Thursday, March 15, 2012

My Secret Least-Favorite Writer

(The writer in question is NOT Malcom Gladwell, I just needed a picture for this post and thought it was a good opportunity to point out the pretty funny Malcom Gladwell Book Generator.)

There is a contemporary author who pretty much everybody thinks is great who I think is not so great, and I'm not going to tell you who it is because I might get fired or killed.

Of course, I'm being a tad dramatic there, but the fear is real -- I've toyed with the idea of writing a scathing (or at least snarky) blog post about this author many times before, and every time, the potential consequences of my unpopular opinion seem to outweigh the satisfaction I would gain and the fun I would have doing it. But what are those consequences, really? And why, you may ask, would I hold back criticism if I feel that it's warranted and that voicing that criticism would help readers make a decision informed by at least one more opinion? It's not like I've been one to bite my tongue before, and I didn't get canned for that one.

In part, it's because the difference between my opinions on V.S. Naipul (linked to above) and my opinions about this author is that I've never read a book by V.S. Naipul, nor would I tell anyone else not to. My comment there was on a ridiculous thing that he said, not on the quality of his writing, and I can, as readers have long been accustomed to doing given the long history of, um, unsympathetic writers, separate the two. The difference is that I think that this one author, the one everyone seems to like who I don't like, just isn't as good as they get credit for being. And, as such, putting a criticism of such an author in a forum like this would be akin to saying "stop buying these books". And that's a statement that gives me some unease, not just as a bookseller, but as a book lover.

I think most booksellers would agree that there are books one sells somewhat reluctantly. Something you'd rather see fade into obscurity because for whatever reason it's bad enough that you wish it wouldn't exist (I've never entertained any hope of that in this case -- this author is here to stay.) Still, this is somewhat of a taboo subject in a literary and publishing culture that is so often considered to be under threat, in which the most commonly expressed opinion is that anyone buying a book, any book, is a good thing, and one that we shouldn't criticize too harshly or it will all just go away and there won't be books anymore.

This, then, is part of the reason why I don't want to name this author: because it feels irresponsible of me as a bookseller to dissuade people from reading anything. But this also isn't just anything: this author is respected, beloved even. Their works are not "popular fiction", they're literature. They are neither "trashy" nor intellectually snobby. If you are reading this blog, I'd bet the odds are that either you've read one of this author's books or been recommended one. I myself have both read a few of this author's books and have recommended them to customers and even friends, if I think it's something that the person will like. Nevertheless, I feel very strongly that there are some fundamental problems with the writing -- laziness with offensive implications, mainly -- for which this author should be criticized.

But I'm not going to do it here. Not because I don't think that there's a merit to literary criticism that is critical, though some have that view. But because my ideal that states that it's a good thing for people to buy and read literature is stronger than my ideal that states that this author contributes, at best, lame things to the popular consciousness.

Am I at peace with that decision? Obviously, not really. I still felt a need to write about it, which is what I do with things I'm not at peace with. What do you think, readers?


Anonymous said...

Roth or Amis.

I don't know what "laziness with offensive implications" means, but it's a weak complaint.

Molly said...

Anonymous, you're just trying to tempt me to provide evidence for my obviously vague and intentionally unsupported claim, aren't you? If it clarifies the statement at all, though, I can add that the part of the author's writing that I find lazy and offensive is the character development. Point taken, tongue still bitten.

Anonymous said...

Haruki Murakami.

Anonymous said...

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Gorilla Mad.

Molly said...

Show your faces, Anonymi. I know all you weirdos work here.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Until you used the word "literature", the description exactly fit Malcolm Gladwell.

sfer said...

It's like... the hundredth time this year I encounter a blog post, newspaper article, email on a mailing list, etc... discussing the value of negative criticism. It all comes down both to a personal choice and also to an editorial choice. Me? In my personal blog and personal writings, I'd rather not write negative reviews. If the author is not-so-well known, why pay him/her any attention? Silence will do. If the author is really well known... well, my tiny voice is not going to make any difference, so I just shut up on that one and try to speak up for the really valuable (IMHO) writers and/or works.

And... I'll leave it there, since I'm pretty sure there's nothing I can say to release your tongue.

Anonymous said...

sfer, you up there?
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Spiros said...

Dan Brown?

Anonymous said...

More Gorilla.