at a typewriter and he wrote. Until he died. Pretty goddamn cool.

DFW. I came at Infinite Jest 3 times and gave it up. He was newly clean and sober when he wrote it, I think he was on a manic run, the thing just whirls and twirls all over the place. It really does feel like a manic run. I came at it one last time, and glazed and glossed over everything except his writing about detox and rehab and alcoholism and newly sober alcoholics, and the huge fear that's in that -- "Am I going to stay clean and sober? I'm hanging on hard as I can -- am I going to be able to stay clean and sober?" It is by far the most accurate description of it that I've ever seen. Ever. Basically, he was transcribing what he was living. It's fantastic. And I damn sure believe that a lot more people say they've read Infinite Jest than have read it. Like when I was a kid and everybody said the read Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance when what they'd really done is take stabs at it, you look at them a bit hard and ask "Did you read that book?" and they're looking down at their shoes, kicking the ground, hemming and hawing. It's sortof fun.
DFW essays and short stories -- goddamn, did we ever lose when he had to take off. I know depression and I know it close up, I'd never say he oughtn't to have done what he did, but we sure did lose when he took off.

Hemingway. I've read some, not much. The Old Man And The Sea is just great. I still feel his boat shake when that shark kept hitting that big goddamn fish tied to the side.

I'm not edumacated, what I've found I've found stumbling across it. Which isn't a bad thing, best I can tell. Jack London wrote about me in The Sea Wolf, how the captain of that ship knew well what he knew but there were huge gaps that would be filled in had the captain had a structured education; I read that and I'm thinking "Yep." I've read a *ton* of London, and read a lot about him, too -- dead at 40 from alcoholism but what he did in those 40 years! He's not just Call Of The Wild -- read him, seek him out.

Samuel Clemons saved my ass. Mark Twain. I trusted him completely, loved him and trusted him, and when I at 17 got a copy of Letters From The Earth into my hands somehow I was so, so relieved. I'd already crossed over into drinking and drugging and I'd blown out all this Jesus jive best I could but they beat it deep into you -- I came up in lunacy, deep fundamentalism Christianity, and they scare the hell not only out of you but into you, here's Clemons: “A Christian mother's first duty is to soil her child's mind, and she does not neglect it." I mean, I'm sitting in study hall doing fist pumps. Clemons absolutely lampoons them -- I was so, so happy. I read and re-read it, in study hall -- you didn't think I was going to study, did you? Actually, I was studying, something with real life application. Read everything you can that he wrote at the end of his life -- he'd lost tons of money, his beloved wife dead, his beloved daughter dead, he was hurting like a bastard on Fathers Day and he didn't have time to waste on not telling the truth any longer. Read everything he wrote anyways, to make you happy, but when you want to get the low-down read what he wrote late in life.

At 25 I came across Meditations -- Marcus Aurelius. I've bound and re-bound that book at least four times, it's been in the glove box of every vehicle I've owned since I bought it. God, Marc -- he was just so great. Such a good heart. Such strong ideals. No. Way. could I ever live up to this stuff but he was pretty clear that there was no way he was able to live up to it, either, but it's what we're called to aim at. (Make certain you get the translation by Maxwell Staniforth -- I've tried others and Ol' Marc comes across dry as chalk; under Staniforth's pen he' so warm, he's alive in your hands.) Matthew, my best friend, we'll be driving around Texas here or there, he'll grab the book out of the glove box and find a great one, we're absolutely laughing our asses off, I'm pounding the steering wheel, he's pounding his knees, we're laughing at the knowing that it's accurate and knowing also how ridiculous it is even to try. Damn...

So Marc just fell into my hands. See? I know I'm not high-toned like you are and I'm not ever gonna be but if I'm reading Marcus Aurelius, or even thinking of reading him, I get to smiling, same as I am right here, right here in this sentence....

Sum: Chunk all of that high-falutin' stuff into the dumpster, step out and see what falls into your hands. It's more fun, maybe, plus hopefully it'll end up you're not dating a woman like Fitzgerald.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:38 PM on December 3 [17 favorites]


For future reference, are there any online dating sites that allow you to narrow your search to those who have read (and loved, of course) Stoner?

Careful what you wish for. You might end up with someone like me and I'm no catch.

On past threads there used to be some competitive bashing of 'english professor deals with midlife crisis via affair with young student' novels. I guess they were talking about Stoner? But I never waded in so I never found out. Just as well, I suppose.
posted by tirutiru at 2:39 PM on December 3 [3 favorites]


On past threads there used to be some competitive bashing of 'english professor deals with midlife crisis via affair with young student' novels. I guess they were talking about Stoner? But I never waded in so I never found out.

Oh, there's more than that. If there were only one or two...Well, once is fine, twice is coincidence, and fifty-gazillion are enemy action.

I mean, it's perfectly possible to like a book with a terrible romance in it for other reasons, right? Most of my favorite books that have romance arcs have terrible romances - Villette, Bleak House, Jane Austen novels generally. Jane Eyre has genuinely garbage politics and garbage romance - Mr. Rochester makes me feel a certain warmth toward St. John Rivers, and that's saying something.
posted by Frowner at 2:47 PM on December 3 [6 favorites]


I think the piece would have been better had the author actually read these authors and been able to write more incisive burns. For instance, the joke “Kurt Vonnegut is the manic pixie dream girl of literature” just shows a lack of understanding of both Vonnegut and the concept of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Thank you! And wouldn't a better Manic Pixie of Literature be Kerouac?
posted by salvia at 2:48 PM on December 3 [4 favorites]


On past threads there used to be some competitive bashing of 'english professor deals with midlife crisis via affair with young student' novels. I guess they were talking about Stoner?

Missed those threads, thank god, because I would have been frustrated to the point of incoherence trying to respond to someone who thought that's what Stoner was about.
posted by she's not there at 2:52 PM on December 3


I am really tired of these articles about books I shouldn't read. I have read quite a few of the authors in the list, and some of their books are excellent and a few are amazing. I would rather spend time with someone who has read all of them than someone who has read none. Of course there are many more things to read by a more diverse set of authors. How about a list of those instead?
posted by incster at 2:55 PM on December 3 [2 favorites]


Literature as an endurance exercise: do the hard yards of parsing 500+ pages of six-page paragraphs and two-page sentences, and then you've earned your “I've Read Infinite Jest” badge of merit. It's Boot Camp for litbros, and what you do if you can't climb mountains or hunt your own food or something.

This type of shit is annoying, its fine that you don't like DFW, but its ridiculous to assume why I read and like him.
posted by pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated at 2:58 PM on December 3 [20 favorites]


Roth is Good
posted by edeezy at 3:02 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


I'd give quite a lot just to date a guy who would turn the tv off for one second during a conversation.

I hear this fairly often, and I also feel this - and here's an honest, hopefully humorous and fairly general response. (And I'm not directing this specifically at you, maiamaia.)

They/we exist. Heck. I've never even owned a TV. I can't remember the last time I even physically touched a TV. (Pondering, pondering... Oh! I set one up at my old job a couple of years ago for a classroom. Big ol' CRT on a cart with a real VHS VCR and everything. I'm pretty sure that was the last time I touched a TV.)

Further, I think TV and the advertising and marketing that drives it from its inception onward has been and is essentially cultural cancer that has held humanity hostage to impossibly perfect ideals and hyperconsumerism, and I'll tell you all about it ok I see your eyes are glazing over so I won't but I used to be really annoying about how anti TV I was.

And I don't sit around watching Netflix, either. I have never personally logged in to the thing. I have no real interest in watching team sports. I'm not opposed to sitting around and watching a good show or movie or something, but if I'm staring at a screen I'm usually doing something.

I even prefer Ursula K. LeGuin, Kim Stanley Robinson or Marge Piercy over the hyper masculine dross of Heinlein or Niven. I'd love to have someone to talk about the strange, gentle futures of Woman on the Edge of Time, and how much it resonated with me. I even like some Tom Robbins. Jitterbug Perfume is a favorite.

Heck, I even like cooking and grocery shopping and other kinds of emotional labor, and lots of other good things that are good for relationships. I'm even pretty decent lookin', pudgy but active, handy, clever. Kind to service and retail staff. Never hit anyone since grade school - and that was someone bullying a much smaller friend. I've never been arrested for anything. I'm all about enthusiastic consent and not assaulting people and healthy, positive sexuality and... and...

On paper? I'm pretty dreamy.

However - and without bitterness, here, just some hard earned self awareness, especially with regards to dating after 40 - the reality is that there's usually a whole lot of weird baggage that's part of the package that range from vaguely neurotic to acutely depressed that tend to make for (at best) difficult or nontraditional relationships.

I guess what I'm trying to say is sort of a reverse take on the manic pixie dream girl, (and my perspective on this isn't aligned with or in defense of this dumb thing guys do with Important Books in the FPP, which I have also done, mea culpa).

Anyway.

Sure, let's have tea or wine and talk about books and not watch any TV at all but, honestly? You probably don't actually want to date someone bookish, sensitive, single and middle aged like me.

Sure, I don't have a TV, but I also don't drive or even want to ever own a car. My "career path" is less of a path and more of a small stone skipped haphazardly across a muddy pond. My long term retirement prospects at this point seem to be somewhere along the axis of forest hobo or social upheaval. I'm moody and weird. I have the most appalling farts, real paint peelers, often right after rolling over in my sleep, which apparently I do constantly like some kind of sleep tornado. I also snore like a turbofan engine missing a few blades and being drowned in old fryer oil. Lately I'm prone to waking up at 3-4 in the morning and going for walks or pottering about before going back to bed. If I'm not being socially awkward at social events I might just be drunk.

And this is before we even start to unpack a bunch of deeper emotional baggage, sensitivity and whatever other character flaws. Or the fact that dating and romance don't seem to actually get easier as you get older. It... actually seems to hurt a bit more in different ways when things don't work out.

And, frankly due to at least some of my bookish ways, the books I've read and the things I've experienced have left me with not insignificant amount of weltschmerz, and these things and some of the less appealing and less stable choices I've made in my life are certainly related. It's not an attractive combination of cynical, stubborn and naive.

Anyway. It's not all bad but, hell, I wouldn't date me. There are reasons why I'm single, and they aren't entirely separate from some of the reasons why I'm bookish, conversational and, say, not into TV.

On the other hand, being single and getting older is also pretty awesome. I mean, I do "date" myself in the form of self care and following my creative dreams. I actually really enjoy being able to wake up at 3 AM to play with the cat or go out doing photography without having to wake someone up or even explain myself.
posted by loquacious at 3:04 PM on December 3 [25 favorites]


Just realized that I have officially reached a point of giving zero fucks about what someone else doesn’t like.

Life lesson 7 of 9 on this kick ass speech by Tim Minchin (transcript and video) is - define yourself by what you love, not what you hate.

I could give a shit what books / bands / beers / foods / dinosaurs you think suck. It’s just so boring.

Tell me the 20 authors that you think every dude you have dated should read, and I’m so in. I love learning what people, even internet strangers, are passionate about. That’s good shit.

Why yes, I went through a Heinlein phase, how can you tell?
posted by lazaruslong at 3:10 PM on December 3 [15 favorites]


I mean, it's perfectly possible to like a book with a terrible romance in it for other reasons, right? Most of my favorite books that have romance arcs have terrible romances - Villette, Bleak House, Jane Austen novels generally. Jane Eyre has genuinely garbage politics and garbage romance - Mr. Rochester makes me feel a certain warmth toward St. John Rivers, and that's saying something.

If you haven't read Adrienne Rich's essay on Jane Eyre, I highly recommend it. It was a revelation for me as a young feminist who loved that novel in spite of other young feminists telling me I was wrong to love it.

Also, I'm with you on the wider point.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 3:10 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


I could give a shit what books / bands / beers / foods / dinosaurs you think suck.

The Diplodocous is a lazy freeloader, unable to even chew it’s own food without outside assistance. Fuck that thing.
posted by Itaxpica at 3:14 PM on December 3 [15 favorites]


Nothing makes me clam up like asking me to pick 5 or 10 books to represent myself. Or the most influential books in my life. I have no idea, and that sends me into a labyrinth of self-doubt. All the fancy books I read - did none of them make a difference? Should I say "The World As Will And Representation"? There's a panty dropper! Maybe not. What books have I actually re-read the most number of times? Probably "East Of Eden", and "Fatherland" by Robert Harris. I can't put down that those are my favorite books! That's probably a whole category of deal-breaker, alternate history Nazi thrillers and sentimental American family sagas. On the same nightstand! Maybe I should lie and substitute "The Man In The High Castle".
posted by thelonius at 3:15 PM on December 3 [8 favorites]


You actually would read Catcher in the Rye instead of watching Ghost In the Shell? Half joking and half not, the majority of these things that I even recognize were forced upon me in high school, and the rest were forced upon my by that hippie girl from a preppy family way back when. Seems I might have dodged a bullet.
posted by zengargoyle at 3:16 PM on December 3 [2 favorites]


>so... Fitzgerald was perhaps less macho than most of these guys, I can say.

hmmm
posted by edeezy at 3:16 PM on December 3 [3 favorites]


Chuck Effing Klosterman.
posted by KazamaSmokers at 3:27 PM on December 3 [5 favorites]


I mean, it's perfectly possible to like a book with a terrible romance in it for other reasons, right? Most of my favorite books that have romance arcs have terrible romances - Villette, Bleak House, Jane Austen novels generally. Jane Eyre has genuinely garbage politics and garbage romance - Mr. Rochester makes me feel a certain warmth toward St. John Rivers, and that's saying something.

