Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Thomas's demolition job on The Historian

Wow. Crumbs. And more of the same.

I knew there were readers out there who read books carefully. For example, I once took a novel by Ken Follett out of my local library. It seemed OK to me, but some previous reader had been through it and marked up all the mistakes and inconsistencies in stated times, colour of characters' eyes, and all like that. I had noticed none of these things, because I whizz through books pretty quickly, but this reader had been concentrating. And had remembered.

And now the blogger Thomas (Anatomy of Melancholy) has provided a link to his piece of 12 October last about Elizabeth Kostova's novel The Historian. In what is quite a lengthy essay, Thomas analyses the quality of the writing in just the first six pages of The Historian, and finds it severely wanting. Not exactly a good advert for MFA degrees, he decides.

As a master-class in close reading and clear thinking, Thomas's essay is pretty damn impressive. But it's also worrying for those of us who fear that perhaps our own work might be just as sloppy.

43 comments:

kitty said...

My, how elitist of him. He sounds as though life has given him a wedgie.

JodyTresidder said...

I'm afraid, GOP, your Thomas comes across here as a sarcastic bore. Generally I love spirited take-downs of rotten writing (I have somewhere an anthology with a well thumbed piece by the critic Clive James on a Judith Krantz novel, which remains, years later, a small masterpiece of rollicking wit and insight). Maybe Thomas should have aimed for a less pursed-lipped style himself - or left off the pose of a shocked snob going a-slumming via - heavens - the NYT bestseller list?
Certainly, the book seems poorly written, but Thomas' essay is hardly more than a smugly strung together collection of his original margin notes (though I liked his swipe at "moth-eaten towers"!)

archer said...

Any professor of music can sit down with a Beatles songbook and point out the parallel fifths and many other errors in musical grammar. Steve Allen used to take cheap oh-how-low-we-have-sunk shots at rock & roll by reading lyrics aloud in a deadpan voice. ("Oh baby. Baby baby baby. Baby baby baby.") So what? If there were a formula for good writing/composing/painting/rock & roll, someone would have patented it.

Marianne McA said...

I read the book last week, and didn't notice any of that. And I'm not sure I understand all of his critisisms - if my parents had had a copy of the Kama Sutra on their shelves, I'd absolutely have looked at it when they were out of the room, and don't see how that would have precluded my being mystified by boys.
It was fascinating to see how someone else reads: I hadn't somehow realised that people read stories that closely. Eye-opening.

Loxias said...

Funny.

The above four comments are the first voices in support of the Historian I have come across. I mean, ever.

Hm.

kitty said...

"The above four comments are the first voices in support of the Historian I have come across. I mean, ever.

I've never read the book. I was commenting on Thomas.

JodyTresidder said...

loxias,
Whaddya mean "funny...hm"?
We're a conspiracy, already?

3 of these comments are anti-the-anti-Historian critic, rather than in support of the novel itself.

And Marianne MCA (if I may summarize) is taking thoughtful issue with a specific criticism of the novel, while echoing what GOP said in the first place about super pedantic reading of certain types of novels.

While "The Historian" IS the common link, it's the peevish nature of Thomas's demolition job that seems mainly to have roused us.

(Off-topic, fwiw, some of the photos on your blog are really outstanding.)

Thomas said...

From time to time I'm reminded that people seem to take exception most to opinions that are strongly expressed.

At any rate, I thought I'd just respond to a couple of things.

Kitty, my taste in films, for one, is not elitist. I like good stories (although I read for other reasons as well) and often seek the same type of entertainment in books. Unfortunately, it doesn't usually work out for me. Also, life has not given me a wedgie. Life's been pretty good. If I have anything to be bitter about, I can assure you it's entirely my fault.

Jody, don't you find writers like Judith Krantz an easy target? Why even bother? I've never looked at any of her books, but I've glanced at my mother's Danielle Steele paperbacks and I can say at least one thing: writers like her are not pretentious. I imagine that Krantz isn't either. But Kostova demands a bit of patience and work, but doesn't -- in my opinion -- deserve it. We get only the pretense of seriousness. It's a shoddy book. I wasn't shocked at all. Just disappointed. And I can assure you, I might have pencilled the notes in the margins in a smug manner, but definitely not when I was stringing them together.

Of course, Archer, there isn't a formula for good writing. Formulaic writing is bad writing. But there still is such a thing as good writing. I don't claim to be able to produce it (although I try), or to tell someone else how to produce it, but I can recognise it when I see it. What good books and bad books are is very clearly defined in my mind.

Marianne, I don't always read books like this. Only when the writing distracts me. I don't go looking for it. A lot of good writers simply don't draw any attention to their writing. The ones I admire most mystify me with the simplicity of what they do.

