Thursday, May 5, 2011

My Top Five Literary Nemeses

The literary mood is darkening a bit over here. Neither of my two current reads — Anna Karenina and The Tiger's Wife — is exactly a cheer-fest. And there's still a giant Pale King-sized cloud hanging over my head. (To be clear, though, I'm not dreading reading it. I'm dreading finishing reading it.)

So what better way to raise my spirits than to sling some vitriol, right? If you've lurked around The New Dork Review of Books for any amount of time, you've probably noticed a passing reference here and there to my literary nemeses. But I've never really fleshed out specific reasons, so I thought I'd spend a post expounding upon those reasons — that is, why the five folks below (they're not in any specific order) generally make me crazy. Enjoy!

Brown, proud of himself.
5. Dan Brown — Let's start with the big kahuna. My being-bugged-by-Brown phase started right at the height of The Da Vinci Code mania. I actually enjoyed the book, but I started getting really irritated the more frequently I'd see Brown go on TV and, with a straight face and much earnest, talk about how the conspiracy theory he'd used as the plot of his fictional novel was very, very real. Talk about a guy drinking his own Kool Aid! And it wasn't even his own theory — he'd borrowed it from a book called Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and as a result, got sued for copyright infringement in England (somehow, he won, though). I've read Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and even those authors admit at the end that nothing they put forth can be proven. Besides this, have you read Digital Fortress? It's my no-hesitation answer when anyone asks me about the worst book I've ever read. And to put a bow on this, Brown was more than three years late on his Da Vinci Code follow-up, during which time several employees at his publisher were laid off. And, THEN, The Lost Symbol turned out to be a total hack job.  

Right back at ya, buddy. 
4. James Frey — One of my biggest pet peeves is a big ego, and Mr. Frey has this in spades, as this wonderful article makes clear. The article also explains Mr. Frey's latest literary endeavor, which amounts to a sweat shop for writers. He gets all the credit and most of the profits, and the writers who did all the work have to sign ridiculous contracts that basically ensure the glory is all and forever Mr. Frey's. Therefore, it was with no small degree of schadenfreude that I watched the ultra-crappy sci-fi movie I Am Number Four fail miserably — that was the first film from a book his fiction factory produced. In addition, of course, there was that whole made-up-memoir and Oprah dress-down debacle. I was glad he got his comeuppance, but it's too bad it had little effect on his supernova-sized ego. Most recently, Frey published a novel (priced at $50!!) in which Jesus lives in modern times in New York...and is bisexual. Look, I'm not religious at all, but only a writer with such an I-don't-give-a-f$@k ego could have so little care for certain sensibilities and taboos.

3. Celebrities Who Publish Fiction — We've already been over this one in this post from last year...and that was even before Snooki published a novel! Writing a novel — or any fiction — is very difficult, and it boils my blood that publicists for air-headed celebrities hire a ghost writer, slap a famous name on the cover, and get published. It's the height of literary disingenuousness.

2. Michael Crichton — I don't mean to dance on a man's grave here (he died in late 2008), because I have enjoyed most of the Crichton novels I read...up until I gritted my teeth all the way through State of Fear, his 2004 novel that has a bunch of "eco-terrorists" purposely causing huge environmental disasters, like hurricanes and earthquakes, to prove that global warming is not a myth. Look, The New Dork Review of Books is largely a politics-free zone, but to fully explain why Crichton is on my nemesis list, it bears mentioning that I write about environmental issues for the magazine I work for, and environmental issues are important to me. State of Fear is an absolute turd of unmitigated anti-environmental and global-warming-skepticism propaganda. There were even rumors when the book was published that noted anti-environmentalist Dick Cheney had used his bully pulpit to commission Crichton to write the novel.

Genius, just not my kind.

1. Cormac McCarthy — Alright, I can already hear your boos. But doesn't everyone have that one famous novelist everyone else is ga-ga over, but that you can't stand? For me: Hello, Cormac. I've never not remembered three books more than I don't remember his Border Trilogy. I know I read them. Don't have a clue what happened in any of them. They all seemed like pretty much the same thing, didn't they? And I absolutely despised Blood Meridian — it seemed like another version of All The Pretty Horses, only much more confusing and needlessly violent. (Disclaimer: I loved The Road!)

