Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Extremely underwhelming

WOW. Someone put into words my half-developed thoughts surrounding why I had a great deal of resistance to Jonathan Safran Foer. I caved into reading the new book because of the salacious subject matter. I had to see how someone would talk about 9/11 this early on. Maybe it's sheer arrogance (need I even put a gender stereotype on such actions?) or some stroke of genius?

I finished the book and was more touched than I imagined, but that's because my expectations were so incredibly low.

Read this:

I'll post more about seeing the author in person at Columbia's Miller Theater and in fancy sneakers in my neighborhood.


Blogger R J Keefe said...

Do you mean to say that you agreed with Mr Siegel before you read the book, but changed your mind after you read it? Or that while you agree with Mr Siegel on the whole, you were also moved a bit by the novel?

Wed Apr 13, 05:46:00 PM  
Blogger Ms. NOLA said...

I agree with Mr. Siegel on the whole, but was slightly moved by the book. This could have a lot to do with my blood-sugar level, I have to admit.

Wed Apr 13, 06:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the person who alerted our fearless blogger to the Siegel piece (or, who found it more or less simultaneously with her on Gawker, but whatever), I would like to say that I find Jonathan Safran Foer's writing so hackneyed that I tried three times to read his first novel, and failed. Then I passed the book on to a friend who loved it and now we can't talk about the fact that Jonathan Safran Foer is a hack.

Thu Apr 14, 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger Ms. NOLA said...

It's interesting b/c I spoke with a friend last night who happens to be a book editor. She *loves* Jonathan Safran Foer because he is a fresh voice. I guess when you read a lot of shlock, you are happy that anything even aspires to some kind of literary ideal even if it falls short.

So again, I'm torn when it comes to Mr. JSF. I feel like I need to read "everything is illuminated" to really know. Hopefully, I can get past the first three pages, but I fear I will not.

The real questions is: why do I want to like him? I think it's because I am so envious and annoyed that he's enjoying such success when other writers are forgotten. You decide.

Thu Apr 14, 12:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you want to like him because, while he's, in reality, a hack, we all want to believe that people being hailed as talented are actually, in some way, talented. I know I want to believe that! Even if they are being hailed as such by the goddamn publishing industry. Which may not be the best judge of talent due to their financial, um, concerns.

Britney Spears was not a fresh voice in 1999, no matter what the recording industry said. But look what she did! She spawned a whole movement of pubescent crappy pop tarts! A movement! Christ. If this situation is comparable in the book world, we're going to be overrun by underdeveloped storylines and nouveau lingo passing as 'novels'. LL

Thu Apr 14, 04:20:00 PM  
Blogger Ms. NOLA said...

Ack, you raise a very serious point...

You said: "If this situation is comparable in the book world, we're going to be overrun by underdeveloped storylines and nouveau lingo passing as 'novels'."

I can't handle that... OK. Is it time to start writing our own stories, printing them out at work and distributing them to our friends by hand?

Thu Apr 14, 06:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Rachel said...


I think calling him a hack is awfully strong. You may not enjoy his style, sure, but I think calling it hackery is a bit much.

I don't have any interest in his most recent book, and I'm not sure why. I was drawn to the subject matter of his first book - as a Russian geek; as a Jew who lost family during WWII - and stayed for the bizarre stylistic choices he makes.

I don't know. I think he's less of a Thing on the west coast than back east - maybe some of it is media overkill?

Fri Apr 15, 12:00:00 AM  
Blogger Ms. NOLA said...

Rachel, it is a lot due to media overkill. His books are not novels. I think this more than the content is what we are critiquing.

I think there is a article/review with him as *the* subject at least 3X a week in the NYT. Also, why aren't other novelist (like his wife!) mentioned? When I can spot a contemporary novelist on the street, that's pretty unreal.

I guess I should be celebrating that, but honestly, would I know who Cynthia Ozick was if I sat next to her in the subway? Probably not... and her work is far more crucial to 20th/21st century Jewish history.

Fri Apr 15, 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger R J Keefe said...

There's no need to worry about Britney-Spears type mediocrity taking over in print. Reading calls for far more effort than listening.