My reaction was mainly one of exasperation, but mostly at the publishers. Kostova would have to be insane not to accept two million dollars. There are other people, however, perhaps even including the authors of the messages here, who want to tell a good story and tell it well, but can't even get a foot in the door of a publishing house because the idiots on the other side of it only want to throw vast sums of money away on what they hope will be the next big thing. Whenever it isn't, their search becomes even more frantic, since they have to earn back the advances they threw away the time before that. In the meantime, editors don't edit, and a lot of them even get laid off.

It's been ten years since The Information set the trend for literary fiction. Has it even earned back its advance? Probably not.

Dr Zen said...

"I read the book last week, and didn't notice any of that. And I'm not sure I understand all of his critisisms"

Quite. It's the fate of the intelligent commenter on books, music, the world for their carefully considered work to attract a queue of Americans scratching their heads and going "Dur".

Anonymous said...

And the fate of Americans to get blamed for all mankind's failings?

I'm British.

Dr Zen said...

I'm sorry, Anonymous, I don't know which of the world's failings you are responsible for. I'm of course aware that plenty of Brits also join that queue. My apologies for making you feel left out.

Marianne McA said...

I'm a mother - everything is my fault. So, on those grounds, I'll accept responsibility for all mankind's failings.
I was attempting to say that the failure to appreciate intelligent commentary was not, in this case, an American one.
If I grovel, and assure you that I know I don't understand this stuff, and wasn't being snotty about Thomas - just genuinely interested in how someone literate might read - can I go and sit quietly at the back of the blog, and listen to everyone else being intelligent?

JodyTresidder said...

Thomas,
The mighty Clive James used the apparently soft target of Judith Krantz to dissect the lousy art of bestsellerdom with enormous intelligence. So, yes, easy pickings - but it produced enduring criticism. So he was smart, indeed, to have "bothered". (I expect you'd love James's sly poem: "The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered/And I Am Pleased"!)

Look, I can understand your frustration with big advances for small writing. (Though I'm not sure "The Information" is evidence of anything except its own existence as one of the worst aging Brit packer vanity books of the decade. It was so staggeringly awful I don't think it counts as a trend!)
But you need to be sharper, funnier, less repetitive, less snootily cross, more winning if you want your points to fly.

As for dr zen's comment!
If dr zen is going to aspire to aphorisms - perhaps he should rethink his tired "South Park" borrowings?

Thomas said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Thomas said...

Jody, The Information received an unprecedented advance for a book of literary fiction, an amount which no longer seems that impressive because the trend has continued and the advances have increased. This is no longer so memorable because it was later eclipsed by the reception of the book once it was published. The quality of the book has nothing to do with the trend I'm talking about.

But you need to be sharper, funnier, less repetitive, less snootily cross, more winning if you want your points to fly.

If I want my points to fly? Since you say "the book seems poorly written" I can assume that you haven't read it and you're basing your assessment on what I wrote. I don't imagine you'd have been convinced if I had simply stated my opinion. I'm sure you think the book seems poorly written because I gave you ample evidence of it. Basically, you're objecting to my tone.

In your comments, you call me a sarcastic bore, purse-lipped, a shocked snob, smug, repetitive and snootily cross. And then you object to "peevish nature" of my post. You're a rich one!

I'll tell you what, Jody. You try what I did, go through what I wrote, convince me that I'm actually being repetitive, snootily cross, a sarcastic bore etc, and I'll think about it. Indulge me with some examples, even at the risk of being repetitive, and defend your characterisations. And then convince me that "funny and winning" is what I should have been striving for on my own blog. Post it on yours, if you've got one, or email it to me.

Otherwise, save your smugly strung together collection of adjectives for someone who solicits them.

JodyTresidder said...

Thomas,
Lay off being so jolly snippy. You express strong opinions about writing. So do I. In this case, yours.
We should both be grateful that words about words matter.

Fence said...

Haven't read The Historian, although I'll admit to being tempted before I heard it compared to the Da Vinci Code, which i failed to finish.

After reading Thomas's post I'd have to say I'm more inclined to pick it up, just to see if I'd notice any of these howlers while reading. But I'm perfectly capable of enjoying trashy books (Jilly Cooper for example), and quite a few of the examples seem a little ott. Loved the moth-eaten towers though.

kitty said...

I can't recall ever reading a book which didn't have mistakes. If the book was boring, the mistakes became glaring roadblocks; if the story was good, I sailed over them with ease.

John Barlow said...

I thought THE INFORMATION was a tremendous book. It deserved far more than half a mill worldwide.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Thomas.

