Lev Grossman vs the haters

I’m on the record praising Lev Grossman’s essay “Good Books Don’t Have to be Hard.” Predictably, that piece generated a fair amount of blowback (and a concomitant amount of misinterpretation, like the fallacious argument that Grossman is arguing that good books can’t be hard); see a sample of it here, complete with a comment from yours truly.

Now, however, we can see how Lev Grossman Responds to Criticism of His Wall Street Journal Piece, as spoken by the man himself. Read it when you get a chance. It’s not terrible, but I think he could do better, and I hope he does “write more (if anybody cares) when I’m back in civilization.”

One thing I’d strongly disagree with comes when Grossman discusses Twilight’s sales: “All those millions of people might be idiots or have bad taste. But I think it’s kinda intellectually lazy to say that.” I don’t, and they do have bad taste. I’ve read a book and a half of the series, and they’re so cliche-ridden that they make Harry Potter look like Shakespeare, and the writing has originality and verve that make Dan Brown impressive by comparison.

To be fair, he goes on to say, “Meyer is doing something very very well, or at least giving people something they really really want, and I don’t think we have a good critical vocabulary yet for talking about what that something is.” She might be doing something well, yes, but writing isn’t it. That’s why a lot of people who are literary and/or like good writing don’t think much of her.

5 responses

  1. One thing folks need to remember is that often the regular American isn’t as well read as they are. So what is cliche may not be quite as overused to them as readers. While I don’t care for the book lots of my friends love it. I think all these “haters” need ot ask why. And calling them idiots is just intellectually lazy.

    The problem with literature types is (a) they’ve read a lot. And (b) they have certain expectations about prose style. And finally (c) they demand a lot of originality and novelty for novelty sake just to make reading more still interesting.

    I think there obviously is something for objective standards in rhetoric. And clearly Meyers falls down there. But not quite as far as some suggest.

    What escapes me is why all these people who don’t care for her fixate on her so much. So you don’t like it. Fine. Why write so much about it? Do your really think calling people idiots is going to convert them to reading Ulysses? (A classic that I’ve started more than a half dozen times and never made it more than 1/4 into the book)


  2. I commented on this at knowbodies.blogspot.com/2009/09/on-good-novels-dont-have-to-be-hard.html

    Re Seliger’s outrageously elitist “She might be doing something well, yes, but writing isn’t it. That’s why a lot of people who are literary and/or like good writing don’t think much of her” – I commend him for for calling crap crap, if that’s what it is (haven’t read Meyer). We’re in big trouble when people stop speaking truth to popular.


  3. Very nice, Mr. Seliger. I, too, waited around for Mr. Grossman to further defend himself. Or at least for someone brainy and worthy to do it. No one ever did. I’m neither brainy nor worthy, but I took a whirl at it. This seems like a cheap ploy for page views, but it isn’t, I swear! I would just really be interested in having your opinion.

    The first is “In Defense of Lev Grossman, or Take Your Anti-Plot Argument and Shove It”: http://www.examiner.com/x-562-Book-Examiner~y2009m9d6-In-defense-of-Lev-Grossman-or-take-your-antiplot-argument-and-shove-it

    The second (I did it in two posts, since I’m a long-winded sort of lass) is “The Nasty Debate Over the Future of Fiction”: http://www.examiner.com/x-562-Book-Examiner~y2009m9d13-The-nasty-debate-over-the-future-of-fiction

    I’d love to know your thoughts.

    And, for the record, I actually hate Twilight with a devout passion. It’s the whole gnashing on Mr. Grossman over it thing that drove me slightly insane.


  4. Pingback: Forks High School Professor · The Three Literary Pigs of Postmodern Criticism

  5. Twilight is popular, and evidently something in the culture responds to it, but that doesn’t mean the novel is good — I wrote about that topic here. Analyzing the Twilight phenomenon makes a lot of sense, as Caitlin Flanagan does What Girls Want: Vampires.

    But the writing itself on the sentence level is rushed, flat, expected, dull — that’s what’s so unfortunate about it. People can love books that aren’t very good and do all the time, but it’s useful to at least recognize that you love something that isn’t good. See On books, taste, and distaste for more on that.


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