Tuesday, August 10, 2010

15 Most Overrated American Writers?

Image representing Huffington Post as depicted...Image via CrunchBase

Showed up on Huffington Post. Boy Koppy, of the LA Koppys, started a conversation.

From Michael, a journalism professor in San Francisco:
(Yeah, yet ANOTHER "Michael" -- every fuckin' Johnny-come-lately Tom, Dick and Harry is named Michael, dammit....)
That was fun to read because of the apparently well-informed animus of the critic, well-informed in the sense that he makes big claims based on vast knowledge of books and theories and *I* don’t know enough to challenge him. As for the list, I’ve never read a single word by most of them, which is rather embarrassing. But I read all those other older books in grad school, the contents of which I promptly forgot, so I have no illusions about having missed much. I have read a little bit of Billy Collins and a little bit of Mary Oliver and rather like them. Criticism of poets asserting that most of their work is crap is not a legit criticism from my point of view. I don’t see a book of poems as a linear accomplishment to be judged intact. If you do a few poems that stand up, that’s enough. (You may say this is the lazy man’s approach to literature – the ‘anthology’ approach, which means you only have to read the stamped and approved – and I won’t argue.) But I’ve read some Collins and Oliver that gave me pleasure. And if the earth did not move in those instances of pleasure, somehow I no longer expect it to.

John Ashbery: Read again and again that he’s great and tried some poems in the New Yorker. Left me cold. Helen Vendler: I thought she was poet and critic?? Doesn’t matter; haven’t read her either. Amy Tan? Confident I didn’t need to read her. Michuko Kakutani? The fact I have not gone to the trouble to spell her name right says it all. I do recall I have never been impressed by her reviews, though I never paused to figure out why. I knew the names of some of the rest of the list. But some of them I heard of for the first time.

What I was most impressed by was the effort on the part of the critic to grab some spotlight for himself. Perhaps, he will manage to start a few conversations. I now feel “prodded” to make an effort to read some of these folk again, or for the first time. Such over-the-top condemnation clears the field as it were, dynamites the dam, leaves some space for me to have a few modest opinions. Maybe I’ll come back and read the comments.

And Anis Shivani : my eyes are on *you*. I will talk about you at cocktail parties.

From Bob, a comedy writer and author in Berkeley:
I've heard of Amy Tan, of course, and read a short fiction by Foer in the New Yorker which I thought was okay, and The Something Life of Somebody by Diaz, which wasn't bad, but frankly I've never heard of any of these other writers. I get the impression that they mostly write for one another. I suspect I would enjoy almost anything by Bill Bryson or Carl Hiaasen more than I would these writers, but it's a near certainty that I'll never find out.
From Jerry, a travel writer also in Berkeley:
I'm finding in my own writing that 'themes' I immerse myself in help me to at least get something down, esp w/all the travelling all over my peripatetic other half still wants to do. Like this, from my 6-word 'nevel' series: "If only now, then always now." Ersatz Buddhist or song-lyric in future, who knows, but it helps keep the creativity flowing. And as for poetry (which I was never a big reader of), I have recently discovered Mary Oliver. Fantastic! Inspirational, without all the pretense. Check her out!
From Alexandra, a French reporter in Johannesburg:
As always, the point of this is that just because (in this case all these 15 writers) win the accolades or have these books in print isn't guarantee of quality of writing. The critic is probably as much jealous as correct with his thinking. I don't know any of those American writers, but it doesn't matter. Awards, academic jobs, good reviews, money are not the result of talent except of sales talent. As you always say yourself, Michael, ultimately success is only selling. This is sad cold facts. Today more than in history but it has always been this. The unknown beautiful tree falling in the forest is most often decayed to unrecognizable when the remains are finally found and gathered for only firewood. But a known tree (a tree with a publicist) doesn't have to be beautiful.
Thanks to all who contributed.
I should start a fuckin' blog on these questions....
But there's still three ice-cold Buds in the fridge. THREE of 'em!
And it IS a hot day....

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