This guy is being a wang.
This guy is okay.
books, salon, stephen king
Salon's current layout is the pits.
@anachronistique It's like the New York Post had a baby with Myspace.
@anachronistique Agreed. I actually still have no idea how to read past the first 500 or so words of the piece. It just, like, ends, and I can't find a link to the rest of it. What am I missing?
@Carmen Maria Machado@twitter I had the same problem! There is an awkwardly buried "continue reading" button somewhere in there, but they make it way easier to click through to the next article instead.
@quickdrawkiddo It doesn't show up for me in Chrome, I have to switch to IE to click Continue. --;
Its 2012 and Stephen King is controversial?
@Josh is like Germany Ambitious and Misunderstood
Apparently yes! I just got back from work and had a "Gurl, hold my hoops, I'm going in" feeling while the comment thread was loading, and then I dove in.
That being said, I really value all the conversations going on! (if only my students were this excited about discussing literature)
I will go to the fucking mat for Stephen King.
@area@twitter "SEND IN THE CLOWNS"
@area@twitter I read this as "I will go to the fucking mall for Stephen King," which is confusing but very sweet.
@Sarah H. Well, you can find his books there, so it works.
@area@twitter I'll admit to not keeping up on his more recent works, but I'm with you on this sentiment. Call it what you will -- trash, fast-food reading, schlock, or (gasp!) mass-market fiction -- but 'Salem's Lot will forever be the scary story that got under my skin in the best-ever way. In fact, I sometimes wish I hadn't read it at all just so I could read it now for the first time and feel that perfect horror! To this day, 30 years after my first reading of it, it is my go-to reread when I don't feel like starting something new (though I have since "worn out the scary" a little bit).
@Sarah H. I WILL GO TO THE FUCKING AIRPORT FOR STEPHEN KING.
@area@twitter Do it! Read his new stuff! Some of it is amazing. 11/22/63 was great and Full Dark, No Stars was also great. You may want to skip Under The Dome though. That was just a painful read with a brutal ending.
Also, his son, Joe Hill, wrote a book, Heart Shaped Box, that gave me crazy nightmares. It seriously spooked me and I'm not that big of a baby, I swear.
@batgirl Joe Hill is AMAZING! Heart Shaped Box is incredible. Horns is okay but still pretty good. Definitely a Hill fan!
@batgirl Oh, I'm glad to hear this. The newest Steven King book I read was Under the Dome because I thought the premise was really cool, but it was just sooooooo long and painful.
@batgirl : Oh, oh, read Joe Hill's "20th Century Ghosts". Holy BEEJEEBUS, it's good.
@batgirl I haven't read it, but I just gave my mom the JFK one and she loved it--her first-ever Stephen King book. Now she's all happy that she's got a whole new author to explore... though I'm doubting my favorite SK books will be her kind of thing.
@OxfordComma I have to get that one (to put on the ever-increasing "To Be Read" pile)! I really liked Heart-Shaped Box.
Slightly off-topic: I've noticed that there is often a divide among Stephen King fans, at least in my group of people. The ones that like, say, The Dark Tower series really, really love it, while those of us attached to the earlier, more straight-up horror books are not too into that series, or a lot of the later stuff. I mean, I guess that's true for all sorts of books, but I find it sort of interesting when it's the work of one author.
Okay, so... personal taste is personal taste, and if you don't find horror interesting, fine! There are a metric fuckton of other books to read and be happy with.
But this dude is an ass.
Clearly, King’s readers — many of whom seem to get hooked on him when they are adolescents — don’t care that the sentences he writes or the scenes he constructs are dull... My sense is that King appeals to the aggrieved adolescent, or the aggrieved nerdy adolescent, or the aggrieved nerdy adult, who believes that people can be divided into bad and good (the latter would, of course, include the aggrieved adolescent or adult), a reader who would rather not consider the proposition that we are all, each of us, nice good people awash in problems and entirely capable of evil.
Ah, there's not a solid criticism in his essay, just a lot of griping about how King is a poor writer and there's nothing literary to his books. And straight-up insulting people who enjoy King's work is such an unnecessary low blow!
@PatatasBravas "I don't feel morally superior to people who like King...now here's six paragraphs about how morally superior I am to people who like King."
@PatatasBravas To be fair, I loved King when I was an aggrieved nerdy adolescent, and haven't read him since. He's a good writer in the sense that whoever that lady was who wrote the Hunger Games is a good writer. I read the Hunger Games and enjoyed them, but I was drunk in a hotel room most of the time I was reading it. I mean, good pacing, good story, but come on, you can't claim either of them has any real literary merit. There's just not really any substance there, and it's basically intellectual junk food. Which is FINE but you can't live off it, y'know?
Um. Don't let's fight about The Hunger Games, please!
I presented a paper at a literature conference about The Hunger Games. I have thoughts and feelings and analyses, and they are professional academic thoughts and feelings and analyses.
@PatatasBravas That's fine, I mean, there is probably a lot of good stuff in there to analyze in re: what it says about society or youth or culture, etc., but...the writing was not of very high literary merit. It was more on the level of a screenplay. I know, it was written for teenagers, but the fact remains.
@PatatasBravas - I was expecting to read this article and take the author's side, because I've never gotten the appeal of King myself. (And let us not speak of the cornpone Uncle Stevie persona of his EW column, which gave me biweekly fits of rage, but anyway.) But what exactly is the point of this article? It's a how-many-thousands-of-words paean to not liking a certain author? Great! Good for you, buddy! Here's a cookie! I guess the rest of us should get off your lawn now?
@PatatasBravas Reasons I love being in my area of work: things don't have to be meritorious as defined by standards of high to be important and worth discussing.
They just have to be important.
Also, Georgette Heyer's romance novels are better junk food than Franzen's The Corrections was a wholesome food pyramid plate of things, IMHO.
@PistolPackinMama I'm obsessed with classic British mystery novels, which highbrow critics have been trashing for about a century now, so I'm not going to sneer at anyone's reading matter. Go on with your bad romance-reading self.
@Bittersweet Agreed, I am constantly looking for Agatha Christie paperbacks at the flea market! Not that I don't like Serious Books, but I also don't have to justify to anyone what I spend my free time on. Please.
@Emmanuelle Cunt I agree that reading trash is perfectly fun and okay, and I still subscribe to Entertainment Weekly so who am I to say any different? BUT I don't think it's horrible and "elitist" to admit that some things have better intellectual content than other things, because that is just true. You can enjoy Stephen King, but at least recognize that it's junk food. Enjoying junk food is perfectly fine! But why does everyone have to pretend that Cheetos are "just as good" as apples? They obviously are two entirely different things. I hate this anti-intellectual crap of "my dumb dimestore novel is EVERY BIT AS GOOD as your fancy Proust novel." No it isn't! They serve different purposes, and if you only consume the crappy one, your brain might wither and die, and I'm not going to back off from that because some people find real books "hard."
@PistolPackinMama This comment gave me--a student of genre fiction--a case of the Feelings.
@WaityKatie Sure, but what about people who just don't enjoy hard books? What if all I want to read is fluff? They're REAL books, despite how you rank them personally, and I don't think it's anti-intellectual to say so. People read for all different sorts of reasons, easy escapism and deep intellectual thinking being just two of many. I get what you're trying to say, but you're conflating "intellectual content" with a "good book" and that's elitist as fuck, even if you're not trying to be.
@sudden but inevitable betrayal Obviously this is just my opinion. I consider books with complex sentence structure, that deal with concepts and ideas to be "good" and books that don't to "suck." I still read the sucky books sometimes, but I need to alternate them with stuff that doesn't suck, or my brain starts to feel like my body does when I don't exercise. That is completely a value judgment and I am completely entitled to it. I don't even know what "elitist" means, really, in this context. Who is the "elite"? Smart people? People who like to use their brains? Because I'm not a member of the 1 percent, nor am I descended from them. I'm certainly not a powerful person in the world. I'm just a person who likes challenging and stimulating books. Calling me an elitist seems pretty much just like name-calling, frankly, but go ahead.
I would say choosing the food analogy of cheetoes* v. apples here is not a good idea. This is not the place for a discussion about food politics, but saying "apples are unilaterally better" is flat out problematic. They are better-- if you can afford to buy them. If they are available where you live. If they are culturally appropriate to your food systems. If if if... If cheetoes are what you can access or afford to buy and you have hungry kids to feed and only so much on your DSS card till next week... cheetoes it is.
Defining the parameters of the discussion is really important with cheetoes and apples as well as with popular fiction and literary fiction.
Some books aren't "hard" to some people. Some books are hard. Just hard. American readers have a broad range of literacy skills for all kinds of reasons and unless we are going to limit what kinds of books are worth talking about and thinking about and their importance as cultural things and where they fit in the cultural dialogue to a narrow canon accessible to highly educated people with extremely advanced reading skills, King's work stays on the table as something to discuss.