I personally don't even think one needs other reasons to like books with terrible romances in them. One of the fascinations the Brontes hold for me is the terrible romances and how they depict them. I don't need to side with Jane or find Rochester worthy to find the dynamics of the story and Charlotte's writing worth going back to. Wuthering Heights, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and, more than any other perhaps, Villette all provide a sense of the terribleness of romance being a central concern of the stories, which is resolved in ways that needn't suggest agreement with the outcomes. Emotions and actions in conflict where there may not be a ideal outcome.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:33 PM on December 3


I guess this is only funny if you travel in circles where "Men Explain Books To Me" is a thing. For those of us who do, this was funny. The point is not that the books are bad, it's that these are the books that men find so important that they will spend an entire party telling a woman about them, even, no, especially when she is not interested.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:42 PM on December 3 [40 favorites]


On the other hand, being single and getting older is also pretty awesome. I mean, I do "date" myself in the form of self care and following my creative dreams. I actually really enjoy being able to wake up at 3 AM to play with the cat or go out doing photography without having to wake someone up or even explain myself.

preach brother
posted by entropicamericana at 3:51 PM on December 3 [2 favorites]


i may be stating the obvious, but i think the column is very funny. this is a thing: performative masculinity via lit-for-display. there's a reciprocal for women, as mentioned above, but i think it's less prevalent by three orders of magnitude.

how do i know the article rings true? hi, I'm j and I'm a cis/het dude who totes did this in my twenties. sorry!

2-for-1 derail:
1) holden caufield: film tangent. anniston was so. good. in 'the good girl'. it saddens me that she didn't follow on with other dramatic work. the coerced-sex scene is horrifying.
2) can we start giving away editions of Atlas Shrugged that include The Bridge of San Luis Rey as a twin-pak?

posted by j_curiouser at 3:52 PM on December 3 [2 favorites]


oh, wait! don't forget 90% of everything is shit.
posted by j_curiouser at 3:56 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


The point is not that the books are bad, it's that these are the books that men find so important that they will spend an entire party telling a woman about them, even, no, especially when she is not interested.

honestly after seeing a million listicles like this on the internet, i find it easier just to stay home and talk to my cat because im pretty sure she's not going write a hot take about what a terrible person i am

(mainly because she doesn't have opposable thumbs)
posted by entropicamericana at 3:58 PM on December 3 [8 favorites]


She has to be over 40, right? I know the work of most of these writers and I'm over 40, no ageism, but like...I can't imagine that millennials are reading Philip Roth or Tom Robbins. Those guys seemed out of date twenty years ago.

I would just like to say that the work of Bret Easton Ellis is the worst, just an awful thing that should not be, and that admiration for his oeuvre is an even bigger red flag for me about a person's human worth than is Ayn Rand fandom. Fortunately, that I date women means I never have to worry about dating a Bret Easton Ellis fan, because there are no female Bret Easton Ellis fans.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:08 PM on December 3



Without shame I will say I love Easton Ellis' Glamorama and think it is absolutely hilarious.

it is brilliant right up to the plane crash scene which is more disgusting and horrifying (both!) than anything in American Psycho, and the other scene which I don't even care to characterize because then I will have to remember it. because I can't remember which page either of those scenes start on, every time I feel like rereading Glamorama I go rewatch Zoolander instead. I've seen Zoolander a lot of times.

p.s. confidential to everybody: A. Catcher in the Rye is a Good Book, unlike everything else Salinger ever wrote. teens and emotions are just fine to write about even if you can't remember the last time you were one or had one. and 2. Bukowski not only sucks, but reminding one of the times U2 quoted him may succeed in bringing the memory of Bono's mournful yelp back to one's inner earballs, but it doesn't do anything for one's estimation of Bukowski
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:15 PM on December 3 [4 favorites]


What in the world is wrong with Kurt Vonnegut? His books are humorous, compassionate, humane, and witty. I'm convinced that reading them in high school made me a better person. Oh, but right, this is an article where somebody disses authors without ever having read them, a totally worthwhile thing to do.

A lot of these are just shooting fish in a barrel. Hemmingway typifies an outmoded form of masculinity? Now there's a hot take. Salinger loses some of its bite after high school? Shocker! Everyone's pretty much over Franzen and Foer? Who knew! Ayn Rand fans are annoying? Say it ain't so!

A bit surprised to see Barthleme here. Honestly, I'd be impressed if someone had even heard of him. Of course, her criticism here is trenchant as always : "Barthelme is a beautiful, strange, important writer beloved by dudes who will interrupt two out of every three sentences you say to them." What do you want to bet she knew like one guy who did that? Where is this secret clique of Barthleme fans, and where can I find them?

As a sidenote, I don't think I've ever seen a writer experience a bigger reversal around here than DFW. Like, he used to be this totally hallowed name around Metafilter -- all you had to do was mention his name and people would fall all over themselves to praise him. Now he's like that embarrassing phase you went through where you were really into the Doors. What gives?
posted by panama joe at 4:15 PM on December 3 [20 favorites]


What gives?

Against DFW's advice, MeFites went on cruises and enjoyed them.
posted by hwyengr at 4:20 PM on December 3 [8 favorites]


Against DFW's advice, MeFites went on cruises and enjoyed them

You joke, but the beginning of the end of DFW for me was earlier this year when I went on a cruise with my family, and decided to dust off A Supposedly Fun Thing, which I haven’t read since college and loved then. I was disappointed by how poorly it’s aged: it basically boils down to “I, David Foster Wallace, am too precious and special for any of your terrible cows and your Sad Boat Fun”, which, ok, fuck you too dude.

(The cruise was great, btw)
posted by Itaxpica at 4:32 PM on December 3 [4 favorites]


Just realized that I have officially reached a point of giving zero fucks about what someone else doesn’t like.

Signed. (I liked Roth's Plot Against America, Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five and Galopagos, and I still like On The Road.)

I'm reminded of an essay I read years ago, with a woman who had a college crush who always spoke about what an excellent writer Joyce was. He was a year ahead of her and would opine about Joyce, quoting him now and then, and she was besotted and hung on his every word. But it was a crush sort of situation so she couldn't really do anything with the dude, so she then decided to dive into Joyce instead to learn more about her beloved ("if I can't have him I'll have his favorite author").

And she really dove in, and really got caught up in Joyce. She discovered she really, really liked him, to the point that she spent the next several years making him a focus of study. The crush kind of dropped out of sight within a few months, but she was diving into The Dubliners and Ulysses and Portrait of an Artist and Finnegan's Wake, reading all these literary critiques and really getting caught up in this. She really, really dug Joyce and got to know his work inside and out.

And years later, as luck would have it, she ran into Crush Guy again, and there were still sparks and this time they actually started something. After a couple months of the sex-and-giggling stage of things, she saw a funny cartoon in the New Yorker or something, where the gag was something like it was Joyce's "To Do" list:
* Take out trash
* press pants
* forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race
* buy eggs
She showed it to the Dude, who said, "I don't get it."

"....That 'forge in the smithy of my soul' thing. It's from Portrait of an Artist, don't you recognize it?"

He did not. Because, he confessed, he never actually read Joyce after all. He just memorized a few quotes and pretended to, to impress people.

The author said that she and the dude broke up soon after, but she still had Joyce.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:36 PM on December 3 [44 favorites]


the work of Bret Easton Ellis is the worst, just an awful thing that should not be, and that admiration for his oeuvre is an even bigger red flag for me about a person's human worth than is Ayn Rand fandom.

Harsh. I like minimalism and books about LA, and I hate capitalism, celebrity, and rich people. Consequently, he pushes a fair amount of my buttons in a way that I enjoy. I also read Rankine, Kraus, Jefferson, Nelson, and Acker. People, and by saying people I'm not solely referring to myself by any means, contain multitudes; and good literature is good literature, even though both terms, good and literature, are largely subjective.

Rand is bad sub-literature and short of the Bible, Marx, and Mein Kampf (and any others that I am forgetting), more people have been harmed because of her works than have been harmed in the name of any others. There are quite a few edge-lords and 4-chin readers who like American Psycho, but they aren't in Congress yet, and they haven't based their savage and murderous starvation-based ideologies on his work, like has been done with Rand; and, even in the case of Rand, I am still prone to making sure that they don't just like bad literature without taking their ideology from it before making a definitive judgment (much like I do with the Bible and Marx, but not so much with like Mein Kampf and the Turner Diaries since I don't think that there are actually people that enjoy those books for any but the worst reasons).

That said, even I will admit that if I go to someone's place and over 50% of their library consists of Ellis and Palahniuk(or The Bible and Marx), I am running far and fast. Maybe it is prejudice based on the fact that the people who I enjoy the most tend to read many different authors, but I'm far less prone to judging someone based on one or two authors in the large list of books that they have read than I am based on one or two authors in their tiny one-sided collection.
posted by bootlegpop at 4:54 PM on December 3 [2 favorites]


but like...I can't imagine that millennials are reading Philip Roth or Tom Robbins. Those guys seemed out of date twenty years ago.

I know an 18 year old who loves Tim Robbins. And I never even considered reading Philip Roth until a twenty-something recommended it (I'm 58).

I would just like to say that the work of Bret Easton Ellis is the worst, just an awful thing that should not be, and that admiration for his oeuvre is an even bigger red flag for me about a person's human worth than is Ayn Rand fandom

Good thing I tend not to keep books I've already read on display.

The much maligned Glamorama is the best.

Yes to that, with Lunar Park well worth your while as well. Much as I agree with much on the list in question (and in this discussion), I tend to feel a lot of folks are missing out on some great stuff when they just shrug off Ellis's entire bibliography. He knows horror. And humor. But horror in particular. The second half of Glamorama still sends me an occasional chill (now over a decade since I read it). And Lunar Park just ends up profoundly sad.

And American Psycho ... well, I've said my piece on that elsewhere.
posted by philip-random at 4:55 PM on December 3 [3 favorites]


One of the odd things about MeFi to me is how much "women are like this, and men are like this, amirite?" that goes down, in contrast to how the people on the site present themselves as a whole, and contrary to my life experience. There's so many of these takes where I don't know these men or these women. It's all dependent on your environment I suppose.
posted by bongo_x at 5:20 PM on December 3 [16 favorites]


Am I the only one who read this article not primarily as taking pride in ignorance (except Hemingway), or even attacking people who have read these authors, but rather as identifying the authors as likely totems for a certain pretentious type of male would-be intellectual who will lecture you about them insufferably, whether you've read them or not? The reason she doesn't have to read these authors (for the purposes of the piece, anyway) is because she's had them mansplained to her over and over by the same type of dude.

Surprised to see Roth on the list, though, just because I think he's aged out of favor with that group. (Thank goodness.)

Honestly, I think all women should read these books so they know just what ideas their dates are feeding off of.

Holy Christ, do I have better things to do with my time. Starting with cultivating my own ideas, and working my way on down to painting my toenails in winter.
posted by praemunire at 5:28 PM on December 3 [31 favorites]


(That said, I do like Mother Night. But not because of some dude.)
posted by praemunire at 5:28 PM on December 3 [3 favorites]


What in the world is wrong with Kurt Vonnegut?

Kurt Vonnegut's writing changed my life for the better, too, and I still recognize that there are things wrong with his work. "Welcome to the Monkey House," for starters.
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:47 PM on December 3


I wonder sometimes if the Kindle and tablets are going to kill off the "nightstand pile" performance. Just speaking for myself, most of the books I've bought in the past couple of years have been e-books - for one thing, I'm trying to cut down on paper clutter in my house, and, yes, on my nightstand. It's harder to Impress People With Your Taste And Intellect when your books are tucked away on a tablet.

and fuck Jonathan Franzen just because he hates cats is all, may he go to Ulthar
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:53 PM on December 3 [2 favorites]


I reassert my earlier statements regarding Bret Easton Ellis, a horrible proto-Milo. I did like Less Than Zero when I was in high school, though; it's basically a YA novel, so that's a good age for it. And I admit I felt a tiny amount of misplaced affection for him when I recently read a '70s Warren horror comic (Eerie or Creepy) that had a fan letter in it that he must have written in grade school.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:00 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


>so... Fitzgerald was perhaps less macho than most of these guys, I can say.... hmmm

The 1970 academic film Getting Straight had an hilarious grad school oral defense on this subject, if you're into this kinda thing..
posted by ovvl at 6:04 PM on December 3


I wonder sometimes if the Kindle and tablets are going to kill off the "nightstand pile" performance.

I don't know, I have 2 Nooks on the nightstand, my wife has 1, and still have piles of books around them. Buying ebooks hasn't made a dent in the number of paper books that come into the house. I'm not sure logic plays into this for us. It's not much of a performance for us though, we hide the books in the rare event anyone comes into that room, and we're old and married.

If someone's doing it for performance, putting out books they don't read out, I can't see how that changes. People buy books by the pound to fill shelves for decoration.
posted by bongo_x at 6:08 PM on December 3


Well here's the thing. I love Vonnegut. I would go so far as to say I adore Vonnegut. I do not love him to the exclusion of all other authors, nor do I think he is the greatest writer in the history of the world, but I love him, I think he's great, I will re-read a Vonnegut any time.

This list isn't about men who like Vonnegut, or love Vonnegut, or adore Vonnegut, it's about men who fetishize Vonnegut and who think that reading Vonnegut tells the world how deep and insightful and clever they are, and that if they keep Breakfast of Champions on their bedside table or Slaughterhouse 5 prominently but carelessly on the living room end table so people can comment on it and admire their taste, they'll be taken as clever and deep. (And I mean, please, throw Cat's Cradle or Welcome to the Monkey House casually on the end table if you want me impressed with your Vonnegut bona fides.)

I have a hate-on for Hemmingway (and I've read three novels and a bunch of short stories, so I feel secure in my hate-on). I get what he was doing and I get why he was important -- I see where he fits in American letters and why he's a necessary part of the curriculum and all -- but I hate his work. One of my close male friends loves Hemmingway and is always reading Hemmingway and thinking Hemmingway and I tease him about his dude books and it's FINE because he genuinely likes Hemmingway, and also genuinely likes a lot of other things, and is not personally threatened by the fact that I don't like Hemmingway, because it doesn't have any bearing on him liking Hemmingway.

