Penny-in-the-slot criticisms

TRIGGER ALERT: This post contains some intemperate views, and expresses no small degree of irritation on my part regarding various comments I have seen online over the years. If such things trigger you, then I would advise giving this one a miss.

There is a kind of criticism that I have heard referred to as “penny-in-the-slot criticisms”. Which means that these criticisms are automatic reactions, instinctive and unthinking – reflexive rather than reflective.

When it comes to literature, and to books in general, there is a set of criticisms that, I think, could come under this category. Perhaps the worst thing about these criticisms is that they are immutable: no matter how vehemently you may argue against them, you won’t change anyone’s mind, because your argument will not be engaged with. Not that your argument was necessarily right: one is – or, at least I am – grateful when one’s argument is shown to be flawed, and one is forced either to refine one’s ideas, or to rethink them, or even to withdraw them altogether. But no, in an environment in which even to questions someone’s opinion is viewed as an act of aggression, that kind of thing doesn’t happen. It’s not even a case of one’s argument not being countered: it’s simply not engaged with. But nonetheless, as sure as night follows day, that penny-in-the-slot criticism you had argued against will re-appear, as if you’d never said anything at all to counter it.

Here are a few such criticisms I’ve picked up over the years (in bold), along with brief arguments against them (in italics) that are regularly ignored.

“People don’t really enjoy reading difficult books: they only read books such as Ulysses to show off.”

If it were true that it is not possible to enjoy anything that is difficult, it’s hard to explain why so many are attracted to chess, say, or to difficult cryptic crossword puzzles.

And show off to whom? We do not live in a world where erudition is much valued. Reading something like Ulysses in order to “show off” seems like an awful lot of hard work for very little in return.

“People who write difficult books – again, like Ulysses – are just showing off how clever they are.”

Once again, showing off to whom? And why?

And if you don’t like “clever” writers, do you really prefer stupid ones?

“Male authors couldn’t/can’t create convincing female characters.”

Odd, isn’t it? Good writers of fiction can imagine themselves into the minds of all sorts of people different from themselves – children, old people, people from different walks of life, people from different social class, and all the rest of it. But the one barrier that is, seemingly, insurmountable is the barrier of gender. Not sure why: no-one has bothered explaining.

And in any case, how do you know that men writers cannot create women? Do all women think and feel in the same way? And are you privy to all their thoughts and feelings?

A good many of these penny-in-the-slot criticisms refer to Dickens. Some do lead to a bit of an exchange, but they never really get anywhere:

“Dickens really couldn’t create women.”

Miss Havisham, Betsey Trotwood, Sarah Gamp –

“Yes, but those are caricatures.”

But caricatures are not failed attempts at portraiture. You did not specify –

“You know what I meant. Dickens could not depict real women.”

Esther Summerson, Lady Dedlock, Harriet Beadle, Rosa Dartle, Lizzie Hexam…

“Dickens could only create caricatures.”

As said previously, a caricature is not a failed attempt at portraiture. It takes skill to create a memorable caricature. And as for Dickensian characters who are complex people and most definitely not caricatures, we have Steerforth, John Jarndyce, William Dorrit, Pip, Miss Wade …

“But Dickens’ heroines are awful”.

Some of Dickens’ romantic heroines, especially in his early novels, are certainly bland and colourless. But so are his romantic heroes. Nicholas Nickleby is as colourless as Madeleine Bray, the adult David Copperfield as colourless as Agnes Wickfield, Martin Chuzzlewit as colourless as – and so on. It’s not just his heroines. The convention that romantic heroes and heroines had both to be spotless created all sorts of problems for writers. Dickens later overcame this and created heroes and heroines who are genuinely interesting – Pip and Estella, Bella Wilfer, Louisa Gradgrind, etc.

Silence. No response. And then, soon after:

“Dickens couldn’t create female characters, and all his characters are merely caricatures anyway.”

And also, for good measure:

“Dickens was just soap opera of his day”.