I am not, by the way, particularly interested in King's feelings on the issue. I am interested in readerships and audiences.
I would rather read Proust (I have read Proust- memory and culture scholar yo) than horror. Given my aesthetic measures it's definitely better writing. I will happily assert that Pride and Prejudice is better than Marriage and that Austen and Farrier are more likely to endure than Franzen.
But literary merit is only one (an important one, but just one) facet of literacy and reading. Most people here are not saying King is better. They are just saying he is worth their time and important. This dudes post glosses over all those valid reasons for King's value. If we go his route, it forecloses discussion rather than opens it up.
Which is pretty anti-intellectual, as far as I can see.
Although, like I said up top, he's got a lively conversation going here, so.
*how does one even spell this, my spell check doesn't know and I am not looking.
@PistolPackinMama Argh, no, what I meant was that apples are *better for your body* than Cheetos. Which they are. Obviously if you don't have access to them and Cheetos are the only thing you can eat to keep yourself alive, eat the Cheetos! Likewise, just the fact that some people hate to exercise, isn't going to make me say that exercise is not a good thing. If others don't want to do it, fine, it's their choice. But it's still a good thing and good for you! That is not elitism, it is just truth. I'm not Mayor Bloomberg so I'm certainly not going to mandate healthy lifestyles for everyone. But to say that going for a run and sitting on your couch eating ice cream are both equally healthy things to do? That is just insane. (And I do both, but you know, it's a choice).
I'm not limiting what we can talk about. I just think it's dismaying that we all need to pretend that all books are equally good just because some people don't like to read. I'm not saying they have to read. I don't care what other people do. I'm just not willing to pander and pretend that everything is equally good and intellectual merit doesn't matter, because (to me) it still does.
To be honest I couldn't even read all of what Dude wrote in that article because Salon makes my computer shut itself down and catch on fire. It seemed like a kind of crap article, as people have pointed out.
@WaityKatie You said: I hate this anti-intellectual crap of "my dumb dimestore novel is EVERY BIT AS GOOD as your fancy Proust novel." It's not anti-intellectual to not want to read Proust, that's a bit melodramatic. One can want to read something other than Proust and enjoy it and find it valuable for reasons other than hating smart people and thinking hard, a point which you are ignoring in favor of presenting your reading preferences as better and more elite (hence, elitist). I'm not sure how referencing the 1% is relevant?
@WaityKatie This guy is writing about the reading habits of a very narrow readership- and we are! We really are- given our reading skill level and education. You don't have to be in the 1% to go to college and major in English.*
Cheeots v. apples is a problem a lot of American people are having in our food insecure environment right now.
So maybe this is a case less of apples v. cheetos and more a case of Little Debbie zebra cakes v. Julia Child's recipe for chocolate mousse, complete with hand whipping the egg whites in a copper bowl.
The kind of reader he is addressing- we have a huge range of choices at our disposal. If you are willing to limit the discussion to folks who have the resources and skills to be able to choose between King and Franzen, I can get on board with the argument you are making.
I might not agree. I wouldn't choose Franzen over most options. But I could def. see the point you are making, because I love Austen and other people hate her guts. And I would choose Austen over just about any option any day of the week.
Franzen= panna cotta
Austen= lemon charlotte
King= Payday (I don't eat those)
Heyer= Symphony bars. (I totally eat those.)
*hah hah- which will guarantee you won't be in the 1% if you aren't already.
@sudden but inevitable betrayal I didn't say everyone has to want to read Proust. I said that claiming that dimestore novels are every bit as good as Proust was anti-intellectual, and I stand by that. God knows, I find Proust a struggle, but to me it's worth it. To others, they would rather spend their time on other things, which is perfectly fine. But to claim that Pet Sematary is every bit as good as In Search of Lost Time, just because you like it more, is silly.
But call me an elitist some more, I'm getting to like it. A melodramatic elitist, even better! (Am I Emily Dickinson? Please say that I am!)
@PistolPackinMama Excuse me! I majored in poli sci! I only MINORED in English! Harrumph.
@WaityKatie Again we come back to this notion of "good" - YOUR notion of good. And that's where we will never agree. So.
@sudden but inevitable betrayal Yeah, and guess what, I'm entitled to my opinion of what constitutes "the good." And this is supposed to be the site where we can disagree without calling each other names. So there's that, also.
@WaityKatie You are absolutely entitled to your opinion. She is not trying to silence you, she is developing what her problems with your opinion are, which she is also allowed to do.
Also. Calling the attitude you have about literature "elitist" is not name calling. It is assigning an attribute that has a very specific meaning to your point of view. Elitism privileges, in this case, a particular educational and cultural background among other things. She explained why she thinks that. It's not an ad hominem attack. If you don't like that attribution and you think it is wrong, say why.
Also, take elitism out of the picture for a sec. If readers and critics and publishers and scholars didn't have permeable boundaries for where good and bad fiction begin and end, then tastes would never change. Which means:
Jane Austen would still soppy lady fic.
Moby Dick would still be roundly panned as turgid self-indulgent hackery.
I would never have been assigned Another Country in HS along with the less spectacular but more widely taught Native Son, which would have been sad because Another Country is amazing.
And, There Eyes Were Watching God would still be sunk without a critical or popular trace, which would be really sad, because it is one of the very best books I have ever read.
If you want to get around being called elitist, I think all you have to do is say "in this context, according to these standards, which I set in this way, and for these reasons, X is more valuable than Y."
If you don't want to do that, that is OK. But you will end up having your POV associated with elitism because it is privileging without justifying the hierarchy you set.
Also, do I think King's work will end up in the canon of good literature? I'd say no, but then look at how well Conan Doyle has done in the last 100 years.
@PistolPackinMama I fail to see the part where sudden but inevitable betrayal explained why she thinks I am "elitist," or where s/he even explained what elitist means. I do see that s/he called me elitist several times and then said that what I was saying is just MY opinion. No kidding. It is my opinion.
You really don't know what my "POV" is, and what "the attitude I have about literature" is. You are inferring all sorts of things from several brief comments I have made about Stephen King, labeling them "elitist" (and therefore wrong) and then chastised me for saying them. At no point have I represented my opinion as "better" than anyone else's, and it would be nice if you could cite something I said where I did do that instead of just creating a straw man and setting it on fire.
And I find your comment/lecture bafflingly condescending. I have not said anything about the canon and what should or shouldn't be included in it. Again, straw man.
I'm not trying to "get around" anything. I assumed that, given that I am posting a comment with my name on it, it would be construed as "my opinion." I don't really feel the need to post a lot of elaborate disclaimers to every comment I write reminding everyone that this is just my opinion and not Universal Truth. I thought that was pretty obvious from the fact that, you know, I'm a human and I'm writing this comment.
You are probably an adult. Please stop. People can see you.
@Elizabeth K. Excuse me?
@WaityKatie For what it's worth, I agree with your opinions on this and think you're expressing them perfectly reasonably.
I usually feel terrible when I have upset someone in comment places, because upsetting people is not fun. But in this case, I can't see a way out of it.
I was bunny hopping around the fact that somehow these things are all offensive because I am not really sure why.
You want to have an opinion and be able to disagree, but you don't like that I am disagreeing with you, or something. You don't want to have to over-define stuff because it should be clear what you mean, but then when someone uses a widely understood term of criticism of a position you call it personal and name calling without asking for clarification.
Arguing with your opinion isn't uncivil and it isn't silencing or disrespectful. If I didn't think what you were saying was interesting or worthwhile and I didn't care what you had to say about what other people think of your opinion, I wouldn't say anything about it at all.
So. Okay, I will take condescending. I am okay with that this time.
@PistolPackinMama I have no problem with the fact that you are disagreeing with me. Maybe "elitist" is a "widely understood term," but I would still like to have it defined, if it is being applied to me, or to what you perceive to be my opinion. I don't think that's a crazy thing to ask for. Specifically, who is the elite? Is it college educated people who read literary fiction? I'm assuming that's who it is. And if so, why does this group constitute an elite and not just another subculture? Does this group have political power? Does this group have influence based on money? Does this group control the debate? I'm not being sarcastic, I honestly would like to know your opinion on this. Because I would argue that "college educated people who read literary fiction" is a group that has barely any influence on society at large at all. Hence, I disagree with that group being characterized as an elite. Taking it further, I am an elitIST, because I have an opinion that some writing has greater literary value than other writing. Why?
I have no interest in silencing your opinion, although frankly I would like to silence "Elizabeth K," who as far as I can tell only posts to tell other people to shut up. But that's not your fault, obviously.