I thought it was a terrific essay.

Perhaps Clive James was kind of amusing whilst slaughtering poor Judith but S.J. Perelman was the master of clubbing easy targets. Check him out if you want to read the one of the funniest writers who ever lived.

For Thomas's critics: Maybe he wasn't trying to be funny but I found it amusing.

I understand the impulse and usually limit myself to ranting at my best pal/wife on such matters.

That 2 million dollars could have made fifty writers very happy and I'd bet they'd have got at least one best-seller out of it. (Of course, I don't believe for a second that they actually gave her 2 million dollars — I would have held out for 2.3 mil myself; cheap bastards). I believe multiplying by 10 is the standard. Even after such stories are discredited, happy journos would rather use the high numbers to get themselves read.

On another note (possibly): Thanks to Michael for introducing me to Michael Gruber. Now, there is a writer. I can't believe Gruber isn't a best-seller. His writing is beautiful, liquid, transparent, his stories gripping, and his books are full of ideas. If it’s all just a matter of taste and there’s no such thing as ‘good’ writing or ‘bad’ writing, go read Gruber and tell me why.

By the way, what Thomas did is not the same as saying the Beatles used parallel thirds or octaves. Any professor of music who said that should give up music and go work in the Literature department where he belongs. In fact, what Thomas did is exactly what should be happening on ‘writing’ or ‘literature’ courses (if indeed people insist on such things) if only as a counter to the worthy hogwash spouted on such matters that live above my head.

And complaining about ‘doubled thirds’ is like complaining about a split infinitive; a bit more like wearing a hat with a propeller on top than a demonstration of finely-honed critical faculties. This is not what Thomas did. There is a huge, and important, difference.

In fact, I thought Thomas was being kind. There was hardly a class of error not displayed in the excerpts. What gives? How can this be? This writing is complete shit. How do you get from writing complete shit to a massive deal? How do you win a prize? Who the hell thought this worthy of a prize? How did this get to be a best-seller? People like it? Who? Why? I’ve got nothing against large advances and the writer in question deserves exactly what the market is willing to pay but does anyone have any idea why the market would pay for this? Because Dracula is such a hot subject? I don’t think so. Because the ‘historical’ Dracula hasn’t been properly exploited? Doubt that. I knew about old Vlad from a very early age and I remember reading The Scars of Dracula long before I was old enough to watch Peter Cushing do a number on him.

Man, I’m so thick. Why didn’t I think of writing a book about Dracula and making sure it takes almost as long to read it as it took to write it? I can imagine publishers must have wet themselves when a novel about Dracula landed in the slush. No wonder they all got into a fight over it. It must have been like seeing a shooting star land in a pile of shite. And how right they’ve been proven? Next year we’ll see a book about the historical Frankenstein, and then the historical Mummy meets the Wolfman? Must be worth a few million at least?

Anyway, I’m off to change the boy wizard of my work-in-progress into a Rumanian impaler. Now, where do I enter it for a work-in-progress prize?

Thanks Thomas.

Francis Ellen.

(For the record: Should I ever get a two million dollar advance, or even the offer to get my work printed up firfuckall, feel free to point out all of my faults. In fact, the people who want to read The Historian just because it looks like a pile of pish might want to check out another pile of pish; The Samplist, wherein a young girl listens to tales of Dracula as told by her dad and then gets a sex change, goes to music school and creates a counterfeit virtuoso using computers and a crucifix.)

P.S. I just noticed that Elizabeth Kostova has written the foreword to a recently-published work by a writer called Bram Stoker. I expect Mr. Stoker will probably do quite well now that Ms Kostova’s name is right there on the cover.

Iain said...

Now listen. It's late at night, and I'm having one of my increasingly frequent attacks of homicidal mania. This makes it difficult to concentrate, but I'm going to do my best. The least you can do is listen.

Here's what I want to say: Good readers notice bad writing. They notice it because they can't help noticing it. It jumps out of the page and hits them in the eyeballs.

Those of you who think Thomas is coming over all snooty and superior are simply not good readers. If you think that it doesn't really matter, then you're missing something: to wit, the pair of ears with which all good readers read.

An analogy. A couple of years ago, there was a discussion on Newsnight Review (UK TV: discussion of the week's cultural highlights) of a play in which British actors played Americans. If I remember rightly, the panel were generally of the opinion that the "American" accents were awful, but that it didn't really matter. What could you expect?

Well, I'll tell you what you could expect. You could expect convincing accents from professional actors, because that's what they're paid for. And you should expect good writing from professional novelists too. Got that?

JodyTresidder said...

Wow Iain,
That's some late night lecture!

