Stupid articles about books

Now and then I love to criticize people who write stupid articles about books in well-known newspapers, and I have another chance today; if you want to scoff a bit, go check out this article fromThe Times on books you shouldn’t bother to read (via).  It’s by Richard Wilson, the author of Can’t Be Arsed: 101 Things Not to Do Before You Die, which is a book I’m pretty sure I don’t need to read before I die.  Yes, the author is trying to be offensive and stupid in his list, but even if you enjoy that sort of thing, it’s not particularly well done — the best he can say about War and Peace is that “it’s way, way too long.”  And he’s got Jane Austen on the list, complaining that he gave up on it after fifty pages because “the characters spoke in a very oblique way and it seemed to be all about hypocrisy and manners and convention.”  Actually, Austen’s dialogue isn’t particularly oblique (you’d think the author would love Hemingway’s relative straightforwardness, but he doesn’t — Hemingway’s on the list too) and hypocrisy and (bad) manners can make for very good reading. Here’s what he says about The Iliad:

The Iliad is one of the most boring books ever written and it’s not just a boring book, it’s a boring epic poem; all repetitive battle scenes with a lot of reproaching and challenging and utterances escaping the barrier of one’s teeth and nostrils filling with dirt and helmet plumes nodding menacingly. There’s a big fight between Achilles and Hector and that’s about it.

Why do people like this get published?  Why?


Filed under Books, Reading

13 responses to “Stupid articles about books

  1. I read the article, too, and I agree about Jane Austen. Imagine if the author of the article had to tackle Fanny Burney! Austen was considered “light” reading back in her day, for a number of reasons, her turns of phrase being one of them.


  2. Eva

    Because they’re controversial, and controversy sells! 😉

    If Austen is oblique, I can’t imagine how he’d deal with non-Western lit!


  3. I guess if he’s the producer of television shows he’d rather you glaze over in front of the TV watching them rather than expanding your mind with a book? I don’t really understand these sorts of books either. I suppose they (author/publisher) must think they’re being humorous?


  4. Bah, what a horrid article. It wasn’t even funny. The sad part is there are probably people out there who read it and thought it was funny and are feeling self-satisfied and confirmed in their lack of reading.


  5. Oh, don’t even bother. The people who would find that funny are were never going to read those books anyway because they know they can’t understand anything more complex than TV news.

    Bah! Nasty people make me nasty!


  6. Sarah

    I have to agree with Eva- he gets published because someone thinks he’ll sell!

    I must confess that I did laugh at the list, although some of my favourite books are included (eg Pride and Prejudice, For whom the bell tolls). It is rather mean-spirited (it reminds me of The Digested Read section of The Guardian in that respect) but in fairness to the author, he does describe his reasons as offensively glib, and if possible ill-informed- which is certainly the case.

    A pity he seems to have rubbed you up the wrong way.


  7. And some journalists moan because the book pages in newspapers are being whittled down all the time. Well go figure! This is just an embarrassment of an article.


  8. Rob

    I expect that most people will have one or two books they agree with on that list, but the attitude—being humorously ill-informed rather than insightful—is a bit weak.

    Best to just let these things pass without comment. It’ll be in the loo by boxing day.


  9. Is this one of the people who is supposed to a better job of writing about books than bloggers do? If so, doesn’t he rather make the case for book blogs single handed?


  10. What an annoying article. I suppose it might be excusable if it was remotely funny…


  11. tom

    I’m not going to bother to read it. I find it amazing that a NY Times writer has the audacy to to act the critic on Tolstoy and Austen is so few words.


  12. Katherine — I know, it makes no sense! He should try something really challenging!

    Eva — you’re right of course. Controversy is it. But at least the controversy could be better done!

    Danielle — I think the idea WAS to be funny, but he really didn’t pull it off. That made it much worse …

    Stefanie — oh, I know, and the last thing we need is more anti-intellectual, anti-reading and thinking attitudes.

    Sylvia — you’re right — he’s not going to change anybody’s mind, is he?

    Sarah — he did state outright he was going to be offensive, which was good, but I thought he could at least have been more entertaining about it! But to try to be funny and fail much it worse.

    Litlove — that’s right — if you make the content really bad, there’s no reason not to stop offering it, is there?

    Rob — there were a couple things on there I didn’t like either, but yeah, it was the attitude that was the problem. And yes, best to ignore these things, except I do like complaining sometimes!

    Ann — excellent point! Yes, a book blogger could have done a much better job — or better yet, wouldn’t have bothered with that job at all …

    Gentle Reader — exactly; some wit would have helped!

    Tom — It was the London Times, but yeah, it takes some bravery. Too bad the bravery was wasted on something silly.


  13. Well said! I read this article a few days ago and thought “WTF?” Many of the books listed are favorites of mine, and I’m sure (or rather hope) there was some degree of satire in there but it was miserably done.


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