We obviously disagree, but I don't think I have denigrated your position in any way. If anything, I think you are arguing against positions that I don't even hold (as seen from the comments about how I am somehow saying that people who don't have access to healthy food should be blamed and shamed for not eating it, etc.) I don't believe any of those things. If you want to argue against my opinion, please argue against my actual opinion, and not other people's opinions, or me in general.
Whyyyyyyy is this conversation (less conversation, more echo-chamber tantrum) still happening? We get it! You only read Important Books!
@maybe partying will help
Echo chamber tantrum is
a) a perfect description of this article, written by a twit
b) our new band name! I shall play the tambourine!
@maybe partying will help: Uch, the Important Book people (including and especially our brethren over at The Awl) really need to go take a long drink out of the bleach bubblah.
Do these folk who think that a person can only read Important Books OR genre trash (of course Important Genre Books don't exist) ever enter the real world?
@maybe partying will help: Actually I sort of hope not. Because then we wouldn't have to risk jail time for giving them the beating they so roundly deserve.
@Jolie Kerr KILL THEM WITH FIRE!
Did I do it right?
but really, I only have so many things I can read before I grow old and die, and I don't think anything else by Mr. Allen is making my shortlist.
@PatatasBravas Only if y'all throw me the set list.
Groupies already! *fans self*
We are auditioning for a guitar, a keyboardist, a kazoo player, some percussion instrument, and the triangle.
@maybe partying will help Hipster Book Rage (I only read books that you've never heard of, you plebe)? Ugh, the worst. If a writer gets ADOLESCENTS to SIT DOWN AND READ A BOOK, then that writer is a genius and a gift to our world, period.
@bibliostitute Me neither. But I have read an awful lot of mystery novels that are probably a whole lot less terrific than King's best writing. (Maybe I should read something he wrote? What should I read, world?)
Also. Has anyone read Sherlock Holmes lately? I mean, don't get me wrong. I like Conan Doyle OK. But Hound of the Baskervilles is so campy. I am not persuaded the stories actually have lasted all that well.
But apparently he is An Important Author?
In addition, Stephen King gives an absolutely terrific interview. That in itself is an amazing skill.
Diff'rent Strokes, yo.
I was very disgusted with the whole "people start reading King when they're TEENAGERS and then they DON'T STOP" bullshit. Many of my absolute favorite authors I started reading as a teen and I will not stop until they die or stop writing books. I venture a lot of people's favorite books are ones they read at a formative age. And I am definitely a soul who will read anything by an author I love, even if I find it to be subpar.
I am imagining Allen being attacked by a pack of angry librarians (me among them) and it is a grand mental picture.
If you have not read any books by Stephen King and you are asking for suggestions? My vote is for The Stand.
@maybe partying will help *high five*, you go, I'll hold your purse if you want? My eleven year old son reads voraciously, the Harry Potter books, the Hunger Games books, whatever he wants, I'll get for him. I'm so happy that he'll willingly sit down and devour hundreds of pages at a time, it would never occur to me to tsk-tsk him and swap out his "popular book" for something more literary! He loved Swiss Family Robinson, and Hatchet, and Tom Sawyer, but he also enjoys the Dragonball Z books. It's okay, just read, son, read!
@PistolPackinMama Agreed on Conan Doyle -- they are still fun to read, but not Great, I would say. Also don't get me started on Dickens. That is the soapiest shit that ever soaped! I really enjoy it but don't understand how popular fiction + time = Great Author.
Seriously, and I feel kind of the same way about adult readers too. Like, ok, maybe since you're a grown-up you should "know better" or whatever, but there are many adult readers who are reluctant readers too, who never liked it as a kid or are just discovering that they want to read more, whatever. I am for sure not going to DISCOURAGE those readers by slamming something they enjoy. Am I going to present them with as many options (literary and otherwise) as possible? Oh yes. But mock them and tell them they're reading shit, no.
@maybe partying will help Yep! I read the Hunger Games books, starting on a plane trip (semi-nervous passenger) and was thoroughly absorbed with the story and the characters, and for once didn't act like a rabbit on meth during the turbulence over Lake Michigan, AND it was super awesome getting to excitedly discuss the books with my son!
@maybe partying will help THE DARK TOWER!
So according to the National Institute for Literacy, 47% of adults in Detroit Michigan are functionally illiterate.
Which isn't super relevant, except that it's great people want to read at all. And if there are huge populations like that with major literacy barriers, what about people who are reading at or below basic standards levels? And for whom it's not fun or easy? Or being challenged in a literary way isn't pleasurable?
That people want to read at all is a lovely thing. Stay out of their tastes in reading if you can't appreciate that much.
@maybe partying will help OK, I get why people may be put off by dude's tone (and his excessive use of parentheses (which even I, an excessive user of parentheses, found exhausting)) (seriously), but he is actually making a bona fide effort to critique the work and understand the acclaim it's beginning to receive from the literary establishment, which can obviously only be understood from the perspective of said establishment.
If you start at about the 24th paragraph, it's actually a pretty serviceable review of 11/22/63 that also touches on King's rising literary acclaim.
Also I think he makes the point he was trying to make much better in the last paragraph: "After you’ve read Roberto Bolaño and Denis Johnson and David Foster Wallace and Thomas Pynchon, as my son has, why would you return to Stephen King?" That's a perfectly legit question, isn't it?
Yeah, that sounds depressingly on point.
There's so much concern trolling around reading. I guess that's true for anything ("You watch How I Met Your Mother? I can't stomach it, I think Spaced has ruined me for situational comedy"), but it seems especially judgey when it comes to books. It's the Man keeping you down, man! The Man doesn't want you to know that you can enjoy whatever you enjoy, naked and without shame!
Like I said, once I am devoted to an author, unless something really notable happens, it's for life. So yes, I will return to my Tamora Pierce every time she releases a new novel (and on days when I really need/want a reread) even if I was reading something suitably literary the day before. King can be a stepping stone or he can be a forever writer. I really don't see why Allen has such a Time with this.
@maybe partying will help @pistolpackingmama
Wait, so you guys are worried that people who don't like reading, or have limited reading skills, might stumble across this 6,000 word article in the LA Review of Books and thus be put off reading Stephen King? Really?
@stuffisthings I think most reviews I read of 11/22/63 were mediocre, so that part didn't irritate me.
Also, that last paragraph's question is an interesting starting point. I wish he'd begun there. And the way to answer that question, it seems to me, is to look for the merits of his work, to find what attracts people... not to disparage all of King's writing and assume that his readers are fatuous.
And King is not my favorite author in the world, because horror is generally not a genre that holds my interest. But I think it is petulant to stamp your feet with literary snobbery and demand that everyone forsake it in favor of Junot Diaz (who I adore!) and insult them while you do it .
@KissesAreFreeToo Wait, so a crazy frolic through Post-WWII Europe with musical numbers, banana recipes, saucy engineering puns, and a chapter about the life of a sentient light bulb, that's not escapist and entertaining enough? Sometimes you just need to read about an alcoholic dad who tries to kill his family?
Am I the only one on either side of this debate who doesn't buy into the high culture vs. guilty pleasures dichotomy, and just thinks most "literary" fiction is actually, objectively better than most "genre" fiction?
@stuffisthings It's like asking why you'd want to eat a hot dog after having eaten curries. Sometimes you are hungry for a hotdog.
@stuffisthings Nope. I am worried that a 6,000 word writing literary snob will perceive him or herself to be a better reader than people who prefer Stephen King because 1) they went to Bard and got an MFA at the Iowa Writer's Workshop and so Know Everything Better or 2) Actually, yes. This does happen. Maybe not in quite that way but "you don't belong here your reading isn't real reading you aren't really literate" really does happen. It won't make people stop reading King. It will make them ashamed they read King.
In an ethnography of reading and literacy done in France in the early 80's, the research showed that, say, French farmers would tell interviewers they were just so not literate people and so not people of intellect. Because they weren't reading Sartre for their bedtime reading. But they were reading, a lot. The papers, journals, magazines. All kinds of stuff.
They seemed to have soaked up this guy's attitudes understood themselves to be unequal readers because they didn't read Hugo.
So yeah. Kind of.
ETA: literary fiction is one thing, and it's a great thing, and it's a thing I enjoy. But it is not the only thing, and other things have merits, too, and so do the attitudes of the people who read them for whatever reason.
It's not a zero sum game of merit. It just isn't.
(I am also inordinately fond of minor sometimes semi-not great literary fiction from Scotland, for reasons that are only kind of about the actual merits of the fiction but also other things.)
Nicole is one of the best read bloggers I know- or at least one of the best at writing about being widely read, and this seems to be irritating her. This is why she is the best and I love her and am glad she is our books editor.
@Curiouser and curiouser Will put it on the list. Thanks!
@stuffisthings If it takes an author to get to para 24 to make a serviceable point, and then the final para to say it best, he needs to find a good writing tutor and discuss either stronger intros or reorganization skills.
