Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Know-Nothing Manifesto

Some bozo at Huffington Post -- that home for bozos -- says that Dave Berry is a better writer than David Foster Wallace (so are Stephen King and (yawn) Elmore Leonard). False dichotomy is a sign of a columnist desperate for something to say, but here goes:

The kind of writing David Foster Wallace did; sprawling, enigmatic, serious, in a word, "literary"; lets the writer get away with murder. The kind of (presumably "writing", but omitted in the author's haste to prove what a no-talent DFW was) Dave Barry does, which must both sweep the reader effortlessly along and deliver a minimum of three jokes per paragraph, is much harder to pull off.
As I've said before, this sort of thing reminds me of the Thurber story about a marriage that breaks up as the result of an argument over whether Greta Garbo or Donald Duck is the greater actor.

Far more nuanced is this essay from the Guardian about a new story collection from Neil Gaiman simply called "Story", a manifesto of sorts as well. Gaiman joins Michael Chabon in the camp of non-bozos passionately devoted to story-telling. From Gaiman's introduction:
What we missed, what we wanted to read, were stories that made us care, stories that forced us to turn the page. Yes, we wanted good writing (why be satisfied with less?). But we wanted more than that.
I liked the Guardian blogger's position:
Some of us, as readers, have a foot in both camps. I hate nothing more than a novel where the author's meticulous plotting bursts through the narrative - no matter how clever and tight that plotting is, I don't want to see the story plodding along its path, its strings pulled by a still-visible puppeteer. Likewise, I often feel after finishing a literary novel or short story the same way I feel after an expensive and beautifully presented but rather sparse meal: still hungry.


Generic said...

The guy you're responding to is a dope partly because he doesn't realize he's making the same sort of mistake about Wallace that others make about Berry. "I don't get this guy so he must be a phony."

But a word of caution: That you don't think what Berry does is worth doing doesn't mean it's easy -- as you would know if you'd ever tried to write a polished piece for publication. Leonard says that on a good day he produces four usable pages. Less than that hack Trollope cranked out in two hours before breakfast.

Tulkinghorn said...

Don't misunderstand me:

I do think that it's worth doing and I don't think that what he does is easy at all.

Saying that what he does is harder than writing "Infinite Jest" is stupid.

Generic said...


I enjoyed IJ and may get around to finishing it someday.