Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Authors you should never read.

By Natalie Leppard 
This week, after seeing the glorious news (seriously, I think I heard angels singing) that Philip Roth declared he would no longer write novels, I got to thinking about other authors I despise with a passion. 

The culprit: Mr. Philip “I can't write unless it's about my dick” Roth.
The crime: The man skipped over his naval in the gazing department and went straight to the source of all that is anything (in his not at all humble opinion). Roth's writing is absurdly phallic centered, sexist, insulting to women, and insanely arrogant.
The proof: Lest you think I cast stones without reading, I arched my eyebrow and scowled through American Pastoral and know enough of the plots of his other books to know he doesn't keep it in his pants.

The culprit: Paul “it's all about me . . . I . . . um . . . mean the, er, universal ‘author’” Auster
The crime: A writer famed for his "mastery of the postmodern trick" should be sent back to school. He supposedly idolizes DeLillo but lacks the elder statesman's subtlety, art, or ability to look past the author as god. Auster's work is ALL autobiographical, and he doth protest too much.
The proof: City of GlassLeviathan (a sad sad sad book to read if you're at all familiar with DeLillo's Mao II)

The culprit: Jennifer “I want to play with the big boys but I don’t have the chops so I'll just copy them” Egan
The crime: I'm an equal opportunity hater and Egan drives me up the damned wall and back down again. She loudly criticized female writers for not aiming high enough to compete with the male authors winning all of the prizes but then blatantly copies the boys in her own books. Oh, and when she's not copying (and when she is copying, actually), her writing is terrible.
The proof: The Keep (horrid); A Visit from the Goon Squad (copied straight from Franzen's Freedom, multiple DeLillos, and Shteyngart's Super Sad Love Story along with a how to write a postmodern novel (chapter 1: include a non-traditional mode of communication, like a PowerPoint) manual. I’ll also note that I read and hated Keep first and then read Goon Squad out of pure spite to prove that Eagan shouldn’t have won the Pulitzer or National Book Critics awards.

The culprit: Ayn Rand
The crime: Being an idiot and causing generations of idiots to quote her books out of context and without sense.
The proof: Paul Ryan.


  1. Wow.

    I get Roth-hate--I mean, I get not wanting to hear so much about the little theme between his legs--but many of his novels are about a lot more than his dick (Jewish identity and the urge to self-destruct, for starters). And, unlike with Bellow or Updike, I never get the feeling that Roth expects us to identify with these nutbags he uses as point-of-view characters. He knows they're terrible people. Hell, they know they're terrible people.

    Auster is a little overrated, but, again, all his novels that I've read are if anything fascinating for how outlandishly non-autobiographical their plots become given that the protagonist is somebody so clearly modeled on Auster. I really doubt that he's ever discovered a long-lost reclusive silent film comedian's secret compound or found himself in an alternate universe where the US got into a second shootin' war with itself.

    And Egan? First of all, two of the books you accuse GOON SQUAD of ripping off came out after it did; it's not much like FREEDOM; her supposed nasty comments about other female writers were incredibly anodyne and didn't even specifically mention "chick lit" (Jennifer Weiner decided to get offended anyway, I guess because she self-identifies as banal); and her writing is wonderful. (That's not a detailed defense, but "her writing is terrible" isn't a detailed attack.)

    You sure are right about Ayn Rand, though. Not even context can exculpate that shit.

    Now I feel like a dick for getting so grumpy over a tongue-in-cheek blog post, but I like these authors. Even--some of the time--Philip Roth.

    1. Not much actual tongue-in-cheek about the post except some of the language. I do actually dislike all of these authors for these reasons.

      Roth may have other ideas in his book but they are overshadowed and minimalized by his phallic obsession. If the main thrust (pun intended) of the novel is the male anatomy, it doesn't matter what you do in the background, you're going to turn off a lot of readers--yes, mainly those without penises. It's like saying a movie is actually about the founding of our country because the Constitution is being read in the background while a porn star swings his dick around close to the camera. And I didn't even mention the fact that Roth himself, personally, is incredibly arrogant and that also permeates his fiction.

      Auster is insanely overrated. And, if you can only argue that his novels are not literally autobiographical, you need to read them more closely. Of course he's never actually been in an alternate universe, but the basis of his texts are autobiographical--authors and daddy issues; authors and daddy issues; authors and daddy issues. There also isn't anything he's done that DeLillo hasn't done first and better.

      Freedom was excerpted in two (three?) national journals a year before the publication of Goon Squad. Super Sad was published about the same time but these things float around and much of Shteyngart's shtick is evident in his earlier work. I can also come up with a bunch of earlier pomo authors Eagan is ripping off.

      I didn't mention "chick lit," you'll note, or accuse Eagan of doing so. And I didn't mention Jennifer Weiner. Eagan's comments were nonetheless offensive to female authors and more than holier-than-thou about her own writing. When you've just won two big awards and you say other women need to step up their writing in order to play the game, you're discrediting every other legitimate female author--and I'm not talking about "chick lit" because I agree those books shouldn't be up for Pulitzers. I wasn't going for a detailed attack and I'd have to reread a book that repulsed me to do so. The quality of her writing is more than a matter of opinion, though. The construction of her sentences leaves much to be desired as does her word choice. And that's not even getting into her use of cliches, trite characters, unmodified plot conventions, and . . . I can go on.

      But, I'm sure you have authors you dislike that I may like. It's all a matter of taste.