Also, re: "if you read DFW why would you go back to King?" question being legit... because people have diverse tastes which suit different settings, moods, and needs.
Re: the literary establishment and giving King acclaim. It could be "oh hey look at us we are regular guys/gals" posturing. But it could also be something else, a change or broadening of the interests of the establishment, or a recognition of something interesting in the best King is writing. It's surely happened before and it will happen again.
AND NOW I AM GROUNDING MYSELF FROM THE PIN BECAUSE JEEZUS I AM SUPPOSED TO BE WORKING.
@MoonBat I def. read this as "maybe partying will help Hipster Book Rage" which seems like a good point
@Emmanuelle Cunt It almost certainly will!
Oh yeah, I'm not defending at all the way this guy makes his argument. He seems to be an actual snob and also not a very good writer. I'd like to think that taking 2/3 of the article to get to the actual point is meant to be some kind of parody of the quality he seems to dislike most about King, but I don't think that's actually true.
I guess what rankles me about the rage against this piece is how people now seem to conflate the argument "X Genre Writer is not a very good writer, and certainly not as good as Y and Z Literary Fiction Writers," with the argument "Genre fiction can't have literary merit." Nobody is trying to say that, even this guy.
@stuffisthings I dunno- I sort of thought that was exactly what he was doing in his parting shot paragraph? He's saying why would my kid read poor genre over good lit. fic? He's not picking apart the issue, so you can kind of read it either way. Or both, I suppose.
And the answer is what people here are replying:
People are reading poor (for a given value of, there are a bunch of people here who are sticking up for King's writing, which IDK, but there you go) genre fiction by King because they have reasons to read them and this doesn't mean they aren't also reading lit fic by Foster Wallace, just not right now. And also, some people only read King and there are very, very good reasons why they might, so just lay off already?
In addition, I am very mildly amused that the essayist isn't very good at his own chosen genre of writing. At least in this case. But people are evidently reading his sub-par form because there is something else on offer that they also want from the experience. I laugh a hollow laugh. An affectionate hollow laugh, but still.
Dude can provoke a lively discussion, at least.
@PistolPackinMama Dude is a hack for sure, I guess I just like that somebody's sticking up for aesthetics and quality. I mean sure, read whatever. Watch whatever. Listen to whatever. But don't then go try and claim Battleship is a cinematic masterpiece on par with The Godfather or something. What is the point of even having criticism if all things are equally good?
It's interesting that the only person in the pro-King camp who doesn't seem concerned about Stephen King's literary standing is Stephen King. He writes what he wants to write, for people who want to read that kind of stuff, and makes a very good living at it
Nelson even calls him "the self-proclaimed 'Literary Big Mac.'" Would we get mad at a restaurant critic for saying a nice steak is better than a Big Mac? Or even that the food served at Michelin-starred restaurants is generally better than the food served at McDonalds? Now, if Michelin-starred food were available at the same price and in the same location as Big Macs, would it be fair to say the people who choose Big Macs have poor taste? Sure. Mean-spirited, maybe, but utterly fair.
(Note that I say this as someone with no real dog in this fight, having zero academic background in literature.)
@stuffisthings Yes, thank you for this. The thing is, King is laughing all the way to the bank, and you can bet that he doesn't give a crap what the critics are saying while he buys his 11th beach house with the profits from his "genre" writing. So why is everyone getting all bleeding heart about his feelings? I doubt most of his fans give a crap either, if they cared what literary critics thought of them I imagine they would be reading the NY Review of Books instead of, you know, Carrie.
@stuffisthings Okay, so this is not a lit crit person's POV. (I nearly typoed PIV...oops). But I would say the purpose of literary criticism is not primarily to distinguish between good and bad work. I mean, that's one thing, and an important thing. As a reader, I am interested in what is good and bad because I don't want to waste my time on books that are bad (to me). But as a scholar-type person, criticism/analysis tells me:
Who is reading, why? Who is not reading and why?
What makes a canon, why?
What is a genre and why do they matter? Do they matter?
What are the aesthetic values of a reading audience/writer?
Why do some things become classics and others not?
How are written texts structured and organized and why?
Who controls what is published, how it is distributed, and why?
Why do people enjoy what they enjoy?
What criteria do people use to make the judgment that something is good or bad or more valuable or not and why?
When I teach ethnographies, I pick useful ones, but I also pick really well written ones because they are educational and also approachable. I want students to be exposed to the amazingness of Anthropology, and using the very best work for my purposes does that.
I am sure Lit classes are the same in some ways. (Lit people?) I was much happier reading the best Shakespeare in Shakespeare lit class in high school, versus, oh I dunno, something suckier. Or him over a minor dude of the era. It was better reading it was also exemplars of a particular style. But it was also buying into nationalist myth making on the part of the British govt. and literary elitism.
All these things are part of the package of reading. Goodness and badness of a particular work is only one facet of what makes books important or even worthwhile.
@PistolPackinMama I think you're talking about a level of academic nuance well beyond even the __ Review of Books. The kind of criticism that gets published in outlets with five-digit+ circulation figures is mostly about aesthetics and craft (whether it is books or films or plays). Just as an article in Foreign Policy about something in my field is going to approach its subject at a different level than an article in the Journal of Development Studies.
Thankfully, nobody in my field ever says things like "All international development policies are equally valid! Yay!"
@stuffisthings Stop being so elitist. You think that building schools is superior to burning down villages? Shut up, fancypants.
@WaityKatie "This proposal is too long and boring, I'm just going to throw all the grant money in a lake. It's kinda fun and escapist, you know?"
@stuffisthings I gotta go, like, 10 minutes ago. But it just occurred to me that the richness of the reading experience is dependent not just on the quality of the writer and their work. It also depends on the reader and their work.
People have really satisfying an interesting and nuanced discussions about weaker literature and vacuous, empty discussions about really great literature.*
I'm defensive of readers of less great lit, I think, because a lot of people haven't had the incredible opportunities and luck to develop the kinds of reading skills people on the Pin have generally done.
If I had my way, we'd have an American reading public who could have high level convos about To the Lighthouse and Surrender My Hymen. Or Maus and Archie. But we don't- for lots of reasons, and some not in everyone's control.
That should be part of the conversation about reading and writing.
Great literature matters. It can still matter if weak something other than great lit does, too.
*In my view, obvs.
@stuffisthings i don't think anyone is saying fluffier books are equal to serious lit, simply that a person isn't an idiot for reading some fluff.In fact , many folks on here seem to read both.
I don't convince myself that pop lit is anything other than escapism and stress relief for myself and I don't see that as a bad thing. Sometimes you just aren't in the mind frame for something dense.
Just like sometimes I'd rather watch an episode of True Blood than a Slavoj Žižek lecture on youtube.
Shaming people for their taste in books (or anything else) is pretty much as pathetic as it gets.
@bibliostitute : Oh, GOD.
I just finished the whole shebang in January (read them back to back in a two month swoop), and I was *destroyed* by the ending.
@PistolPackinMama Agreed! I think I'm more defending the enterprise of (popular?) literary criticism here than making prescriptions about what and how people read. "Read whatever you like" and "Stephen King is kind of a bad writer" are not mutually exclusive statements in my mind.
Anyway, thanks for the insights, now get back to work! As should I.
@stuffisthings Although, throwing grant money in a lake kind of seems like something Zooey Deschanel would do, and she's DEFINITELY an elitist, so now I'm confused.
@KissesAreFreeToo That's fine by me, but if you said you'd rather learn about philosophy from an episode of True Blood, then I might have a problem.
Also why do all the 'Pinners who claim to like literary fiction operate on the presumption that it is all a tedious slog that one must "escape" from time to time? And that it is uniformly turgid and self-serious and requires an enormous amount of mental energy to read? Do the bookstores in y'alls towns only stock copies of Ulysses in the literature section or something?
(Sorry to dump this on you specifically, by the way, it's a theme running through many of these threads.)
@stuffisthings Wel I'll bite. Sure lots of literary fiction is escapist and fun. And I read a lot of it for that reason. Paul Auster and Philip Roth are both respected, and I turn to both of them pretty regularly when I want pure entertainment. Neither of them are above formula either.
I don't use authors like King or Raymond Chandler (although I *think* he *might* be respectable what with the whole pulp+time=ok formula) to escape from reading more substantial fiction , I used it to escape from the noise of my morning commute. To escape the tedium of having being ill and being too out of it to focus on anything else, to unwind after a 12 hour work day when I'm too burnt to think or to read on the elliptical machine.
I don't find literary fiction a slog, I just find it requires more attention/respect than a super crowded subway & me not being fully awake yet or me being stoned on NeoCitran.
I do like light a breezy books as a comedown, so to speak , from some of the denser art historical or critical theory I end up reading for work. I can't really explain it well other than sometimes it's liberating to not have to be too invested in a book, it cleans the slate of the mind.
