J. Peder Zane, of The News & Observer (based in Raleigh, N.C.), beseeches Stephen King to decline the National Book Foundation 2003 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters:
You may think that you have suffered gross mistreatment from literary tastemakers, who snobbishly dismiss anyone who write s thrillers, science fiction and tales of horror. You may think that this medal represents long overdue recognition for your better than advertised body of work.
But even if you believe you deserve this honor, we can both agree that you are not receiving it for the same reason as Updike, Morrison, Miller and Roth. We both know that the scales haven’t suddenly fallen from the eyes of literati, who now recognize your genius. I hope we can admit that non-aesthetic concerns are at work here.
Harold Bloom has weighed in on the Western Canon, the “J” texts of the Old Testament, the reasons children should read, and now on Stephen King’s unworthiness to receive the achievement award. According to Bloom, all but four living U.S. authors might as well hang up their hats:
Today, there are four living American novelists I know of who are still at work and who deserve our praise. Thomas Pynchon is still writing. My friend Philip Roth, who will now share this “distinguished contribution” award with Stephen King, is a great comedian and would no doubt find something funny to say about it. There’s Cormac McCarthy, whose novel “Blood Meridian” is worthy of Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick,” and Don DeLillo, whose “Underworld” is a great book.
(Thanks to SM for fowarding the link yesterday morning.)
I’ll admit to being charmed by Bloom’s The Book of J in an undergraduate “Bible as Literature” course. Since then, I’ve familiarized myself a bit more with his sweeping approach to the study of literature, and I find his work more and more maddening.
Larissa MacFarquhar profiled Bloom for The New Yorker this time last year. After reading her article, I came away with the distinct impression that he’s quite the blowhard (and not in a good way). The profile isn’t available online, but in this Q&A MacFarquhar talks about Bloom’s approach to reading:
Well, Bloom would be the last person to say that there is anything pure about reading. Reading, in his view, is a difficult pleasure. It’s not sinking into a warm word bathâ€”it’s not soothing or encouraging or uplifting in the Oprah sense. Reading well is a terrible struggle, not only with the writing itself but also with the sensation of miserable inadequacy and belatedness that you feel when encountering a great mind of the past. So, while it’s true that Bloom has written many best-sellers, he is certainly not the sort of populist who feels that complicated, highbrow writing is a lot of pretentious rubbish that would be better if boiled down into something simple. And it’s only recentlyâ€”in the last ten years or soâ€”that he has been writing popular books at all.
As for King, I’ve never made it through an entire novel. I did read and enjoy “The Body” (a short story) when I was sixteen, but I was, after all, sixteen, and I haven’t returned to it since. While in college, I tried reading The Stand (unabridged) at the suggestion of a boyfriend. I only made it through a hundred or so pages. Not my thing. Updike isn’t my thing either, though, and he’s won the award. I’ll leave it to the rest of you to duke it out.
I’ve been neglecting this story about The Bookseller of Kabul, written by Asne Seierstad, a Scandanavian war correspondent. The book has become an international bestseller, but the bookseller who inspired it is suing the author in Europe for defamation. According to The OBserver, Mohammed Shah Rais comes across in the book “as a cruel, tyrannical patriarch”:
The women of his family, except for his new teenage bride, are treated like dirt. His sister, especially, is a virtual slave. His 12-year-old son is made to sell sweets rather than go to school.
Chuck Palahniuk alleges that Entertainment Weekly writer Karen Valby wrote up “scads of information she had heard ‘off the record.'” Palahniuk exacts his revenge by revealing personal information about Valby. (Via Prints the Chaff.)