Just for clarity, could you define what you mean by “soap opera”, and specify how it differs from other (and presumably superior) forms of drama?

No, of course they can’t. At least, they don’t. The whole point of these criticisms is that you don’t need to follow them up.

And then you get the killer one:

“Dickens is sentimental.”

Sentimentality is a difficult thing to define adequately. Yes, in many of his works – especially the early ones – he can be genuinely mawkish. But that is by no means the full story: there is also much in his novels that has real emotional depth and complexity. For instance …

And you put together a long, detailed catalogue of examples, but no-one is listening. They have demonstrated how superior their taste is to yours by proclaiming that they are above Dickens and you aren’t, and that’s the end of the matter. They may even add, for good measure:

“I don’t have to like something just because the critics say I must.”

The implication is that I am blinded by the authority of these “critics” (whoever these mustachio-twirling pantomime villains may be), but they, being more independent in their thought, aren’t. And you might as well stop there, unless you want to create a scene.

Dickens certainly gets more than his fair share of penny-in-the-slot criticisms, but other writers aren’t exempt either:

“The Brontës were the bodice-rippers of their day.”q

“Austen was the chick-lit of her day.”

You can write entire essays trying to refute these claims, safe in the knowledge that no-one will engage with anything you may have to say. Well, some might, I guess – but you know that the same comments will come up again, and from the same people.

And then, on Shakespeare, there is that old bugbear of mine:

“Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be seen, not read.”

How do you know this? Are you privy to what Shakespeare intended? And even if that is what Shakespeare had intended, why deny ourselves the experience of reading these plays when reading them can be so enriching?

Then there is that perennial one:

“I read to enjoy myself.”

My protestations that I, too, read to enjoy myself pass unnoticed.

“At the end of the day, it’s all just a matter of personal opinion.”

This is the point where you decide you’ve had enough of book boards, and create your own blog where you can let off steam to your heart’s content. As I have done here.

(If anyone has been triggered by any of this, please do bear in mind that I had placed a Trigger Warning at the start of this post, and I don’t think I can be held responsible for any distress or trauma caused.)

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31 responses to this post.

  1. They are stupid, aren’t they? I read to enjoy myself too, and I love Dickens! (and Austen and the Brontes and the Russians etc etc…..) 🙂

    Reply

    • To be fair, there were many very decent and erudite people on these boards also, and I have made some very good friends there, many of whom remain hood friends still. But one didn’t half have to put up with crap! 🙂

      Reply

  2. Posted by Jonathan on April 25, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    I think there is an element of showing off with writing/reading difficult books but it’s not the main reason for most of us. The overriding thing for me is the challenge and the enjoyment resulting from that challenge. I studied Physics, which was difficult and a challenge, and was enjoyable because of that.

    Here are some more for your collection:
    “I didn’t like it because the characters were so unlikeable” – they’re usually my favourites.
    “Nothing happened” – not every book is a thriller.
    “White/westerners shouldn’t write about characters from different cultures.” – why not? This is a variation of your ‘men shouldn’t write female characters’ example.

    I’ m sure I could come up with more but I have to get back to work.

    Reply

    • I think the reason I am generally happy to make the effort to read difficult works is that I know, from past experience, that the effort put into certain works can be well rewarded. Sometimes, of course, the effort is a reward in itself. That raises the question, of course, of how I started off on this: how did I know, even before I had any experience to speak of as a reader, that the effort put in is likely to be rewarded? I think that, up to a point, we have to take certain things on trust. If certain works and certain writers have been highly praised by intelligent and discerning people for generations, the balance of probability lies in favour of them being works of some substance, and worth making the effort to get to know. The conviction that some people appear to have that they are smart enough to see through something that has taken in so many intelligent and discerning people does strike me as extraordinarily arrogant. And no, that doesn’t mean we have to like or even admire books just because they are highly rated: it just means that, sometimes, it’s no bad thing to reserve one’s judgement, and acknowledge that we cannot all be equally receptive to everything.