@PatatasBravas I once had a slide whistle solo at Carnegie Hall. No, really.
@PistolPackinMama I'm really liking your posts a lot, but this part here is just perfect: "...genre fiction by King because they have reasons to read them and this doesn't mean they aren't also reading lit fic by Foster Wallace, just not right now. ..." Exactly. I don't know if I am an intellectual or not, whatever, but different moods definitely require different reading material, and the fact that I do like SK isn't even relevant here. A couple of months ago, I reread a few V.C. Andrews books and had a good time doing it. Today (or at least the last time I put the book down), I was reading something about Anne Boleyn, before that a textbook about sex crimes, and before that, The Hunger Games. Next might be a biography of Fidel Castro for all I know... or How to Be Famous by Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt (which my BF got me as a jokey Christmas gift, but for which I yelled with glee!) or even 'Salem's Lot for the fifteenth time (I like to read it in the summer; I don't know why). Who knows? I don't ever know but if it's entertaining in one way or another, and if it sets me on a reading roll*, it's all good.
(* I have to read so much shit at work that sometimes I get almost lazy about reading for fun, and I feel bad knowing I used to plow through piles of books at a pretty good pace. So the "reading roll" makes me feel better, no matter what reignites it.)
@Hellcat : Yes! This! I read five or six books at a time--sometimes they're all "light" fiction, sometimes they're all heavy academic tomes--but I love having a variety, just for the various moods that I am in or out of.
READ ALL THE THINGS!!!!
@OxfordComma It's sort of like a discussion I had with my musician BF about Britney Spears and Pink Floyd. I'm not likely to call out the members of Pink Floyd as less technically talented than Britney (though what the hell do I know what she gets up to in the privacy of her own home studio?). However, I do not like Pink Floyd and therefore don't want to listen to it, so whether or not they are better at their craft is completely irrelevant; shaming me into ditching my Britney is not going to make me download any Floyd. Or maybe it's not like that... I don't know. This whole thread is making me think about so many things!
Oh, but he didn't shame me--I just realized I wrote that like he did. He is actually kind of charmed by the big clump of pop and hair bands in my iPod (not charmed enough to listen to it on a long drive, but certainly not ready to trade me in or anything).
@Hellcat : Exactly! There is little point in shaming people for liking what they like.
If you make a salient argument about why, say, "Twilight" is Not a Good Book, well, make a salient argument. But do not expect folks to immediately come swarming over in agreement. That's just not the way people work.
@stuffisthings WHAT IS THIS BOOK TO WHICH YOU REFER I MUST READ IT IMMEDIATELY. Unless it's by Stephen King.
@OxfordComma Plus there's the fact that (at least in my life) I'm more likely to get into an interesting conversation about book The Shining vs. movie The Shining (or even miniseries The Shining vs. the regular movie) than I am about The Tudors the series vs. biographical accounts of the Tudor family. Or anything true crime-related, for that matter. Not as many people want to talk about those things (often to my dismay)!
@Xanthophyllippa Gravity's Rainbow. I intentionally chose that example because it's notoriously "difficult" and "literary" -- but actually it's also really fun and weird and, well, frolicsome! Though, also pretty grim in places, it's grim in a weird and funny way. It's shorter than most of the Dark Tower books and I guarantee a helluva lot more stuff happens.
(I mean, there is Deeper Meaning there and if you want you can pore over every line, but you can also read it for the puns and musical numbers and silly names.)
@Xanthophyllippa "I once had a slide whistle solo at Carnegie Hall. No, really."
Waaaaait a minute. You ARE Thomas Pynchon, aren't you?
@stuffisthings Tom Stoppard, actually. (Statement! Zero-one.)
@Xanthophyllippa You are also my hero.
@maybe partying will help: I have read Bolaño (in Spanish, even), and I have read Stephen King, and I don't know, I can find plenty of reasons not to read the former again even as I return to the latter.
2666 is brilliant, yes, and I thought Nazi Literature in the Americas was quite well-done, but so much of the rest of his work is about his infinite alter-egos and I could really only stomach so much of it.
I am not sure why reading Bolaño means I shouldn't go back to King. I read them for different reasons.
@Jolie Kerr I read law books all day, every day. Therefore, I will read good old fashioned trash at night, and I WILL LOVE IT.
Speaking of trash, there's some great "chick lit" out there that's pretty darn fine literature and could actually pass muster as a serious read, if only books written by women and about women/the domestic sphere/close relationships were examined as seriously as their male authored counterparts.
The Awl brethren.. ugh. I can't read The Awl comments because there's so much pseudo-intellectual masturbation that it's difficult to get a word in edgewise. And a lot of times, the writing is so "look at how well versed I am in contemporary lit" that it does not make any sense and is an incoherent jumble of ick. For perspective, I majored in English.
@OxfordComma that was good and all, and I'm gonna let you guys finish, upstream, but YES.
The whole end-game of Dark Tower is particular distressing and gut wrenching. Sometimes, a brother needs to put down the Kazuo Ishiguro and pick up the fluffy stuff. You gotta make space, and let it simmer.
I can't believe I hadn't seen this yesterday! It includes an interesting discussion of the difference between Literary Fiction and good books (my phrasing): http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2012/07/03/156204420/museums-and-planetariums-two-terrific-books-and-two-ways-of-reading
@bibliostitute : Exactly! Especially to Ishiguro, breaking my damn heart with his "Remains of the Day" and "Artist of the Floating World".
@Lily Rowan I am sure you have tons of spare time and everything, which is why you should totally pitch an article based on this idea to Edith/Nicole/Jane. A starter essay, if you like, where we get a list of fiction you have read, with relative rankings of each things Planetarium-ness and Gallery-ocity. Maybe on a scale of 1-10?
And of course because you totally do have things to do, please can we think about this all week on our commutes or whatever, and then have an epic FOT thread, because I would make brownies for everyone and bring gin if people will do this because I want to knooooww.
@PistolPackinMama I am sure SOMEONE should do that! And also that that person is not me. Many is the time I have been reading a Respected Author and just thought, "UGH. He is so in love with his WORDS! And SENTENCES. When will something HAPPEN???" I read for plot.
@Lily Rowan : That was SUCH a good article! I love that it was utterly non-judgemental--just hey, here's this thing, and here's this thing, and THEY ARE BOTH OKAY.
@OxfordComma Linda Holmes is awesome. She does a great job of being the pop culture blogger for NPR, especially because you know every time she has a piece about "Call Me Maybe" or whatever, someone comments about how they can't BELIEVE NPR would waste TIME on this TRASH!
@Lily Rowan Well, shoot. Okay. Friday thread it is.
(I am avoiding this idea because FUCKING HELL DISSERTATION and really, I am going to have to put myself on Hairpin Sabbatical for the rest of the week or I will go to hell and that will suck.)
@Lily Rowan: Honestly, people!
@Lily Rowan This is why I haven't read a lot of "classics." 27 pages later, and Bilbo is still standing in the same place in the woods, and all I have to show for it is a meticulously crafted description of the scenery down to every leaf.
"Really pretty good for a genre writer." Okay, I don't care about Stephen King, but that killed any interest I had in reading the rest of the piece.
Seriously, that tells you all you need to know.
I ran out of eye-rolls about two minutes into that first post. The second one had some good zingers in it. I don't mind as much when people I agree with are petty.
That career is rightfully mine, one imagines Allen sneering, when confronted with another stack of King paperbacks, somehow misshelved in the “literature” section of his favorite independent (never chain) bookstore.
Yo, I think there is a point buried here that there's a problem with the system when writing like King's is recognized as "excellent" by a literary system that's intended to support the kind of writing that advances both the language and the public literary standard. That's not King's fault, of course, or the system's (which is floundering).
Anyway, I love Stephen King. Homebro is not a good writer. He's a good storyteller, though.
I don't really understand your argument here. Could you expand on it, please?
@PatatasBravas Criticizing a move like this is valid:
In 2003, the National Book Foundation gave King its annual medal for distinguished contribution to American letters. Previous recipients of the medal included John Updike, Philip Roth, and Toni Morrison.>
It's valid because the National Book Foundation's actions don't exist in a vacuum; they work as a cog in the machinery of an entire literary system. If we want the system to work for us as a society, the best outcome (like that of any other system) is progress--advancement of the English language and promotion of innovative or profound ideas are examples of things that raise the bar. That's why promoting King or other similar authors through those channels doesn't foster progress in the same sense that promoting Toni Morrison does.
Obviously the method of criticism isn't the valid part. After reading the first sixty-five pages of Christine, I thought that if King had intended to write a literary novel, he was failing. Hey dude, he did not. Chill the fuck out.
That guy is being a super wang. I resent the implication that I am incapable of appreciating literary fiction (which is actually my favorite genre and I read it all the time) because I also really liked The Shining. His whole, "WHY would you EVER go back to KING after reading DAVID FOSTER WALLACE?? GUFFAW GUFFAW" was just plain insulting.
