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A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House; 1 edition (September 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0971865906
  • ISBN-13: 978-0971865907
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #174,937 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Myers reports in this audacious broadside upon current American literary writing that, "at the 1999 National Book Awards ceremony, Oprah Winfrey told of calling Toni Morrison to say she had to puzzle repeatedly over many of the latter's sentences. Morrison's reply was, `That, my dear, is called reading.' " But Myers proclaims that it is in fact called "bad writing." Myers, a philologist and teacher of North Korean studies, declares that "the problem with so much of today's literature"-and critically acclaimed literature at that-is "the clumsiness of its artifice... a prose so repetitive, so elementary in its syntax, and so numbing in its overuse of wordplay that it often demands less concentration than the average `genre' novel," and he backs up this claim by tearing with gusto and wit into the prose of five authors: Don DeLillo, Annie Proulx, Cormac McCarthy, Paul Auster and David Guterson. If this sounds familiar, it's because the Atlantic published an abridgement of an earlier version of this book in 2001, drawing some applause but also fusillades from much of the lit-crit establishment. Included here are Myers's full arguments plus a meticulous rebuttal of his critics. Myers makes a serviceable, if debatable, case that DeLillo et al., and by extrapolation much of contemporary literary writing, have strayed from the clarity and artfulness of expression that earlier authors, from Woolf to Conrad to Bellow, achieved; and that the true heirs of yesterday's giants may be today's genre writers. What makes this entertaining book so important isn't the point-by-point relative correctness of Myers's argument, however, but that at last someone has dared to say, with energy and insight, what many have privately concluded: that at least some of our literary emperors are, if not without clothes, wearing some awfully gaudy attire, and that certain sectors of the lit-crit establishment have colluded in the sham, all at the expense of... readers.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"A welcome contrarian take on the state of contemporary American literary prose." -- The Wall Street Journal

"Brilliantly written." -- The Times of London

"Hits the mark." -- The Sunday Times of London

"Literary historians may . . . realise this was the moment . . . someone dared to say out loud that the emperor had no clothes." -- The (London) Observer

"Useful mischief." -- the Washington Post

"Useful mischief...he's got the big stuff right." -- Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

More About the Author

Brian R. Myers received a doctorate in Korean studies from the Eberhard-Karls-Universität in Tübingen. He is also the author of A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose, Melville House Publishing.

Customer Reviews

Highly recommended for both readers and writers.
David Barker
Bravo to Mr. Myers for telling us the truth: most contemporary "literary" fiction is just pretentious.
Rosa La Luna
This makes things even easier - if the book review itself is pointlessly difficult to read, move on.
Jefferson D. Bronfeld

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

147 of 163 people found the following review helpful By audrey TOP 500 REVIEWER on September 16, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the first reviews I ever wrote on Amazon.com was for "The Art of Scandal : The Life and Times of Isabella Stewart Gardner" by Douglass Shand-Tucci. I'd read about it in the New York Review of Books and, encouraged by the author's having won literary awards (oh! if I only knew then what I know now!), was distressed to find it almost unreadable, replete with sentences like this:
'Though stimulated by her patronage - Gardner was one of the first to see Loeffler not only as a virtuoso but as the composer he wished to be and increasingly today is regarded as - Loeffler grew to feel at one point distinctly imposed upon by Gardner, who seemed to him possessive and only too willing to "show him off" in Ralph Locke's words, as "a kind of in-house virtuoso" in the Gardner music room, all of this, or (sic) course, quite classic behavior on the part of humble but artful, trustworthy but vain, kind but cruel and rampagingly dominant Isabella!'
Yikes, I thought, somebody messed up. Perhaps the editor forgot to edit and the reviewer forgot to read? Several weeks later I heard an interview with the author on NPR and listened intently, waiting for someone to ask the author about this horrid, florid style, and was shocked that neither correspondent nor callers ever mentioned it! Since that episode I've saved the reviews for books I intend to read so I can compare my reading experience with that of critical reviewers, and I have been shocked (shocked!) at the disrelation -- not just once but many times.
Enter B.R.
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60 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Linda on December 7, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Readers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your New York Times Book Review!

I first heard of The Reader's Manifesto on BookTV (C-Span), when a guest named it as one of the best nonfiction books of the year, and said it criticizes modern "literary" writers and the reviewers who love them. David Guterson was one of the writers the author critiques, so I couldn't wait to get the book.

Let me tell you why. I'm typical of the readers that Myers discusses. After reading mostly computer books for a while, I'd taken up serious reading again. Unfortunately, most of the books I read and audiobooks I listened to were bad. After looking for something that had received good reviews and awards, I chose Snow Falling on Cedars by Guterson.

The book was a grindingly slow, repetitive piece of crap. It didn't turn me off to reading as Myers worries, but after a handful of well-reviewed klunkers like that, who knows? If you're interested, you can click to see my other reviews and read my 1-star review. I even wrote some faux-Guterson dialogue as a bit of sport.

So I wanted to see if B.R. Myers agreed with me, and hallelujah, he did. He mentions us Amazon reviewers in this book (Myers says we know what we're talking about, for the most part, because we trust our own taste and sensibilities, and we discuss the author's style instead of recounting the plots. Yay for us!). I felt validated; a lot of reviewers loooooved Snow Falling on Cedars, it won all kinds of awards, and there *is* this kind of attitude out there that you don't like something the critics love, it's because you don't get it, because you're a philistine.

Myers is no philistine.
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54 of 62 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 23, 2003
Format: Paperback
It seems that a good number of the reviewers here haven't actually read the writers that Myers criticizes. "You don't have to be familiar with the books?" Sheesh. Shouldn't one make his or her mind up about works of art instead of relying on critics?
Having read the essay only and being only truly familiar with Delillo and Auster (who both run hot and cold, IMO), I think Myers has a few good points and some bad points.
But I think some of the reviews here are mistaking "difficult" writing with "bad" writing, something I don't think Myers does. In fact, he praises Joyce, Woolf, and other writers who, at their most challenging, are far more difficult to read than Delillo, Auster, or (I'd wager) any of these others. Myers isn't celebrating anti-intellectualism as some here seem to think he is. His argument is with sloppy writers, not difficulty.
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33 of 40 people found the following review helpful By PARTHO ROY on October 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
Have you ever read an award-winning work of recent fiction, only to wonder why it has received so much praise? Well, to quote Robin Williams' character in "Good Will Hunting," it's not your fault.
Myers' book is a well-balanced and concise work, less than 150 pages (including endnotes and bibliography), but it packs a powerful impact. He focuses his well-documented attack on pretentious modern literature with specific stylistic criticism of five contemporary American authors, award-winning writers snugly ensconced in today's literary Hall of Fame. The excerpts he employs to demonstrate bad writing are as illustrative as they are painful to read, and there is scarcely a sensible reader out there who wouldn't agree with Myers' complaints. In many places, Myers contends that the amateur book reviewer on Amazon.com (that's us) knows more about good reading than the high-minded critic in New York. He ends the book with a fair response to his many critics and enemies, along with a sarcastic set of "rules" any aspiring writer of "serious" fiction ought to adhere to.
In short, I am glad to have discovered this book, as it affirms many of my reactions to today's awful, yet acclaimed, writing. If you've ever been puzzled by the positive hype surrounding a terrible book, read this manifesto and discover that you are not alone.
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