      But yes, there may be an element of showing off in some cases, but, as you say, it’s not the main reason for most of us. Appreciating literature – or anything else, for that matter – requires an acknowledgement that certain things are necessarily difficult and obscure.
      (I didn’t know, by the way, that you had studied physics: I graduated in physics myself many years ago – from Strathclyde University – but I have forgotten so much that I am now almost embarrassed to acknowledge it!)

      Yes, there are a few more that may be added to the collection!

      “I didn’t like it because the characters were so unlikeable” – I suppose one is entitled to read for whatever reason one wants, and many read fiction because they enjoys the companionship of the characters. That’s fair enough: I have myself enjoyed the companionship of Tom Jones, or of Jane Eyre. But as literary criticism, “I didn’t like it because the characters were so unlikeable” makes no sense at all.

      “Nothing happened” – Yes, this is a common one. I’ve been tempted to make this criticism myself of some novels – The Golden Bowl, say. Actually, quite a lot happens in The Golden Bowl, but James’ concept of what constitutes as “event” is rather different from most: even a slight and subtle shift of perception is, for James, an “event”, and to figure out what really happens in The Golden Bowl really is an effort. But it is an effort that is worthwhile.

      (I am still not entirely sure, even after two readings, what exactly “happens” in The Golden Bowl: it is a novel full of enigmas which haunt the mind, but to which there are no clear answers. Maybe a third reading may clarify matters…)

      “White/westerners shouldn’t write about characters from different cultures.” – Ah yes, this is our old fried “Cultural appropriation”, isn’t it? – the idea that writing about people and cultures that are not our own and which are perceived as “marginalised” is morally reprehensible. I’ve had a few good rants against such ideas elsewhere in this blog, so I’ll restrain myself this time.

      (Help! Help! I’m being culturally appropriated!)

      Reply

  3. I enjoyed this post, and it reminded me of my own rejoinder to a journalist’s piece about people reading Proust just to brag about it. See https://anzlitlovers.com/2009/04/18/proust-and-bragging/

    Reply

    • Hello Lisa, and thanks for the link. I enjoyed reading your post, and enjoyed it greatly. You can count me as one who has read Proust (the Scott-Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright translation), but doesn’t brag about it – mainly because I know that, on the whole, the work eluded my understanding. I have really done no more than dip my toes in it, and to say that I have “read it” is, if not a literal lie, misleading, as it implies an understanding on my part that I really do not have. I need to pluck up the courage to tackle it again.

      I see also from your recent posts that you have been reading Finnegans Wake. That is another work I need to find the courage to dive into. Everything I have read about the work suggests it is tremendous fun – and I am sure it is – but it still remains pretty intimidating. (I just read you latest post on it: I’ll read the others tonight.)

      But as you say – whom should we brag to? Are we supposed to meet up with friends in the pub, and say “I’ve read Proust, you know!” Of course, I’d love to meet up with people who have read Proust, so I could at least hear them talk about something that interests me; but frankly, conversations in the pub (amongst blokes, at least) rarely gets beyond football!

      All the best, Himadri

      Reply

      • Proust is such hard work, and very long, and I hear many conversations on BBC radio that purport to be by readers of the volumes, yet you just know they haven’t actually read it. You are right, most people would ask”who’s this Proust”. I think it is a masterpiece but bragging rights are hopeless. “War and Peace”, another favourite of mine comes into the same category. I just shrug and get on with reading the good stuff. Who’s business is it what we read anyway.

      • I know some people, and not just online, who have read difficult literature – Joyce, Proust, the late Henry James, etc. They naturally like talking about these writers, as, indeed, I do (hence this blog): we all like to talk about things that are precious to us. But this is hardly the same as “bragging”. I don’t know of anyone who has actually read these books, and “brag” about having done so. The contention that people read such books merely to brag about them merely indicates the levels of inverted snobbery around us.

