Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Ye Olde Authors Layeth the Smack Down

These days, writers bitching about one another just isn't what it used to be.

Sure, every now and then you'll overhear vague Chinese whispers of one author talking smack about another, but in this day and age, it's a rare pleasure indeed - certainly when compared to those bygone days you hear so much about, those years when, if a recent article on The Examiner is anything to go by, literary trash-talking seems to have been something of a popular pastime.

I don't suppose it's any wonder, really. With publishing in such a precarious state these days and an as-good-as omniscient media that act - whatever the contrariness of the truth of the matter - as if they're starved for scandal, only a nominal few authors stand on firm enough foundations to allow them to express their honest opinions about other writers. In recent memory, I can only recall a couple braving the consequences.

Stephen King, firstly, is on the record as asserting, rather comically, that Stephanie Meyer of Twilight infamy "can't write worth a darn," while Harold Bloom hates on J. K. Rowling thusly: "How to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone? Why, very quickly, to begin with, and perhaps also to make an end. Why read it? Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do."

But by and large, we live in an Orwellian world of doublespeak, where to diss a fellow author in public is potentially to risk everything. Even these joyously open opinions come across as somewhat softly-softly compared to the damning criticism of old. Only a very few, at the end of the day, can afford to offend. And that mannered rot goes right through from the big leagues to the littlest; when even someone as small potatoes as I call Twilight derivative drivel, I risk driving any readers who enjoy Meyer's novels away from The Speculative Scotsman.

So to look back on better days is a pleasure, and The Examiner have gone above and beyond this week to collate together 50 authors talking glorious smack about other authors. You can read the article in full here. But for you, dear readers, a few, choice highlights...

To begin with, Henry James thinks "an enthusiasm for [Edgar Allen] Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection," which hurts me deeply, so it does. Or it would if I had the least interest in anything written by Henry James - and Uni saw to it that I most assuredly do not.
George Meredith, meanwhile, thinks that if Charles Dickens' novels "are read at all in the future, people will wonder what we saw in them, save some possible element of fun meaningless to them."
And despite asserting that he "hasn't any right to criticise books," Mark Twain features twice in The Examiner's list, talking trash about Sir Walter Scott and latterly Jane Austen, of whose work he asserts: "her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader... Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I want to dig [Austen] up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone." Harsh words indeed. I don't know that I'd subject Jane Austen's corpse to quite such punishment, and yet...

The 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire pulls out all the stops to criticise fellow frogger Voltaire, calling him "the king of the nincompoops, the prince of the superficial, the anti-artist," and several other names. Clearly this needs to be settled with gunge and cream pies.

As I say, do pop on over to read the original article in its entirety, but let me leave you with one last particularly memorable bit of literary trash talking - and I've saved the best for last. Norman Mailer read Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full and said of the excruciating experience that it "can even be said to resemble the act of making love to a three-hundred pound woman. Once she gets on top, it's over. Fall in love, or be asphyxiated. So you read and you grab and you even find delight in some of these mounds of material. Yet all the while you resist - how you resist! - letting three hundred pounds take you over."

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