Thursday, July 10, 2008

Darin Strauss Responds: We are Mean (I Say: Jealous)

Darin Strauss stopped over to comment about our discussions yesterday and the day before on his essay about saving literary fiction.  He says:

"You guys are quite mean. And you certainly have your set opinions, without having read a word of my novels. Why bother reading something, when you can trash it out-of-hand instead. But my point is that genre fiction is not the way to go; that Melville united the two great steams in American Literature: that of Drieser and James. Thanks, though, for your thoughtful critiques. It's more fun, I guess, trashing someone without having read him....

p.s: I'm sorry you all found my author photo smirky. But I was cheered to see everyone dismiss my work based on 'looking at the amazon summations of [my] novels.' Seems like a sound reviewing strategy. That, plus a critique of the author photo."

As per my comment here, if I were half as successful as this young lad, I'd smirk too. (Maybe he'll be as gracious as Scott Snyder was when we trashed him and give us an interview. But maybe not, dude is freaking blogging about his book tour  at newsweek.com.  He is a busy favorite son, at the moment.)  

Nonetheless I think he has a valid point.  (We are mean and jealous and uninformed....well, at least, I am. You guys have to assess for yourself.)  So, here's my proposal: An LROD reading group. We all go out and buy his new book, pick a date to have it read by, and then have an online discussion.  Who's game?

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

Worst idea I ever heard. Why boost his sales? Why give people like Snyder (whose story I did read; it was crappy) an interview/publicity?
Earlier today I wrote a comment on the Now Fiction Must Fly post; it begins "I won't be reading him." And then I see this. A LROD Reading Group where we read young MFA grads. Jeeze.

rmellis said...

Heck, I'll do it. I didn't criticize his work (or his mug), though, just his essay.

Why brag, anon, about not reading? An informed criticism has a lot more weight than a snooty dismissal.

And it certainly can't hurt to see what's getting a lot of hype these days, and try to figure out why.

heynonnynonymous said...

Why is it that lucky people are always the whiny ones? The guy won a Guggenheim, his face is plastered in more places than just LORD posts (though I appreciate the joke of putting his face up three times; it made me laugh). Why should he care what we think? Does the WHOLE WORLD have to love him, read him, praise him? Jeez. The only one who pays attention to me in that way is my dog...and not always, either. Sometimes my dog loves food more than me. But honestly, I think it's a guy thing. Once they are golden, they long to be ever golden.

darinstrauss said...

I'd love to do an interview, thanks. (Thanks for putting my objection up there, too.) I'd enjoy a frank, even critical discussion about my work. That would be nice. But what I don't understand is people like Anonymous (brave stance there, too, with the choice of a cognomen); people who keep trashing my books without having read my books.

I don't know why he says I'm "people like Scott Snyder"; and neither does s/he. We agree that most of the stuff being acclaimed today is no good.

(And believe me: most of the stuff being acclaimed at ANY time is no good; just go back and try to read some of the books that were well-reviewed -- but are now forgotten -- from the 20's, say. There were people writing American fiction besides Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald. Most have fallen off the face of the national conversation for a reason....)

But anonymous has something against me, and for some unkowable reason. I'm flattered that s/he thinks I'm a "young MFA grad" at 38. I'm confused as to the certainty of his/her automatic dismissal of my work.

Elizabeth said...

I'm game.

I agree with rmellis. You can't know a piece unless you read the piece, for the same reason you can't assign stereotypical characteristics to a member of a subgroup (dirty hippie! whiny twenty-something!) unless you get to know that particular person. It's not only rude to paint with a broad brush--you wouldn't want someone assuming he knows everything he needs to know about you because of your accent--it's also stupid; a priori, disallowing, as it does, for the exceptions that comprise great art.

(Consistently since Watergate, some huge percentage of registered voters, when asked if they trust Congress, say no. Asked if they trust their *own* congressperson, they say yes. Yes, in fact, they do.)

We're all editors, reading the books we read in the hope we'll be thrilled by, changed by, one or two of them. I don't discount that possibility among contemporary writers. It doesn't mean I read books that are crap, or that I don't like--I have no problem moving on after 30 or 50 pages, even (especially) the ones that get the most hype. What it does mean is that I'm fully engaged as an informed reader with the current literary milieu, and I can't see why that's a bad thing for a writer. You can't be a critic without engaging with the material. (That's known as whining.)

Lots of hand-wringing the last few days about Obama's perceived shift to the center, including a Clintonian who posted at the NYT that she won't vote for McCain and "cannot bring [her]self" to vote for Obama... so she figures she just won't vote.

Hmph! That'll show 'em!

Don't rely on others' reviews or criticisms and expect to have anything interesting to say about literature. Read the damn book.

Writer, Rejected said...

I can't find your email address online. Can you send me an email at writerrejected at aol dot com, and I'll post you the interview questions?

John said...

