Monday MIscellany

A Coalition of Dunces

The Pulitzer Prize committee refused to award a 2011 prize for literature despite the nominations of three novels by the judges. The Morning News has a good summary of the issue.

And in Time magazine’s entertainment section, writer Lev Grossman explains Why I’m Okay With There Being No Pulitzer for Fiction This Year.

Top 10 Most Misunderstood Lines in Literary History by JF Sargent

If you cringe every time you hear someone say, “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him well,” this article is for you.  Learn the truth about famous quotations from the following works:

  • Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
  • William Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet
  • Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland
  • William Shakespeare, Hamlet
  • John Keats, Ode to a Grecian Urn
  • William Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet
  • Rudyard Kipling, The Ballad of East and West
  • Robert Frost, The Mending Wall
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
  • William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18

Criminal heroes! Seven of the best

If you love mysteries and thrillers, you should definitely check out Crime Fiction Lover. Here the writers offer a list of full-time professional criminals who are “some of the best anti-hero criminals we’ve come across”:

  • Parker by Richard Stark
  • Wyatt by Gary Disher
  • Eddie ‘Fingers’ Coyle by George V Higgins
  • Gloria Denton by Megan Abbott
  • Jack Carter by Ted Lewis
  • Carter ‘Doc’ McCoy by Jim Thompson
  • Crissa Stone by Wallace Stroby

And if this kind of character is your favorite, you’ll find several more suggestions in the comments (including my own choice, Lawrence Block’s Keller).

Dawn of the anti-hero

And for still more, there’s this:

Nearly 90 years to this date, F Scott Fitzgerald created what has now come to be called The Great American Novel. But The Great Gatsby didn’t just become a literary classic, it marked a departure from noble protagonists to make way for the anti-hero. Today, we look at some of the best literary characters.

This list broadens the category to include the following literary creations:

  • Jay Gatsby, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Holden Caulfield, Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  • Dean Moriarty, On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • James Bond, Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
  • Howard Roark, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  • Yossarian, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  • Ignatius Reilly, Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Should Writers Reply to Reviewers?

Writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Arthur Krystal lets us in on a little secret:

Here’s the not-so-hidden secret of book reviewing: Many writers, especially younger ones, regard other people’s books as an opportunity to enhance their own reputations. What better way to show off one’s own wit, erudition, and verbal artistry than to debunk someone else’s? And if you can look good at some poor writer’s expense—well, why not?

But Krystal criticizes those smug reviewers who think that their review should upstage the book under consideration. A good book review should be a service to the potential reader, not an opportunity for the reviewer to demonstrate his superior cleverness.

I’m not complaining—OK, I am complaining, but not because reviewers find fault, but because given a chance to perform they forget they’re rendering a service to the reader, not one to themselves. A flawed book gives no one license to flog it in print. If there are mistakes, why not sound regretful when pointing them out instead of smug? If the book doesn’t measure up to expectations, why not consider the author’s own expectations with regard to it? While no one wants shoddy work to escape detection, a critic must persuade not only the impartial reader but also the biased author—as well as his biased editor and biased family—that the response is just.

The standard advice to writers who feel their book has been unjustly maligned by a critic is to remain silent. To respond to the review will only make the author look peevish and small. But Krystal disagrees:

And perhaps because I’ve worked both sides of the street, I now presume to speak for authors who feel they’ve been maligned or misrepresented. My advice is: Get mad and stay mad. Don’t cry, don’t pout, don’t feel helpless. Just because there’s nothing you can do doesn’t mean you should do nothing. . . . What the hell, make noise. Call attention to the offending review. In fact, write that letter to the editor that everyone enjoins you not to write, and in a few deft strokes outline the reviewer’s bias and how he or she misread, obfuscated, and distorted your work. Then write another letter, this one to the $#%^ reviewer and explain exactly where he or she went wrong. Address the reviewer’s objections intelligently and dispassionately.

His hope is that “if more reviewers felt they were dealing with a human being and not a bound galley, their own words might be a bit less brazen, a touch less supercilious next time out.”