As is suggested in the subtitle, Myers uses this essay to point out how "pretentiousness" often passes for quality in modern American literature. He uses examples from Annie Proulx, Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, Paul Auster, and David Guterson.
I feel like I should preface this review by saying that I have not read DeLillo or Auster, I have tried and failed to read McCarthy, and I couldn't understand what was so good about Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars
. The only Proulx I've read was The Shipping News
; I found the plot enjoyable and wasn't nearly as bothered by her prose as Myers was.
However, I have a tendency to agree with Myers' thesis. I am bothered by the notion that a book is "good" because it is impossible to understand. I always thought that the point of a book was the enjoy the story being told, not to show off your intellectual prowess. I usually don't read "genre fiction," but it's not because I consider myself above it; I just can't get into sci-fi/fantasy or thrillers. They're not stories that interest me. I have a tendency to prefer straight fiction, and while I do take a lot of my recommendations from NPR and the New York Times
, I tend to make my selections based on how interesting the plot sounds. And I will not bother to finish a book whose author is trying too hard to impress me to simply tell his or her story.
This is not to say that I don't enjoy serious literature, either. I do enjoy watching writers play with language and occasionally find myself enthralled by books that require a great deal of focus. Sometimes, though, so much emphasis is put on these traits -- as well as a book's edginess -- that it does defeat the purpose of reading for pleasure.