Darin e-mailed me personally, asking similar questions. My reply was that his posts were clearly teasers aimed at getting folks to buy his books. But I certainly have the option of saying that, based on his teasers (I pointed out in my e-mail that his remarks about Dreiser being the first post-Civil War writer to talk about poverty, etc were inaccurate), I didn't want to buy. No different from looking at an ad for a Toyota and saying no thanks.

He's saying I should buy one and it will change my mind, or if I don't buy one it's unfair?

I did suggest he point to a url where I can read his work, or even send me a free copy of one of his books. I've had an author do that in the past, and I've changed my mind publicly and acknowledged it's a good book on my blog.

I'd be willing to participate in a group discussion IF he sends us free books -- or even points us to a url.

heynonnynonymous said...

Isn't that what libraries are for?

Joey said...

I'm more than willing to read living authors as well as dead ones, but I can't get excited over brand new books when it's obvious the primary reason I've heard about them is because millions of dollars have already been spent bringing them to my attention, in order to secure a purchase on my part. This is part of why I rarely buy fiction; the last several books I've bought have been requirements for grad school, and I don't expect that to change in the future.

Anonymous said...

I'm the first anon.
Hey, rmellis -- talking about reading... Where did you get the idea that I don't? Reading has been central to my life. If you had bothered to go to the post I refer to, you would have gotten a sense of where I'm coming from.
I'm sure you do want to read MFA grads. I think the second sentence of that previous post refers to you.
So -- what comes out of this is an interview with Strauss and maybe a reading group. First book on tap: something by Strauss.
Life is short. Be careful what you spend precious time reading.

Joy said...

He shouldn't get so upset -- this whole exchange reminded me that I was interested in reading his book.

John said...

So Joy, by all means buy it. It'll be a sawbuck-plus off your plastic. If you've got the stomach, by all means, go for it!

John said...

In my reply to Darin's e-mail, I asked him for a url where I might be able to get a better feel for his work (I certainly post such things on my own blog, but then I don't have newsweek running my stuff). He hasn't replied. Googling, I did in fact run into an excerpt from More Than It Hurts Me here.

The controlling metaphor of the passage is the Mr. Magoo cartoons of the 1960s. With all the talk of Melville, James, Dreiser -- even Updike, for chrissake -- couldn't the gent have done better than that?

rmellis said...

Anon #1: What the heck are you talking about? Of course I read that post -- what do you mean, the second sentence refers to me?

I love WR and find this blog to be a lot of fun and thought-provoking, but the bitterness of some commenters is too much to take.

Honestly, criticizing the guy's novel *without so much as reading the first page* is idiotic.

darinstrauss said...

Anyonymous,

What rmellis meant wasn't that you don't read IN GENERAL; it was that you have a set opinion of my work without having read me SPECIFICALLY.

Again, what I don't understand that you keep trashing my books without having read my books.

I don't know why you say I'm "people like Scott Snyder"; and neither do you.

You have something against me, and for some unknowable reason. I'm confused as to the certainty of your automatic dismissal of my work.

p.s.: Joey -- "Millions of dollars" have not been spent on my book. Believe me.

Joey said...

And it certainly can't hurt to see what's getting a lot of hype these days, and try to figure out why.

I'm not sure the reasons for why hyped things have been hyped are all that different today from what they've been in the past. There's got to be a better reason to justify spending money, IMO.

Writer, Rejected said...

I'm with Heynonny-Mouse. If you don't want to spend bucks on the book, go to the library (or the Barnes & Noble) and at least read a chapter or two, if not the whole damn thing, so we can elevate the discussion a bit. What's it going to hurt anybody? My time is precious, too, but not so damn precious that I can't read the dude's book. Open up. Live a little. You never know what you'll discover.

Or don't. That's cool too. Whatever you want. But I think we have enough takers for an LROD book club. Shall we shoot for a September discussion?

Joey said...

p.s.: Joey -- "Millions of dollars" have not been spent on my book. Believe me.

Sorry, I didn't mean your book specifically; it's more of a reflection on new material produced through the publishing industry today. And it isn't just with books, of course; this applies equally with music, television, cinema, you name it. I have no doubt you've put a lot of time into your book. I'm just wary of investing time+money into things before giving them a chance to fall off the radar and flourish without promotion.

Joey said...

^ Exactly. The library's where I get my fiction from, and I'd be more than happy to read any bookclubbish material I can find there (we don't have a B&N nearby).

John said...

I've had an extensive e-mail exchange with Darin, and he's agreed to send me a copy of his book, which I will read carefully and discuss on my blog. He wasn't real pleased with my last two posts here, and that's understandable. However, I'm now going to refrain from saying anything more until I've read his novel. When I have, I will post my considered and careful reflections on my blog and let W-R know so he can point to it here if he feels it's appropriate.

Thank you, Darin, for your generosity, tolerance, and openness.

At this point it's probably a good idea for anyone else who wants to pursue this discussion to get a copy in whatever way she or he can.

Writer, Rejected said...

And so we can count you in as a member of our book club for a September discussion?

Writer, Rejected said...

And so we can count you in as a member of our book club for a September discussion?