So there you have it. But before I go, I'd like to bring up a few honorable mentions: 

Honorable mentions: Jennifer Weiner, Borders executives, people who protest kids reading Harry Potter books because they have magic in them, Thomas Pynchon, Stephenie Meyer, book bloggers who do these things, Ayn Rand, blog hoppers who link-drop without commenting on content, Glenn Beck, idiots who post one-star reviews on Amazon to protest e-book pricing, Nicholas Sparks, your mom, people who don't like David Foster Wallace, Greg Mortenson.

Who are your literary nemeses? But to be fair, you have to post a good reason why this person or group of people bug you?


  1. I'd have to say Jodi Picoult. I hate her books; they're poorly written and clearly grandstanding. And she's the reason I dropped out of not one, but two IRL book clubs--the other members were gaga for her, and I just couldn't take slogging through another one.

  2. Jennifer Weiner used to be a favorite of mine, but her last novel was a disappointment and her whining last year about women authors not being reviewed enough rubbed me the wrong way.

    I think I've only read part of one his books, but James Patterson would probably be on my list too. Although other authors get billing on the books, like you mentioned about James Frey Patterson seems to be a factory and, really, what quality comes out of a factory?



    I'll have to think about it, but I might even go as far as making an answer post on miblogo

  4. James Frey is such a douche. It's too bad, because I Am Number Four sounded interesting, but I just can't bring myself to read / watch it.

    I can't stand Nicholas Sparks, he's such a formula writer. And if he was a woman, his books would totally be shelved in the romance section and it would be semi-taboo to like him.

    Also hate James Patterson. I don't think he writes anything himself anymore, and he's an ass for threatening on tv to kill off Cross if people don't buy his books. Get over yourself, dude.

  5. I know I would hate some of the authors you mention, so I haven't even picked up one of their books. Just last night at dinner my college-age son was telling my high school-age son how horrible Ayn Rand is. I completely agree and unfortunately, I did read both "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged" in my youth. Ugh. However, I have tried to read "The Shippping News" twice and could not stand it. So Annie Proulx goes on my list of "I should like her but I don't."

  6. Well,for one,John Updike doesn't impress me much. Believe it or not,I read The Witches of Eastwick and actually liked the movie better(even with the over the top special effects and over the top antics of Jack Nicholson). The book seemed very ugly in tone towards women,which was a real turn off towards checking out any of his other work.

    Also find it annoying when celebs write children's books,no doubt because they think it's "easier" than one for adults.

    Don't get me wrong,some actors like Jamie Lee Curtis and John Lithgow do a great job but those horrible picture books by Madonna...during my time as a bookseller,I discouraged folks from buying that first one out of seven she put out because it wasn't really kid friendly at all and obnoxious to boot. Plenty of talented writers and illustrators could've used that sweet deal more than Madge!

    Another peeve of mine is when women writers fight amongst themselves about literary fiction over chick lit. Ladies,stop being your own worst enemy there! Both are necessary in the mental food chain,like salad and chocolate cake. I would name names but that would take up too much comment space,I think.

  7. Good list.

    I'd add James Patterson who probably haven't written a book in ages yet has his name splashed all over the cover.

  8. Mine is Jonathan Franzen. I read The Corrections when it came out and thought it was the most boring book I had ever read. Oprah thinks he's an author-god and every time I read an interview of Franzen, I can't imagine why people would admire someone so stuck up and full of himself. I will never read Freedom or another book by Franzen...he has totally rubbed me the wrong way.

  9. Ughh. I hate conspiracy theories in general. I despise Dan Brown.

  10. I laughed out loud reading your number one book nemeses. Almost the exact same words come out of my mouth when describing my feelings for Cormac McCarthy, right down to loving The Road! The prose style and lack of quotation marks in All The Pretty Horses frustrated me. I couldn't read the other two because of it. My intense hatred of the book made for a lively book discussion at my local library's book group though!

    I'm also on board with you about Dan Brown, parents against Harry Potter, and Nicholas Sparks.

    This is a great post! I enjoyed reading it!

  11. Hey now, what sort of problem do you have with my mom? :)

    #3 is my biggie.

