I read this book a couple of years ago and have re-read it several times since and I cannot agree with the 1 star review on here. Admitedly, Myers is scathing of some modern American authors, but a large part of his attack is aimed at literary reviewers who more or less commercially market these authors on the basis that (I paraphrase) 'if the writing is obscure, or difficult to understand, it must be good and me too stupid to understand its artistic cleverness'. Myers argues that the reading public is being hoodwinked by these critics, at the expense of being provided with useful, reasoned critical opinion about the literary and artistic merits of works. As a result, Myers thinks the reading public's natural judgement of what is good writing is being undermined in favour of listening to media and journalistic expert pronouncements of who the latest 'great author' is. Myers directly quotes and discusses authors' writing but he tends to use the very passages that have been so highly praised in newspapers extoling the virtues of the work. He also compares modern American authors to writers (e.g. Bellow, Balzac, Dostoevsky) to illustrate what he thinks is the difference between truly great writing and that which has merely been puffed up and over-hyped in the press and media. You may not agree with all his views, but he is defintely on the side of the reading public. He even states that if the choice is between a so-called modern American 'literary' author and Stephen King, many readers would be better off trusting their own judgements of what is a good story, rather than surrendering these judgements to journalists and psuedo-intellectuals.Read more ›
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This got 48 4- and 5-star reviews on am.com at the last count, as against 10 lesser scores (including mine), but the internet's a great place for snark. Which is what this - unfortunately - is. Myers' shtick is exposing to (he thinks) ridicule, by quoting chunks of them, authors he doesn't like anyway (his taste runs more to Louis L'Amour). The Times of London, The Sunday Times (equally of London) and the Observer all had kind things to say about it, but, to quote the bien trouvé heading of another am.com review, Anti-Snobbery Snobbery is Still Snobbery. From the distinguished Brooklyn imprint Melville House, too
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
151 of 168 people found the following review helpful
essential critique of postmodern Literature16 Sep 2003
- Published on Amazon.com
One of the first reviews I ever wrote on Amazon.com was for "The Art of Scandal : The Life and Times of Isabella Stewart Gardner" by Douglass Shand-Tucci. I'd read about it in the New York Review of Books and, encouraged by the author's having won literary awards (oh! if I only knew then what I know now!), was distressed to find it almost unreadable, replete with sentences like this: 'Though stimulated by her patronage - Gardner was one of the first to see Loeffler not only as a virtuoso but as the composer he wished to be and increasingly today is regarded as - Loeffler grew to feel at one point distinctly imposed upon by Gardner, who seemed to him possessive and only too willing to "show him off" in Ralph Locke's words, as "a kind of in-house virtuoso" in the Gardner music room, all of this, or (sic) course, quite classic behavior on the part of humble but artful, trustworthy but vain, kind but cruel and rampagingly dominant Isabella!' Yikes, I thought, somebody messed up. Perhaps the editor forgot to edit and the reviewer forgot to read? Several weeks later I heard an interview with the author on NPR and listened intently, waiting for someone to ask the author about this horrid, florid style, and was shocked that neither correspondent nor callers ever mentioned it! Since that episode I've saved the reviews for books I intend to read so I can compare my reading experience with that of critical reviewers, and I have been shocked (shocked!) at the disrelation -- not just once but many times. Enter B.R. Myers, who takes on the literary establishment with this delightful, accessible and pithy critique, starting with a preface about the work's beginning as an Atlantic Monthly article, continuing with chapters devoted to critical darlings Annie Proulx, Don DeLillo, David Guterson, Paul Auster and Cormac McCarthy, and ending with an epilogue on the response of critics to his reproaches, a humorous set of rules for the Serious Writer, copious endnotes and a bibliography. Myers states his premise early on -- "some of the most acclaimed contemporary prose is the product of mediocre writers availing themselves of trendy stylistic gimmicks" -- then goes on to cite passages used as examples of brilliance by critics, analyzing their many flaws by calling attention to unimaginative content, repetitive phrasing, tedious structure and glacial pacing; he contrasts these excerpts with selections by Woolf, Nabokov and Balzac, among others. Perhaps even more scathing are his strikes against literary critics (contrasted several times with the common folk at Amazon.com) who not only praise style over substance, but who lavish praise without explanation, dismiss as philistine anyone who doesn't agree with them, and look down their noses at genre fiction -- the current refuge of story and character in American literature. Most telling is the epilogue, where Myers shows how prickly critics use straw-man arguments and ad hominem attacks to dismiss his position. I've always been an eclectic reader, finding satisfaction and insight in the classics, genre fiction and nonfiction. But I throw my hands up in despair at the tripe that passes for literature with a capital 'L' these days and, when so many readers have access to almost any book imaginable, I'm angry at the editors, publishers and critics who have enabled this descent into unreadable exercises in style. Talk about codependent relationships! I'll take James Michener and Jane Austen over David Mamet or Don DeLillo any day of the week, any week of the year. Myers uses clear writing (imagine!) and lots of examples to show that, indeed, you are not crazy! The garbage critics have been telling you is genius is really just .... garbage. I think there are fine contemporary writers out there -- Richard Russo, Jane Smiley, Christopher Buckley come quickly to mind -- authors who recognize that style services, rather than obviates, plot and character. But somewhere in the 20th century the arts got hijacked by an elitist group that thinks anything that can be understood by the hoi polloi must not qualify as art; that any painting or novel that is popular must be dismissed; that style triumphs over substance and that obscurity and novelty pass for style. I don't know how to defeat hateful, boorish snobbery, but I think that the great unwashed masses sharing opinions in forums like Amazon.com is a great way to begin. Bless you, Mr. Myers, for taking on this naked emperor. Perhaps you might tackle the art and music world next?
