Friday, May 24, 2013

"Important" Writers You can Safely Avoid

There is too damn much to read in this world, and not enough cocaine to make all of it interesting. What's worse, there is constant pressure from sadistic teachers and zombified book reviewers to choose thrill-free fiction. Someday you're going to die, and the time you spend trying to figure out why Slaughterhouse-Five is still in print is time you never get back. Think about that. Seriously.

Should you decide to read some literary fiction you need a list of BIG FORMIDABLE AUTHORS to leave OFF your list. For starters:

Joseph Conrad -  Great premises undone by tin-eared writing. Hilariously, Joseph is considered a great stylist. I guest Conrad could be called a stylist, in the same way a quadruple amputee tossed on an ice rink could be called a figure skater.

William Burroughs* - If no one knew his biography, his writing would be rightly discarded. Take away his association with the Beat Movement (every Beat writer was horrid), the high profile censorship of Naked Lunch (the only time I've sided with a prosecutor), and the glamor of being a heroin addict (living as a constipated vegetable is the bee's knees), and you're left with a curmudgeon who lacked the ability to make his grouchiness engaging. It doesn't surprise me he killed his wife in a failed William Tell act. He had a knack for missing the mark.

John Updike - No one actually enjoys Updike's writing, so I'll save you the trouble of joining the others in pretending to like him.

J.D. Salinger - In this case I am using the word writer very loosely.

Samuel Beckett - Oh, those Irish existentialists with French tongues! What will they do next? Beckett seemed to believe existence is a painful mistake, and if you spend any time reading him you will find yourself agreeing.

Jorge Luis Borges - Spoiler alert: all of this stories end in boredom.

Joseph Heller - Ever imagined what it would be like if an open-mic comedian wrote an anti-war novel? Now you don't have to. Catch-22, a 400-page root canal, features a character called General Scheisskopf. Get it? Scheiss-kopf. That pain in your ribs? That's Heller's heavy-handed elbow smashing through your ribs with the world's clumsiest nudge. I'm sure giving characters names like Scheisskopf was extremely edgy back in 407 B.C., but here in A.D. land, we need a little more.

Truman Capote - His legacy is a series of commas occasionally interrupted by words.

Mark Twain - Let me guess: You tried reading him and then felt bad for not seeing what all the fuss was about? It's not your fault. You were probably corralled in Twain's direction by professors and critics who know nothing about wit, timing, or even sentence structure. If you like funny writers who are funny, consider Oscar Wilde, Ring Lardner, Evelyn Waugh, Raymond Chandler.

John Cheevers - Railing against the suburbs through the works of people like Cheevers is what suburbanites do to convince themselves they haven't bought into suburbia. And those suburbs sure are heavy, huh? Yes, living with a deck and porch are among Man's great trials. Surprising Sophocles never tackled the pathos of having a lawn.

Sylvia Plath - Irony of ironies: this icon to feminists died in an oven. That has nothing to do with her leaden writing, I just needed a pick-me-up after remembering that time I read The Bell Jar.

*For a treatment of similar themes, complete with entertainment value, try J.G. Ballard; especially his early short stories.

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