Writer, Rejected said...

And so we can count you in as a member of our book club for a September discussion?

Writer, Rejected said...

oops.

John said...

Yes.

Anonymous said...

I think this book club is the best idea since the invasion of Iraq.

Writer, Rejected said...

That was impressively deft, Anony....With just 14 small words, I am George W. Bush. One has to admire the economy and swiftness of that move. I take off my hat to you.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you have a comprehension problem, rmellis, or you're mistaking me for other anons.
On the previous Strauss post I wrote 2 comments. One begins: "I see a lack of humanity in Madame Bovary." The second begins: "I won't read the novel."
Then I wrote the first comment on this post.
You accuse me of "bragging about not reading." Where do you get that? Not from anything I wrote.
Then you tell me that "criticizing the guy's novel *without so much as reading the first page* is idiotic." (I don't know what the astericks signify; certainly I never wrote those words.)
Nowhere do I criticize the guy's novel! Where do you get that? I simply say that I have no interest in reading it. I give reasons for that lack of interest. I did criticize Scott Snyder's story, but that was based on a close reading (every word of it). I gave reasons why I found it to be a bad story.
I expressed my opinion that those who mostly read what is being published today are not well-read. And I do think you fall into that category, rmellis. In the last two years, what percentage of the fiction you've read has been by your contemporaries?
Yes, I have opinions. I have that right. And to express an opinion that is counter to yours does not mean I'm bitter. God, that's a knee-jerk word.
I can choose what to read and what not to read. That's another right I have. (And you have it too.)
I'm skipping Chuck P's Snuff. OK with you?
As for the Iraq War comment, w,r., I think you're taking it wrong. You are not being compared to George W. Seems that the analogy was to the idea of a book club.
Are you going to change the name of this blog to LAOD (Literary Acceptances on Display)? Just wondering.

rmellis said...

I grant that it is difficult to distinguish between all the anons. How about some pen names, folks?

I just used Madame Bovary as an example; I'm not about to get into a discussion of Flaubert here in the comments. (Read his letters if you want some insight into him, btw.)

My asterisks are for emphasis, not as quotations marks.

Not that anyone cares, but I actually have read very little fiction by my contemporaries during the last couple of years. I'm trying to read more, since I think a well-read person has to read the old and the new.

Feh, I don't feel like continuing this irritating argument, forgive me.

Writer, Rejected said...

Dude:

I didn't know what the heck you were talking about either when you started addressing Rhian either, so maybe you should name yourself something other than anonymous for clarity.

Second, you are pretty defensive there, no? What's up with that? The point is merely that it's not so cool to express your opinion without actually reading the book. I think that's a good, solid opinion.

Third, if you accuse me of starting a book club, which is like the war, then I am the starter of the club as W. is the starter of the war. See? I was complimenting your clever writing, there.

As for what this blog is, I think it clearly speaks for itself. I embrace my bitterness. It's a word I love...knee-jerk, or not. So bring it on, baby.

darinstrauss said...

I think what people are pointing out, Anonymous, is your utter dismissal of my work without having read A WORD of it.

Anyway, I tried to stay away from contentious topics on my powells blog today. Thanks to (almost) everyone for your open-mindedness. I'm very touched and excited by the LROD reading group idea, and will be an active participant, ready for any critiism (as long as its based on a reading of the book, and not an attack on my author photo, or the fact that I'm a writer who is being read by a few people while I'm still alive...)

Again, many thanks
-ds

Anonymous said...

"Fallen off the face of the national conversation... "

...like the great, big mole of mediocre writing falls after being extirpated by the scalpel of popular opinion?

Elizabeth said...

Anon -- (Same Anon? Different? Who knows?)

What? What? Mole? Scalpel?

You think that good (great?) writing gets... extirpated... by popular opinion?

Forgive me, but just who are you readers? If you want to create art in a vacuum, fine. Maybe someone in the next century will acknowledge you for whacking off. If you insist on dismissing "popular opinion," whatever that means, super! Leave alone the rest of us who care about the process (if not the product) of creating and consuming art. What does it matter to you? You're living in the twenty-second century; good for you for being so prescient! I won't wait a hundred years for a good read. Nor will I insist that the only good reads are of a hundred years ago.

And if you're not writing at all... why are you haunting a blog for writers? Want to discuss reading? Then read.

Anonymous said...

Liz,

Jeez, I was just ribbing Dustin for an inapt metaphor (see one of his responses above.)

You sure read a lot into a lousy joke.

Anon

Anonymous said...

Liz,

Jeez, I was just ribbing Dustin for an inapt metaphor (see one of his responses above.)

You sure read a lot into a lousy joke.

Anon

Anonymous said...

* For "Dustin," read "Darin" instead.

Read, Liz! Read!

Elizabeth said...

Anon -- Gah! I missed the joke!

I'll endeavor to read closely. More closely. To read. You?

Poor Darius.

scott snyder said...

i can't believe you're still going on about my story in the vqr, anonymous. i'm flattered! how's the writing going?