So, a friend sent this link to me. Clicking on the link, I discovered yet another one of these rather predictable lists listing so-called overrated writers, and when I read its title: “5 Overrated Writers,” I thought immediately of an article that appeared at Huffington Post, last year, an article which unsurprisingly inspired the list I was looking at, of which I thought, mirroring my thoughts about that catalyzing essay after I’d first encountered it, how it struck me as a post primed to prompt page views and commentary.
The original article had been hard for me to swallow. How do you get past Shivani’s rather uncooked analysis of the contemporary climate of literary criticism? There aren’t any outspoken “major critics with wide reach”? He suggests that poststructuralist theorists have been responsible for the displacement of what he’s calling “humanist” critics. Where’s the evidence for this? The idea of a deconstructionist cabal dominating the academy is so threadbare that anyone can see right through it. The burden of proof of its existence, however, is on Shivani.
But this post is not intended as an in-depth critique of Shivani’s article, but a critique of Jason Jordan’s post, a post which amounts to little more than a piggybacking on an already tired idea, a post that is an anemic version of what inspired it, a post amounting to what I’m calling “internet graffiti,” that is, content that people throw up, much like those comments scrawled on bathroom walls and stalls, content that offers little to no substantial critique, content that does, however, have some consequences, namely, seemingly opening up a door for some dialogue, but really only giving people an opportunity to trash talk as well. But there are also some other consequences, which I’ll address later.
So let’s take a look at what Jordan has to say. First of all, he doesn’t define what he means by the word “overrated,” which is sloppy enough; suggesting that we all know what he means when he says it, since we’ve all gone to high school, where at least twenty times a day you would hear, “Oh, that’s so overrated.” But overrated by whom or what? Well, answering that is not important in Jordan’s post, because the key thing is to get to the trash talk as quickly as possible. He then writes that he only chose to write about five writers because he “feel[s] like fifteen is too many.” His other criteria? “To be a writer eligible for inclusion, he or she must have published at least one book, and I have to have read at least one of them.”
He proceeds to dismiss Lydia Davis’s Varieties of Disturbance with “winning” critiques, like, “I don’t remember much of this book—thank God—but I remember enough to know that I hated it”; and “Most of the stories were boring…”
Brian Evenson’s The Wavering Knife “just didn’t do it” for Jordan. Exactly what Jordan wanted “done” is never defined. There were stories that he “wholeheartedly enjoyed,” but doesn’t describe why. He hated a number of stories because “the characters are such pricks to one another.” I can only imagine how many other stories get dismissed by Jordan because of their characters’ cruelty.
Jordan makes a massive assumption about readers when he says that Michael Kimball’s Dear Everybody “is the story of…a character you won’t give a shit about.” Why won’t you care about this character? “Well, you won’t, that’s why,” Jordan seems to say. So, there! After this, we do get some insight, however small, about why he didn’t like the book. Did he even finish the book after he found out “when, where, and how [Bender] commits suicide”? This remains unclear, because Jordan provides no further details about the contents of the book. He doesn’t examine anything really about the book, or about any of the other books on this list, for that matter.
His description of Sam Lipsyte’s Home Land is also cliché-ridden: “felt forced”; “but maybe that’s a good thing”; “I’m inclined to agree.”
Regarding Gary Lutz’s Stories in the Worst Way, he writes: “It’s been a long time since I read Stories…, but I do remember hating it. Enough said.” No, Jason Jordan, this isn’t enough. Not even close. You’ve given us weak analysis. You’ve given us lazy writing. You’ve trash talked with nothing to show for it but the foam still bubbling from your mouth. And there are consequences.
So what do I expect from a blog by a writer and editor anyway? I expect more: I expect insight, criticism, and rigor. I expect writing that is clear and free of clichés. I expect for unliked books to be given fair treatment. Tell me, specifically, why you didn’t like the book. But instead I was blasted in the face with blogorrhea.
And what are those consequences, Jason Jordan? Well, for one, I don’t trust what you have to say about books, which, in turn, makes me think I should not trust you at all, all of which will have the likely result in my never reading anything you write and edit.
John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.