Sunday, May 23, 2010

Books are Like Ice Cream

As a member of the book publishing industry, I am well aware that my job is more or less subjective. Just like flavors of ice cream, not everyone is going to like a book and not everyone is going to have the same favorite "flavor."

There are some books, however, that we're expected to like, either because it's a "classic" or because it's been on the bestseller list for ages. Sometimes these expectations make us more likely to enjoy it because we assume we should and are looking for reasons to do just that. I, on the other hand, find that I'm much more critical of books that have seen much great acclaim. Prove to me that you deserve it.

Take for example, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. A couple years ago, a book club I was in at the time chose Diaz's novel for its monthly selection. Everyone was stoked to read it since it'd been on the New York Times bestseller list for basically 100 years (clearly, I am exaggerating) and won a Pulitzer. But I was lukewarm even about the concept. But despite my reluctance, we all dove in.

The majority of the members zipped through it so fast
I couldn't believe it. Especially since I was struggling to read each page. It wasn't for me. I didn't get it. I didn't like Diaz's writing or his protagonist. I tried very hard to read the whole thing, but stopped torturing myself about 3/4 of the way in. When I went to the meeting, I was the only one who wasn't head over heels.

So, given my past experience with the matter, I was intrigued when Linnea over at Art Ravels tweeted about The Book Examiner's "50 best author vs. author put-downs of all time." Examiner writer Michelle Kerns researched some of the most renowned authors of all time and found some terrible critiques of their work:

One man's Shakespeare is another man's trash fiction.

Consider this pithy commentary on the Great Bard's work:

With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent

writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare....

But, of course, there must be SOME writers we can all agree on as truly great, right? Like Jane Austen. Or not:

Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice,' I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

Robert Frost?

If it were thought that anything I wrote was influenced by Robert Frost, I would take that particular work of mine, shred it, and flush it down the toilet, hoping not to clog the pipes.

John Steinbeck, surely?

I can't read ten pages of Steinbeck without throwing up.

Oh, dear.

But don't think these pleasantries were penned in a frolicsome hour by dilettante book critics with an unslaked thirst for a bit of author-bashing.

The Shakespearean take-down was George Bernard Shaw, the Austen shin-bone

basher was Mark Twain, the anti-Frost poet was James Dickey, and the quick!-bring-me-the-bucket-it's-Steinbeck was James Gould Cozzens.

Yes, hell hath no fury like one author gleefully savaging another author's work.

And, lucky for us, there's plenty to be had where that came from.

Cast your eye on these, the 50 most memorable author vs. author put-downs (in no particular order; though if you've got a favorite, by all means, comment on it, below).

1. Ernest Hemingway, according to Vladimir Nabokov (1972)

As to Hemingway, I read him for the first time in the early 'forties, something about bells, balls and bulls, and loathed it.

2. Miguel Cervantes' Don Quixote, according to Martin Amis (1986)

Reading Don Quixote can be compared to an indefinite visit from your most impossible senior relative, with all his pranks, dirty habits, unstoppable reminiscences, and terrible cronies. When the experience is over, and the old boy checks out at last (on page 846 -- the prose wedged tight, with no breaks for dialogue), you will shed tears all right; not tears of relief or regret but tears of pride. You made it, despite all that 'Don Quixote' could do.

3. John Keats, according to Lord Byron (1820)

Here are Johnny Keats's p@# a-bed poetry...There is such a trash of Keats and the like upon my tables, that I am ashamed to look at them.

4. Edgar Allan Poe, according to Henry James (1876)

An enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection.

Check out the rest of the list HERE

I think my favorite is #27: William Faulkner, according to Ernest Hemingway

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

What's YOUR fave author put-down?


  1. My most HATED author put down was when Shirley Hazzard accepted the 2003 NBA for Fiction and when asked to comment about Stephen King (accepted a 2003 NBA lifetime achievement award) said 'she hadn't had time to read any of his books b/c she's too busy catching up on Shakespeare'. Jerk.

  2. Despite my love for Ms. Austen, that quote from Mark Twain is pretty bad-ass.

  3. P.S. I have NO IDEA what happened with the font size and spacing here haha therefore, I cannot fix it :-p