Actually, no, we are not bad readers.
Here is one example of Thomas's invalid criticism of "The Historian".
Thomas wrote: "Several things here. "Turned quietly away" is bad for two reasons. First, the adjective is unnecessary, since it's obvious enough that he's not answering. And second, it's a melodramatic cliche. Do people really do that? Is he so rude as to ignore her questions and turn away without a word? Would you let someone do that without saying, "Hey! I asked you a question!" And there's a slight contradiction in what the narrator is telling us, which she does elsewhere. If she was perceptive enough to understand that this was a topic too painful for him to talk about, why the hell was asking him questions?"

Let's see: the "quietly" Thomas objects to functions as an adverb, not an adjective as he insists. It is not "unnecessary" at all since it tells us something extra about HOW the father turned away (he could, for example, have turned away angrily, or sadly, abruptly or shyly). I fail to see, too, how "turned quietly away" could possibly be viewed as a "melodramatic cliche"! Thomas must live a very limited life indeed if he think that constitutes melodrama.

Thomas then insists the father is "rude" - which is a peevish opinion about the father's character, not literary criticism. Then there is the baffling bit when Thomas asks crossly "why the hell was she asking him questions?" since he claims that "she" - the questioner - was meant to be aware these questions were painful to the father. In fact, the author makes clear in this context, that it was AS A RESULT of the father's pointed silence on a particular subject that the questioner became aware that her curiosity was not going to be satisfied.

Thomas here is setting himself up as more perceptive than the writer and an "expert" on what constitutes good writing. In fact, he fails miserably.
His criticism is not persuasive because he is being sloppier than the author he attacks.
Got that?

Anonymous said...

Jody, your comments prove that Iain is right.

You said. "It is not "unnecessary" at all since it tells us something extra about HOW the father turned away (he could, for example, have turned away angrily, or sadly, abruptly or shyly). I fail to see, too, how "turned quietly away" could possibly be viewed as a "melodramatic cliché"! Thomas must live a very limited life indeed if he thinks that constitutes melodrama."

Nope. The only ‘extra’ thing it tells us is that Mrs. Whateverhernameis can’t write and you can’t tell the difference.

The reader should know how the guy feels without resorting to ‘turning quietly around’, or ‘sadly around’. You can get away with a few of these but leaning on adverbs makes the reader aware that the writer is either five-years old or a bit thick.

If we really want to get even more anal: ‘quietly’ tells us he didn’t make a lot of noise when he turned around. It tells us nothing about how he feels. This is monster bad writing and the fact that you seem unable to see it means that you probably have it in you to write a piece of literary fiction that publishers will fight over.

Thomas is right. Why didn’t a publisher hire a twelve-year old girl with an ‘O’ level in English to edit this thing? Iain is right in that you have just proven that some people do not read properly. That isn’t to say that adverbs should be banned, but any writer would do well to ban them; they lead to bad habits that can apparently lead to two-million dollar advances.

One of the great myths of writing: That the label ‘literary fiction’ means that something is well-written and the myth is so powerful that you would actually post a comment here to defend such idiotic meanderings.

Any of those adverbs you cite would have been bad writing. Any of them would have contributed to what would have been a melodramatic cliché, (regardless of whether he was angry or sad or happy), and none of them would transport us (readers) anywhere outside of the lazy, and slightly brain-damaged, writing itself.

Of course, you can enjoy whatever you want and believe whatever you want and I don’t have an equation for this. There is no fundamental rule and the proof that it doesn’t matter is right in Mrs. Korsetov’s bank account.

But read it again and be honest with yourself. “Turned quietly around.” You seriously don’t see how awful that is? How melodramatic? How clichéd?

Nobody’s arguing that Mrs. Kablovov doesn’t deserve every penny she earns and she can sell a billion books for all I care. But she can’t write and most interestingly, publishers haven’t noticed and readers don’t seem to have noticed either (to the point of arguing a ludicrous and embarrassing position).

Thomas wrote a terrific essay and he posted it for free on his blog. I wouldn’t have thought what he wrote was actually important if I hadn’t seen all these posts coming to Mrs. Potemkin’s defense.

It’s bad enough that writers have to endure a fucking lottery if they’re not banging a publisher’s assistant. But at least we were content with the idea that if we honed our skills, if we wrote well enough, spun a solidly-structured and compelling yarn that we might get properly published so that we could find our audience.

But this tells us what? It tells us that writing that should fail an elementary English exam is lauded, praised, fought over. And if anyone should have the neck to point these things out he gets attacked. He gets called snooty. He’s told he has no life.

What is a novelist to do?