Dudes who fetishize Hemmingway, who have chosen Hemmingway as their favorite author because of what sort of man they think calls Hemmingway their favorite author, are always about to mansplain Hemmingway to you and why you're wrong and bad and should feel bad for not liking Hemmingway and I gotta tell you, they often don't seem all that familiar with Hemmingway beyond what the popular press says about Hemmingway and what a high school student speeding through A Farewell to Arms might pick up, because it's not about Hemmingway, it's about presenting a facade of being the kind of guy who loves Hemmingway. Guys who actually love Hemmingway are typically substantially less irritating.

If you have not met or dated men whose self-esteem is dependent upon lecturing women on why women have bad taste, and how what's REALLY important is that we all appreciate their facile hot take on one of a small handful of "manly" writers, you are lucky and this probably isn't a funny list. But if you've ever been in a bar at the sort of college where these men are legion, this is laugh out loud hilarious, even though my personal opinion of different authors on the list ranges from "like" to "don't like" to "don't care." I can both love Vonnegut, and mock dudes who performatively announce their love for the shallowest cuts in Vonnegut's canon on the first date so that you know they're the sort of deep and edgy guy who reads literature with lots of obscenities in it, but who won't ever get your ice-nine jokes.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:09 PM on December 3 [46 favorites]


I thought this list was hilarious, and am a bit taken aback that so many people have focused on the "boyfriends" thing when it is pretty obviously just being used as a framing device.
posted by schroedinger at 6:09 PM on December 3 [5 favorites]


I disagree with a couple of those but in general, yes, this completely! I read a lot when I was a kid and I wanted to read important? sophisticated? books which included Hemingway, John Irving, Bukowski, etc and I took away a lot about how beautiful women are supposed to look/act that I am now actively trying to get out of my head. We're in Canada so the canon includes a lot more women writers and I'm hoping my kids get better assigned books than I did growing up.
posted by TheLateGreatAbrahamLincoln at 6:10 PM on December 3 [2 favorites]


Wallace/Vollmann/Franzen were a band or something due to how often they got mentioned together. So, [vollmann] probably would have made this article 15 years ago.

oh nooo!! really?? rainbow stories isnt bro-ey at all! at least i dont think it is.... but wait, is it? shit! am i a douchbag for liking vollmann?? dang.
posted by wibari at 6:11 PM on December 3


I feel like more than the specific authors, this is in reaction to a certain subset of heterosexual male prospective partners who are simply aghast that you haven't ever read the great works of Klosterman/Roth/DFW/Franzen/etc. and you rectify that because you are a good girlfriend who is interested in sharing cultural experiences and touchstones with the guy you are dating, and then you say, "You've never read anything by Edith Wharton/Jane Austen/Toni Morrison/Willa Cather/etc.? You should give My Antonia a try, it's my favorite!" and they say "No, I don't really like that sort of book."

This is a reaction to a subset of heterosexual men who can't see value in anything beyond their own cultural milieu and have no interest in expanding their horizons or expressing interest in the things their female partners are into. I can't even tell you how much time I have spent watching the UFC and learning about football and seeing Woody Allen films. But when I suggested we watch Bend it like Beckham, my ex said "Isn't that about teenage girls playing soccer? Why would I watch that?" Witness how hard I worked to convince him to come to the Nutcracker with me.

Yes, this is a silly listicle, but I think it's a microcosm for the way straight dating can work when things aren't awesome but aren't intolerable. I know the straight men of metafilter are all great guys who stretch and learn and adopt new interests and hobbies and read books and experience culture suggested by their wives and girlfriends, but that's not how it always works, and sometimes we spend a lot of time hearing about the genius of Chuck Palahniuk.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:28 PM on December 3 [66 favorites]


At least there weren't any Sven Hassel books on the nightstands
posted by scruss at 6:49 PM on December 3


Yeah that's a hard pass on Bend it like Beckham. How about Apocalypse Now (director's cut)?
posted by tirutiru at 6:57 PM on December 3 [4 favorites]


I realize this makes me a Bad Reader or whatever, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book and thought, holy shit, this is life changing, everybody should read this! Eh, a book’s a book. Even the really good ones.

(And I inexplicably read all of Tom Robbins’ novels in college 20 years ago. I found it entertaining I think, but I couldn’t tell you the first thing about them.)
posted by uncleozzy at 7:06 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


Apocalypse Now you say?
posted by valkane at 7:06 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


There was one up through about the mid-nineties, wasn't there?
Yes--it was eventually done in by the Barnes & Noble around the corner.
Wow, I had no idea Waterstone's ever made it to North America.


A really beautiful bookstore. Done in by Borders around the corner, actually, and they're
gone too. I just read where Waterstone's is opening 5 new stores in Great Britain.

What is wrong with us? And this thread! Who cares who reads what, as long as they are reading.
posted by Chitownfats at 7:09 PM on December 3 [2 favorites]


Not sure where this would fit in to the discussion but were it not for many of the authors listed here I wouldn't be a reader today. My mom, the head of a large metropolitan library district in the DC suburbs at the time>30 years ago), weaned me from Mad magazine and Justice League with Philip Roth and Vonnegut. And over the years I read many of the others, as did she, and we would talk about them a lot. The Corrections in particular stands out. She is still alive but when that sad era comes for me I will miss our book talks so much. I guess the charitable view of this not-worth-a-shit listicle is that grown men shouldn't hold onto the central tenets of some of these authors with a clenched fist as they grow up and I'll grant her that. But she seems to like Sam Shepard ok per a prior blog entry, and for a lot of people he's just another male-cliche like Carver (and I like them both). Some day another Helena Fitzgerald clone will write a lazy piece of tripe in a similar vein and I guess George Saunders will be on there, because obviously that guy is another overrated loser.
posted by docpops at 7:16 PM on December 3 [2 favorites]


You know, I think that ChuraChura has it. This is about a particular dynamic where women interact with guys who believe that their taste is universal but our taste is particular. (And it's not just while dating.) We should clearly read their favorite books, which speak to universal truths about human experience, but they don't have to read stuff that resonates with us, because that's girl stuff, and girl stuff is probably not important or serious. And it gets really tedious. I'm sure that there are some women who haven't had that experience, but I definitely have, and I don't think I'm alone. So yeah: I get where she's coming from, even though I like some of the authors on that list and think that everyone should read whatever they want.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:29 PM on December 3 [39 favorites]


It will never cease to amaze me how many men can't separate "liking something" from "being a dick about liking something." Not even in practice--conceptually. If you genuinely can't figure out how to be enthusiastic about a writer without subjecting your date to endless performative lectures on the subject, I feel sorry for you, but most women do manage to get past this undergraduate mode of engagement somehow, so I know it's possible.

I don't actually give a damn if you like most of the writers on this list (Roth is going to get you the side-eye from me, though, I admit). I do give a damn about whether our conversations about literature are about seeking out mutual interests, reciprocal in openness to new things, and intended to bring pleasure to both people or are mere stages on which to play out and seek soothing of your status anxieties.
posted by praemunire at 7:29 PM on December 3 [21 favorites]


There's a lot of missing the point in this thread. It's not about the merits of these authors, it's about how a certain kind of person (most often male) uses these authors as a way of signaling "this is a signifier of who I am".

If you've never met or (worse) been on the receiving end of someone who does this kind of thing, this isn't addressed to you. Obviously it's a common enough experience to resonate with other people. Let them talk about it.

And to get meta about it, A) not everything is meant for you, and B) pushing forward with a defense of these authors and the kind of guy who holds forth about them makes you like the guys she dated who kept pushing their opinions of these authors upon her.
posted by Lexica at 7:33 PM on December 3 [32 favorites]


And to get meta about it, A) not everything is meant for you, and B) pushing forward with a defense of these authors and the kind of guy who holds forth about them makes you like the guys she dated who kept pushing their opinions of these authors upon her.

I guess a reason I'm not totally thrilled about the approach of this piece is that I've seen so, so many like it, listing pretty much the same writers and giving the same reasons, as if the problem were not Men Explaining Things but the act of having read and gotten something out of The Naked and the Dead - as though Explaining Men would somehow balk at explaining, eg, The Golden Notebook.

I think, having spent a number of years reading Let's Make Fun Of Politically Bad People On The Internet pieces, that the kinds of solidarity that these pieces build aren't particularly helpful or healthy. I'm not saying that we must only do very serious things or that Making Fun Of Men On The Internet is never emotionally or politically productive, but a lot of the time I feel meaner and worse after riffing on this kind of thing.

One reason for that is that these pieces usually have a class subtext. The people who are likely to be the most blown away by mid-late 20th century American Big Novels in 2017 are likely to be, IME, smart people with less cultural capital - people who think that David Foster Wallace is the biggest thing ever because neither they nor anyone they know has an English PhD and they're not plugged in to the sort of website that tells you that this year everyone is talking about The Autobiography of Red and prose poems, or not to be impressed by the Booker because it's middlebrow, etc etc.

These pieces usually focus on writers who are discredited or unfashionable in right-on literary circles - note that if one includes a still-respectable writer like Barthelme, it is required to say that one of course reads his work, but not the way an asshole dude reads his work. But then this implies that in fact there is no useful way to read the other guys, right? Pynchon is highbrow enough, David Foster Wallace hasn't quite disappeared down the drain of the discredited, so it's important to show that one is familiar with them. Vonnegut or Roth, not so much - it's not like you're going to embarrass yourself in front of people you care about by saying you haven't read them, quite the opposite.

I mean, pick someone who is fashionable and say you haven't read him and don't plan to - I can't imagine that there are no on-trend dude writers who are overrated and overexplained.

I disagree strongly, in this case, with the "it's not about you". This type of article is a culturally norming article. It focuses not on behavior but on specific writers and the actual function of the article is to stabilize a...well, a very familiar discourse about those writers and the people who read them. It feels more like a pat on the back than anything else, because I've read this type of article so many, many times before and I know that I'm on the right side of history because I too like Barthelme a lot and Roth not at all.
posted by Frowner at 7:59 PM on December 3 [26 favorites]


To use my story as an analogy - this isn't about Joyce (or Roth or Vonnegut or whoever) as such. It's about the guy who pretends to have read Joyce/Roth/Vonnegut/whoever because they think that it makes them look deep.

I wonder sometimes if the Kindle and tablets are going to kill off the "nightstand pile" performance.

Not a performance in my case, which is probably good becuase what's on my nightstand is usually something for a post-apocolyptic fiction book club, which probably looks really weird...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:04 PM on December 3 [2 favorites]


Barthelme the Scrivener was great!
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:04 PM on December 3 [7 favorites]


Am I the only one who read this article not primarily as taking pride in ignorance (except Hemingway), or even attacking people who have read these authors, but rather as identifying the authors as likely totems for a certain pretentious type of male would-be intellectual who will lecture you about them insufferably, whether you've read them or not? The reason she doesn't have to read these authors (for the purposes of the piece, anyway) is because she's had them mansplained to her over and over by the same type of dude.

Thanks, I was surprised to see so many blatant antifeminist point-missing comments before yours, and happy to see you and others standing up for the obvious correct reading later in the thread
posted by Kwine at 8:05 PM on December 3 [12 favorites]


One reason for that is that these pieces usually have a class subtext.

See, IME the subtext is usually "frequently men impose their literary preferences on women in a deeply condescending manner that belies that their helpful suggestions are really just serving as a proxy for their sexism."
posted by schroedinger at 8:09 PM on December 3 [12 favorites]


Reading this made me reflect on my own literary choices right now, which are heavily influenced by what's going on in this country.

In this particular political time and place, my normal feminist rage is running at such a hot level that I can't find it in me to care about the problems of male authors at all. As in, there are very few male writers I will willingly read right now, and then only ones that I have read before and I know will not include a. gratuitous rape scenes b. misogynistic twaddle and c. self-important bloviating about the hardships of Being a Man.

It's not their fault, or even a reflection on their merits, just that, right now, What Men Think is being yelled so loudly 24/7 in the public forum that in my personal time I choose to not listen to any particular man's voice.

If we ever get back to a better place in this country, I will probably be able to be more charitable. I might even try a DFW book, I never got around to him. But for the moment I'm just not picking up any literature with a man's name on the cover.
posted by emjaybee at 8:17 PM on December 3 [10 favorites]


I'm not sure anyone missed the point, and those people are out there and annoying, but I think the article came across to some as not much less condescending than those being criticized. Not a crime worth getting upset about, but I think it missed the mark somewhat. But yeah, I'm not the target audience.
posted by bongo_x at 8:21 PM on December 3


"One reason for that is that these pieces usually have a class subtext. The people who are likely to be the most blown away by mid-late 20th century American Big Novels in 2017 are likely to be, IME, smart people with less cultural capital - people who think that David Foster Wallace is the biggest thing ever because neither they nor anyone they know has an English PhD and they're not plugged in to the sort of website that tells you that this year everyone is talking about The Autobiography of Red and prose poems, or not to be impressed by the Booker because it's middlebrow, etc etc."

I think you are seeing a different thing in this piece than people who are enjoying it are seeing and highlighting, which is that someone who GENUINELY IS BLOWN AWAY by David Foster Wallace is FINE (possibly a little tiresome when they get off on their favorite topic! But fine!). The jackasses in question are people who choose DFW as their totem and proceed to mansplain him to dates, use liking him as a personality substitute, and are incapable of engaging with anything else (and often engage with their chosen totem only shallowly).

There are definitely shitty gatekeepers who are here to scoff at your middlebrow taste in literature and to express quelle horreur that you like Sophie Kinsella novels (FIGHT ME), but this is not that listicle. This is the mansplainey douchebro listicle, and these guy are Duke lacrosse players from wealthy NYC families with plenty of cultural capital who are just intellectually lazy and entitled and don't know how to feel about things if they're not feeling superior to everyone else in the room, so instead of bothering to engage with difficult or challenging or new ideas, they just adopt some lazy dudely pseudo-intellectual stance and proceed to aggressively shore it up at all possible opportunities by being jackasses about it, primarily to women.

