Today has proven to be a good day to get annoyed (this has nothing to do with today’s mystery book group meeting, which was great as usual), so I thought I’d mention this annoying article.  I know I shouldn’t let the article get to me, as the author is obviously trying hard to annoy people and I’m falling right into the trap, but oh, well.  Sometimes it’s fun to get annoyed.

The article is basically a discussion of authors the columnist, Rod Liddle, thinks are overrated.  There is also a list of authors other critics and writers can’t stand.   Some of the explanations in the list are funny — it can be amusing to watch other people get annoyed — but many of them bother me because of their easy dismissal of authors generally considered great.  I have no problem with someone disliking Charles Dickens or Virginia Woolf’s The Waves or the late Henry James on a personal level, but someone writing as though anybody in their right mind would hate Dickens and The Waves and the late Henry James just irks me.  Who are you to say you’re right and everyone else is wrong?

To return to the article, I’ll let you decide just how irritating you think Liddle is on your own (does he have a reputation for being an ass?  It wouldn’t surprise me), but I did want to say something about this bit — Liddle is talking about an informal survey he did asking writers what books they thought were overrated:

The columnist Catherine Bennett chose “the entire Virago imprint”, bemoaning the fact that, for political reasons, she had felt duty-bound to plough through Rosamund Lehmann and the like when there was Philip Roth waiting there, unread.

Okay, so Bennett doesn’t like Lehmann.  Fine.  No one is required to like Lehmann.  But I’m troubled by the phrase “and the like” and by the dismissal of all Virago books.  Virago books are written by a wide range of authors.  You can’t get away with lumping them all together and pitting them against Philip Roth as though all the Virago books are actually just one.  It’s absurd.  If you think Philip Roth could beat Rosamund Lehmann in some kind of a writing contest, fine, but don’t pit Roth against a whole range of women writers and assume that contest makes any sense.

There are other absurd and offensive things in the column, but I don’t want to rant on.  I suppose my real problem is that I expect all critics and columnists to be reasonable, rational people who try hard to be fair.  Yes, I can be a naive idealist, I know.


Filed under Books

16 responses to “Annoyed!

  1. Thanks for getting annoyed for me! Honestly, couldn’t muster much effort to get past the first three lines when I saw it linked on the Complete Review. This time I reached Ian Rankin’s bit — that was funny we both have the same reaction to Midnight’s Children except that I can’t get past the first page — before I rolled my eyes at “The Waves” bit and wandered off.

    Typical newspaper podge.


  2. It’s a little irritating, mostly boring, but I’m also amused that some of these critics hate certain books because they never finished them. The Times has been phoning it in, I see.


  3. I’m right with you, Dorothy. Yes, Rod Liddle has the reputation for being a complete pratt – one of those ‘I have an opinion and it’s better than yours’ types who got himself dragged through the press a little (not enough) for leaving his wife in ugly circumstances, I do believe (not that I recall the details). I hate this kind of silly, ego-serving, bitchy (and very, very lazy) journalism. The world would be a far better place without it.


  4. SFP

    There have been a lot of annoying pronouncements in a variety of places the last couple of days concerning which books are worth reading. I’m tired of people feeling superior because they read only classics or because they read only in one particular genre or only award-winning contemporary lit. I don’t understand why people cannot simply read what they like and tout it without putting down anyone else who happens to have different tastes.


  5. I’m afraid the red mist descended as I skimmed that article. He sounds like a cranky old man (or maybe a cranky young man). Strangely this doesn’t really bother me–nothing like stirring up your readers on a silly question–it makes everyone feel a little smarter to trash a classic. I don’t like that dismissive attitude either, though. If you don’t like something fine–don’t read it, but I’ll decide for myself whether I think it’s worthy or not–thanks.


  6. How crazy! My husband and I were discussing attitudes like this just this weekend. I’ve never understood why anyone feels the need to “hate” any book. Just don’t read it. There might be a number of books that don’t appeal to me on a personal level, but I usually find them interesting on some sort of intellectual level (even if only because it forces me to define what it is that I don’t like). As Litlove said: lazy journalism.