      • I agree entirely. The ‘braggarts’ merely wish to appear erudite, the true book lover wants to talk with like minded folk out of enthusiasm. I well remember

  4. Posted by Linda on April 25, 2017 at 2:59 pm

    Interesting post, thank you. I wonder if you might have some advice for Book Clubs? Take my group, for example. Doestoevsky would go down like a lead balloon. We know what we like individually, but, what makes a “good book”? You indicate Ulysses as being a worthwhile piece of literature but how could you persuade the unconvinced to make the effort? We tend to go for recent “literary” fiction but certainly do not always agree with critical reviewers. Neither is a book group a university literature course with an exam at the end. It has to be enjoyable/worthwhile too. It does not all come down to personal opinion, surely.

    Reply

    • Hello Linda, and welcome. I realise that I came over in my post above as an irritable and cantankerous old sod, and I guess that, up to a point at least, I am. But I do realise that there are a great many possible answers, all equally valid, to the question “what makes a good book?” There is no one, single way for a book to be “good”: if there were, discussion and criticism would become largely irrelevant, because we could just tick the criteria off a checklist to determine whether a book was any good or not.

      But no, I don’t believe either that it all comes down only to personal opinion. For if it did, once again, it would give us nothing to discuss with each other. X like this and dislikes that; Y likes that and dislikes this; and if there were to be nothing more than mere personal opinion, X and Y have nothing to talk about to each other: having exchanged their opinions, they both go home with their respective opinions intact. But the act of engaging in discussion is an attempt to find some common ground, and that can only happen if we believe that there can exist a common ground in the first place. And if there is common ground, then the element of pure subjectivity does give way, I think, to a more objective appraisal. X and Y can now challenge each other’s opinions, and rethink their own. Sadly, I have encountered many who seem to think that opinions are sacrosanct, and that challenging opinions is an act of aggression. “It’s just my opinion” is seen all too often as the end of a discussion, rather than, as I think it should be, the start of one.

      As for book groups, there are, of course, many different types. Many I know of are simply social gatherings: the books chosen are light and unchallenging, and the whole point is really for people to get together for a tea and cakes and a pleasant chat. Now, I know I can be, as I said, an irritable and cantankerous old sod, but I most certainly do not look down on this. Far from it. I am now well past the age when everything needs to be challenging and edgy: the cosy, the comforting, the convivial, all have their place too. However, there are also certain book groups that are not necessarily averse to something more challenging. And I wonder whether something such as Crime and Punishment, say, would go down like a lead balloon: for all its undoubted depth, it is also a breathlessly exciting psychological thriller, and revolves around a double axe-murder.

      Reading and discussing a book such as this need not amount to a university course with exams at the end: I myself have not studied literature formally since I left school over forty years ago. But one does not need to attend a university course to find oneself enriched by what serious literature has to offer.

      With best wishes from this cantankerous old sod, Himadri

      Reply

      • Posted by Linda on April 26, 2017 at 9:34 am

        I really appreciate you taking the time to answer. You are spot on regarding the difficulties faced in Book Groups. Too “difficult” and you lose members, too light and all tea and cakes (welcome though they are) and it rather defeats the purpose of a book group in the first place. Over the last two years, we have mixed it up, and managed to keep a group together by going for variety, and allowing everyone a pick. Ultimately, I have come to the conclusion that discussing any book is better than discussing none at all and It has even been enriching to go with the ones I would never have picked myself if let off the leash in a bookshop.
        So keep on cantankering. Disagreement is the catalyst to reflection.

  5. Reblogged this on A Celebration of Reading and commented:
    So true!
    For more triggering, don’t miss the Rules and Myths of Literature on this site (ACOR).

    Reply

    • I think this is a very accurate and amusing post. I was in my 20s, 70 now, when I met socially a professor of English. When he found I was reading Dickens he did the usual Leavisite hatchet job on Dickens, a popular stance at the time. He poo pooed me when I said Dickens would become popular again and students would be writing PhDs about him. I smiled to myself when I heard the same academic talking about Dickens in a positive way several years later.