He angrily punched the last remaining word of his lonely diatribe into the darkly lit keyboard that glowed incandescently under the light that flowed faintly from his computer monitor as Deirdre, his ex-wife, and former sparring partner, who had accompanied him on that fateful trip to Carlsbad, where both of their lives were changed forever as her father had angrily forbade them to return to the gloomily shrouded rooms of the ancestral home, which was, by now, flooded with startlingly obvious adverbs and adverbial clauses that took the reader fatefully from one subject to another then left them hanging, annoyingly. She could live with the clauses, those terrible, fleetingly satisfying adverbial clauses; how seductively they crept into her prose, and then out and into his, and then, inevitably, they would trip lightly, quietly, sadly, laughing at Deirdre, as she turned quietly around to watch them rush madly to their doom amongst the six hundred pages of the novel that was about to make her rich. First, she would change her name to something Russian. For all Russians are great writers and all Russians are serious. Then she would declare her work to be literary fiction, and if that proved not to be enough she would write a foreword for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Thus she would deftly deflect the tacit criticisms of her limericks and rhyming couplets, but alas, she could no more parse a sentence than she could cure herself once and for all of that head trauma that left her, bereftly, impeccably, consigned to become the world’s first ‘all adverbial’ novelist.

Yes. Drake would laugh, but what did Drake know?

Francis Ellen

The Samplist: A novel wot’s not got adverbs.

Thomas said...

Jody: Thanks for pointing out the adverb/adjective mistake. I've corrected it.

I find that scene melodramatic and cliched not because I have a limited life (don't tempt me to get personal, now) but because people don't act like that in real life. It's cheesy. It's supposed to suggest that the question reminds him of bygone days. Instead of answering he turns with a misty-eyed dreamy look and gazes into the distance, perhaps uttering the name of long-lost beloved. In a cheesy film, we'd get a misty flashback of them running along the beach, having great times, and then her heart-wrenching death-bed scene. But in normal human interaction, when someone asks a question, the other person answers it. If he doesn't, the other person asks it again, thinking they didn't hear it the first time.

If the father had said something, Kostova would (or at least should) have told us what it was. Since she does not provide us with additional dialogue (direct or indirect) we can assume that he simply did not answer. She could merely have told us, "When I asked him about it, he didn't want to talk about it" and that would have been fine.

To tell us then that he turned away silently or quietly, as Francis points out, is like suggesting that his neck did not creak when he did so.

JodyTresidder said...

Anonymous/Thomas,
These responses are feeble in the extreme.
To quote Anonymous: "This is monster bad writing".
Five words. Each one fine on its own. Ugly and ruined in your inept construction.
And YOU get all hoity toity about adverb abuse?
Thomas:
Delighted to help you sort out the tricky difference between adjectives and adverbs. Think nothing of it.

Look, you really confound me. You assert: "But in normal human interaction, when someone asks a question, the other person answers it. If he doesn't, the other person asks it again, thinking they didn't hear it the first time."
I hardly know where to begin.

Take the question "Do you love me?".
I rather think more than a few Great Works have been inspired by this simple question, which has subsequently not been answered in the curiously pedestrian fashion you propose above.
Here is "The Great Gatsby" according to your prescription for correctly answered questions.
"Do you love me, Daisy?"
"Gosh, Jay. Er, well..um.."
"Are you bloody deaf, Daisy? I asked - do you love me?"
"Look, I, er...".
BANG.
The end.
On a serious note: you surely need to learn that sarcastically rewriting bits of a book is a very peculiar way to go about lit crit.

You keep making the same obnoxious swipes I detected in your original effort, so we must agree to disagree.

If you are interested in a master class in criticism, why not quietly slide your eyeballs over John Banville's scorchingly brilliant essay on Ian McKewan's "Saturday".(http://marksarvas.blogs.com/elegvar/2005/05/banville_on_sat.html)

JodyTresidder said...

Anonymous,
One further point. Most interestingly, have you noticed how slightly too many adverbs you actually use while inviting writers to ban adverbs? (Fascinatingly, I am not actually mistakenly referring to your deliberately "sarcastic" use of same.)
Most interestingly, I quietly thought not.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jodi. Francis is the name. If you 'read' down to the bottom of my posts you'll get to it.

If you believe that, "This is monster bad writing." is ugly then ugly it is. I think it's quality and I'm glad you picked up on that very sentence because it's the only one I like on this whole page. I think it's terrific and I'm going to plagiarize myself at every opportunity. I wish I'd kept it in my word bag now that you're trying to pull my pigtails about it.