It is literally never the working-class guy from western North Carolina in grad school whose mind is blown by DFW who is the jackass in this listicle. It is literally always a son of privilege who takes comfort in the cultural canon being all white dudes and who says things like, "Well, I'M not benefiting from privilege, I've worked really hard," and "Not ALL men are rapists, you're being so unfair" and "but don't ALL lives matter?" and "ugh, a 5-year-old could paint that."

I understand that you have experienced people putting you down and making you feel small about your literary taste in a different way that I have, and I understand it is fully as legitimate, pervasive, and shitty. But a lot of us have experienced this mode of people putting us down and making us feel small, and it's also stressful and shitty, and I would like to be able to talk about the way that some men have attempted to minimize and dismiss and silence me, and to have you try to hear the ways that *I* have experienced this form of silencing and dismissal masked as intellectualism.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:21 PM on December 3 [38 favorites]


The article is worse than the headline.
posted by 256 at 8:26 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


Against DFW's advice, MeFites went on cruises and enjoyed them

You joke, but the beginning of the end of DFW for me was earlier this year when I went on a cruise with my family, and decided to dust off A Supposedly Fun Thing...

(The cruise was great, btw)
posted by Itaxpica


*...trying to put this delicately...*

I don't know you, Itaxpica, so please don't take this personally, but this doesn't exactly mean that DFW's take on cruises was entirely off base.

*...apologizing and stressing the part about "I don't know you"...*
posted by she's not there at 8:31 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


I'm not really understanding your critique of this article, Frowner. I wouldn't say I'm a person without cultural capital - I'm certainly a person with a lot of privilege and I've even got a PhD - but I don't know many of the books you're referencing, and I certainly am not sure where to place them on the scale of low- to high-brow. It's a given that class plays a role in dating, and in cultural signifiers, but I don't think that this listicle is an example of classism in that sense. I don't think this list is mocking a group of people for not being well-enough versed in what is hip and cool and high brow. I really do see it as pointing to a pretty common experience in which the shared Male-Created Culture (for reasonably well-educated, probably white, people) is treated as the universal culture that everyone should experience and valorize and validate, and that when women don't participate or enjoy participating in that shared culture, men tell them they are foolish and wrong and not serious enough and they need to fix their deficiencies to be worthy of having opinions and thoughts and perspectives taken seriously.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:42 PM on December 3 [8 favorites]


On second read, one thing that strikes me is how many of these authors are typically encountered in high school or college. Like, when was the last time you heard someone in their 30s or 40s prattle on about Kerouac or J. D. Salinger? I don't even think I've seen a Tom Robbins novel since my college days.

I get the personality type she's alluding to, but I feel like that sort of thing usually falls off around a dude's mid-20s -- right about the time he realizes that nobody gives a fuck whom reads.
posted by panama joe at 8:44 PM on December 3 [4 favorites]


The people who are likely to be the most blown away by mid-late 20th century American Big Novels in 2017 are likely to be, IME, smart people with less cultural capital

Come on. You meet a lot of Brave Little Autodidacts fresh off the farm hauling around Portnoy's Complaint? If you're reading a lot of these novels, odds very much are that you are at least college-educated, and therefore do not require special handling. Also, I don't think she's contrasting these men to the supposedly hip or cutting edge, but, even if she were, recognizing the avant-garde isn't actually a matter of superior cultural capital, as that is generally defined. The wealthy patrons sitting through the 900th iteration of La boheme at Lincoln Center generally have way more cultural capital than the people in the audience at the guerrilla theater in Harlem.

There's an impulse on Metafilter to treat all aesthetic or cultural preferences as merely exercises of classism in disguise, and you know, often it's true, but...sometimes it's not.
posted by praemunire at 8:56 PM on December 3 [2 favorites]


The article is about a certain type of bloviating fellow she's dated. Toward the end (no. 19), she confesses her own DFW adoration.
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:25 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


oh nooo!! really?? rainbow stories isnt bro-ey at all! at least i dont think it is.... but wait, is it? shit! am i a douchbag for liking vollmann?? dang.

I'm sure that you would be if people still read him. I love his books, but I mean, the whole war covering, prostitute befriending, crack smoking, 3500 page book writing(big messy man books being specifically critiqued as showy dude stuff), fording the dirtiest river in the world despite all applicable health warnings type stuff that he has pulled would bum a lot of people out these days. Heck, for Rainbow Stories, he actually hung out with racist skinheads (in some regards) to get a story. That alone would damn him for most these days.
posted by bootlegpop at 9:26 PM on December 3


Come on. You meet a lot of Brave Little Autodidacts fresh off the farm hauling around Portnoy's Complaint? If you're reading a lot of these novels, odds very much are that you are at least college-educated, and therefore do not require special handling.

Wow. I guess a point was missed.
posted by bongo_x at 9:48 PM on December 3 [2 favorites]


Wow. This is ignorant, dismissive, sexist and super offensive. However, I honestly assume this thread is going to be great reading.
posted by es_de_bah at 10:06 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


I re-read Catcher a few years ago and found that it was kind of hilarious. Holden Caulfield takes himself so seriously, and he's such an idiot.

Yes! Here’s an excerpt of a comment that I wrote five dang years ago about just that:

The biggest problem with assigning The Catcher in the Rye in high school is that the whole thing is (literally!) a "Fuck You" to teenagers. Its target audience seems to be former teenagers who are distant enough from the subject matter to get a laugh out of it. Having it assigned to you when you're fifteen is like your English teacher saying, "Hey, you'll love this book, since you're all just like the assholes in it!" Um, thanks.

And, to be clear, that’s probably supposed to be a “fuck you” to the shitty, stupid teenagers we ourselves once were, and grew out of, and have—one would hope—developed beyond. But to a person who’s still one of those... I mean, there are much, much better books for those people. This is the trouble with the whole “let’s force high school kids to read this bildungsroman” thing: It is absolutely impossible to fully appreciate a coming-of-age story if you haven’t come of age. The Catcher in the Rye is *about* teenagers. It is not *for* teenagers.

To be sure:
- Any teacher who would willingly assign it to ninth graders clearly has no idea about anything.
- Any adult who identifies with Holden Caulfield in any way but a “He’s a total dickhead, and so was I” way is still a total dickhead.

Later in that comment I also suggest Romeo and Juliet should be purged from the curriculum for the same reason, which is likewise an opinion I still stand by. And, come to think of it, I’m actually quite surprised Shakespeare isn’t on this list. Shakespeare people are just the worst.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:10 PM on December 3 [10 favorites]


I used to make fun of people who read Robert Jordan.

*Ahem*
posted by MissySedai at 10:17 PM on December 3


The Toast: Books That Literally All White Men Own: The Definitive List


What's hilarious is that the Metafilter thread about that is a pretty close mirror to the one we are having.
posted by zabuni at 10:17 PM on December 3 [2 favorites]


maiamaia: "you lucky b*tch, where can i date guys who read books? I, personally, have never owned or driven a tractor or milked a cow but i have a good working knowledge of how to do both due to dating. And also, how to divorce a wife when you're both aged about 45, and how to half-cope with depression, in ways that don't work for me. None of which interests me, but i'm in rural area (and middle-aged) so it's inevitable. I'd give quite a lot just to date a guy who would turn the tv off for one second during a conversation."

Wow, you should meet me then. My neighbors call me "the book dude" and ask me what's wrong when I don't have a book or a tablet in hand. Also, they all refuse to believe I won't walk into something some day.
posted by Samizdata at 10:51 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


The Gaffer: "Are you not supposed to keep a rotating pile of books on your nightstand?"

I keep a Kindle on my nightstand (especially as it works as an alarm clock, white noise generator and is handy for Bedflixing). What does that say about me?
posted by Samizdata at 11:02 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


Brave Little Autodidacts

Why?
posted by bootlegpop at 11:07 PM on December 3 [3 favorites]


FWIW, my two current reads are The Difference Engine by Gibson and Sterling (re-read) and The Fires, by Joe Flood.

(Kinda of have to admit, although it IS a good book, I kinda started it because I like the confluence of title and author name).
posted by Samizdata at 11:13 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


how much "women are like this, and men are like this, amirite?" that goes down

it gets posted is all. plenty of people disagree and complain and sometimes these things are posted for that express purpose. but no, metafilter does not have its finger on the pulse of feminist thought and never has had.

there is, though, a fine distinction between lazily stereotyping men and complaining about men who choose to live their lives as particular lazy stereotypes. the latter is ok with me even though I will indeed say out of the other side of my mouth that we are all individuals.

my own objections are only to the idea that women read in reality, or even should read in reality, a wide variety of bad books either because boys pressure them into it or as secret research into their future boyfriends' likely faults. not for their own reasons, or out of their own bad taste or bad politics, or out of their own simple curiosity and lust for knowledge, or out of their own teenage hubris in believing that they ought to have read every book in the world that anyone else has heard of, or out of their own passion for history and truth which requires knowing firsthand what terrible people have to say for themselves and not taking some blogger's or boyfriend's word for it.

this idea of women's cramped and restricted field of vision, this world in which your average smart book-reading woman never reads any Kerouac until an awful man tells her to and then she submissively does but later rebels upon finding internet affirmation, this story is a joke, but not a funny one. a fake idea, as they say. it ought to be beneath contempt but somehow it is widely accepted, even promoted. ho ho, aren't men terrible, and aren't we small rebels. well, they are terrible, and to be clear, laughing at them is a good time and nobody needs to be a buzzkill about that, not even me. but we are not so small as all that. we do not actually sit under the table of literature feasting on the crumbs that pompous boys drop down to us, we have our own library cards and everything.

Come on. You meet a lot of Brave Little Autodidacts fresh off the farm hauling around Portnoy's Complaint? If you're reading a lot of these novels, odds very much are that you are at least college-educated, and therefore do not require special handling.


jesus christ. I read Portnoy's Complaint long before I went to college, just like all the other books on the great list of boy books writ in flaming letters in the sky. you kind of have to, because by the time you get to college, if you are a person who goes to college, you will have been told twenty times that they are boy books that only boys like and the only reason you should read them is to please men or to show up men, whichever. so you do it early or not at all, most likely. none of them blew my mind on account of they suck for the most part, but what the fuck is this. it so happens I did go to college, but if I had not, I would still have read them. regular people who read books with their human brains outside of a college professor told them to are a myth? or what? what the fuck.

[I am quoting two different people in the same comment, I think you are supposed to make a note of that or else be an asshole? I don't know these things.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:21 PM on December 3 [11 favorites]


The Toast: Books That Literally All White Men Own: The Definitive List

What's hilarious is that the Metafilter thread about that is a pretty close mirror to the one we are having.


I remembered the discussion on that thread and several others that gravitated towards the same subject, so my initial impression here was that the article was just going back over the same ground for comedic effect, which is more or less true. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the article for that reason since the comments were incisive enough to amuse and provide a bit of added thought as well. I particularly enjoyed the Vonnegut comment, not because it fits Vonnegut himself exactly, as Fitzgerald herself suggests, but because so many guys I've met do speak of him as having something akin to a Manic Pixie Dream Author effect on them. It's a connection I'd never have made, and while it's limited in its use, it does ring true.

I do wish we'd do better at accepting the limitations of quasi-canonical popular male authorship, look more seriously at how or whether we approach that work, what to replace it with, and develop better methods of talking about books constructively since so much of the cultural approach now seems based in mocking others and the past rather than moving forward. I know there are people who take these things seriously and write on them, but they don't seem to get the same traction as the shorter snarky lists. I don't have any problem with Fitzgerald or anyone else writing in that style since it is what people want, I just want to know how we get something more than that too since the overall effect, from my perspective, is of the constant diminishment of art as it all becomes subject to personal attitudes and dismissal so often.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:01 AM on December 4 [1 favorite]


I doubt her question "Is obsessing over [author] making you a boring boyfriend?" actually helps much. Instead, we should ask "Is reading [author] between before university helping you be a wiser/better person latter in life?" or "How does fiction impact the ideologies to which you subscribe later in life?"

I befriended several Ayn Rand fans as a freshman in university, but quickly determined I'd never need to read her books. Rand appears particularly pernicious, seemingly guilty of everything for which people blamed Machiavelli.

I suppose Frank Herbert impacted my personality more than most authors, so some environmentalism, maybe some utilitarianism/consequentialism, and a slightly crisper distrust for centralized authority, religious or otherwise.. beneficial but tame stuff.

I'm now curious what fiction books help turn kids more strongly environmentally conscious, vegetarian, etc.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:38 AM on December 4


her question "Is obsessing over [author] making you a boring boyfriend?"

That’s not her question. Her question is “are you still dating that guy who boringly lectures you about his boring opinions about perhaps-quite-okay-books that you are now obliged to resist reading forever in the name of preserving your autonomy? Here’s a listicle about that.”
posted by Aravis76 at 12:42 AM on December 4 [3 favorites]


The Illuminatus Trilogy certainly impacted my political and chemical growth, both for the better and the worse.
posted by bootlegpop at 12:43 AM on December 4 [5 favorites]


regular people who read books with their human brains outside of a college professor told them to are a myth?

No, but people who have read even moderately widely in Big American Novels of the second half of the 20th century have usually attended college (or are in environments where they're being prepared to go to college--you must be aware that even to know a number of them exist and to "have been told twenty times that they are boy books that only boys like and the only reason you should read them is to please men or to show up men" represents a level of cultural awareness that is beyond what you will find in many high schools, including one I attended). I'll give you Hemingway, sure, but who picks up Roth randomly these days? I think most people who have formed an opinion on The Princess Casamassima went to college, too.

Honestly, I can't believe I'm reading with my own two eyes a thread arguing that men in grad school and hanging around literary publications and writers' workshops lecturing their dates about Barthelme are probably just wide-eyed naifs who need defending from cruel elitists. That women really should put up with their pomposity because it's just a reflection of a lack of sophistication they simply can't help. If you guys have never had to be around such men, then you're lucky; but I know what I've observed of their characteristics. And, equally importantly, you can have read one book or ten thousand, of any quality, without being compelled to pose at women about them.