      Reply

      • Since we are about the same age, I can attest that the sentiments concerning Dickens were the same in Los Angeles as they were in Great Britain.Other writers who have gone up or down like a slide whistle through the years as the readers or reviewers have chewed over their works include Thomas Wolfe, Theodore Dreiser, and even Scott Fitzgerald.

        In some instances I wonder if it’s a change in literary taste or just a change in popularity (or the fact that the writer writes books that are too big or require too much thought). Look into the curriculum of most colleges nowadays and there’s a good chance you will find contemporary authors being taught which would have never been considered serious enough for academic study when we were kids.

        Oh, this reminds me of my heated and often angry online argument over twenty years ago with the young man who insisted that the knee-jerk inclusion of Shakespeare in the curriculum was to the detriment of more important authors like Stephen King.

      • Yes, it’s the same here. Classic authors of life enhancing merit, ignored in favour of more ‘relevant’ modern ephemera. I think it demeans the you. Dumbing down they call it, and if you comment you are elitist. I feel sorry for the young, they’re being shortchanged.

      • Hello Mike,

        I have often been accused of living in the past. It is true, the vast proportion (though by no means all) of my reading does consist of books and writers from the past. I reckon that since one cannot read everything, one might as well focus on what interests one most. But I do find rather odd the obsession with the contemporary. I say “obsession”, for what other word can one use when Stephen King is considered a more important author than Shakespeare, for the sole reason that King is contemporary and Shakespeare isn’t?

        There are similar examples all around us. Not so long ago, the Head of English in a prestigious private school wrote to the Times (I can’t link to it as it’s behind a paywall) saying that he would rather teach Twilight in his class than Middlemarch. Sadly, what there is in Twilight that merits teaching he does not specify.

        Books are now considered important not because they display literary quality, but because they address some theme that is politically or socially prominent. No-one seems to believe in “literary quality” any more: we can actually have purportedly serious articles discussing the question “at what point does a novel become literature?” (a foolish question to begin with), and not even mentioning the concept of “literary quality”. So if you’re not going to consider “literary quality”, you might as well consider other elements. And “modernity”, I suppose is as good as any.

        Cheers, Himadri

      • Hello Clare, and welcome.

        Although the critical pendulum has now turned back in favour of Dickens, there will always be dissenters, even now. This is because there are genuine flaws in Dickens, and big ones as well. Here, for instance, is noted author Hilary Mantel laying into Dickens (“The sentimentality, the self-indulgence, the vast oozing self-satisfaction, the playing to the gallery.”) Even as devoted a Dickensian as myself must confess that there is an element of truth in these criticisms, but it’s a shame that so many seem unable to look beyond them.

        I, personally, have no doubt that Dickens was among the very greatest of novelists: he gives me certain things – very valuable things – that I do not get from any other writer. (I won’t go into all that here, but there are many posts scattered throughout this blog where I write about Dickens’ works). And even when academic opinion tended to be against Dickens (under the influence, I’d guess, of F. R. Leavis, although Leavis did, I believe, change his mind later), he has always had his champions in the literary world: Orwell wrote a long, admiring essay on Dickens in the 1930s; Nabokov and Borges were great admirers; and critic Edmund Wilson nominated Dickens and Austen as the greatest of British novelists. And none of his novels has ever been out of print.

        All the best, Himadri

      • It’s true that Dickens is quite flawed, particularly in his earlier autobiographical works, mawkish. However, I suppose my point is that there is fashion in literature and a truer assessment of an author is often between the two extremes, Himadri.

      • Oh, I am fully with you on this. Dickens is one of those authors at the very centre of my reading, and, however great his flaws may be, he soars above them all!

    • Thanks for the reblog!

      And if anyone hasn’t yet seen them, your Rules and Myths of Literature are well worth a read!

