The Good, the Bad and the Meh!

Writer's Block

Not open for further replies.

Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
I was thinking about which authors I love, that I wish were more widely read, after finishing a novel by John Williams. He's been acclaimed in recent years, finally receiving recognition for his wonderful story Stoner.

Set in academia, the plot sounds slight, concerning the career of an English professor and his dutiful ways and thwarted love life, but the writing is powerful and memorable.

John Williams only wrote two volumes of poetry and four novels, which were all different in subject matter. I recently enjoyed Butcher's Crossing. This would probably be classified as a Western, and shelved in that genre in a bookshop, owing to its 19th-century setting, but it's writing of the highest order. There are no gunfights, but plenty of gore; it reminded me of Moby Dick in the way if portrayed a man's obsession and flawed relationship with Nature. John Williams is definitely one of The Good.

The Bad writers are legion, and, unfortunately, they often prosper. I've pilloried Jeffrey Archer before on this forum, so won't go into a rant. Sufficient to say, the man is a scoundrel and horse-whipping is too good for him. For forum members not familiar with his loathsome career:

Jeffrey Archer - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

He writes with all of the skill of an illiterate ten-year-old, yet his novels have sold millions. It goes to prove that it's not what you can do, but who you know that counts when seeking recognition. His contacts in the business world helped to launch his career, saving him from bankruptcy.

As for The Meh, writers who are lauded but who leave me cold, there are quite a few. Sadly, they often write what is know as 'Literature'. By that I mean, more than anything, they are taken seriously by critics, win awards, appear at literary festivals as the main attraction and their opinions are sought on global affairs. They're admired for their intellectualism, but their ability to tell a story leaves me going 'huh?'

Something tells me, that Jonathan Franzen, Paul Auster and Douglas Coupland would have a hard job telling a decent joke, and I'm not sure I'd want to be seated next to them at a dinner party.

Who do you love, hate and feel apathy for?

(I just had a thought—perhaps one's reading tastes would make a perfect predictor of compatibility in a romantic relationship!)

OMG, I finally have an opportunity to bitterly complain! Thank's so much, Paul! :D

The "love" list is quite simple when it comes to fiction writers: John Irving and Wally Lamb. They are the only authors who's books I actively pursue in the second-hand shops and flea markets. All their works are bestsellers, so one can bet on finding something nearly each time ;) Lamb is an extraoridinary writer to me- his novels truly deserve to be called "psychological". As for Irving... It is not what one would call "high literature" perhaps, but I am a faithfull fan. I read an oppinion once, that "Irving writes the same book over and over again- and he does it better than eanyone ever could". Couldn't say it better. Thais said, "The Fourth Hand" was quite dreadful and "Untill I Find You" started great, eneded in a "meh". Carol Birch is next in line to join the two gentelman- after reading "Jamrach's Menagerie" I will buy more of her books whenever I will get the chance.

There are also the Russian classics, but why Dostoyewski is THE master is not something to write on a forum, but rather a subject for a night-long discussion, stocked up on liquor of your choice ;)

"Meh"- many, of course. I read Jonathan Coe's "Rain before it falls", since then encountered few of his books and was never tempted to buy them. I'm very sorry to say, but Zadie Smith's "On Beauty". And, my most bitter dissapoitments: "The Bad Girl" by Mario Vargas Llosa and Marquez's "Memories of My Melancholy Whores". But that may be my problem, because I seem to always expect that each Iberoamerican writer will be as excelent as Cortazar or Jose Donoso.

Now, I would never say about any of them that they are bad writers. There was something very enjoyable for me in all the aforementioned titles, it's just that my expectations were higher to start with.

That is veeery different when we talk about what author I hate, and there is one name that had been raising my blood pressure for some time now: Jeffrey Eugenides. It started with my friend leaving "The Marriage Plot" behind after a visit. We agreed that I will return it next time I'll be in Poland and she urged me to read it in the meanwhile. I didn't like it, mostly because of the unapologeticaly antipathetic characters. After some frowning she agreed that it's not his best book and said that I should really read "Middlesex" to appreciate Eugenides's true genius. And one day voila! It stands on the shelf right in front of me. For 2E, I decided there is no hurt in giving it a chance. I read almost exclusively in public transport- other commuters were chainging their seats in reaction to the constant muttering of curses in 3 languages and the faces I made while consuming this mighty work of art.

I can't say that Eugenides is a bad writer. He is perfectly competent, better than me for sure. But there is so much wrong with this book. First of all Mary Sue-ism. The MC is so clearly based on the author himself, that he could just give it up and call him "Jeffrey". The thinly veiled disdain that he has for everyone who isnt him/his family/his gilfriends is nauseating. Throughout the whole thing we are treated to cliches and stereotypes concerning gender, ethnicity, political inclinations and dietary choices, all delivered in a "listen to me cause I know" tone. Gather the most primitive "knowledge of the masses", put it between hardcovers and sell for 25E pp. Golden deal! Perhaps most disgustingly of all, the whole book drifts on cheap sesationalism- put a woman with a "thingy" in the middle of your story and for sure you'll get some press.

Ok, I had my moment. TL;DR- give a like ans scroll down :D
Well, there are lots of authors who write stuff I don't like, and who make lots of money by doing so. No point in naming them or complaining, everybody has to make a living in whatever way they deem acceptable. What I find disappointing is to see an author who has written a great book and achieved well-deserved success then go on to rapidly produce a ream of sub-standard material. I get the impression that his agent/publisher has said to him/her "We have to capitalise on the success of your last book, so write lots more stuff, quickly -- doesn't matter what you write, anything will do, so long as you do it NOW." The rushed and poorly-edited results are unfair on the reader.
I have another question. Who are these critics? Be they of art, book, film, music or any other creative form. What gives them the right to judge and to express such judgement as if with authority? If they are just human beings with well-heeled connections, how can their opinions be considered expert?
Last edited:
I have a list of authors whose work I avoid. On Goodreads (memo to self - must update it, a dozen books behind) I have a shelf 'never to be finished'. God (or whoever) forbid that my work should end up on a similar shelf. However, James Patterson, team of 30 writers, laughing all the way to the bank... Can't find the emoticon for envy...
I have another question. Who are these critics? Be they of art, book, film, music or any other creative form. What gives them the right to judge and to express such judgement as if with authority? If they are just human beings with well-heeled connections, how can their opinions be considered expert?
Critics are just readers with a platform (and often an agenda). Before taking their offerings too seriously, remember that everyone is a critic and no one or everyone is right. Professional critics however, have justly been likened to eunuchs at an orgy. A comforting thought.
Not open for further replies.

Writer's Block