I mean, cool your damn jets, bro.
@SBGBlogs Beat me to it by a few seconds!
@SBGBlogs "WHY would you EVER go back to KING after reading DAVID FOSTER WALLACE??"
Because there are different kinds of pleasures to be had in reading, as many as there are writers? As many as there are books?
And our connection to authors may grow over time, so that while a new King novel may not resonate with us now as much as it did when we were younger and reading our first 800-word novel (or however long The Stand is), it might be delicious to re-engage with both that author and the younger self who felt enveloped by him.
The pleasure, the value, of reading is bigger than the literary merit of any given piece. Also, shaming people for their brand of fun is the epitome of, as you say, super-wang.
@SBGBlogs My answer to that question is, "Because I threw David Foster Wallace against the wall after the first chapter, thanks!" Which I also did with David Sedaris and Jonathan Safran Foer, though I wouldn't put either of them in the "merit" category of DFW either.
I love the bit about how he can't understand why anyone would ever read popular fiction after they've been exposed to good literary fiction.
I like lit fic. I've read plenty of it, and I get a lot out of it. But I don't reread it after a bad day, or when I'm tired, or when I'm travelling. I go straight for the Meg Cabot or the Emily Giffin or even the (admittedly terrible) Jodi Picoult. Because it's FUN.
@Quinn A@twitter Exactly. Same for young adult fiction, graphic novels, etc. You can love literary fiction, heavy nonfiction pieces, and popular mass market stuff all at the same time. WHY SO SERIOUS?
@Quinn A@twitter Seriously -- I don't know why anyone would read the genre of literary fiction after they've been exposed to plot!
@Lily Rowan I keep hitting the like button but it just won't let me give you any more likes! Plot, what a novel (heh) concept!
Whaaaaaaaaatta jackass. I'm as big a book snob as anybody, but did this dude seriously just up and write a 5000-word screed titled, "Popular Author Not Local Man's Cup of Tea"? So you don't like Stephen King, and really horror is not your thing so much overall. Fine. Super. But is there a reason for shouting it from the rooftops? Everyone must know that Stephen King is not your personal cup of tea? Where we goin' with this? Is there a grand point this dude is trying to make, other than making absolutely certain that everyone on the planet knows that he has Very Serious Literary Taste in Books?
This guy reminds me of a guy I knew in college. One day my friend and I were watching So I Married an Axe Murderer, and we were yukking it up and going on all silly-like, saying that it was the best movie ever. And this dude walks up and says, "Did you just say that So I Married an Axe Murderer is the best movie ever? *gets huffy and puffy* APOCALYPSE NOW IS THE BEST MOVIE EVER." And he strode out in a pompous huff. That's who this guy reminds me of.
I can only assume the author of the piece had a couple of grand delusions: that the inane echo-chamber tantrum (thanks @maybe pwh!) he wants to create will bring him internet fame and adoration; also, that this teapot tempest will endear him to the lit fic crowd, so he is invited to Michael Chabon's parties and such.
UNFORTUNATELY he has proved he could be terrible company.
@werewolfbarmitzvah Yeah he's making the all-too-understandable jump from "I hate this thing that is popular" to "NO ONE SHOULD EVER LIKE THIS THING THAT IS POPULAR!" I may not care for, I don't know, Fifty Shades of Grey*? But its popularity doesn't enrage me, or even affect me at all.
*I haven't actually read it, which apparently qualifies me to write a 5,000 word diatribe about how everyone who likes it should be ashamed of themselves
Maybe this guy should play the main character, Grey, who apparently blathers pretentiously-yet-meaninglessly about Darfur and scotch?
@PatatasBravas Michael Chabon is married to an ex-public defender (I think? Or Assistant DA?) who writes genre fiction mystery novels. And a really interesting memoir. So he'd find that Michael Chabon's co-host is an unsatisfactory addition to the party.
Ahhh interesting! (GOOD ON THEM I would be delighted to attend a Chabon-Waldman party, also I think they are friends with Daniel Handler-Lemony Snicket and the Gaiman-Fucking-Palmers!)
But you're right. When Salpart plays MASH, I bet his marriage options are more along the lines of Foster Wallace, Eugenides, um...
@werewolfbarmitzvah HA! I suspect every college has a (or several versions of) That Guy!
@PatatasBravas http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayelet_Waldman "The Mommy Track Mysteries."
@PistolPackinMama Is her name pronounced like it's spelled? Because that's simultaneously adorable and hilarious.
Pfffthahahaha. Never watched it, but someone getting huffy about a movie called APOCALYPSE NOW is the best mental image?!
Also, Stephen King's "On Writing" is fantastic. Pretty much all of Stephen King is fantastic. Snobs, you're missing out on the fun in life.
@Emby Let's rotate the board!
@Emby I think that On Writing is, hands-down, the greatest book on writing in the history of books on writing. That book is a masterpiece. It is, without a doubt, the one of his books I'd have him sign, if I ever had the opportunity to have him sign something... and I own nearly all his books.
@Emby HA! I am going to start shouting "THAT'S NUMBERWANG!" every time someone says something I don't agree with or can't parse.
I think he should be thrilled that people are reading something period.
@Statham No! Set higher standards!
@WaityKatie Why? Why do we need reading standards for anyone but ourselves and kids in grade school?
Should we make more literary options available and inviting? Undoubtably. But it is entirely none of our business what other people want to read.
@Statham I agree. That's why I'm lobbying for the 2013 National Book Foundation medal to go the back of a cereal box.
@Cat named Virtute Well, Statham said he should be thrilled about people reading, so that implies having an opinion about what other people are doing. I think as long as you're going to have an opinion, it shouldn't be just "good for you, you can read basic sentences!"
@stuffisthings What, that Mutant Ninja Turtles fanfic is too lofty for you now? Huh? HUH?
I took a course in twentieth century American literature that included two novels by Dashiell Hammett. This was a good two decades before it became hip to include genre writers in the American Lit syllabus.
I don't know about you guys but I was VERY impressed by this part. Two decades ahead of the curve!!!
@Exene I agree! My mind was blown! He is obviously 309204709 times cooler than any of us WILL EVER BE!!!!!
Ugh, what a dick. As someone with literary tastes that run the gamut from obscure poetry to Agatha Christie, and your friendly neighbourhood library circ clerk, I'd like to remind this jag that it's the Kings of the world that fund the small and literary, at publishing houses, bookstores, and libraries (in the sense that libraries aren't useful or sustainable if they cater only to the elite).
Anyway, doesn't this dude ever just get TIRED and want to read some rollicking plot along with his Bolano or whatever?
@Cat named Virtute Yeah I think his understanding of how publishing works is faulty -- it's not like King is gobbling up all this money and acclaim that should rightfully go to some "real" literary writer. People are not standing at the bookstore going "OK, I only have ten bucks and I WOULD buy this one that would enrich my life and have beauty sprouting out of every page EXCEPT that there's a new Stephen King book! Done!"
@quickdrawkiddo I think the thing is, King is marketing to a different set of people than literary fiction writers are marketing too. Yes, some people read omnivorously and can enjoy King as well as Michael Chabon or whomever (for the record I hate both of them pretty much equally), but the majority of people are either going to read King or nothing at all. And that is just the way it is. Some other, much smaller group of people is only going to read "highbrow" stuff. The author's mistake is in thinking that the people who read exclusively King would suddenly develop an interest in literary fiction if King were to go away. They won't. They will read magazines or watch tv instead. So he's serving a market, and that market is not the author, the end.
@Cat named Virtute I would kill to get more books that are just fun stories. Even among the rollickers, I just want... fun and whimsy and charming and stuff that makes me feel GOOD sometimes.
Who knew, humans are a race of storytellers so we need space for all stories. WHO KNEW.
@Cat named Virtute @damselfish
If you can't find fun and whimsy and rollicking good stories on the literary fiction shelves, you maybe aren't looking very hard?
If you're looking for orcs, however, I'm afraid I can't help you.
@Cat named Virtute Maybe not! But what is out there? Most reviewers/award-givers seem to think that happy/whimsical/upbeat is Not Serious and Undeserving of Critical Attention. And while I don't really care what critics think, it's trickier to find stuff that hasn't gotten some critical attention if I don't just pick books up on a lark, especially since school tossed me out of the loop on the reading front.
Whimsical orcs sounds kind of awesome, though....
@stuffisthings Or I could be blanking and realizing I meant genre more than literary fic because there actually is a subgenre of comedy within the litfic universe that I for some reason forgot about.
I'm as much of a Stephen King hater as anyone, I guess, but I've never felt the need to academicize it (I made up a word!) and then insult everyone who likes Stephen King. Because all anyone has to retort is "Jacqueline Susann, hotdog-Jacqueline Susann". It takes different strokes to rule the world (of books)!
