Published January 13, 2015
Have you ever started to read a popular "literary" novel, only to find yourself bored, baffled or irritated?
If your answer is yes, you're not alone.
A new book, A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose, by B.R. Myers, says today's critically acclaimed American writers use complicated language to trick readers into thinking they have something important to say.
"In the bookstore I'll sometimes sample what all the fuss is about, but one glance at the affected prose -- 'furious dabs of tulips stuttering,' say, or 'in the dark before the day yet was' -- and I'm hightailing it to the friendly black spines of the Penguin Classics," Myers, a North Korean Studies professor, says in the introduction to his polemic.
Based on an article he published in The Atlantic Monthly last year, Manifesto breaks down into a series of five attacks:
-- The Shipping News author Annie Proulx uses overblown "Evocative Prose" with little punctuation to achieve dramatic effect.
-- White Noise author Don DeLillo uses vague "Edgy Prose" to mystify his not-very-unique criticisms of American consumerism.
-- All the Pretty Horses author Cormac McCarthy uses "Muscular Prose" to inflate the depth of the Wild West.
-- New York Trilogy author Paul Auster uses "Spare Prose," which pretends to be minimalist but is really repetitive and empty.
-- And Snow Falling on Cedars author David Guterson writes "Generic Literary" or gratuitously melodramatic, important-sounding novels.
Myers is annoyed with these writers for taking themselves so seriously -- but his real gripe is with the critics who mock "genre" novels such as Westerns, romances and crime dramas while lavishing praise on "literary" authors.
"David Guterson is granted Serious Writer status on the basis of Snow Falling on Cedars, a murder mystery buried under sonorous tautologies, while Stephen King, whose Bag of Bones is a more intellectual but less pretentious novel, is still considered to be just a talented storyteller," he says in the Manifesto.
It is this hierarchy of "important" writing that turns people away from literature, Myers says.
"American readers go from reading older rubbish like The Old Man and the Sea in college to new bores like [DeLillo's] Underworld," the Balzac fan told Foxnews.com. "Is it any wonder that they lose interest in reading?"
Many in the literary world have dismissed Myers' argument.
"Most of the writers the author goes after are, in fact, people I admire: Proulx, McCarthy, DeLillo, Auster," Michael Dirda, editor of The Washington Post Book World, wrote in an online discussion. "No one will remember this article in a year, but people will be reading Proulx, McCarthy et al for a long, long time."
But Myers encourages his fans to take on the establishment.
"It takes a lot of arrogance to disagree with the consensus of critics … But this is precisely what we readers need," he said. "Our own taste is the only authority we should listen to."
And his readers seem to agree: The ratio of letters sent to the Atlantic about his essay was about 8 positive to 1 negative, he said.
Some of these scribes backed up their statements in interviews with Foxnews.com.
"Today the assumption is that writing must be hard to understand to be 'literature,'" Philip Roth fan Kern Kelley said.
Californian Jonathan Aurthur said Myers made him feel better about disliking Proulx.
"Having been assured by the critics that it was a great book, I slogged through 150 pages of The Shipping News before I gave up."
And reader Jane Waddick said the Manifesto encouraged her to read Stephen King.
"I didn't know he (King) was a good writer … My own snobbery prevented me from reading his work. Then I did and yes … he is an excellent writer."
But others sided with the critics against Myers.
"The fact that someone would make the claim that the likes of Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo and Annie Proulx are boring hacks is a perfect example of why the quality of mainstream literature in this country is in the toilet. If it can't be read in a beach chair with nine kids screaming in under five hours, it's pretentious," said struggling Tennessee writer Jim Cheney.