A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose

A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose

by B. R. Myers

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A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Venantius on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
THE EMPEROR¿S OLD CLOTHESAs the title implies, A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose is nothing less than a call to the ramparts, and if the epilogue is any fair indication, it raised a firestorm of animosity toward its author. "'Boy, are you in trouble,'" wrote a man who enjoyed the magazine version of `A Reader's Manifesto,¿ [in the July, 2001 Atlantic Monthly] and he was only one of many who urged me to prepare for stern retribution," Meyers writes. "Anyone who wonders why the New York Times Book Review is forced to shed a page or two every few years needs to realize that many Americans regard our cultural establishment as something akin to Orwell's Ministry of Truth." Even "good guys" like Michael Dirda of the Washington Post Book World came down against the ¿Manifesto¿ and on the side of the literary establishment--a cabal of reviewers, university apparatchiks and traditional editors and publishers who glommed onto a French idea about art and for the last four or five decades have run with it as far as their pension portfolios will take them. The current crop divides fiction writing into two kinds: literary and genre, by which they mean books that conform to their strict standard of a plotless narrative in which language is presented more or less for its own sake, versus old-fashioned story-telling in which plot counts and there is a set of reasonably interesting characters. How the state of things literary got to be this way does not preoccupy Myers at great length, but the consequences, in his opinion as well as in the opinion of many ordinary readers to whom I personally showed a copy of his essay, are nothing short of disastrous for anyone who enjoys a good read in the sense that Somerset Maugham or Charles Dickens or Anthony Trollope, or even on occasion John O'Hara and Bud Schulberg, are good reads. The invective hurled against Myers after the publication of the original essay was so broad and so bitter that, even without possessing a wide knowledge of the field one cannot help but think he must be on to something. He recounts an instance in which a New York editor refused to ride on the same elevator after discovering Myers was on board. And he suggests that Judith Shulevitz, erstwhile mainstay of the New York Times Book Review's back page, telephoned him allegedly to conduct an interview but really for the purpose of gathering information to use against him in an upcoming essay. This kind of down-and-dirty behavior, along with many other instances he alleges of maliciousness and petty vindictiveness, indicates more than a mere difference of opinion about literary ideas. Those reviewers and editors were apparently wounded deeply where it hurts the most--in their articles of faith. In the Manifesto¿it is hardly long enough to be called a book, not by the standard of today's 500- or 700-page tomes--Myers investigates five of the current darlings of the literary establishment: Annie Proulx, Cormac McCarthy, Paul Auster, David Guterson and Don DeLillo. Using the same excerpts from their novels previously quoted by gushing reviewers, he dares to ask if what we are dealing with is not only not literary in any traditional sense of the word but questions whether it is even readable prose. Along the way, Myers--along with his readers, unless they are already converts to the same faith-based mentality as most of the major reviewers and their mentors in academia--has a lot of fun deflating the intellectual afflatus and demonstrating "the best prose stylist[s] working in English now, bar none" to be very naked, flabby and frequently flatulent emperors who, even as they continue to turn such praise into cold cash, probably know in their hearts that they are doing so on false pretenses. Myers has been received much more sympathetically in Great Britain. One suspects this is partly a question of the Brits getting their own back after so many years of shadowing the American in
JennGauthier on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After spending years studying literature in the university setting and wondering why I didn't like everything I was "supposed" to, "A Reader's Manifesto" was wonderful to read. I agree with many of his points about current literary fiction, and wish this book had received more exposure. The establishment does seem to favor those authors who sleep with a thesaurus under their pillows and write about people who do a lot of, well, nothing, and also has a strange aversion to plot. I applaud Myers for saying out loud what many of us have been scratching our heads over for some time now.
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