61 of 71 people found the following review helpful
Readers of the world, unite!7 Dec 2002
- Published on Amazon.com
Readers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your New York Times Book Review!
I first heard of The Reader's Manifesto on BookTV (C-Span), when a guest named it as one of the best nonfiction books of the year, and said it criticizes modern "literary" writers and the reviewers who love them. David Guterson was one of the writers the author critiques, so I couldn't wait to get the book.
Let me tell you why. I'm typical of the readers that Myers discusses. After reading mostly computer books for a while, I'd taken up serious reading again. Unfortunately, most of the books I read and audiobooks I listened to were bad. After looking for something that had received good reviews and awards, I chose Snow Falling on Cedars by Guterson.
The book was a grindingly slow, repetitive piece of crap. It didn't turn me off to reading as Myers worries, but after a handful of well-reviewed klunkers like that, who knows? If you're interested, you can click to see my other reviews and read my 1-star review. I even wrote some faux-Guterson dialogue as a bit of sport.
So I wanted to see if B.R. Myers agreed with me, and hallelujah, he did. He mentions us Amazon reviewers in this book (Myers says we know what we're talking about, for the most part, because we trust our own taste and sensibilities, and we discuss the author's style instead of recounting the plots. Yay for us!). I felt validated; a lot of reviewers loooooved Snow Falling on Cedars, it won all kinds of awards, and there *is* this kind of attitude out there that you don't like something the critics love, it's because you don't get it, because you're a philistine.
Myers is no philistine. He's well-read in both modern and classic works--much better read than I, and I had feared that I wouldn't be able to follow the references to so many writers and books, new and old. The fear proved (mostly) unfounded, because he does include so many illustrative quotes.
In each chapter, he contrasts passages from some modern writers with better passages from classic writers. It's very effective. Probably the most wonderful comparison was in the chapter, "Edgy Prose." He tears apart a passage from Don DeLillo's White Noise, which I'd not read, for being just a laundry list, lacking soul and depth.
Then he quotes a passage from Balzac's Lost Illusions, which explores a similar theme (consumerism), and I was just blown away. This (shorter!) piece said so much more. It had soul. It had depth. It brought pictures to my mind. It made me stop to re-read a sentence -- not because of non-comprehension or boredom, as is the case with DeLillo's writing, but to savor the turn of phrase, to let it sink in. It made me want to RUN to the library and take out Balzac. It was a fitting comparison.
But, I wondered throughout the book, these are fitting comparisons, but are they *fair*? After all, not every writer can write like Balzac, right? Times change, writing styles evolve. And weren't many iconoclastic writers criticized, in their day, for being different from the past? Will future readers laugh at our naive criticisms of what will one day be considered great writing?
Doubtful. For reasons better articulated by Myers, these books *are* plain old bad. The writing is unclear, overwrought, repetitive. Even if a writer can't be Balzac, he or she can surely do better than this. And reviewers *aren't* criticizing, naively or otherwise -- they're raving.
And they're raving about the very same passages that Myers ridicules. This is one of Myers's most cunning strategies; he's not pulling the one bad passage out of an otherwise great book and pillorying it, out of context. He's taking the very same passage that other reviewers have showcased as an example of great prose, and word by word, sentence by sentence, analyzing its language, its meaning, its style. If Myers's use is out of context, then so was theirs.