  12. Very interesting post, and will take your word on skipping the last Crichton (though I, too, have enjoyed several of his others). I don't want to declare it a nemesis exactly- but I was very turned off by Eat, Pray, Love.

  13. How about Bridges of Madison County? What dreck? James Frey certainly takes douchebagginess to a higher level.But you know what really ticks me off? Celebrities who publish children's books (undoubtedly ghost-written). Most egregious example? Madonna, who follows up a veritable porn-star career with a series of saccharine kiddie books. Cuz she's a MOM now. Sheesh.

  14. Well, as most of you have pointed out, Madonna is a sore point. Just because she's had children, she thinks it's time to put out a children's book. Okay, if every mother thought this way, there'd be *so* many books out there, it's not funny!

    As for the authors I've tried to love but hate? Here goes: Stephenie Meyers. She's tried to write vampire romance but got her religion involved to make the vampire love a human but not want to have a go and drink her blood... what's that? And as for her plot; there isn't a writer out there who hasn't thought of that one!

    Dan Brown. From his first book I hated his writing. I'd get into the story, then suddenly, he'd info-dump for the next three or four pages about stuff I don't want to know! Get on with the story and drop hints a few paragraphs at a time you idiot... or better still, slot it into the dialogue as something the characters find out as the readers do.

    Oh! And writers - any of them - who have written a book where they'll speed up in the first five chapters, then suddenly think it's fun to slow it all right down so the characters can have a good long think for the rest of the book! That's nice for the 1800's, but not now.

    There's a few other authors I've yet to try out to see if I like them; then I'll let you know about them soon.

  15. Stieg Larson and I have a standing engagement to do battle over the fact that half of his mystery novels are people drinking coffee and saying boring things about the state of journalism. If his ghost doesn't come down to earth to get his ass kicked in the near future I'm going to have to go up to Swedish Heaven and get the job done.

  16. Mine would be Jodi Picoult, Janet Evanovich, Nicholas Sparks, and like you, Dan Brown. (I also did enjoy The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons but I wish he stopped right there!)

    Now the most annoying thing is that I actually read all their books. I'm like one of those people that are consciously aware that something's bad for them but they still do it anyway.

    Oh and as a huge HP fan, "people who protest kids reading Harry Potter books because they have magic in them..." Thank you!

  17. Sloppy and anachronistic writing in general...Water for Elephants and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet in specific. If the author can't bother to put in the proper details and vernacular of his/her time period, shouldn't the editor be required to?

  18. Wow. I read down the list nodding my head and chuckling until ... WHAM! ... you might as well have slapped me across the face with your number one. Blood Meridian is number seven on my all time list and I think it might deserve to be higher, but I'm not sure that I completely understand his genius.

    But I generally agree with your list. Thanks for pointing out the political pandering in State of Fear - I couldn't even listen to that audiobook all the way through. The same thing happened to Orson Scott Card - he's a genius of characterization when he's not trying to preach politics (see Empire).

    But there's no doubt who would be number one on my list. Elizabeth Gilbert--and not for EPL, which is trash but doesn't really offend me--it's for The Last American Man, which is hands down the worst book that I've ever read. See my review here (

  19. I can't think of any writers who really piss me off: not that I can justify, anyway. That almost disappoints me. Either I'm really undiscerning, really easy to please, or I haven't lived!

    I did start writing about non-people book stuff that irks me, but it became a blogpost of it's own (here:

  20. James Patterson! For these reasons:

  21. First place goes to Elizabeth Gilbert, that sanctimonious, self-absorbed twit. Right under her would be Jonathan Franzen and James Patterson. I get pretty bitchy when I talk about any of the three.

    Cormac? Really? I haven't read everything he has written but I think he has a great literary voice. Very unique.

  22. JOHN GRISHAM!! yes, JOHN GRISHAM!! i used to think it was an exaggeration when people say they tossed (threw, flung) a book across a room from disgust, but i actually did it when i read the ending to The Broker. at that moment, i vowed never to read another grisham again, and i haven't. i would also add nicholas sparks (whose ego rivals that of james frey any day of the week - i live in greenville, sc where he started). thanx for letting me vent.