Fri Apr 15, 10:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there's plenty of need to worry about Britney Spears type mediocrity taking over in print. Attaching meaning, or, god forbid, validity, to something that is over-hyped, in these media saturated times, requires little effort regardless of whether the thing being over-hyped is a book by a hack author or a CD by a talentless singer.

And I maintain my position that JSF is a hack. There are plenty of authors whose styles I dislike, but who I don't think are hacks. The recently departed Saul Bellow is one. I don't call JSF a hack because I dislike his writing style, or even solely because of the rampant media attention he's rewarded with for whatever reason. I call JSF a hack because I could write his books. If I can write it, it's not very good, and certainly undeserving of being labelled genre altering in any way.

Fri Apr 15, 10:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Rachel said...

I think I never saw him as being genre-altering, though. Not trying to be disingenuous - who says that? Honestly, is that something that critics claim? Because that's just awful.

I didn't say, nor did I mean to imply, that JSF was crucial to describing/publicizing Jewish history. I do think, however, that I probably gave him more leeway because he was writing about a part of history that resonates with me.

For me, the term hack is reserved currently for Dan Fucking Brown. Because his books are all the same story, the history is crappy, and I'll never get back the hours (admittedly, not that many hours) I spent reading the DaVinci Code. And maybe hackery is broader than I'm envisioning it, but for me it's just cognitive dissonance to lump JSF in with Dan Fucking Brown.

Fri Apr 15, 11:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hee hee. Dan Brown. He's definitely a hack. But maybe a different kind. I think I'm certainly being harshly critical regarding JSF, but I still can't view him as anything else, for the reason(s) I stated above. But he's certainly not on the level of a Dan Brown.

I can't remember what reviewer called JSF "genre-altering" (or something similar). I'm sure I could find it out there on the interweb.

Ha! Dan Brown.

Fri Apr 15, 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Ms. NOLA said...

I can totally understand how these topics would resonate with you, but I just don't see how he does something that lots of underrepresented writers don't also do. I just wonder if it's because he's such a great subject for media manipulation that his books get noticed whereas others do not.

I haven't read "Everything is Illuminated" so I can't speak to that. I will, however, read it in order to do so.

Also, I haven't read any of Dan Brown's stuff so I can't speak to him either and I usually keep my mouth shut on the topic since I already make myself quite a snob without trying. Also, discussing Dan Brown typically happens in airports where I've been previously accosted (in Cincinnati) for so much as looking at Bill Clinton's memoirs. I try to keep to myself in such places. But that's another post entirely!

Fri Apr 15, 11:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Rachel said...

Well, at least we can all agree on Dan Fucking Brown :)

My mother has a theory that there's this new crop of 30ish, male authors, all of whom are media darlings (JSF, Dave Eggers, etc), and ALL OF WHOM NEED A FUCKING EDITOR. She is singularly unimpressed; unfortunately for her, she keeps having to read their books for her bookgroup.

Fri Apr 15, 07:57:00 PM  
Blogger Ms. NOLA said...

I miss your mom! Tell her to read the blog and contribute her opinions!

I totally agree with this having everything to do with a lack of editors. And this is not entirely their fault. Editors are overworked, in general, these days because they are doing the work of 4 people... Four people who would have previously done the work of what is now done by one person. So no one has the time to pour over manuscripts because they're too worried about the web, media, book tours, advertising, sales, global markets and politics to just read the damn story after all.

Fri Apr 15, 08:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Rachel said...

Didn't mean to slam the editors, babe, I know you're going to be one some day soon :)

OH! Okay, for those of you agreeing w/me w/r/t Dan Fucking Brown, you simply must check out - a linguistics blog that Dan recommended to me - they do a bee-you-tea-full job excoriating him for his dreadful prose.

I don't think my mom entirely understands the concept of a blog, but I'll send her here ...

Fri Apr 15, 11:25:00 PM  
Blogger Ms. NOLA said...

I will check out the languagelog. For sure! YAY for Rachel's mom.

Sat Apr 16, 12:26:00 AM  

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