  7. Cam

    It was an annoying article. We all have books that we loathe that others love. Who cares? One of my all-time favorites is Moby-Dick. I can hear readers gasping in horror at that being someone’s favorite. But, if I reread it now –something I don’t do often with any book — I might change my mind.

    One of the comments on the TIMES site recommended I hate this book website.

    I checked it out and laughed to find Emma, <The Lord of the Rings, The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Rebecca on both the top 10 loved and hated lists! I’ll keep my opinions to myself as to the list where I think they should reside. 🙂


  8. The article was annoying in the sense that I got the feeling that the writer did not really love books. Even if I think a book is bad or even horrible, I still love it as a book, as a potential favorite of someone else.


  9. Oh yes, how very annoying these superior “reviewers” always are. I don’t mind people stating their opinions, either (obviously, since I state my own all the time). What I mind are people who think their opinions should carry more weight than others’ opinions, or that they somehow have some sort of superior taste.


  10. All right, now I’m pissed-off, Dorothy, because stupid Stephen Amidon said this about “The Waves” and American scholars:
    “…(“The Waves”) wound up sinking into a putrid morass of unreadability. Beloved of American academics – which ought to tell you something right there – the book fairly accurately simulates the experience of sitting next to a pretentious old windbag on a flight to Australia…”
    These are two of my favorite things! It’s too bad I like his writing, or I’d boycott him forever!


  11. musingsfromthesofa

    I think what most annoys me is that the piece was considered an article, and suitable for publication. Really? Such lazy, sloppy work passing for journalism. Somehow, I found my own opinion on ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’ unshaken by his attack.


  12. Blech, what a horrible article. It seems its only purpose is to be offensive, superior, and an excuse for being a lazy reader and a lazy writer. Is it my imagination or are all the writers Liddle singles out as good men and all the ones he assigns to the dustheap women?


  13. zhiv

    Sadly, we’re all playing right into his hands–that’s the rhetorical conceit of the article, as you identified at the outset. And as with Sarah’s comment, it seems to me too that this type of thing is in the air somehow–let’s tear things down and be obnoxious, just to generate conversation that revolves around “my” opinion: not just “look at me,” but “made you look!” “Let’s see what all of those readers (women) say when I take a swipe at the entire Virago imprint…” Thanks for sharing, friend, but we’re more curious about what you like and why you like it. Why would we care about your arrogance?


  14. Imani — yeah, it probably wasn’t worth getting worked up about, particular since I’m sure that’s what the author wanted. I don’t blame you for not finishing it …

    Brandon — yes, good point! Finish a book before you dismiss it entirely!

    Litlove — well, I’m not surprised at all at his reputation. And lazy is a great way to describe the article — you are right that the world certainly doesn’t need it.

    SFP — yes, saying you don’t like a particular book is one thing, but pronouncing that the book is no good and people are stupid for thinking otherwise is another thing entirely … too bad you’re noticing more and more of it.

    Danielle — you’re right that it was very cranky. And it’s good that it doesn’t bother you — I wish I could be that level-headed! Thanks for the link, by the way …

    Sarah — I agree that even books I don’t like interest me in some way — because I can then figure out why. But it’s a very personal thing and people forget that.

    Cam — you’re right that not only are likes and dislikes very personal, but that they change over time — what I can’t stand today I may come to love tomorrow. This has happened to me a few times and it’s always interesting.

    Jessica — very true that the author didn’t seem even to like books, and why is such a person writing about them then??

    Emily — it all comes down to the evidence, I think — if you have an opinion about something can you back it up? And there was no evidence whatsoever in either article — it was just a pronouncement. How boring and simplistic!

    Chartroose — that comment on The Waves was particularly ugly wasn’t it? Entirely unwarranted, I’d say — it was just a chance to show off.

    Musings — yeah, the real shame is that it got published … I’d hate to think that readers might take these people seriously.

    Stefanie — I think you’re right about the author belittling women, and the people he quotes do it too. They also belittle African American writers. Ugly!

    Zhiv — I know, I probably shouldn’t have said anything; I just wanted to at the time. The article was just attention-getting though — very juvenile!


  15. I read your mention of him knocking Dickens and realized I should not click through. He is obviously a silly, silly man. I have not read any Woolf… maybe I need to give her a look; after all, if he hates it as much as Dickens then it must be good. 🙂


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