This is rather disconcerting. I don't believe I invited writers to ban adverbs but I would say that anyone trying to learn the craft would do themselves a great favour if they could impose a moratorium upon them for at least a time. The cessation of adverbs (ghosts in the sentence) seems to have an effect somewhat like the development of ‘relative’ or ‘perfect’ pitch in a musician. I believe this is why Thomas was taken by the muse and produced his piece (and really Jodi, his essay IS a writing lesson — you should be thanking him, not setting up cheek), his ear is too finely-honed to suffer outa tune prose.

Perhaps the great Gods of literature can spray the fuckers all over their prose but I'd bet that most of us need some lessons. Adverbs are tricky wee monkeys and if you don't respect them; if your hero is always doing something quickly or slowly or angrily, or fartily (an adverb I invented for a novel of mine and of which I am ‘understandably’ proud) then know that your reader is probably bored shitless. My guess is that Mrs. Pupkin will have tons of us crying "This is a load of cobblers; it's shite." While others apparently enjoy the thing; thus she will not only be rich and famous and a literary author of note, she will be ‘controversial’. But, of course, don't take Thomas's word for it because Thomas is nobody. Don't take my word for it, because I am less than scum, especially since you've seen how ugly my sentences are. Wait until someone you’ve heard of spills the beans and then you can give them some of your lip. Don’t waste time on us darkies.

I believe that using adverbs in narrative fiction is much more difficult than either you or Mrs. Krakova seem capable of containing within your imaginations, and the only reason I keep harping on about this is because I believe it is very important indeed. I know people can and do use adverbs beautifully (take my own “fartily’ for example; it was nominated for three ‘adverbs in progress awards’ long before publication) but it is a deep skill. I'm not talking about essays or 'criticisms' I'm talking about fiction; the kind that doesn't bore the tits off the reader, that is.

I expect you think I've been rather nasty. I forgive you for that. If all you want to do is read, I forgive you for that. But if you want to be a writer know that it is hard. It is harder than chucking idiot adverbs in to tell the reader something ‘extra’ is happening.

But thank you. You’ve certainly put me off teaching I can tell you that. I don’t know how many times I’ve considered chasing a teaching post and a drop in salary because I have “something to say”. If it’s all just bloody argey-bargey what the hell is the point?

Ugly? Yes, probably, but it is something, is it not?

“Ghosts,” incidentally, “in the sentence” is exactly what it means. Bad drama conjures gods to solve the problems the writer posed; bad narrative invokes adverbs when painting the picture is too hard. It is weak magic.

JodyTresidder said...

Anonymous,
Possibly it's time to give up whatever it is you're interestingly smoking while you are quietly trying to write?

Just a friendly adverb-happy thought.

JodyTresidder said...

Francis/Anonymous,
At 3.33 you wrote: "That isn’t to say that adverbs should be banned, but any writer would do well to ban them".
Then at 10.34 you wrote: "This is rather disconcerting. I don't believe I invited writers to ban adverbs".

Disconcerting indeed.
I suggest that "contradictatorily" is the word you seek?
Heck, let's all make up adverbs!

John Brlow said...

by the way, Francis Allen, since you are here, I took up your challenge of a month or two ago (it was about verifying Francis's claims that he had been governor of the World Bank in a previous life); out of pure devilment I emailed you at your own press, but got no reply. So, come on: were you REALLY a currency trader, like you said on these pages some time ago??? Personally, I would prefer all writers to be liars 100% of the time, but who am I to lay down the law...

Anonymous said...

Mr. Barlow. I don't know what you're problem is.

You say I'm lying? I should respond to you calling me a liar? Isn't the internet just Dandy? You get to insult people from a distance.

Yes, you actually wrote to my e-mail address, called me a liar and asked me to respond? You think I'm going to respond to that? Christ, I was ready to call the police about it. Isn't that internet stalking? Shouldn't you be out on a ledge somewhere?

That e-mail address is where you get to buy my book, not abuse me. Why not go buy it, and come here with a critique? You know; the whole thing? Do a Thomas on me. No holding back; burn me with that searing intelligence of yours.

Jodi. Calm down dear. It was good advice; really.

I apologize, Jodi. I take it all back. Adverbs are yummy and I love them.

Better?

Mr. Barlow. I am lost for words.

No I'm not. Twit. Try Reuters, Market News International, The Financial Times, The Evening Standard, The Guardian.

I never said I was governor of the World Bank shitwit, I said I was a currency strategist. I said I had predicted the fall of the Asian currencies. This is documented, but I don't work for Goldman Sachs, so nobody knows but you my dear. I said I got fired for calling the fall of the Russian ruble. It was a different context. I thought I was amongst friends when I said it. I believed I was passing on important and interesting information about a world to a community of book lovers.

