Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Over rated authors

I have to agree with this list of over rated Canadian authors - with perhaps one exception. I have to admit that I haven't read some of their recent work but that makes the point doesn't it? Mostly I didn't even care for the first book by them that I read!

The one exception is Douglas Coupland - I haven't read anything by him, at least I don't think so, so I can't comment. To be fair I should except Erin Moure too as I haven't read any of her work either but I am assuming as she is a poet I wouldn't like her fiction at all as I disliked both Anne Michaels and Ondaatje's stuff for letting their bad poetry overwhelm what might have been a good story. Not surprisingly those two authors are also on the list. I applaud wholeheartedly these assessments by Good and Beattie:
Of Anne Michaels - Stuffed to the gills with abstruse metaphoric language and self-conscious, sonorous prose, Fugitive Pieces and its ever-so-slightly less overwrought follow-up, The Winter Vault, are prime examples of Canadian fiction that is solipsistic, humourless, and alienating.

And of Erin Moure - She also demonstrates why people have taken to avoiding poetry so studiously. Cryptic without being particularly interesting, stricken with various political and linguistic theories, and barren of the sort of grace one typically looks to poetry to provide, it’s all too easy to take a pass on.

And of Ondaatje - our very own poet laureate of pretentious, purple prose, our king of cliché, a sorcerer who has improbably managed for decades now to pass off his distinctive brand of inert slop as somehow being possessed of a “literary” value only detectable by prize juries, time-serving academics, and a handful of supine reviewers.

Right on the money I say. Modern poetry is, in my view, like recent modern art - especially performance art - mostly a fraud foisted on a fawning and sheeplike public. But back to the list. What about the others?

Ralston Saul. He'd be at the top of my list if only for his very sloppy habit of not bothering to credit his sources. No wonder the reviewers describe his recent work as increasingly vague, unconvincing, and repetitive exercises in nationalist myth-making. I don't even agree that Unconscious Civilization deserved the compliment they saw fit to award him. I refuse to waste time on him.

Jane Urquhart. I read a couple of her books because they were on my book club list but would not recommend them. Have to say yes to this conclusion- like many of the writers here, would do well to bear in mind Ray Robertson’s admonition about “the literary value of not being boring.”

David Adams Richards - I liked the books I have read by Richards which is an improvement over the others so I am not sure whether his recent stuff has deteriorated, as they imply, into formulaic rants.
The result has been a strident series of crude, reactionary harangues on the evils of modern, secular civilization. Degenerate city-dwellers, slanderous hypocrites, and anyone with a university education are lined up against God’s people – honest, stalwart, hard-working folk who are made to suffer the persecutions of the saints. Enough already.

Hey, that sounds like me so maybe I should pick his latest one up!

Joseph Boyden - Here's another of the recent "star" authors who fails to sufficiently credit sources. If one is attempting historical fiction one should at least have a bibliography that inspired and informed the work. Perhaps that explains Good and Beattie's reaction -
And did no one notice that the Manhattan sections of Through Black Spruce read as if the author had researched them by watching reruns of America’s Next Top Model?

The reviewers don't suggest there is an order to the list so the fact that Vassanji and Martel are both near the bottom may not mean they are less over-rated than the others in their eyes. I didn't dislike The In between World of Vikram Lall but it is true I didn't like it enough to want to buy another Vassanji book. Perhaps his earlier ones were better but Good and Beattie have nothing positive at all to say about him. At least they applaud Martel's Life of Pi but in a back handed way as they point out that its premise owes more than a little to Brazilian writer Moacyr Scilar’s comic novel Max and the Cats (Martel may be the first institutional CanLit star of the Internet generation, where the line between appropriation and plagiarism is perilously blurry). Had I realised how much he owed to Scilar I might not have liked that book so well. I absolutely hate authors being lazy or (worse) deceptive about giving credit where credit is due (have you noticed?)

I would add a name to this list. Our reviewers were bold but not brave enough to list Margaret Atwood. Here is an author who is clearly resting on her laurels. I have stopped not only buying but even reading her recent over written efforts. She could use a darn good editor but I doubt there are any who would beard this lion of Can Lit. She will have her way and it doesn't do her work any good. I would take a hacksaw to it and prune several of her novels down to what would probably amount to novellas.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

You have to eat eggs on the road

I like books about writers, written by writers, about their journey, usually to some kind of success. I always think I might gain some magic insight from them which would help me get to the next level in my writing.

A writer's road isn't easy as we writers, or wannabe writers, know. It is full of potholes, narrow bridges and detours. There are times when we are motivated, times when we are devoid of ideas, times when we close our laptop and swear never to write another word. But how many of us have dreamed of being discovered? Wished we could have a helping hand up over those hurdles? Wouldn't you give your eye teeth to have your work noticed by a published author and be drawn into his circle, recommended to his publisher? It didn't work out well, it appears, for Tom Grimes. Except in the end he has a book out of the drama - Mentor.

This is a book about striding up to the brink of success, only to have success disembowel you with a dull steak knife, bow, and then skip away, cackling.

Does that description from the NY Times appeal? It sounds rather disheartening. Does it have something to offer to budding writers, if only as a warning?

Mr. Grimes admits: “I imitated authors. On Monday, I sounded like Vonnegut, who, on Tuesday, became Nabokov, who, on Wednesday, became Toni Morrison, who, on Thursday, became Philip Roth.”

I ask myself - could I ever sound like Vonnegut? Who would even try? And then it seems the book probably tells you more than you want to know about the book world.

Alongside his own downward-spiraling narrative, Mr. Grimes packs this story with book world gossip, the way you stud a leg of lamb with garlic before sticking it in the oven. At one point Mailer gives Mr. Grimes some macho, if baffling, book tour advice: “You have to eat eggs on the road.”

He tells the story of being invited to a cocktail party at the home of L. Rust Hills, the influential former literary editor at Esquire. Mr. Hills pulls him aside and offers him a quid pro quo. “So, you teach my book” — a volume called “Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular” — “and I read your stuff,” Mr. Hills says. “O.K.? That’s how it works. Make sense?"

That's rather sordid and not exactly what you imagine when you have a manuscript you are proud of. So maybe I will give this writer's book a pass. That is the advice of the NY Times reviewer, the would be writer in my life being ME!

Don’t give this forthright and bewildered book to the would-be writer in your life. It might make him or her climb a tall tree and leap from it. You don’t need that on your hands. In any case, I suspect many aspiring writers will find it on their own, and read it between the cracks in their fingers.

Or will I get tempted anyway and read it cringing?
Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)