      Reply

  6. In Graduate School I specialized in Restoration Drama (William Wycherley was my focus). My thesis developed the idea that the PLAY is to be read and studied but the DRAMA was what happened with the addition of ACTION and most importantly an AUDIENCE. This was, of course, much more understandable in the 17th century where parts of the audience actually sat on the stage and often wittily interacted with the drama, which in turn often interacted with the audience.

    Now that I am old and retired I look back at all those years I spent studying the ASIDE as if it was more important than my current blood pressure medicine … maybe it was.

    Reply

    • I didn’t know, by the way, that you had specialised in Restoration drama. Now I think I need to re-read The Country Wife, and write something about it here, so you could cast your expert eye on it! 😉

      Cheers, Himadri

      Reply

  7. Posted by Janet on April 26, 2017 at 4:10 am

    Reading is delicious. Some people like the appetizers, some people think Japanese food is too spicy, some people like their meat raw, some people only eat Teddy Grahams. I’ve taken several runs at Ulysses and some day I’m going to tackle that mountain. Why? Because it’s there? No, because some of the bits I have gotten through have really tickled me and I’m attracted by the premise. A lot of it has so far put me to sleep or gone over my head. That doesn’t make me dumb, so I wouldn’t presume to judge another reader on that score. But anyone (mature enough to be accountable for rash pronouncements) who declares that people who read books that are beyond their own comprehension are just showing off–those folks are gonna get a little judgment from me. I have no doubt there are insecure people out there who pretend to have read Ulysses or Infinite Jest or whatever touchstone is important to some ridiculous In-Crowd or another. There really are. Mostly, I think, they outgrow it. I enjoy talking about books with people who share my tastes, but I can’t imagine lording my reading habits over someone who thinks Japanese food is spicy. Anyone who would is a boor. So, according to me, anyone who thinks “smart” people are being “smart” just to make other people feel dumb are probably throwing stones. On the other hand, to be fair, people who feel that way have probably been turned off by genuine encounters with obnoxious nerd-snobs who were trying to make themselves feel special by pretending to have read (and/or presumably understood) a difficult book. Such imposters poison the waters for the rest of us, though if people were less given to generalizing (something difficult books knock out of you), well. I’m not sure I crammed enough metaphors in there. Must be dinner time.

    Reply

    • Hello Janet,

      I don’t think I’d presume to judge the reader on any score! Seriously, though – I try to abide by the rule that it is perfectly permissible to criticise a book (as long as I can put forward an argument to support my criticism), but if I move from criticising a book to criticising those who read it, then I have crossed a line I shouldn’t have crossed.

      But yes, sadly, the inverted snobbery of “Those who read are only doing so to show off” is rather common. I have encountered it often enough around the net and also, once, in the Comments section of this blog (I won’t link to it, as it’s not worth linking to).

      There’s all kinds of inverted snobbery around, I fear, much of it really quite insulting and aggressive. Some of this insulting nonsense even appears in the arts pages of respected newspapers. (See also this little gem: some editor, somewhere, actually thought this worth publishing.) I suppose the best thing we can do is to go on talking about what is valuable to us, and try to understand and to explain why they are valuable to us.

      I think those who are willing to make the effort to read difficult works do so because they are aware of what literature has to offer, and have good reason to believe that their effort will be rewarded. I’m not sure why that is such a hard concept for so many to grasp!