Of course, it was a few years ago and why should I make it easy for you? You're running about trying to discredit me because you're a talentless little prick? It's not my fault man. I'm sorry about your life, but it wasn't me.

'Took up my challenge'? Loony.

I apologize, Michael.

You know what? I wasn't going to do this because I know that my little diatribes come across as arrogant but fuckit.

Here's a link to a 'prediction' of mine that I did on the side for a bunch of internet finance ninnies.

I got fired for that article too. I got fired for telling people to sell internet stocks and buy gold. You see, selling internet stocks and buying gold was so stupid that even those dimwits who ran the fucking site knew it was crazy.

Of course, those internet stocks that my colleagues were pushing are all worth shit now and gold has risen, since then, more than 120%. Considering when the call was made, it is monster. Jodi, it is fucking dinosaur.

I'm the real fucking deal asshole. And as soon as I find a publisher who hasn't got her head stuck up her arse, you'll be able to tell your pals how you and I used to exchange barbs. (You won’t have to go into details about you being a complete dick and all.)

Arrogant enough? You see, I can't actually club you, in person, with a baseball bat so this will have to do.

Now understand this Cleetus. I’m going to post a link to an article I wrote. It doesn’t prove that I was a currency strategist (that’s your job; remember). What it is is a seminal analysis of the world markets circa January, 1999. You might not ‘get it’ but if you happen to have any friends (mmm) who understand such things, ask them to compare the article and its contents to the reality that followed. Remember to put yourself right back there, in that time. People tend to rearrange the past and it all seems obvious now; it wasn’t at the time. We’re told that in the markets, companies kill for quality analyses. I got told I sounded like Rab C. Nesbitt, and that was the end.

We’re told that publishers kill for great books with market potential, but The Historian is badly-written. The history of The Historian will make it even harder for writers.

Here’s the link to the piece I ‘did on the side’. Please tell your friends about it if they happen to run investment banks and they’re sick of chinless wonders talking shit. I could do with a decent salary again.

http://www.fool.co.uk/dailyfool/1999/dailyfool990113.htm

(There are plenty of these articles about, so you can slag me off to your heart’s content.)

http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0954803108/qid%3D1137842295/202-5537894-0769460

Thomas said...

Jody, Jody, Jody. From your first comment here you have resorted to cheap characterisations and name-calling, all the while complaining of my peevishness and sarcasm. You have suggested I have no life and now you say I'm obnoxious. I wonder if you have any sense of irony at all.

I have tried to be civil with you. But you insist on misreading and being thoroughly unpleasant. I suppose it would be unreasonable to expect someone who has such difficulty reading and understanding these comments to approach even a book like The Historian with intelligence.

First, I don't need you to explain grammar to me. I thanked you for pointing out what was nothing more than a typo. I teach people grammar for a living, actually.

Second, I said that normally people answer questions. They respond. This is how people behave in real life. You responded by telling me in Great Works, questions are not always answered. Do you mean that characters in Great Works completely ignore questions put to them by other characters? Because that's what I was talking about. You tried to parody the idea, but produced something that is not what Kostova does. If someone is uncomfortable with a question, they might mumble or stutter or change the subject or lie. But they don't gaze off in the distance without a word, unless they're in a melodramatic soap opera. Characters turn away thoughtfully like that in bad, sentimental fiction so that the author can telegraph the emotional state of the character to the reader. Or maybe the writers think it's somehow poetic. But if you actually see it done, it's incredibly sentimental.

Your example didn't do that. It showed nervousness, reluctance, discomfort, etc, through speech.

Thanks for your link to the Banville review, but I've already read it. And it's irrelevant to the discussion. Unless you just want to impress people with the kind of reviews you like to read.

I've enjoyed the other responses here, in particular Marianne's admirable honesty and self-deprecation, and Iain's and Francis's humour and (of course) defence of my original post. But I'll do my best from now on to ignore whatever you post. Restisting the temptation to resort to the same tactics as you is tiring. You don't deserve civility.

My apologies to Michael Allen. He invites us in and we poop on the carpet.

JodyTresidder said...

Thomas,
Delighted I am to have the last word.
You know what first sent up a flag that you were revealing some quaintly superior notions as a "critic"?

Here are the words from your original piece: "but reading -- for me, at any rate -- is a more active endeavour, and I can't both turn off my mind and read at the same time".

This captures your tone precisely - a self-flattering confession that you find yourself - lawks! a permanent prisoner of your own fine literary sensibilities.

That, my friend, is a snooty redundancy of the highest order.

Thomas, you have thrown plenty of insults in my direction. Unlike you, I don't whine about it.