Speaking of which, from another:

Why?

Because I think this figure of pathos--this poor creature with limited cultural capital who just doesn't know better than to bloviate about his tastes at women and so must be shielded from scorn for doing so--is, in this context, essentially an imaginary one.
posted by praemunire at 12:51 AM on December 4 [5 favorites]


bootlegpop: "The Illuminatus Trilogy certainly impacted my political and chemical growth, both for the better and the worse."


Kalliste!
posted by Samizdata at 1:25 AM on December 4 [2 favorites]


Ayn Rand is required reading, as we're living in her fever dream (in the US, at least).

If anyone corners me and starts explaining how I must read new literary darling X or lose all social capital I have a speech ready about how great The Silmarillion is.
posted by benzenedream at 1:43 AM on December 4 [1 favorite]


Sitting here realizing that always having put my literature major in my profile has been an excellent filter. Dudes have never used authors as identity proxies with me.

I do get a whole bunch of mansplaining though. When you're just sharing something you enjoy and the dude suddenly goes all stringent and "WELL ACTUALLY"

well actually my interest just dies, dead, never to rise again

i mean seriously i've gotten it for my cats
MY CATS

Wagahai wa neko de aru.
posted by fraula at 2:22 AM on December 4 [4 favorites]


Because I think this figure of pathos--this poor creature with limited cultural capital who just doesn't know better than to bloviate about his tastes at women and so must be shielded from scorn for doing so--is, in this context, essentially an imaginary one.

If so, why did you phrase it in a manner that seemed to throw anyone without a degree who has managed to read above what you deem to be their level under the bus? A fair amount of the posters in this thread have been talking about reading a fair amount of the authors in the article while still in high school. Heck, while I wasn't planning on bringing it up, I read some of them in middle school (and thought that Holden was a jerk even back then). Do you think that we are lying? Furthermore, I don't recall anyone using that as an excuse for being a putz about excessively vehement recommendations.

In my case, I didn't literally grow up on a farm. (Though, again, what is so wrong with growing up on a farm that it prompts you to employ it as a slur?) However, I was born in a town with a population of 5000, I have actually milked cows because a family friend felt that it would be a "fun" and "educational" experience, I frequently had to live solely off of literal government cheese towards the end of the month, the public schools that I went to were woefully underfunded, the few English classes that I had were taught by someone who pretty much exclusively read Mary Higgins Clark and often made rude remarks about my big brainiac books in front of the rest of the class, I don't have a degree; and, while I wouldn't recommend it to someone who wasn't already incredibly enthusiastic about reading Ulysses and wasn't sure if it was worth taking their obsession with Joyce further, I have read Finnegans Wake (along with Terra Nostra, The Recognitions and many other books that you seemed to imply that someone like me almost couldn't possibly have read). I don't expect a medal for it, and I actually shy away from even talking about reading FW in real life among strangers because the conversations that happen when other people mention having read it are so incredibly embarrassing. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the only impression that reading so much gives the average person is that I am dork. I did recommend Wallace to two people 12 to 15 years ago and all, but the extent of said recommendation was "I really like this guy, here, have one of his books" in both cases, so they weren't exactly pushy or rude recommendations, but had I opted to be pushy or rude, I certainly wouldn't blame it on my class background. In general, I have found that if you gear your recommendation towards what you already know about a person's tastes, which I have gotten much better about over the last decade, people who read a lot are often pretty happy to hear about a new author.

All the same, I exist and, while I am the most excessive about literature among those in my social group, I am not at all the exception. In fact, while I know that my personal experience isn't something that I can use to generalize about other people, I have found that the extent to which people who I know enjoy literature seems to have an inverse relationship to the amount of schooling that they have had. Aside from people related to me, the deepest reader that I know is someone who didn't even graduate high school, barely attended middle school and spent over a year homeless on his own as a temporary expatriate in the former Soviet Union during his pre-teen teenage years.

Sure, the more literary portion of my social group is atypical in some ways, but we aren't that out there, and every other person in said social group knows other similar people. You seemed to be trying to make some sort of comment about classism, but it came across as the most classist thing that anyone has said in this thread. I exist. We exist. Sure, most of us rapidly ran to metropolitan areas as soon as we could, but we're not rubes, and if we were rubes or boneheads, it wouldn't be because of our origins, our socio-economic statuses, or how we learned what we learned.
posted by bootlegpop at 2:24 AM on December 4 [2 favorites]


I both enjoy reading threads like this, but they also give me remembered anxiety. A long time back I made the decision not to worry too much about books I "should" be reading and just focus on books I felt like reading. This was a response to a lot of judgemental reactions towards reading that I experienced in my youth - from within my own family and within the self-styled "intellectual" contingent at school, of which I longed to be a part. After a while, it got exhausting trying to keep up with constantly shifting goalposts for what it meant to be truly well-read, and I just gave up and started reading what I wanted and fuck everything else. This was such a good move for me because it has kept reading, and books, a source of great pleasure in my life. There are gaps in my knowledge of the classic, as I think of it, Western canon but I have really enjoyed the books that I have chosen to read out of desire and not duty.

I have a friend who is crippled by her sense of inadequacy that she doesn't read the "right" books. It leads to some very frustrating conversations with her about her demanding to know what she "should" read because I just don't believe there should be a "should" about reading. You just read what you want and if you don't want to read then don't bother. I wish that we could all just read what we want to and not worry about what it says about us. I dislike e-readers for practical reasons (you can't flip easily to a certain page, you lack that sense of where you are in a book that doesn't really get adequately communicated by a percentage bar), but I really like the fact that e-readers take away that sense of performance because no one can actually see what you're reading so you don't need to be embarrassed that you're reading, I don't know, Dan Brown or someone, or feel smug about reading Infinite Jest* on the train.

*I just mention Infinite Jest because it's a bit of a byword for a certain kind of performative intellectualism, which is not its fault. I haven't read any other DFW and don't know a lot about him, but I really loved Infinite Jest. I thought it was beautiful and funny, and it has stayed with me long after finishing it.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:53 AM on December 4 [11 favorites]


Hot take: read whatever you want! Just don't drone on about it to someone who doesn't care in an effort to impress with your intellect and taste.
posted by emd3737 at 3:42 AM on December 4 [11 favorites]


I used to make fun of people who read Robert Jordan.

I feel deep sympathy for people who read Robert Jordan. (I include myself in this.)

This list amused me. When I was 18 or 19 I started hanging around with a self-important older man who made it his mission to "educate" me. The books I read distressed him, so he started bossing me to read the books he liked. (And, of course, they weren't just "good books" they were "cultural touchstones" that would "change my life.") These included Franny and Zooey, Heart of Darkness, etc. etc. I liked some of them, but as I read through the list it became clear that Older Guy had only skimmed these books at best. I eventually bored of him and went back to my books starring dragons, spies, lady detectives, and plucky children.
posted by Stonkle at 4:02 AM on December 4 [6 favorites]


Vonnegut-If you haven't read him as a teenager, you haven't read him at the right time.

Huh. I wonder what this says about the Vonnegut man-crush my dad developed at about age 65.

My only memory of Vonnegut was reading him for a lit class in high school, which had a kind of cool nerdy teacher. The day we were going to discuss "The Great Space Fuck" also happened to be the day the school principal came to sit in and observe the class.

I've read a couple of others for school as well. I didn't enjoy them, and I love reading. I'm just happy to stick to non-fiction and genre fiction, thanks.
posted by Foosnark at 5:30 AM on December 4 [1 favorite]


Wow, I had no idea Waterstone's ever made it to North America.

I never saw one outside of a US airport
posted by thelonius at 5:51 AM on December 4 [1 favorite]


THERE'S NOTHING EMBARRASSING ABOUT BUYING HEMORRHOID CREAM

Not that I have experience with this or anything.
posted by slogger at 6:41 AM on December 4 [5 favorites]


Because I think this figure of pathos--this poor creature with limited cultural capital who just doesn't know better than to bloviate about his tastes at women and so must be shielded from scorn for doing so--is, in this context, essentially an imaginary one.

"he" is imaginary because he is usually a woman who bloviates at everybody who is willing to talk to her about books, was the original point as I understood it. and she is not a poor creature; poor creatures are not the only ones who don't care for being patronized and treated as imaginary figures because they don't count as normal women, with degrees.

not going to college doesn't keep anybody from reading and understanding books, but it is true that it can keep you from knowing which books are cliches for people like you to love and which books are cliches for people not like you to love, so that nobody will ever believe you actually do love them for idiosyncratic biographical reasons like everybody else who reads books for any other reason than they were on a reading list, and aren't just doing what an MFA class or a boyfriend told you to. less so now than ten-twenty years ago, because of the internet and so forth, but still possible.

people like that still need to be emancipated from the tyranny of idiocy and bad taste held over them by usual pantheon of male garbage writers, but they can emancipate themselves. even without going to precious college, just by reading more books. the positive side of lacking 'cultural capital' is that you don't worry so much about things like people assuming you're trying to be a cool girl by reading the books you read or people pitying you for being brainwashed by awful boyfriends, because you engage with sexist literature directly and as an peer of the author -- his friend until you declare yourself his enemy -- and not at this cringing angle of remove and all these layers of filters and other readers.

college doesn't have to break you of this free and dignified way of reading, but it seems to do that to anyone who didn't establish that way of reading before they got there. which is more people than one would like to believe.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:43 AM on December 4 [2 favorites]


this idea of women's cramped and restricted field of vision, this world in which your average smart book-reading woman never reads any Kerouac until an awful man tells her to and then she submissively does but later rebels upon finding internet affirmation, this story is a joke, but not a funny one. a fake idea, as they say. it ought to be beneath contempt but somehow it is widely accepted, even promoted. ho ho, aren't men terrible, and aren't we small rebels.

This really irks me. It's such a willful projection of relationship dynamics and still manages to be contemptuous towards women who haven't read their way through Great American Literature Of The White Male. I'm glad you're a fan of Kerouac and Bret Easton Ellis and whatnot. I was mind-numbingly bored reading On The Road. I am a person with enough autonomy and a sense of my personal tastes to be able to decide for myself whether or not I want to read a book.

And, I am a person with enough compassion and interest in and respect for the people I am dating and interacting with that when they say "Oh, I really love Phillip Roth," I can give Portnoy's Complaint a try, even if I've never been interested in reading him before. It's not being submissive and But by the same token, when I say, "Oh ... that was just an extended Jewish joke couched in a riff on masturbation; I didn't really like it. But hey, I love Edith Wharton, have you read The Fruit of the Tree?" I expect the same willingness to experience my cultural touchstones. But that rarely happens. And I think that is why we have these conversations over and over. Not because bloggers think it's cute to be poorly read, or because girls just don't want to experience things for themselves, or because smart women really hate David Foster Wallace.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:45 AM on December 4 [17 favorites]


Only author book I read in that list was Palahniuk, I was curious how that movie would look in a book, answer... exactly the same. The movie is super verbatim from the book to a point that its almost impressive. There are some interesting ideas in that story, but a "man how-to" it is not.

Author I'm ashamed of having read a lot is Tom Clancy, I liked the technical plot details (even though its mostly garbage) but that guy can't write and the series became even more ridiculous in the end. I laughed a lot at his so-called solution to bring peace to the middle east, showed a lot about how he knew a few things but was really clueless overall. Thankfully I don't thinke I ever pushed him on anybody.

The 2 authors I'm most likely not to have shut up about at one point in my life (apologies to everyone) are Kim Stanley Robinson and Dan Simmons. KSR is longer/slower-paced read but has more nifty ideas (Mars Trilogy and even the 40/50/60 trilogy). And DS because Hyperion/Endymion. You can judge me I don't care, I really liked those books ;)
posted by WaterAndPixels at 6:51 AM on December 4 [2 favorites]


Come on. You meet a lot of Brave Little Autodidacts fresh off the farm hauling around Portnoy's Complaint? If you're reading a lot of these novels, odds very much are that you are at least college-educated, and therefore do not require special handling.

Jesus. I'm not actually sure what point you're trying to make, the snide derision really obscures everything but your contempt for the uneducated, but... I devoured books by most of the authors on this list when I was in my early twenties. Fucking LOVED Roth. Read Portnoy's Complaint aloud to a cat during the first few days of our life together, so he could acclimate to the sound of my voice, plus it was really funny to me at the time to hear Roth's sleaze delivered in the tone of voice one uses to calm a skittish animal. Still is! Anyway, guess I'm proudly wearing the label of Brave Little Autodidact, even if it was intended to shame people like me who aren't as worthwhile as you because I didn't start college until I was almost 40, but poor dumb little me, I managed to enjoy those books anyway.
posted by palomar at 6:54 AM on December 4 [8 favorites]


Ha Ha! I use a totally different set of authors to signify who I am and who, by the male=human transitive value, you should also therefore be. I WIN!!!
posted by The Great David S. Pumpkins at 8:07 AM on December 4 [1 favorite]


There are a lot of men commenting in this thread that don't seem to have given much thought to how alienating it is for a woman to participate in literary culture where all the touchstones and masterworks are aggressively Not For You.

This article is a rebellion against the seemingly unconquerable constant of the male universal. These authors which are constantly held up as the great narrators of the "human experience" are consistently chauvinistic and misogynistic and if you do happen to be a woman, reading their work is a constant exercise in humiliation and indignation, but if you don't read their work than a rather large subset of American men who consider themselves the arbiters of taste and culture will very openly consider you uneducated and ignorant.

So as a woman you don't come out and say "I never read any Updike beyond that short story about the A&P which they forced us to read in high school because for some reason they think 15-year-old girls need to be educated into objectifying themselves," you just nod along and take part in the conversation via your general awareness of Updike and his oeuvre, an awareness which it is literally impossible to not have if you participate in American literary culture at all.

