"A Reader's Manifesto" by B.R. Myers

It’s not often that I read two books at the same time but this was a short read and I was able to knock it off in one evening. I was told once that “you don’t find things, things find you”, and in this particular case, I think its apt. This particular topic as been running through my mind for some time now (as well as having somewhat heated---well, let’s say, passionate---discussions) over it as well.


Just killing time in Barnes & Noble one morning, not looking for anything in particular, this now 10 year old book jumped out at me. So it’s probably an old argument now and I’m sure this has been debated to death already. What it amounts to really is just a 120 diatribe about how today’s American Literary fiction is basically the “Emperor’s New Clothes”. Myers contends that most of today’s “Literary” fiction is merely mediocre fiction infused with “trendy stylistic gimmicks” and uses some big names: Cormac McCarthy, Paul Auster, Don DiLillo, Annie Proulx, among others, as his targets for disdain. What he’s going after is what he sees as “pretentiousness” in contemporary American literary fiction and those who blindly follow the party line, afraid to say what they really feel about these writings so they don’t become ostracized among their peer groups. This particular venom is leveled at literary critics, who he claims join those who refuse to tell the Emperor that he isn’t wearing anything at all.


Out of all the writers he goes after here, I’ve only read two: McCarthy and Auster, both of whom I enjoyed very much, though I haven’t read all of their works. I can see Myers’s point to some degree, but only to a certain degree. The one feeling I kept getting while reading this book was “So what? Does it really matter that much?” I suppose for lovers of literature, where writing is their passion, I can understand. It was like that way for me regarding music all these years. Whenever I heard something I felt was some trite or pretentious piece of music that wasn’t worth all the praise it was getting, it would get under my skin too, often having me launch on some diatribe or another. Over the years, it became more simple for me. If I didn’t like it, I didn’t like it and just ignored it, much like I do the majority of popular music today. When it comes to literature, the same thing. It’s something to discuss with like-minded people but in the end, who cares?


This book caused some passionate responses after it was originally released, apparently, and the book includes an appendix of sorts, a response to his critics, along with a sarcastic “Ten Rules for “Serious” Writers”. The whole thing comes off as reactionary to me. But that’s just me. I’ll read a book and it either moves me in some way or it doesn’t, for varying different reasons. And those reasons are due to personal taste, my own judgment. A critic’s word never decides for me what I will like or what I won’t like, including this particular author.


In the end, while amusing and good for a laugh, the whole thing comes off to me as being important only to those who feel they have some sort of real stake in it. For me, personally, I’ll make up my own mind about it all, thank you. Sometimes, there has to be contrarian out there, making a lot of noise in order to be paid attention to. That’s what this book comes off like to me. If you find it all pretentious and gimmicky the answer is simple: don’t buy it and don’t read it.

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