My intention in supplying the John Banville piece was not to puff myself up at all. Merely to provide an example of a powerfully negative (and often funny) review in which the critic justified every barb with context, precise analysis, telling detail and lawyerly rigor. Unlike someone else.

I am - as I said before - bewildered by the way you claim to know how people behave in real life about answering questions - and then apply this "knowledge" to a character in a novel!

If you feel you've "pooped" on GOP's carpet - please don't claim I am equally badly house trained.

Finally, you might like to check the standard definition of "typo".
Your defensive use of it here is like putting white gloves on the dirty hands of an honest "mistake". You made a mistake, not a typo. The offence here is in the attempted genteel disguise.

John Barlow said...

Hey Francis,
I wasn't 'stalking' you, I was having fun. I thought you might think it was fun and respond with your customary wit and bravura, one writer to another. But instead you called me a shitwit. A 'shitwit'? You called me talentless as well. I am crying real tears as I type this, truly I am. As to the Ruble, I could care less, but not much. It was all a big mistake. I thought beneath the bluster of the blogger Francis Allen there was a big, fun-lovin' guy. But I learnt my lesson. I am not going to post/email ever again. Shitwit? Where did you learn to swear? That's not even remotely effective as an insult.

Dr Zen said...

I'm just going to go and have a good laugh at the idea that using your mind when you read is a "snooty redundancy".

JodyTresidder said...

"I'm just going to go and have a good laugh at the idea that using your mind when you read is a "snooty redundancy"."

It's feeling the need to point it out as a special skill that's the redundant part, dr zen.

A bit like boasting that one uses both feet to walk.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Barlow,

"Shitwit" is a perfectly good insult. It is precisely what I wanted to say. I believe in precision, in writing.

"Shitwit" is more than you deserve, and we both know it. You wrote to me to call me a fraud.

You expect me to spend more than a nanosecond thinking up a clever insult for you?

You've had enough of me.

In the absence of a public apology for calling me a fraud you convince me of your instability and declare your intent.

Don't write to my e-mail address again Cleetus.

Francis Ellen.

Dr Zen said...

Jody Tresidder weaselled: "It's feeling the need to point it out as a special skill that's the redundant part, dr zen.

A bit like boasting that one uses both feet to walk."

No, actually. Allow me to quote:


'Here are the words from your original piece: "but reading -- for me, at any rate -- is a more active endeavour, and I can't both turn off my mind and read at the same time".

This captures your tone precisely - a self-flattering confession that you find yourself - lawks! a permanent prisoner of your own fine literary sensibilities.

That, my friend, is a snooty redundancy of the highest order.'

Thomas confessed that he cannot switch off his mind and read at the same time. He didn't say it was special and you had a pop at his "sensibilities" not his pointing them out.

So. You're not only a philistine and proud of it but you're prepared to lie about what you say to score a point off someone whose intellect provokes your envy.

You should stick to what you're good at, shafting those you've shafted, and leave honest discussion to the honest.

JodyTresidder said...

Dr Zen,
To quote an "intellectual" pearl of wit and insight (not!) from your own blog: "I often take exception to reviews of English writers, because they forget to mention that the writers are all too often shit."

Excuse me while I note THAT one down in my commonplace journal of striking commentary.

Thomas's entire review is predicated on the outrage delivered to his special literary sensibilities by the garlanded Elizabeth Kostova and the best-selling nonsense that is "The Historian".

My entire counter-attack springs from observations about the weaknesses of his criticisms, which are numerous.

It advances nothing for you to appoint yourself Thomas's second in the duel and to then discharge silly insults at my supposed envy for his intellect and pride in my own philistinism.

And what's all this about "shafting"? Getting a bit dubiously phallic, aren't we?

Dr Zen said...

Jody, it's you who has her knickers in a twist over "intellectuals", not me. You seem to find it an affront that people might have expectations of writers. Given your own resolutely lowbrow output, that's understandable, but it's hardly a criticism of Thomas that you find him sensible of good writing, or of me that I think reviews are too willing to let awful writers skate. You'll forgive me for seeing a thread in your blatherings: a Leveller mentality, fuelled, I suggest, by your inability to enjoy anything more taxing than chick lit and celebrity fuck-and-tells. You hope that by dragging the world of letters down to your level, you will be elevated and your tastes vindicated. Sad.

JodyTresidder said...

Getting a little bitter about my advance now are you, Dr Zen?

(You clever little Googler, you!)

Just swallow a couple of Zadie Smith's aspirins - and you'll feel better in the morning.

David J. Montgomery said...

Simply by citing the phrase "turned quietly away" Thomas has made his point.

That's a howler if ever I heard one!

In parting, I would loudly turn away, if only I knew how.

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