It isn't about any of the individual authors. It's not taking pride in ignorance. It's chafing against an American literary canon that's been almost wholly shaped by men who hate women.
posted by the turtle's teeth at 8:32 AM on December 4 [37 favorites]


There are a lot of men commenting in this thread that don't seem to have given much thought to how alienating it is for a woman to participate in literary culture where all the touchstones and masterworks are aggressively Not For You.

very well put. I mentioned upthread the anxiety I felt as a child and a teenager when I was made to feel bad about my taste in fiction - that it wasn't good enough because I hadn't read enough of 'The Greats'. It was invariably male authors, writing about stereotypically male experiences, that I was being judged for not reading or enjoying; but I really can't think of many female authors who fell into this category of "I can't believe you haven't read them; you are impossible to take seriously."
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:46 AM on December 4 [5 favorites]


And, I am a person with enough compassion and interest in and respect for the people I am dating and interacting with that when they say "Oh, I really love Phillip Roth," I can give Portnoy's Complaint a try, even if I've never been interested in reading him before. It's not being submissive and But by the same token, when I say, "Oh ... that was just an extended Jewish joke couched in a riff on masturbation; I didn't really like it. But hey, I love Edith Wharton, have you read The Fruit of the Tree?" I expect the same willingness to experience my cultural touchstones. But that rarely happens. And I think that is why we have these conversations over and over. Not because bloggers think it's cute to be poorly read, or because girls just don't want to experience things for themselves, or because smart women really hate David Foster Wallace.

Yes - this. As a male in this discussion, the whole dynamic of rejecting women's cultural touchstones was something I was clueless about for 90% of my life and is something that I have had to unlearn to varying degrees of success.

My wife years ago noted that I had an irritating habit of rejecting suggestions of hers for music, movies, restaurants, tv shows, etc. out of hand and would often later find the same thing and really enjoy it on my own terms. I realized this was a learned variation on the whole cultural explorer "my favorite band is one you've never heard of" trope where my own perception of my cultural identity was that it was the result of my own exploration - never mind that I absolutely let my father shape my music taste, my uncle my sport taste, my best friend food recommendations, and numerous male friends my literary taste.

Now that I am aware of it, I see it everywhere with the males in my life - rejecting out-of-hand the cultural experiences of women in favour of those that other men suggest - no matter who that man is. I doubt anyone knowingly does it but there's an implied fraternity among males that our interests are more closely aligned and therefore those suggestions are better. Never mind that we are often rejecting women who know us much better than an online reviewer or generic guy at a party do and will often be able to say why we might specifically enjoy that work.

I am still not very good at immediately accepting that my wife knows me well and can research a great brunch place or a book that I will like without my help, but I now at least can catch myself before trying to Google a suggestion that is "better" than hers. The upside of at least trying to see my wife as a cultural equal is - I've run into a bunch of rad stuff like Stranger Things that previously I would've rejected offhand because it was "too cute" or whatever reason I assumed was why my wife liked it and I would not.
posted by notorious medium at 8:50 AM on December 4 [28 favorites]


these books are problematic because they signify a system of gatekeeping that happens in academia and literature that favors cisgendered, heterornormative white male perspectives and authorship over the voices of the subaltern and oppressed. that they are still widely taught, idolized by mediocre white dudes at large, and still widely accepted as cultural capital is a problem. that's typically the criticism I read when I read lists like these: educated folks tired of the fact that the education they are receiving contains systemic bias in this way especially given the last half century worth of scholarship explaining why this systemic favorship of certain voices is problematic

individual engagement with individual authors, on the other hand, is a different experience, I think. Vonnegut was really important in shaping my worldviews in high school especially because I personally felt that if you could humanize an individual Nazi broadcaster like Vonnegut did in Mother Night, a regularly abused, poor, immigrant kid like me could probably similarly be respected and empowered - that really it wasn't my own fault for being treated like shit. the same can be said for The Catcher in the Rye which was perhaps even more direct in its humanization of a sad teen who didn't know what he was talking about but talked a lot in order to make up for the emptiness of the emotionally abusive home life that's alluded to

could I have found that empowerment elsewhere? yes, very likely, especially in the new forms of literature that are coming out now that directly address my experience. does Vonnegut still hold a special place in my heart? absolutely. do I see him and Salinger as highly problematic figures whose values are incorporated into their work? you bet

I don't think criticism of my faves necessarily diminishes my experience or anybody else's. in fact, you should criticize your favorites, at all times, always, unless you intend to stay keenly oblivious to how you yourself replicate systems of power and oppression

in this sense, I think modern celebration of certain problematic pieces of art always needs to come with a disclaimer ie this meant something to me at the time but that was only because there was nothing else out there that really spoke to me and didn't normalize other forms of oppression, not like there is now. and I think it's super annoying that these disclaimers are largely absent when cishet white males celebrate the works of other cishet white males because it's indicative of that blindness of privilege - that they don't see a single issue with the objectification of women by Fitzgerald or the weird, colorblind perspectives of the PoC in Infinite Jest

so if you're telling me I'm a shitty person because I at one point enjoyed Vonnegut a lot, you can go fuck yourself. but if you're telling me that my uncritical idolatry and repping of Vonnegut in conversation is problematic, then by all means - the floor is all yours. I think that's what it means to be a good reader - to absorb things critically and to also revisit your favorites with what you know now - to see maybe how and why you see certain things the way you do now and how and why that might change as you continue to grow as a person
posted by runt at 9:05 AM on December 4 [11 favorites]


(And I mean, please, throw Cat's Cradle or Welcome to the Monkey House casually on the end table if you want me impressed with your Vonnegut bona fides.)

My boyfriend would be the first to tell you he isn't a huge reader, but when I mentioned not having read any Vonnegut in a long time he gave me his copy of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, and I was like, damn.

(See how that went? I expressed an interest! And then he was like "here, possibly this will appeal to your interest? But no big either way." No OMG you haven't read the entire oeuvre?!? And there was no pressure on either side to fully live up to some kind of intellectual or masculine or feminine performative identity, and that is NOT what the author of the listicle is describing.)

also I agree with the comment long ago that Murakami (much as I do enjoy a lot of his work) belongs smack in the middle of this list.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:11 AM on December 4 [5 favorites]


My wife years ago noted that I had an irritating habit of rejecting suggestions of hers for music, movies, restaurants, tv shows, etc. out of hand and would often later find the same thing and really enjoy it on my own terms.

Every woman-who-dates-men that I have known, myself included, has at least one glaring example of this she can share.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:16 AM on December 4 [15 favorites]


I really enjoy reading decades-old sci-fi anthologies, and I think one of the reasons I like them so much is that I have never heard of 90% of the authors in them. That means I can approach the stories they write completely on their own merits, rather than being told exactly what I should think of them and how they should make me feel before I crack them open. As a result I have begun to develop a much clearer idea of what I personally enjoy in SF, which is not necessarily in line with The Great SF Canon.

I find I often avoid reading newer releases for similar reasons - everyone has already told me exactly what I ought to think about them, so I know that even if I were to read them, my experience of them would be hopelessly filtered through other people's reactions to them.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:40 AM on December 4 [2 favorites]


My wife years ago noted that I had an irritating habit of rejecting suggestions of hers for music, movies, restaurants, tv shows, etc. out of hand and would often later find the same thing and really enjoy it on my own terms.

I used to have a male friend who would reject any suggestion I ever made while constantly pushing his taste in media or experiences. I finally lost my chill about it when he was like "omg you have to read this David Sedaris guy, he wrote this amazing book called Me Talk Pretty One Day that Nate [a coworker of his] told me about" and I was like, "MOTHERFUCKER I TOLD YOU ABOUT THAT BOOK SIX MONTHS AGO, TIME TO SEE A DOCTOR ABOUT YOUR FUCKED UP INABILITY TO HEAR WOMEN'S VOICES UNLESS THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT HOW SMART YOU ARE"

(in case you wondered, that guy is still single)
posted by palomar at 9:58 AM on December 4 [28 favorites]


I am pleased to report that I have never had an instance of recommending something to a dude and having him dismiss it unless it was genuinely not a thing he would ever have dug. Usually instead I hear "oh damn, that sounds cool" or "I've been hearing a lot of buzz about that, come to think of it."

Not saying this to doubt anyone's experience - on the contrary, i'm realizing that I'm either profoundly lucky, or I give off a real "don't fuck with me" vibe I hadn't noticed.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:26 AM on December 4


Or, me and the guys I know are all such weirdos that we really are the only people who would be into novels about renegade Anglo-Saxon guerillas from 1069.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:28 AM on December 4


My wife years ago noted that I had an irritating habit of rejecting suggestions of hers for music, movies, restaurants, tv shows, etc. out of hand and would often later find the same thing and really enjoy it on my own terms.

I am so, so selfishly thankful that I've mostly eliminated this brain disease. This isn't a humblebrag or virtue signalling or any of that bullshit - just sincere thankfulness and selfishness. My life would be so much poorer if I ignored all the great advice from the women in my life. I doubt I ever would have discovered Marge Piercy on my own, or even Theodore Sturgeon when I did.

And it's not just about books or media. Hell, I wouldn't know art and photography the way I do without the knowledge and education of the women in my life. I wouldn't have gotten into digital/software based DJing way back in the early 2000s if it wasn't for the advice of a woman.

And this cultural dynamic of not listening is really screwed up because I often find women still trying to talk over me as though they're expecting to have to push a lot harder to be heard. This just happened the other night with my housemates' new friend when we were talking about photography, and she's apparently pretty badass and aggressive.

But the expectation that I wasn't actively listening and sincerely interested in what she had to say about photography (because she knew what she was talking about, and knew a famous landscape and Nat Geo photographer in town I'd love to meet or hear more about) and so when I tried to ask actual questions she tended to talk over them and not realize they were actual questions and not statements.

A similar thing happened to me at the women's march a year ago. A woman asked why I wasn't joining in the chanting. My reply was that I was there to listen, not speak. She seemed utterly flabbergasted by this response.

These cultural things are not ok and they're problems that get in the way of good ideas and healthy, robust communication. I wish more men could understand it this way, that communication not about competition. That a good idea is a good idea whether or not you think you discovered it yourself.

Also, I want to clear up that my previous comment is definitely not some kind of weird "men going their own way" or me giving up on the idea of partnership or relationships at all. Most of my best friends are women. I've realized I'm actually very bad at relationships and I should work on that and myself before making a mess of another relationship. I'm definitely not lonely or bitter. Just being good to myself. :)
posted by loquacious at 10:30 AM on December 4 [3 favorites]


a thought about autodidactism and reading, required and otherwise, before during and after university.

In high school, I was sort of a jock, but I did love reading and had a pretty solid relationship in this regard with the school librarian. He'd recommend stuff. I'd give it a try, and so on, but I was always busy what with studying, required reading, sports, life in general, so my to-read list just kept growing. I remember one point toward the end of my final year, saying to him, "Oh man, I can't wait until school's over so I can finally get some proper reading done."

"But you're going to university," he said. "Good luck with that. Maybe in five years."

He was right, of course. University demanded all kinds of reading, almost none of it stuff I would otherwise have chosen to read. And yeah, some of these assigned readings were very valuable, they expanded my world, they challenged my assumptions, etc. But in terms of literature, in terms of stuff that worked genuine magic on my imagination and set my soul free (or however you wish to put it) -- there was precious little of that (even, nay particularly, if it was labelled LITERATURE). In fact, put a big FAT asterisk next to pretty much EVERY book I read (holidays not included) between age eighteen and twenty-one, and note that the experience was NOT magical at all, it was work.

But that all did finally end, and I finally got to read again for the sheer love of it again. Which I guess is my long way of saying, I think when it comes to the literary stuff I generally love, I am (and have always been) an autodidact, and I have to wonder how much of that is true for everyone. That is, it's only the stuff that hasn't been imposed on you (or if imposed, quickly takes you somewherl that makes you forget the imposition) that really counts in terms of the literary dynamic (ie: you, the reader, the nervous system etc that takes the various letters and punctuation marks on the printed page and "magically" turns them into a genuine experience).
posted by philip-random at 10:52 AM on December 4


I could cosign all of these except Vonnegut. My husband and I recently moved some of our bookshelves and reorganized our books and he asked me why I liked Vonnegut when he could never finish one of his books.

Then he started to wax poetic about Stranger in a Strange Land and I rolled my eyes at him.
posted by threeturtles at 10:59 AM on December 4 [2 favorites]


My wife has forgotten more about literature than I'll ever know, but we do recommend books back and forth. The only thing I've recommended to her that she read and responded to with a bit of side-eye was Ghost World, which I've not revisited since I originally read it circa 1999, so I have no idea how it holds up but I have my suspicions.

> There are a lot of men commenting in this thread that don't seem to have given much thought to how alienating it is for a woman to participate in literary culture where all the touchstones and masterworks are aggressively Not For You.

I knew a male English major during my undergrad who dismissed Margaret Atwood as "chick-lit," yet somehow considered Tom Robbins a genius (he lent me a paperback copy of Half Asleep In Frog Pajamas, which I thought was just the worst fucking hippy-dippy bullshit and bailed on halfway through). Coincidentally enough he also had a habit of dismissing music by female artists as Not Worthy Of Being Admitted To The Canon. Dudes like him are unfortunately legion, and work together to try and ensure that the Canon remains mostly male (and mostly white).

Of the authors on this list, the only two I have strong feelings about either way are Vonnegut (whose books I've mostly loved and will defend without apology) and Rand (who is obviously The Worst, both as an author and as a political philosopher). I will add my wife and I to the list of people in this thread who read Lunar Park and were surprised (in a good way) by the kind of novel it wound up being.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:00 AM on December 4 [5 favorites]


I'm either profoundly lucky, or I give off a real "don't fuck with me" vibe I hadn't noticed.

