Friday, October 04, 2002

If you're a book reader, one of the worst feelings you can have is to pick up a new book that's reputed to be something great by the critics, and after getting into it a little way you start thinking, "What the hell is this? Did all those people really think this tedious pile was any good? I don't get it. Am I stupider than I thought?" If you're reading Tom Clancy or John Grisham—whose books have plenty of positive quotes on the covers—you're probably right, and it isn't very good. But if it's one of those literary phenomena you hear about on some TV book club or in the New Yorker you may not be so sure of your opinion. B. R. Myers thinks you ought to give yourself more credit.

Myers has an interesting interview by Sage Stossel at about his new book, A Reader's Manifesto. Myers's point, says Stossel, is that "the critically acclaimed novels of today are not as good as the critics say" and that readers "shouldn't feel cowed into reading (and pretending to be engaged by) the latest dull and pretentious book just because the literary establishment has pronounced it 'evocative' and 'compelling.' "

Myers seems to view the marketing of bad novels as a consumer issue—about time, too—and says he insisted his book be a paperback instead of a hardcover because "It's just not long enough to warrant paying sixteen or seventeen dollars for it." I wonder if he's seen the prices of children's books lately.


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