      All the best, Himadri

      Reply

  8. Posted by mudpuddle on April 26, 2017 at 5:02 am

    my brother, a long distance hiker, once told me the reason he did it was not because of the challenge, but because of how it made him feel afterward…

    i’m old now and have read all my life. i’ve read and enjoyed all kinds of books, including some “hard” ones and all i can say for sure is that no two people are alike and the fact that there is consensus at all on any work is miraculous… from personal experience, tho, i know that there is satisfaction in reading a difficult book although it may be not the same sort of satisfaction for every reader… there are a number of books i’d like to read but am intimidated by: i know from past experience that i’m not smart enough to get very much out of them or that i have difficulty understanding the content; at this late date i try to be satisfied with what i do read, and try not to be envious of those with greater nous than i…

    interesting question…

    Reply

    • Hello Mudpuddle (I can call you Mudpuddle, can’t I?),

      Yes, there are most certainly many books that are well beyond me. No doubt, as someone who likes to think of himself as not entirely stupid, I should have a go at something such as, say, Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. But I know full well that will be way beyond me. I assuage my ego by telling myself that I don’t really have a background in philosophy.

      But in fiction and poetry, I feel I should be up for grappling with difficulty. Do I understand The Four Quartets? Well, only partially, and even that cost me a great deal of effort. Was that effort worthwhile? Yes, of course it was. For even what I got from it was revelatory. Do I now want to tackle something of a compare level of difficulty, such as, say, Pound’s Cantos? Yes, of course I do! Not to be able to brag about it down the pub: even if I wanted to brag, bragging about something that isn’t valued in the first place is rather foolish. But because I want to experience what it has to offer.

      Of all the novels I have read, I think the most difficult has been – no, not Ulysses, but, rather, The Golden Bowl by Henry James. This is partly because of James’ convoluted prose; partly because the “events” of the plot are all internal (i.e. all happening at different levels of the characters’ minds), and so supersubtle that they can really only be depicted indirectly; and partly because James’ themes are mysterious and elusive, and resist summary or restatement. But yes, I want to read it again. I may not be smart enough for it, but I want to get out of it what I can, little though it may be: even that makes the effort worthwhile.

      Best wishes, Himadri

      Reply

  9. I agree with all your grumbles. I’m currently about to get my MFA thesis in non-fiction. After two years of working with real writers (all of the faculty are published writers, who moonlight as mentors) I’ve come to the determination that people who really engage with literature never tumble into cliched, penny-in-the-slot criticism; they have too much respect for the effort it takes to write at all! On a different note, I’ve really enjoyed reading “Ulysses”–though I tend to stop around page 100; it’s bit like eating a large chocolate cake. Have you read “Suttree”, by Cormac McCarthy? It seems to be McCarthy’s attempt to make a Southern “Ulysses”. [trigger-warning for gits: I know that titles of novels are supposed to be in italics, but I can’t figure out how to switch my font in this format.]

    Reply

    • I’m afraid this particular post has turned out a bit more grouchy than I had intended. But the unthinking and clichéd criticisms of major literary works that one encounters just about everywhere on the net really does become tiresome. I have often wondered why it is that, despite the unprecedented opportunities the internet gives us for dialogue, there is so little of it; and that, instead of an exchange of ideas, all we have is mere exchange of opinions, with no real incentive or desire to engage with these opinions.

      There – I’ve become all grouchy again, haven’t I?

      Well, since unargued opinion is seemingly what it’s all about, I might as well offer one of my own: all I have read by Cormac McCarthy is All the Pretty Horses and The Road, and I must admit I was not particularly struck by either. But it has been a long time since I read these, and I am not really in a position to expand on that.

      All the best,
      Himadri

      Reply

  10. Great post! I agree with all of them. I shudder when people say variations of “I don’t read poetry and won’t try” or “I don’t like poetry because I had to read that daffodils poem when I was 12.”

    And how many times have I heard “This is a bad author because I can’t relate to any of his or her characters!”

    Reply

    • I actually thought of this post as a bit of a “space-filler”, but, given the responses to it, I think I have, albeit inadvertently, hit upon an important theme. I think it does actually matter how we read, what we look for in books, and what we find. Perhaps I ought to think about it a bit more. But, reading this post over again, it does seem to me, as it currently stands, a bit ungenerous and “whiney” – as if I were saying “Why can’t all these people be as perceptive as I am?” But the theme is, I think, an important one. Reading well does require skill and practice.

      Reply

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