  23. I'd have to say that my pet literary nemesis is almost anyone who writes a memoir about their abusive childhood and/or drug addiction. That puts Mary Karr and Jeanette Walls at the top of my list.
    Having said that, I AM interested in Andre Dubois III new memoir, Townie, so go figure!

  24. Dave Eggers. He wins all kinds of praise because he's this great guy who works with kids and he donates sales from his books to good causes. And no one notices how poorly researched Zietoun is or how self-indulgent Eggers is in book after book.

  25. @Amy - I've never read any of her novels, but I've never been really tempted. And your anti-Picoult passion is infectious!

    @Suzanne - Yeah, that whining about women authors and the NY Times is what landed her on my Honorable Mentions list. I've never read anything by her either. I actually have a begrudging respect for Patterson - he's a factory, but he fully admits that.

    @Ben - Looking forward to seeing that.

    @Sarah - Douche, indeed. Nicholas Sparks also landed on my Honorable Mentions list for the reasons you mention and also the fact that he tried to claim he ISN'T a romance writer. C'mon, man. I hadn't heard that about his Cross death threat on TV, but that definitely lowers him a few pegs in my book!

    @Anonymous - Your a better person than me, having trudged through both Ayn Rand novels. I have 'em both, mostly for show, but I don't think I have it in me to actually reading them. Annie Proulx is an interesting one - I know very little about her or her books.

    @lady t - John Updike isn't impressive to me, either. I read the first two Rabbit novels many moons ago, but quit after those two 'cause I was bored. And very good call on the celebs (like Madonna...or Terrell Owens!) writing children's books. That's a traveshamockery. And I'm fairly certain we know which ladies to whom you're referring. ;)

  26. @Man - James Patterson seems to be winning the unofficial "comments" poll. Yeah, I hate how big his name is on the cover of his books, too.

    @Sarah - Uh oh - here we have the first one I disagree with. I'm a huge Franzen fan, though I will admit that that probably breaks my pet peeve about writers with huge ego. I'd argue that the Oprah dust up was less about his ego and more about hers, though. They're friends again now, so it's water under the bridge. Freedom is awesome - you should definitely read it!

    @IngridLola - He's a tool.

    @Jenica - I wish I could say I agree with you about All The Pretty Horses, but I don't remember it enough to comment intelligently. ;) All I know for sure about that novel is that someone made a terrible movie out of it that Matt Damon starred in, for some reason. Glad you enjoyed this - it was fun to write!

    @Trisha - YES! Thanks for reading the whole thing. I love seeing if readers are still paying attention near the end. ;)

    @bookspersonally - Elizabeth Gilbert seems to be high on a lot of folks' nemeses lists, so you're definitely not alone with Eat, Pray, Love. If I cared more, she'd make my list too for publishing a totally contrived "spiritual quest."

  27. @Mozette - I'll have to take your word for the Stephenie Meyers/religion thing - but I can definitely understand how the cliche plot is irritating. I also hate Dan Brown's writing - especially the italicized "thoughts" the characters have. It's his attempt to be profound, but they always make me laugh.

    @BooksaremyBFs - Oh, and don't forget shilling for Apple. I'll be interested to hear your take on Swedish Heaven. I wonder if it's like American heaven, only with fewer Jerry Falwells and more umlauts.

    @Jillian - Totally know what you mean about being consciously aware something's terrible, but continuing anyway - you know, that whole Train Wreck Theory. Janet Evanovich is one I thought would show up more frequently - what's your specific beef with her, though?

    @Barbara - You'd think so. Haven't read Bitter and Sweet, buy didn't notice sloppiness or anachronism in Water For Elephants. It's been a while, though. Any specific examples you could point out?

    @Patrick - I know, I know. Cormac and may wind up being cool someday - just hasn't arrived yet. I think maybe I just need to give Blood Meridian another shot. Well said: "flat, fractured, and uninspired tale." You let her have it!

    @Ben - Haaaa! The Nude Orc. I also very much enjoy the word nemeses.

  28. @bibliophiliac - Whoops, skipped you above - sorry about that! I haven't read The Bridges of Madison County, but "dreck" is quite a strong word! And yet another vote for celebrities who publish children's fiction - nicely done! That's surpassing James Patterson on the biggest literary nemesis list.