I'm gonna go with profoundly lucky, since you may not have noticed, but I don't exactly give off a "come fuck with me" vibe
posted by palomar at 11:02 AM on December 4 [6 favorites]


Having now read through the thread, I think a lot of people are not getting the point of the article, which I guess if you didn't go through a creative writing and lit program at a liberal arts school maybe isn't in your experience but for those of us who did, WOO, BOY, is this accurate.

Of course I've read and liked many authors on the list (the author admits to it as well, at least with Pynchon and DFW.) The point isn't that none of these guys wrote anything worth reading or that people who read them suck. The point is that there is a certain type of dude who will tell you ALL about them at great length and you don't have to have read them to carry on a conversation about these books after a while.

These guys are a very real TYPE. Some of them are in this thread.
posted by threeturtles at 11:24 AM on December 4 [10 favorites]


I'm gonna go with profoundly lucky, since you may not have noticed, but I don't exactly give off a "come fuck with me" vibe

yeah i genuinely don't think the guys who've done this to me have intended to fuck with me in any way. It's been more like you described originally: almost as though their brains cannot actually process the info.

Also I get a lot of the subtler kind, where they're like "[Item X that you like] is objectively terrible!" but then a month later they're gushing about Item Y, which is functionally identical.

OR WORSE the thing where another GUY has recommended it to you so your guy reflexively declares it unbearable garbage.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:31 AM on December 4 [1 favorite]


There are SO MANY books in the world. I get overwhelmed walking into bookstores. By not reading White Male Literary Fiction I get to read SO MANY OTHER AMAZING BOOKS. My time is finite. DFW might be amazeballs but I’m gonna read White Teeth instead because it is also amazeballs.
posted by Grandysaur at 11:47 AM on December 4 [1 favorite]


What a lot of these writers have in common is a kind of aesthetic that's like, "Yeah that's right, I just blasted out that sentence/paragraph, is your feeble mind and weak stomach able to handle it?" and they naturally attract a kind of guy who fancies himself to be some bold and daring iconoclast but is actually dead average

if they had tumblr's their about page would end with "triggered yet? ;) "
posted by poffin boffin at 12:08 PM on December 4 [9 favorites]


or, perhaps, “U MAD BRO?”
posted by acb at 12:10 PM on December 4 [3 favorites]


For future reference, are there any online dating sites that allow you to narrow your search to those who have read (and loved, of course) Stoner?

A good novel, but disgustingly sexist. (Not the characters, the novel itself. The portrayal of the wife is malicious without reason.) It's not a novel I'd want to base a potential love connection off of.

If you liked this list, especially the Bukowski reference, I recommend Fante Bukowski by Noah Van Sciver. A very funny graphic novel about what it means to be a famous novelist, or to try to be, in that mode. The second volume is even better.
posted by OmieWise at 12:40 PM on December 4


The middle-aged man exhales as he leans back and reclines in his office chair. He slides his hands together behind his head and thinks to himself, "So glad John Barth and Walker Percy didn't make THE LIST. And how could Raymond Carver not? I mean, there was a time when you couldn't walk past a bar in Iowa City (or any other college town with a creative writing program, for that matter), and not hear 'Carver this and Carver that.'"

The middle-aged man hears a stirring. The disembodied voice of his boss floats over the cubicle wall. "You need some work to do, Bartleby?"

The middle-aged man crosses his legs and smiles.
posted by kidkilowatt at 12:57 PM on December 4 [2 favorites]


"20 Authors I Don't Have To Read Because I Read 226 MeFi Comments About Them"
posted by AlSweigart at 1:08 PM on December 4 [9 favorites]


Expanding Brain: Ayn Rand book next to a Rush album
Galaxy Brain: Vonnegut book next to a Harry Chapin album
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:46 PM on December 4


Can we leave Rush out of this, please, their brief Randian streak was never really the appeal in the first place.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:31 PM on December 4 [3 favorites]


The Toast: Books That Literally All White Men Own: The Definitive List

Decision to skip the article and go straight to enjoying the comments because I was SURE the toast had already done this better: justified

I've definitely had my own journey from "you MUST read this" to "if you'd like to read this I'd love to know what you think even if you hate it please please read it" to *just vaguely waves book with a hopeful expression* as I've grown up.

And I bloody love Vonnegut, but that shit is prime "ruined by fans" material, totally conceded.
posted by ominous_paws at 2:37 PM on December 4 [2 favorites]


Myself 17-23 (generous) included.
posted by ominous_paws at 2:38 PM on December 4


Rush Drummer Neil Peart Denounces Ayn Rand

I hadn't known that 'Rand hated libertarians, calling them a “monstrous, disgusting bunch of people.”' lol
posted by jeffburdges at 2:43 PM on December 4 [1 favorite]


I'm now going to tell you all that you must read Terry Pratchett.

Just kidding, I burned through my brief adult "you must do this thing" phase on Burning Man, but that's over now. lol
posted by jeffburdges at 2:47 PM on December 4 [1 favorite]


There are plenty of other reasons to consider Rush deeply uncool, and I say this as a major Rush fan. On the other hand, I don’t think too many folks out there are pretending to be Rush fans aspirationally at this point.

(What was up with the way that “prog rock with countertenor vocals” was a straight-up genre in the seventies, anyway?)
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:36 PM on December 4 [3 favorites]


METAFILTER: pretending to be Rush fans aspirationally
posted by philip-random at 5:46 PM on December 4 [4 favorites]


Yeah, sorry, I was a rural Canadian 1970's boy when 2112 occurred, I saw them perform it live with Max Webster opening, and I still think that it's their best album (side 2 is also good.) Then I read some Ayn Rand, and I thought: "whut?" (I hate Rand, don't get me started).

Neil Peart's memoirs are interesting.
posted by ovvl at 7:01 PM on December 4


Or, me and the guys I know are all such weirdos that we really are the only people who would be into novels about renegade Anglo-Saxon guerillas from 1069.

Granted, it got enough attention that I immediately recognized what book you are referring to.

Unless there is there another book about renegade Anglo-Saxon guerillas? If so, I need it in my life.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:33 PM on December 4 [1 favorite]


I read 2 of the aforementioned books that I had on my bed stand yesterday and synchronicity reared its sometimes surreal head since it turned out that one of them, Scar by Sara Mesa, published by Dalkey Archive, was actually largely about a dude being a creep about his literary suggestions. There was a lot more too it and he was a lot creepier than anyone mentioned here, but the extent to which the book wasn't random was still rather unnerving.

I haven't been able to find much coverage in English, but it has been reviewed by Complete Archive. The plot summary reads "Sonia meets Knut in an online literary forum and begins a long-distance relationship with him that gradually turns to obsession. Though Sonia needs to create distance when Knut becomes too absorbing, she also yearns for a less predictable existence. Alternately attracted to and repulsed by Knut, Sonia begins a secret double life of theft and betrayal in which she will ultimately be trapped for years." I enjoyed it more than I was expecting. I don't read that many books that make me tense while reading, but Scar did, and I hope that more of Mesa's stuff gets translated. I think that quite a few people on this thread might get a kick out of Scar.
posted by bootlegpop at 12:23 AM on December 5


What was up with the way that “prog rock with countertenor vocals” was a straight-up genre in the seventies, anyway?

There was a band called The White Octave, whose name was a reference to this era of rock vocals - Styx, REO, Kansas, Boston - and Rush fits too I guess.
posted by thelonius at 4:33 AM on December 5 [3 favorites]


It's now trendy to rag on Wallace, and the easy slam is to complain that Infinite Jest is so, like, LONG.

When people complain about the length or complexity of a work, I hear evidence of something very different than a failing of the work in question.
posted by uberchet at 6:13 AM on December 5 [2 favorites]


When people complain about the length or complexity of a work, I hear evidence of something very different than a failing of the work in question.

I am assuming you mean it's a failure of the reader, which I think is uncharitable and often misses the point of what people are saying when they complain about these things.

It's a lot like hiking - some people like a beaten trail with footholds, signage, and the like. It's a pleasant journey to a destination. Point them at the back trail where they have to bushwhack, the journey is no longer pleasant but strenuous, and it takes 5x as long to get to the same destination and they don't enjoy it at all. It's not a failure of the hiker that they don't enjoy that experience.

My impression of DFW was that he didn't really give a damn about how hard his trail was going to be for future hikers, and so I don't fault people for rejecting it because they don't enjoy it. When people say something is too long or complex, I think often what they're saying is - this could have been done shorter and less complex, and at the end of IJ even in parts I think most readers agree there's at least some bloat to the work.
posted by notorious medium at 6:53 AM on December 5 [6 favorites]


Too many notes words!
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:55 AM on December 5 [2 favorites]


But unrelated to DFW or rush, I know that I definitely have behaved in a manner that would fit the profile of this archetypical litbro. Right after I came out of a long-term codependent relationship with someone who had an active distaste for things like DFW and noisy indie rock (and also straight-up hid my copy of IJ because I was "reading too much") I started devouring postmodern authors and put that on my dating profile (to almost no success). When I met grumpybearbride I urged her to read what I read and rejected her musical tastes (Phil Collins, Lionel Ritchie, Bob Seger.) While I could try and chalk this up to the re-establishment of my previously subsumed identity, the truth is I was being a douche. I have since come to mostly love what she loves (along with what I love) and accept that it is OK to have different tastes and one set of creative works is not necessarily "objectively better" than another. Eye of the beholder, etc. Plus, "Duke" is an amazing album.

Re: recommendations, DFW recommended Alice Munro (when asked who he thought was the greatest living author at the time, 2004), which was spot-on. My one guy friend who reads a lot suggested Tom Robbins and Murakami, the first of whom I found "meh" and the second I found entirely unreadable. (He also suggested George R. R. Martin.) Mostly I went to City Lights in SF and picked from the recommended section with a decent success rate, though the (male) employee whom I asked for postmodern suggestions pointed me at Barth (Letters), Gaddis (The Tunnel) and DeLillo (White Noise). Of the three, I only finished the last, since the first was way too meta and the second didn't grab me. I found White Noise to be kind of cartoonish and empty. Same with The Corrections, also a dude suggestion. Plus I didn't go to boarding school and I'm not a professor and my family isn't comically dysfunctional. Georges Perec, Jim Shepard and Roberto Bolaño, on the other hand, have paid handsome dividends.

I'll read pretty much anything that my friend who pointed me at IJ suggests. She's always had fantastic taste.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:21 AM on December 5 [1 favorite]


I am assuming you mean it's a failure of the reader, which I think is uncharitable and often misses the point
When -- as is often the case -- complaints about length are the only complaints on offer, yes, I think it's a failure of the reader. Saying so might be slightly uncharitable, but is certainly less so than dismissing a work because it's long.
and it takes 5x as long to get to the same destination
I don't know any books that go to the same destination.

Sure, some folks want to climb and some folks want a paved path with regular catered rest stops. But suggesting a book is bad simply because it's difficult or long has all the critical weight of a middle schooler grousing about the length of the assigned reading.
posted by uberchet at 9:22 AM on December 5 [1 favorite]


Oddly, conceptually at least, I love really long books and really short books. I think that 80-200 pages and over 800 are the ideal lengths. In general, I wish that novellas were more of a thing these days. I am usually annoyed by people who only complain about the length of a book, but I have sympathy for ones who do so because they take public transit or have some other reason that the actual size of a large book can be a problem. I'll whine a little about the wrist of the hand that I hold a book with when things get over 1000 pages, but I usually don't mind much. I am, however, having a problem with figuring out the proper way to read the last book by Arno Schmidt that I haven't already read.

Bottom's Dream is 11 x 3.8 x 14 inches, 1496 really large pages, and 13 lbs. It dwarfs War and Peace to such an extent that it not only makes impossible my usual reading tactic of holding a book with my left hand while laying down and keeping my right free for drinks and cigs (yes, I know), but it even seems a bit much to hold with two hands in any position. I've considered reading it flat on a desktop, but it seems like that would likely damage both the book's spine and mine. What I think that I am ultimately going to do is use some kind of music stand, but I haven't found the ideal one yet. (If anyone knows of a somewhat cheap model that could handle the weight and size and not be too far from eye level while reading, please feel free to recommend it.)

TL;dr: I love large and small books, but large books are sometimes a battle.
posted by bootlegpop at 10:02 AM on December 5


There is nothing wrong with reading a long book for entertainment of course. We're talking less about deeper meaning or cultural enlightenment once the book gets excessively long though. In other words, the original article's criticism becomes more powerful when applied to ridiculously long works like Atlas Shrugged, and carries less substance when applied to a 200 page Vonnegut book.

I'm comfortable telling someone they should read A Darwinian Left by Peter Singer, or even The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, if a conversation indicated their interest in the topic, because at 70 and 224 pages respectively non-fiction works will not really waste anyone's time.

I think almost all the fiction recommendations I've given were when non-native English speakers asked for book recommendations to improve their English. Invariably Harry Potter comes up so I actually do recommend Terry Pratchett as far more fun than J. K. Rowling.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:29 AM on December 5


I find a lot of the conversation about this article frustrating.

Some of my frustration has already been well-articulated by folks saying that men talking down to women about their literary tastes is a thing (trust me it is) and also pointing out that the majority of the canon is not made for/about people like me.

But there's a deeper frustration that I have around cultural criticism in general which comes back to an underlying assumption that our own personal tastes are universal. Any piece of literature that we engage with we're coming to at a particular point in our lives, with our own particular experiences and I don't think we do enough evaluating of who we are in relationship to the work. If I'm not particularly engaged by a specific author on this list, it doesn't mean that I'm uncultured or unable to handle tough literature. It just means that I'm not engaged by it. And there's an underlying sexist double standard that women need to try to be engaged by things we're not engaged by or otherwise we're just brain dead idiots who read trashy novels. There's sadly little room for someone to simply say, "Yeah, I tried that. Not my cup of tea" without them being dismissed. I can recognize the incredible craftmanship of something and be completely unmoved by it. It should be easier for that to be an acceptable thing without someone browbeating me about it.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 10:54 AM on December 5 [10 favorites]


Also... the author is specifically pointing this out in a dating context. The books you talk about and how you talk about them when you're trying to get a lady person to like you has its own context. I think a lot of times men think that they're showcasing how smart they are in an impressive way when they're being condescending.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 10:58 AM on December 5 [6 favorites]


"Any piece of literature that we engage with we're coming to at a particular point in our lives, with our own particular experiences and I don't think we do enough evaluating of who we are in relationship to the work."

