With summer reading season slowly limping away in the August heat, literary critic Anis Shivani steps back to assess the 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers. Since "we no longer have major critics with wide reach who take vocal stands" he takes it upon himself to critically appraise prolific literary icons in a series of lists for The Huffington Post.
The "overrated" list—which includes William T. Vollman, Amy Tan, and Junot Diaz—is intended to "separate the gold from the sand" and lead readers out of the wilderness of "mediocre" mainstream books. He carefully explains his rationale here:
If we don't understand bad writing, we can't understand good writing. Bad writing is characterized by obfuscation, showboating, narcissism, lack of a moral core, and style over substance. Good writing is exactly the opposite. Bad writing draws attention to the writer himself. These writers have betrayed the legacy of modernism, not to mention postmodernism. They are uneasy with mortality. On the great issues of the day they are silent (especially when they seem to address them, like William T. Vollmann). They desire to be politically irrelevant, and they have succeeded.
"Best/worst" lists inevitably raise the eyebrows of skeptics, and Jezebel's Anna North takes the critic's list to task with some pointed words. Noting that 9 of the 15 writers he singled out were women, she turns a critical eye Shivani's own prose:
What true lover of books had to "understand bad writing" before she recognized good writing? What joyful reader, asked to explain what she loves about her favorite authors, responds by listing what they're not?...To make blanket pronouncements about What Writers Shouldn't Do is simply to impose the limits of your own imagination on other people. It's small-minded, and yes, it's bad writing.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.