    @Brenna - Very cool that you got to meet him, and he impressed you. But I mostly agree with your other reasons. As I said somewhere above, though, I begrudgingly respect that he is under now false auspices about what he really is - he's about story, and the writing is secondary. (Which is why he doesn't actually do the writing for most of his books!)

    @Sandy - Yeah! ...another vote for Gilbert. And you win the prize for the most vitriolic condemnation: "sanctimonious, self-absorbed twit" made me laugh out loud! Disagree about Franzen, though. ;)

  29. @robyn - Ah, yes - I was wondering when someone would bring up Mr. Grisham! I will admit to having enjoyed some of his book, but when people told me how bad and how silly Playing for Pizza is, I mentally crossed him off my list forever. Yes, Nicholas Sparks - he made my honorable mention list. I enjoyed your vent!

    @2manybooks - Interesting - why does that particular type of memoir draw your ire? Is it just because it's seemingly so common - that we've heard that story before? I'm also intrigued by Townie - I'll keep an eye out for your thoughts.

    @CB - Wow. I'm stunned. I have to admit, my first reaction to your comment was that I thought you were being sarcastic. I loved Zeitoun, and not sure I understand how being a great guy who donates his book profits to charity makes him a BAD guy. What about Zeitoun leads you to believe it was poorly researched? And I'd say Eggers is one of the LEAST self-indulgent writers out there - as evidenced by the fact that he doesn't write books for personal gain!

  30. This post cracked me up! Brown was also sued for plagiarism by Lewis Perdue for copying his book Daughter of God. So some more ammo for you against DB.

  31. Agh! I hate James Frey! Just reading about him in this post has got my blood boiling. I saw him at a reading once (he was there with another author who I wanted to see). He was such an narcissus. And his new publishing plan is horrible.

    I need to go punch something now.

  32. Man, nothing drives me more batty than celebrities who publish fiction. Steve Earle, whose music I like, just published a novel. I proceeded to delete all his music. That'll show him!

    As for Cormac, I am torn. I loved Blood Meridian and despised The Road. The first I thought was brilliant in its use of language and storytelling and I thought the violence was completely necessary to convey what he was trying to convey. The other was too transparent and melodramatic. But, hey, if you don't like the guy, you don't like the guy.

    My list would be Gary Shteyshit and Zadie Smith. Not sure who else would make it. I should do this, but I'm busier than a dog in heat.

    Great post.

  33. Peeves, sheesh, everyone has covered them all! Except maybe one I ran across yesterday, a woman who said she hasn't found a good book to read in years. But she shops at Walmart. How lazy is that? Can't look any harder? I'd like to find LESS good books so I can do other things.
    Another peeve is people who bash Amazon. Yes, they probably are a bully and pushy, YET they are so freaking convenient-I can have a book here TOMORROW for $4. The prices, the convenience, the selection-I could start an Amazon Anonymous 12-step program but then I'd have to admit I have a problem. And with gas so high, I'm perfectly glad to have Fedex save me the cost of driving.
    Okay: more stuff to gripe about: books with lifesaving dogs or cats on the cover. Seriously! If I get one more arc of a cute dog on the cover with an 'inspirational' story I will scream.

  34. Terrific post! (I haven't been by lately - looks like I've missed some interesting posts.)

    If I may: "absolute turd of unmitigated anti-environmental and global-warming-skepticism propaganda". Once I finally stopped laughing over that one, I must say "Well put!" :)

    I agree with Dan Brown (hack), Cormac McCarthy (ugh), Nicholas Sparks (I admit I like his movies but the man cannot write, at all), and Greg Mortenson (also can't write).

    Glen Beck and Sara Palin - I refuse to read books by people who I find so completely irritating!

  35. I completely agree with Dan Brown (I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code and then made the mistake of reading his other books) and James Frey. James Frey sits in my hate list for the same reason McCarthy sits in yours. Everyone I knew loved his books and I just didn't get it. I thought they were terrible.

  36. Salman Rushdie for me. Too pompous. I'm currently in my second attempt at reading Midnight's Children, and believe me, it's a struggle reading this one. Can't figure why it won the Booker of Bookers.