Yes, yes, times a million. Around the time Dallas Fort Worth, as I always think of him, was in Harper's constantly and I hated him with the force of 1,000 suns because his stuff was in tinytiny type on the newsprint part in the middle, so it was dingy, and the FUCKingFOOTnotes--just the whole experience, viscerally, put me off, and made me want to punch him in the head--my best friend was in a phase where she was wheedling and wheedling me to read him because she thought I would love him, but I knew I would hate him and I did hate him and I refused. (But she was wheedling from a place of affectionate respect: not "you MUST read him to be a full human" but "You are awesome; so is he; you might love him.") Finally we moved away from one another and she sent me "Consider the Lobster" in the mail. I mean, it was right there, so I read it. It was great, but I pursued him no further. Some years later apropos of nothing another best friend and I decided to form a two-person book club and read Infinite Jest. She began... ...and stopped. I began and persisted, with the aid of some postit notes to help wrangle the endnotes, and somewhere along in there I realized that it was not for show, that he did it that way because he could not do otherwise, and he won my heart forever. He couldn't, had I tried today, have got me to read more than five pages because of the Flowers for Algernon number the internet has done on my focus. He couldn't before, in the era of my friend's wheedling. He just waited quietly while my friend and all the world importuned me, and then he died and there was a bunch more noise and finally when it was quiet again I read the book, and that's how it works.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:20 AM on December 5 [5 favorites]


Previously...
posted by rush at 6:52 PM on December 5


I want a list like this for critical theorists, just so I can send it to my girlfriend. When we first met I sent her the previously posted FPP about “pretending to not know who Zizek is”. She’s read a ton of theory and is most definitely a theory nerd. She also made fun of me for loving House of Leaves (“Haven’t you read any Borges?!”) (I have, actually!) So if anyone has one, let me know!

I’ve read pretty much all these authors at some point in my life, then moved on to theorists, but now have no recollection of any of the things I’ve read. My attention span for reading books has been destroyed by technology (tabbed browsing), so now I can only read multi-thousand comment Metafilter threads, and 50,000-word longform articles about random topics I don’t otherwise know about.

thelonious, that is quite a rare band reference you dropped in this thread. I feel like most people only know Steve Pedersen from Cursive, the album that nobody seems to like (I can’t stand their albums after that first one tbh). Love that first White Octave album.
posted by gucci mane at 9:06 PM on December 5 [2 favorites]


This thread has made me realize that DFW now functions as the male equivalent of Gilmore Girls: if you've read/seen it and like it, and are talking with someone who's made a bunch of negative assumptions about it based on some combination of its reputation and logline, you're going to feel insane.

I know I'm eliding the sexed power differential that's turned DFW into the hated thing but I still think it's a bit useful.
posted by skwt at 10:21 PM on December 5 [1 favorite]


What pisses me off is them appropriating writers for themselves. Fine: if we're insisting on this dudeshelves vs ladyshelves thing, then I'm happy to give P. Roth and Mailer and Rand and whoever to the men, but they can't have Dallas Fort Worth (stoptryingtomakefetchhappen). They just can't have him. Take Hemingway and fuck off.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:03 AM on December 6


Sure, some folks want to climb and some folks want a paved path with regular catered rest stops. But suggesting a book is bad simply because it's difficult or long has all the critical weight of a middle schooler grousing about the length of the assigned reading.

Well, it's like this: some books are long becuase they do need to be long. And other books are long, but really don't need to be.

I think it's perfectly valid to complain that a book that didn't have to be long, but is long, is "too long".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:15 AM on December 6 [1 favorite]


I think it's perfectly valid to complain that a book that didn't have to be long, but is long, is "too long".

But the trouble is, who decides?

For instance, you know what I think is too long? Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell. That whole bit with the family in Venice doesn't really add anything, IMO, but how to prove that, really, to someone who enjoys that section?

Also, I think people freak out about books being "too long" far more than they do about books being overwritten or having poor characterization, etc. I'd rather read something like Infinite Jest or Jonathan Strange where perhaps some parts could be shorter but the whole thing is basically engaging than a really short science fiction novel where the dialogue is bad.
posted by Frowner at 9:40 AM on December 6


But the trouble is, who decides?

For instance, you know what I think is too long? Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell. That whole bit with the family in Venice doesn't really add anything, IMO, but how to prove that, really, to someone who enjoys that section?


I should think that the individual reader should be able to decide that for their own selves. You shouldn't need to "prove" that Jonathan Strange was too long for you.

That is, you shouldn't have to prove that it was too long for you if you are stating your own opinion as your own opinion, rather than making it sound like an Empirical Assessment. I trust that those who complain a book is "too long" are doing exactly this. Uberchet was implying that someone saying a book was "too long" for them was a sign that they were an inexperienced reader, and I was proposing a different source of that complaint, was all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:54 AM on December 6 [1 favorite]


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is too long: the whole part where the insufferable Tom Sawyer seizes the stage and dances around to entertain himself and some morons reading it, and to torture decent people, fictional and otherwise, must go. Nevertheless the book must be read, for the parts of it that are not too long, and for the part that is too long and must go. The cognitive dissonance must be endured and the book must be taken on its own flawed terms. All copies of Jitterbug Perfume, on the other hand, must be tightly rolled, immersed in paraffin, and sold as firestarters.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:00 AM on December 6 [1 favorite]


I think a big part of this is that Dudes Like This (visit the @GuyInYourMFA twitter to learn more about Dudes Like This) view themselves as countercultural hip cool feminist dudes!

Except that in all of their personal conduct, despite the wearing of a manbun and some kind of kitschy Siouxsie and the Banshees merch, they reify the classics of paternalism in every relationship. They read to impress, rather than to edify. They disregard women’s voices and opinions and lived experiences. Their boners are serious literature, women’s menses are embarrassing and shouldn’t be discussed in polite company and a girlfriend asking to keep tampons in the bathroom at his place is being Unreasonable. He wants to talk about HUMANITY but he does not want to talk about whether or not their dating relationship is exclusive. Every woman who has ever dumped him was “crazy”. When a woman in their friend group accuses a man in their friend group of sexual assault, she was probably just “confused”.

So you have performative allyship matched with the classics of patriarchal misogyny, and it takes a lot of women a lot of unpleasant experiences to realize that men who glom onto cultural signifiers like the ones mentioned in this article are not necessarily the “good guys” just because they have Amnesty International patches on their backpack.

It actually reminds me a lot of Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”. Remember when Reagan used it as an anthem for PRO-AMERICA and FAMILY VALUES and UNCLE SAM and YESSS WAR IS AWESOME and everyone who had ever actually listened to the lyrics was like “lolwut? Have you actually listened to what this song is saying?” And the answer was no, he had not. And neither had his voters. And none of them cared that the song stood for literally the opposite of everything they believed in.

I think DFW and Hemingway can be a lot like that, in this sort of dynamic. A dude who seriously loves and has studied Hemingway is never going to be the problem. But the dude who read The Sun Also Rises once fifteen years ago, and what he got out of it was “bullfighting is cool” and “girls who don’t fuck you are leading you on and that’s bad” is not actually a Hemingway fan, didn’t actually understand the book, and yet will almost certainly lecture female fans of Outlander about how they are Doing Reading Wrong. (Kind of like how my Reagan-loving relatives used to tell my liberal family we were Doing America Wrong, except it turns out they facilitated the rise of fascism, so, go figure.)

It isn’t about the books, or even the authors. It’s about the performance and the weaponization of taste amongst of a certain subset of men.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:39 AM on December 6 [6 favorites]


you shouldn't have to prove that it was too long for you if you are stating your own opinion as your own opinion, rather than making it sound like an Empirical Assessment.

I agree with you whole statement, except I think there are no Empirical Assessments. People can try all they want to make their opinion sound like something else, there's only opinions. They can't make it sound like that, it can be heard like that though.
posted by bongo_x at 10:45 AM on December 6


Bongo - that was exactly my point.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:48 AM on December 6 [1 favorite]


For instance, you know what I think is too long?

How has Don DeLillo avoided scrutiny in this thread, on that listicle? Because you know what's too f***ing long -- UNDERWORLD. An 825 page tone poem for f***'s sake!

quoting Goodreads:

Through fragments and interlaced stories—including those of highway killers, artists, celebrities, conspiracists, gangsters, nuns, and sundry others—DeLillo creates a fragile web of connected experience, a communal Zeitgeist that encompasses the messy whole of five decades of American life, wonderfully distilled

accurate, I guess, but no mention of wanking, because there's no actual story.
posted by philip-random at 11:00 AM on December 6 [1 favorite]


While we're on the topic of writers who go on too long:

Henry James. Seriously.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:18 AM on December 6


I read Underworld. Not so much interested in reading it a second time.
posted by thelonius at 11:21 AM on December 6


You know, I used to just love Henry James, and then a year or so ago I picked up The Golden Bowl and was all "I do not care about you rich people and your dumb expensive wedding presents and affairs and garbage". It was weird, but it did make me realize that except for Jane Austen novels and various Austen pastiches, I pretty much have stopped enjoying books with heroes who don't have to work. It's unfair, because Henry James is awfully, awfully good, but right now James just reminds me of my own foreclosed economic future compared to the boundless wealth of the elites, and that's no fun.

Underworld did not live up to billing. I can't complain about its length because I stopped quite early.
posted by Frowner at 11:29 AM on December 6 [1 favorite]


Ha! Yep. I've been struggling for the past month with Brideshead Revisited, which I realized midway through I must actually have read at some point in my 20s. I thought I'd read every bit of Waugh but that, but no, I remembered the hilarious bit when Charles gets stuck with his father during the winter break. Same thing: is the suffering in this supposed to be epic merely because these people dress well and have a room entirely furnished in Chinoiserie and know more about port than Canadians? Because I am not finding it epic, sorry. Sebastian's teddy is not twanging my heartstrings, and his exile does not read as tragic, just as more entitled lucky fuckery by the rich. Would that we could all export ourselves once we reached the last stages and foist off our alcoholic declines on some unsuspecting picturesque monastery in the balmy south. Now I'm nearly to the bitter end and they're all being horrible snobs about Beryl. I can't remember, but unless Charles gets his leg shot off and has an epiphany, all this snobbery is not going to get redeemed.
posted by Don Pepino at 12:01 PM on December 6


While we're on the topic of writers who go on too long:
Henry James. Seriously.


And while we're on the subject of inexplicable taste;

If you describe Henry Jame's writing it's pretty much everything I can't stand. If I told you what I don't like you'd say "wow, you'd hate Henry James then". Yet I don't hate, I really enjoy his writing.
posted by bongo_x at 2:37 PM on December 6 [3 favorites]


I liked Underworld, but if you don't or you haven't read any Don Delillo before, you might get more mileage out of Great Jones Street.
posted by bootlegpop at 5:45 PM on December 6


Infinite Jest sucks and people make fun of the length because men are often (frequently!) lauded for writing huge long books, no matter how much they suck (see: a lot), whereas women almost never are. So when a person is saying Infinite Jest is too long they’re saying “what are you compensating for.” I’ve read many books longer than Infinite Jest, and don’t hate them on principle.

Also, Catcher in the Rye is not about an annoying stupid teen, or at least not about laughing at him— it’s about a teen with an awful home life whose trust is abused by an adult who tries to take advantage of him sexually. You don’t have to like the book but it’s about a boy who wants to protect children from the adult betrayal he is beginning to experience.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:56 PM on December 6 [2 favorites]


Also, I sadly love Bret Easton Ellis’s books very much, and I think this article is a tired premise that has been done a thousand times and was never really good, just new. Maybe this is because I’m a woman from a working class childhood who read most of these books pre-college, as others have expressed. This list is pretty embarrassingly juvenile, also.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:02 PM on December 6


That's not an especially convincing critique of IJ.

People who gripe about long books without having any other point to make -- which is to say, the overwhelming majority of people who gripe about book length -- are not making an argument from literary merit. They are making a statement about their attention span.

Maybe you have interesting, valid points to make about DFW generally and IJ specifically, but a drive-by insisting it "sucks" isn't it.

It's true the article isn't especially insightful, but the list of books itself is only juvenile if you ignore how many people never read anything. It's unfortunate that a certain type of person will use a passing familiarity with Salinger as some kind of "I'm-smart" token, but that's probably the back side of the fact that we are an increasingly illiterate society.
posted by uberchet at 10:06 AM on December 7


Holden has an awful life-life because he is revolted by everything with the stink of adulthood on it including but not limited to pervy English teachers. That book is not for teens, I suppose, but you can't read it with a fully fledged prefrontal cortex and not want desperately to go back in time and throttle your young self for being just like this kid. As a youth I liked above everything else the part where Stradlater's racquet falls on Holden's head and makes a thunk. I didn't like him policing women's smoking or overusing "crumby." The wistful love of the lost brother and the still-innocent sister in it was haunting then but is intensely irritating now, simply because I know that that strain of wist that runs through all of Salinger but is like a river in floodstage in this book is what is responsible for Wes Anderson. Just think: if there had been no Salinger, there would be no Wes Anderson. Imagine the crisp, cold, fresh, gin-and-tonic-flavored days we would be living in a world with no Wes Anderson...
posted by Don Pepino at 10:59 AM on December 7 [2 favorites]


despite the wearing of a manbun ... they reify the classics of paternalism in every relationship

I thought the manbun signified a sort of hipsterised hypermasculinity: the typical wearer lifts, is really into meat in a way that verges on obsession and is probably on a paleo diet.
posted by acb at 3:48 PM on December 11


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