This dudebro didn't even try to make his argument academic! It's a fancy thesaurus-reliant screed of snobbery, much like a talented college freshman, who is proficient with words and has not yet had her/his mind blown open by exciting new ideas.
@PistolPackinMama should come in a grade it, like she did for the evo psychology feral kitten in the open thread yesterday.
@PatatasBravas I would, but 1) I can't read the whole thing like apparently others can't. 2) I'd probably have to stab out my eyes before I got to the end.
(mostly it's just the not being able to read part)
@hotdog I generally can't stand King's works, but I do have to say I've never felt particularly inclined to write a fucking essay about how he's The Worst. I mean, come on, essay-writers. Get it together.
@hotdog I also don't like King. Like the author of the first piece, I don't understand why he gets positive reviews. Unlike the author of the first piece, however, I am a fan of genre fiction. It would have been nice to read a review authored by someone who actually reads genre fiction and enjoys it, you know? Someone who had a point of view of horror or fantasy. Someone who only likes literary fiction has no business writing such a story. His taste cancels out his criticism.
@skyslang Yes, this. I would not be at all whatever about this if a critic of genre fiction had something to say about all this. People who know the body of literature where he belongs and can place his merits within it as well as compare them to other kinds of writing.
@PatatasBravas I am TOTALLY going to find an excuse to call a student paper a "fancy thesaurus-reliant screed of snobbery" sometime this year.
I was so excited to talk about why I also didn't like Stephen King's books (cheesy! children written SUPER POORLY! universe made of men unless someone needs to play a specifically lady role!), analyze what makes them successful in the market, maybe learn stuff about writing, BUT I also don't like this guy ("genre writers", fuck off!) or his reasons, so now I'm just mad with no outlet.
ETA I've only read It, Full Dark No Stars, Carrie and Misery and this other one about aliens, so I am/was willing to accept I am missing something.
HEY THANKS FOR RUINING HATING STEPHEN KING, GUY
@melis I know, right? Now I have to like Stephen King so as not to be associated with that guy.
Am I outing myself as a snob by griping about reading children's books in book club?
@boyofdestiny The first rule of Children's Book Club is.....
@boyofdestiny Maybe. But maybe you just need to find a different book club.
Or you know, roll with it this one time. It's a legit form of writing with a whole big body of criticism and analysis and such. Maybe it's just not your thing.
@boyofdestiny The Phantom Tollbooth is one million times better than Swamplandia!, though.
@anachronistique Ha. Don't worry, I have every intention of honoring the democratic process. I'm just not quite thrilled.
@boyofdestiny Me neither, but I'm still psyched because a) it's an easy read; b) it's something I can discuss with my daughter; c) I might actually get to book club this month and see you guys!
@anachronistique Is this where I once again remind the internet that I did not care for Swamplandia!? I did not care for it at all!
I have to admit that I don't much care for the writing of Stephen King (YES I HAVE TRIED TO READ "THE STAND")...HOWEVER, I'm from Bangor and the man has done more for that town than any politician could ever DREAM. He funded an awesome playground and community center (complete with water park!), bought a local classic rock radio station to keep it from falling into corporate hands/going under, helped finance both the Bangor bus system and the remodeling of the public library. I've met him in person and gone to school with one of his kids (Owen King), and they are both super nice, regular people. So there's that.
I gotta say , as a teenaged King fan who had "moved on" to more literary ficton , re-discovering him in a McSweeny's anthology has been great. His book aren't perfect , sometimes the characters are flat, but man, he can really drag you into his world. Kind of the perfect books for for shutting out all the noise during your morning commute.
Dude, Stephen King is the bee's knees and that dude can kiss my ass. Not all of his bajillionty books are good, but even the worst of them are still pretty damned enjoyable, especially if you take off your snooty asshole hat before you read them.
I maintain that Lisey's Story is the most heartbreaking thing put to paper in the last 10 years or so. Just saying.
@Scandyhoovian Kind of like Mozart? There is so much of it, some of it has to be bad, but it's rarely as bad as the worst not-Mozart?
@Scandyhoovian Oh god oh god oh god I have a terrifying feeling that Lisey's Story is the one I read far, far too young and have had nightmares about ever since. Has it got a mentally scarring bit with a tinopener? Oh god oh god oh god I am getting jittery ever since. DON'T LET YOUR EIGHT YEAR OLD BUY BOOKS IN BULK FROM CAR BOOT SALES.
@missupright YEAHHHhhhhh that one does have a mentally scarring bit with a tinopener. I read it at 23 or so and it was still a definite "if this was a movie I'd be watching between my fingers in horror" moment.
But the ending of that book had me sobbing my guts out. I was such a wreck. I tend to equate it to Pixar's Up, in that overall it's a story of someone dealing with the death of their spouse, despite all the weird other things that are going on (like Up had Adventure in South America! Wacky Evil Zeppelin Man! and so on, while Lisey's Story had Boo'ya Moon and that creepy dude with the tinopener).
Did you all see Ursula K Le Guin's blog about Genre Fiction and Why People Should Read What They Like and Lots of People Like Stories which is totally relevant to these two articles? http://www.ursulakleguin.com/Blog2012.html#New
@renegadeoboe LOVE HER
@renegadeoboe Wow that almost makes up for her "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie" essay and her weirdo fantasy genre elitism.
@quickdrawkiddo If Le Guin re-wrote the phone book I would read it.
@renegadeoboe This is unrelated, but oboe!
I do love Ursula K LeGuin, though.
Has anyone read "The Eyes of the Dragon?" This was one of my favorite books in high school and I will stand by it.
@travelmugs I did. I liked it! Although it wasn't my favoritest book ever. It is basically the only Stephen King I can read, because I am lily-livered. I get skeered.
Couldn't agree more with the Salon guy. Stephen King can't writer a decent sentence, and I've been amazed at all the praise heaped on him by legit publications recently.
Martin Amis can't write a decent sentence either—or has certainly written some confused and bad ones. King has amazing powers, but he is not a sentence-level, stopping-to-examine-lovely-twigs-on-the-beach kind of a writer. He writes at paragraph or even chapter level, and grabs you in sudden onrush like a breaking wave. He is not really trying to do what some people say he fails at. He is working on a different level, with different aims, than most literary writers; and does a better job at accomplishing what he wants to do do than most literary writers manage. Also, his situations can be extremely memorable.
@atipofthehat He is also ridiculously original for a "genre" author. Seriously, the inside of that guy's head must look like some giant demented garage sale.
I always think his plots are way better than his writing. Like, if he was telling us a bedtime story, we'd be like "ugh dad don't do the voices" but him directly narrating the plot would be effective. He seems... very imaginative, if not empathetic to how people sound/act.
I don't like Stephen King either, but I am the last person who is going to go about saying, "Oh just because it's genre fiction it's not an important book" because that is fucking bullshit.
I find it a little strange that so many people are arguing in favor of big, established, massively popular moneymakers with the tone one might use to defend the little guy or gal.
To me it reads a little like "I SHOP AT WAL-MART AND IT'S JUST AS GOOD OR BETTER THAN THOSE ETSY BOUTIQUES, SO THERE!"
Why do you find it strange? It's a fairly normal reaction to the perceived classist attack of the lit fic/Etsyites.
And there definitely can be some classism and elitism coming from those asserting that only literary fiction is worth reading. Not all the time, not everyone, but it happens.
(that being said, Walmart ain't great, I don't support Walmart!)
Also I don't think it's fair to compare King to Walmart, really. Has he gone about actively destroying the careers of other writers? Not to the best of my knowledge.
@atipofthehat To me it reads more like somebody bagging on Vincent van Gogh and being kind of shitty about why do people like him so much, they wouldn't if they knew what properly-trained artists were painting like back then, he was just slathering paint on a canvas.
If the thesis is "It's popular so it clearly must be crap and therefore can go fuck itself," yes, there's going to be push-back against that from fans who don't think it's crap and people who think the attitude that something being popular automatically means it's crap is poisonous.
I think you have it the wrong way round. Among Vincent's contemporaries, he was the poor person staying true to his particular vision of what art should be; the Academy artists were the rich, successful big-shots whose views ruled the world.
What I was after is a concern that there's a tendency of people who may be fairly powerless themselves to identify with powerful, successful people, to accept their view of the world, and to defend them with the passion and aggrieved tone that should be reserved for those who actually need it.
Literary fiction is often bad, has its own peculiar aims, but it is the underdog—a cottage industry. Popular fiction is often entertaining, has its own peculiar aims, but is a real industry.