In this respect, this book is not so much about bad writing as is it about bad reviewing. No one wants to say the emperor has no clothes. It's bad enough Guterson is a bad writer, but do we have to give him the PEN/Faulkner award? Does Granta have to name him one of the twenty best young novelists? Nay, I say, nay!
One criticism: White Noise was published in 1985. Other books he critiques date to the early 90s. Though their premature datedness is one of his points, it seems strange to complain about these books now, almost a generation later.
Myers himself is something of an enigma. Sometimes I wondered, if Myers hates these writers so much, why does he keep reading their books? Nothing on Earth could get me to read another Guterson book; I'd like to know Myers's motivation. It's not like he's in the publishing industry and *has* to keep up with what's new.
Of course, one of the most infuriating things to the literati, was that this upstart was an outsider. Myers includes many of their reactions to the original magazine article on which this book is based, and it's a fascinating chapter. It's amazing how consistently his detractors misrepresent his position, setting up straw-man arguments and launching ad hominem attacks, constantly calling him a philistine.
That chapter, as well as a bibliography and footnotes, make this book feel very complete, though only 149 pages. The tongue-in-cheek appendix giving "Ten Rules for Serious Writers" was funny but probably superfluous. Overall, this book is a much-needed, well-meaning kick in the butt, full of sanity and sincerity. Even if you're not familiar with the authors he criticizes, you'll understand and enjoy it.
Edited to fix author's name.
55 of 64 people found the following review helpful
Funny23 July 2003
- Published on Amazon.com
It seems that a good number of the reviewers here haven't actually read the writers that Myers criticizes. "You don't have to be familiar with the books?" Sheesh. Shouldn't one make his or her mind up about works of art instead of relying on critics? Having read the essay only and being only truly familiar with Delillo and Auster (who both run hot and cold, IMO), I think Myers has a few good points and some bad points. But I think some of the reviews here are mistaking "difficult" writing with "bad" writing, something I don't think Myers does. In fact, he praises Joyce, Woolf, and other writers who, at their most challenging, are far more difficult to read than Delillo, Auster, or (I'd wager) any of these others. Myers isn't celebrating anti-intellectualism as some here seem to think he is. His argument is with sloppy writers, not difficulty.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Amen5 Mar 2003
- Published on Amazon.com
Brilliant little book. I would have loved to see Myers rip into some other bloated cows of contemporary lit, but he obviously loves good books, so why should he have to submit himself to the pain of actually reading all that bovine excrement? One thing I'm still puzzling over is why these sacred cows became so sacred in the first place. The log-rolling theory holds up to a certain point (pretentious novelist A gives a rave to precious novelist B, and B slaps a slobbery blurb on the back of A's next book), but why are all the non-novelist reviewers and critics praising the precious pretentious poop? Haven't they read the great writers? Is it that these poor ink-stained wretches are discouraged from writing scathing pans by editors who don't want to rock the literary boat? I've spent the last couple of years reading a lot of James Boswell, Thomas Wolfe, Henry Green, Henry de Montherlant, Proust, Kingsley (not Martin) Amis, Knut Hamsun, Patricia Highsmith (a "genre" writer). Try reading these people, and then pick up the new Franzen or Moody. Then try not to toss the new F or M across the room. I'm too lazy to look it up, but Charles Bukowski once said something to this effect, "It wasn't that what I was writing was so good. It was just that what everyone else was writing was so bad."
34 of 42 people found the following review helpful
Myers calls them as he reads them24 Oct 2002
- Published on Amazon.com
Have you ever read an award-winning work of recent fiction, only to wonder why it has received so much praise? Well, to quote Robin Williams' character in "Good Will Hunting," it's not your fault. Myers' book is a well-balanced and concise work, less than 150 pages (including endnotes and bibliography), but it packs a powerful impact. He focuses his well-documented attack on pretentious modern literature with specific stylistic criticism of five contemporary American authors, award-winning writers snugly ensconced in today's literary Hall of Fame. The excerpts he employs to demonstrate bad writing are as illustrative as they are painful to read, and there is scarcely a sensible reader out there who wouldn't agree with Myers' complaints. In many places, Myers contends that the amateur book reviewer on Amazon.com (that's us) knows more about good reading than the high-minded critic in New York. He ends the book with a fair response to his many critics and enemies, along with a sarcastic set of "rules" any aspiring writer of "serious" fiction ought to adhere to. In short, I am glad to have discovered this book, as it affirms many of my reactions to today's awful, yet acclaimed, writing. If you've ever been puzzled by the positive hype surrounding a terrible book, read this manifesto and discover that you are not alone.