Today has proven to be a good day to get annoyed (this has nothing to do with today’s mystery book group meeting, which was great as usual), so I thought I’d mention this annoying article. I know I shouldn’t let the article get to me, as the author is obviously trying hard to annoy people and I’m falling right into the trap, but oh, well. Sometimes it’s fun to get annoyed.
The article is basically a discussion of authors the columnist, Rod Liddle, thinks are overrated. There is also a list of authors other critics and writers can’t stand. Some of the explanations in the list are funny — it can be amusing to watch other people get annoyed — but many of them bother me because of their easy dismissal of authors generally considered great. I have no problem with someone disliking Charles Dickens or Virginia Woolf’s The Waves or the late Henry James on a personal level, but someone writing as though anybody in their right mind would hate Dickens and The Waves and the late Henry James just irks me. Who are you to say you’re right and everyone else is wrong?
To return to the article, I’ll let you decide just how irritating you think Liddle is on your own (does he have a reputation for being an ass? It wouldn’t surprise me), but I did want to say something about this bit — Liddle is talking about an informal survey he did asking writers what books they thought were overrated:
The columnist Catherine Bennett chose “the entire Virago imprint”, bemoaning the fact that, for political reasons, she had felt duty-bound to plough through Rosamund Lehmann and the like when there was Philip Roth waiting there, unread.
Okay, so Bennett doesn’t like Lehmann. Fine. No one is required to like Lehmann. But I’m troubled by the phrase “and the like” and by the dismissal of all Virago books. Virago books are written by a wide range of authors. You can’t get away with lumping them all together and pitting them against Philip Roth as though all the Virago books are actually just one. It’s absurd. If you think Philip Roth could beat Rosamund Lehmann in some kind of a writing contest, fine, but don’t pit Roth against a whole range of women writers and assume that contest makes any sense.
There are other absurd and offensive things in the column, but I don’t want to rant on. I suppose my real problem is that I expect all critics and columnists to be reasonable, rational people who try hard to be fair. Yes, I can be a naive idealist, I know.