@atipofthehat Exactly. I mean, millions upon millions of people have heard of Stephen King, and how many have even heard of, let alone read, David Foster Wallace? I don't get why everyone gets so bent out of shape whenever some random essay writer on a niche-blog says that DFW is better than King. Who cares? Only a handful of people are even going to read this guy's opinion, and fewer still care about it. Where is this dominating "literary elite" that is oppressing everyone with their elitist tastes? It's a handful of people at best, that nobody listens to. The mainstream culture is about 98.5 in favor of writers like King, and at most 1.5 percent in favor of literary fiction. The overreaction really perplexes me. Is there a danger that King is not going to be published anymore because some "fancy college boy" doesn't think he's a good writer? UNLIKELY.
Blame it on King.
Don't blame it on me.
Oh, oh, it's nobody's fault,
But we need somebody to burn.
I think people are arguing that it's not an either or proposition and a hankering for some pop doesn't mean you are an idiot or ignorant of "the good stuff". Reading King or other mass market books doesn't curtail my intake of literary fiction , it just cuts down on my TV watching/internet fuckery/staring off into space on the train.
I don't think King is better than William T. Vollmann , I just think The Stand is better beach reading that Argall.
I think it's interesting that in contrast,the film world has stood up for populist cinema, from the French New Wave critics to Roger Ebert. Sure, there are critics tearing apart every new Katherine Heigl movie, but not on the point that one should only be consuming high art films and "substantial" documentaries. Is the literary world just snobbier?
P.S. I love Stephen King. Does anyone remember when he had a pop culture column in Entertainment Weekly? It was so great to see a lighter side of him.
@twinkiecowboy Disagree. Ebert's defense of populist cinema, at least, is premised on the idea of judging a film for what it is trying to do, and no more. That's why Prometheus is regarded as a gigantic critical flop, even though it's overall probably a "better" film than, say, Cowboys and Aliens -- because it didn't succeed at what it was trying to accomplish.
Stephen King does not try to write literary fiction, and he doesn't succeed at it, so it's perfectly reasonable to complain when he receives "literary" accolades. In the same way that most film critics would probably complain if Cowboys and Aliens received the Academy Award for Best Picture.
@stuffisthings Wow. I love your comment! You really summed up my feelings about both essays, and criticism in general.
Ahhahaha, I have obviously not been to Salon in a while. What in fuck happened to their layout?!
"After you’ve read Roberto Bolaño and Denis Johnson and David Foster Wallace and Thomas Pynchon, as my son has, why would you return to Stephen King?"
Because last time I checked, Pynchon doesn't have any books featuring evil clowns.
@Does Axl have a jack? I can't think of one off the top of my head, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if Pynchon had an evil clown character at some point -- if not an entire demented circus.
@Does Axl have a jack? I've kind of had the opposite experience in my life. At fifteen or so, I decided I would only read "serious" fiction. In college, I was an English major. Then I got the fuck over myself. I still read "literary" fiction, but now I also read "genre" fiction and it is fucking awesome. Some of it anyway. I don't like King. But have you guys read The Passage? The Passage! Fuck Pynchon!
@skyslang I do love that literature is the only field in which the more educated you are, the more aggressively lowbrow your tastes become. I imagine that in 10 years' time the Pulitzer committee will be reading nothing but Ninja Turtles fanfiction and the comments on local news articles.
@stuffisthings ...and Yelp reviews. I fucking love crazy-ass Yelp reviews.
@skyslang The Passage! Holy shit, The Passage! So so good. I don't know if I can wait until October 16 for the second book (yeah, it is on my calendar). And yep, same experience here - English major, still read lit fiction but no longer trip over my own snobbiness and miss out on some pretty great "genre" stuff.
@stuffisthings That made me laugh so hard that someone on the balcony of the next building over turned and looked at me. Yeah.
Is it too much to just expect everyone to read?
A newspaper, a novel, an essay, a biography--
honestly, so long as the writing is well-crafted; causes the reader to think, to consider, to see the world in different way,
who gives a flying shit what the book in question IS?
Shakespeare was mocked for being "low-brow" in his day and age.
@atipofthehat : That's *exactly* what I was thinking of. :)
LOVE IT that you wrote "is being a wang" rather than just "is a wang."
I'm going to jump into the "good" book fray with a story: When I was in high school back in the Stone Age, I had a particularly and peculiarly snooty English teacher. One student, who was known for reading a lot of Stephen King and war fiction and for writing a lot of war fiction himself, asked her why she'd chosen a certain book for us to read. I can't remember what book or what, exactly, she said, but she went ballistic -- a long, loud rant that ended with, "What would YOU have us read, Stephen King?"
I don't think the kid talked again in class for the entire semester.
I wouldn't put Stephen King in a class with Fitzgerald or Hemingway, either. But one thing all these books have in common is that they tell us something about society -- in the case of, say, The Grapes of Wrath, we learn something about what social concerns/pressures were in play in Steinbeck's time and how "commoners" and critics alike responded to those concerns (like poverty). We can learn similar things from mass-market books or "genre" fiction; think about how many sci-fi authors include gynocentric or matrilinial societies and how we could link that to feminisim and frustration with expectations about women. We can also learn a lot about society by thinking about why a certain book is so popular - I have a couple friends who read Harry Potter because they heard the story about how Rowling came to write them and then got hooked, from which we could conclude that at least some folks really empathized with her own life story - that we're fascinated by the rags-to-riches of her life as much as we are by Harry's fight against Voldemort.
My point is this: All these books - whether popular, well written, deep and philosophical, or not - reflect a particular time, place, and set of concerns. Sometimes the author's concern is, "do you have enough entertainment in your life?", but that's still a perfectly legit reason to write - or read - something. So for me, the definition of "good" depends a lot on whether I can learn something about the world from the book - and what that something is.
(That said, I judge anyone on OKCupid whose favorite books are ALL by King, John Grisham, and other mass-market authors. But I also judge anyone whose favorite books are ALL by Flaubert or Rand. Give me someone who has John Bellairs right alongside Fitzgerald, Rowling, and Philip K. Dick, and I know we'll get along well.)
Just saying, if I had to choose between dating someone who only read Grisham and only read Rand, I would be like OKAY SIGN ME UP FOR THE ONE WHERE WE DRAMATICALLY MONOLOGUE ABOUT LEGAL BRIEFS.
@PatatasBravas Well, yes - that goes without saying. :D
The more I reread the original piece (or, skim it, rather), the more I am seeing the writer as the book equivalent of one of the "I don't have a TV" people--not to be confused with people who just don't have TVs; I mean the people who are so happy to tell you that they don't have a TV (there's a difference!).
Also, I will be happy when that eyeball ring is not up at the top of the page anymore. Ooh, it makes me squint every time I see it!
@Hellcat Hee, eyeball. Such a great word.
popular = liked by a lot of people
"good literature" = liked by a lot of the academic elites.
The major difference here seems to be wholikes it. If it's the academic elites, yay! Guys! It is objectively good! But if the 'masses' like it, it is objectively bad :( :( :(
It's all the same thing: a group of people like it. And a lot of authors that were looked down on by their contemporaries had their books later held up as classic literature, indicating tastes change over time and making it impossible to say that anything is objectively better than something else--it is subjective, sorry, it just is.
Okay, so here's my pitch. I didn't even try to read the whole article because honestly I just don't care that much. I love reading. I love reading everything. I love reading the paper in the morning and I love reading fanfiction at night. I love Ursula K. LeGuin and Bill Bryson and Stephen King and Mary Roach and Elaine Pagels and, hell, pretty much everything I can get my hands on. I love reading and I think you do, too. I love reading like I love food! And I REALLY love food. And the idea of judging what someone else decides to read feels an awful lot like judging their food choices. Is a constant diet of Stephen King optimal? Ehh, maybe not. But it's what they (or I) have decided to read. And that's OK by me. Because I fucking love reading.
@area@twitter: I can't do without reading. I'll read the back of the cereal box. Or the AARP magazine. Or a McDonald's menu. The world without words is something I can't imagine.
@ample pie : Yes!!!!
@area@twitter : *chestbump*
@area@twitter Why The Handmaid's Tale Freaked Me Out: women weren't allowed to read in that world.
My mom said she read the back of the toilet paper wrapper while in the hospital after having me. She'd run out of other options. So I think you are in good company with the cereal box thing.
@ample pie YES. This was a pretty serious problem while I was in China, because hello, THOSE ARE NOT WHAT WORDS LOOK LIKE. I spent a TON of time on the internet (when I could get past the Great Firewall) and searching out English-language papers. I think this is also why I now will read just about anything m'self, even though I'd previously been picky to the degree that only a writing teacher can be picky. That one month was like some sort of literary starvation diet.
Does Dwight realize that all of the ostensibly highfalutin, low-selling, literary authors he mentions write or wrote best-sellers? And his name-dropping choices are just about the most obvious choices he can make? Sorry, I am not impressed that you've read RABBIT, RUN or WHITE TEETH.
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