24 Apr 2014

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon

Just recently I found out about the Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon, that apparently is a huge thing.
Because I am a newcomer in the book blogging world, and also because I am greedy, I want to bite a piece of the readathon cake, which promises to be quite interesting considering my read list!

Write Good or Die by multiple authors (173 pages) REVIEW
A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift (158 pages)
Sandwiches by Sarah Tyson Heston Rorer (128 pages)
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe (46 pages)
The Battle of the Books by Jonathan Swift (23 pages)

As you can see, all the works are not too voluminous. But, by the descending page number of the books I picked, you can also see how nervous I am about the upcoming ordeal! I don't want to fail, no-no-no, especially not at my first time! So this is why I picked some small pieces, no more than 50 pages, in order to get at least 3 out of 5 books done!

Here, as well as in my recently created Twitter account (@olga_rabo), I'll be making updates on  my progress and results! I am extremely excited and am very looking forward to sharing this experience with other participants!

Who else is taking part in the Readathon? Share your book lists!

21 Apr 2014

Book Review: The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho

When it comes to The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho, people usually split into two groups: the ones who love the book and the ones who hate it. The 'haters' often look down at the 'admirers', saying that the latter ones simply lack literary taste. I realize it is mean, and unfair, and may sound square, but I have to agree with that: people who find Alchemist a good book have either no taste or simple are not well-read. Both are quite bad excuses.

The book, which is about 70 pages long in Word (for some reason (I think it's a marketing technique), some published editions manage to stretch this scribble up to whole 250 pages), can be read in several hours. The protagonist, an Andalusian named Santiago, sees a dream about the treasure hidden at Egyptian pyramids, and decided to follow the dream, like a true believer. On his way, Santiago meets an old man Melchizedel who becomes his mentor and who gives him two stones, Urim and Thummim, that are supposed to show 'answers' and give 'signs' at the crossroads of choices and difficult desicions. Santiago also meets a mysterious Alchemist who teaches him how to accept oneself and, together with that, the soul of the whole world. Successfully overcomming all ordeals that Santiago faced during his quest (i.e., doing everything that 'fate' prepared for him), he finally finds the treasure (and love, and self-acceptance).

I honestly do not understand the ecstatic rapture around this book. It is just so bad on so many levels. Let me touch upon several of them:

The Alchemist is a pure pop-culture product on the shallow level of Britney Spears' creations. Pop-culture is not innovative. It is simply a mash-up of everything that was once on the tide of public enthusiasm. Why do you think people like Lady Gaga? Her music is so catchy because it has something from Madonna's biggest hits, something from Elton John, something from Mercury, and son on.

The Alchemist is based on absolutely the same concept: borrowing. There is nothing new idea-wise, and everything that is borrowed is done in the tackiest way. I choose to say 'tacky' because writing another Book of Proverbs and making it sound as something 'original is exactly that. The Alchemist is a big colletcion of quotes, famous expressions, aphorisms and words of wisdom taken mailny from the Bible. But of course, one has to have read the Bible or at least be very knowledgeable about it to have the ability to recognize these little details, that, in this case, are not even archetypes, but a blatant copy.

Regarding the very literary value, the book has none. Bad style, bad writing, words are intert, the plot is bleak, the characters are extremely flat, and, most importantly, the author has absolutely no voice. And isn't the voice of an author, his perspective, his view, his angle, his opnions the main thing that is keeping the drive? Isn't that one of the very functions of literature - to convey one's true opinions and beliefs, to let yourself be heard and spread your own word? Unfortunately, Paolo Coelho does not 'own' anything. And his famous Alchemist is nothing but a sorry compilation.

PS. I wish people read more classics.

18 Apr 2014

Book Review: Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome

My first acquaintance with the works of Jerome Klapka Jerome (I always loved the 'Klapka' part, it just sounds so ridiculous) happened in my early teens, with his famous Three Men in a Boat. Later on, I watched the soviet film adaptation of the book (1979, starring super-talented Andrej Mironov), which became one of my most favourite soviet movies. Because let's face it: Three Men in a Boat is the wittiest, funniest, silliest, most hilarious thing ever written about the idlest, laziest young imbeciles (and the world has those in abundance) who struggle to find a cause to employ their torrential energy at.

Three Men was written in 1889. Three years earlier, however, Jerome Jerome prepared the ground for the novel with his collection of essays Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow, which is, as believed by many, a continuation of Lazy Thought of a Lazy Girl published anonymously be Jerome, who hid behind a female pseudonym of Jenny Wren.

Jerome Jerome dedicated this collection of observations to his most faithful friend and dearest companion in idleness: his pipe. Smoking it slowly and leisurely, this was, I believe, how he created his essays in which he raised a question of what it really means to be an idle fellow. 'A genuine idler is a rarity', Jerome points out, 'He is not a man who slouches about with his hands in his pockets. On the contrary, his most startling characteristic is that he is always intensely busy.' But, what does it really mean to be an idle fellow after all? Well, from what I learned out of JKJ's essays, being an idle fellow is almost the same as having ADHD. You try to focus on one thing, but eventually get carried away with the sudden torrent of other ideas with their powerful waves that are impossible to withstand. Jerome Jerome, a skillful idler himself, admitted that at times he felt like his own mind was giving way under this mental downpour. The only way to win the battle, however, is to surrender. Surrender, let your thoughts flutter like butterflies, and you will be rewarded with an ability to make some of the deepest observations on life that in normal, i.e. oppressed, state of being simply cannot be fit into your busy time-schedule. You learn a lot about the world once you let your mind dwell freely upon random things. You learn, for instance, that cats are smarter than dogs. Or that everybody is vain -- especially your pious auntie, and especially cats. You learn that people are better creatures when they are fed, and that melancholy, in small doses, is the most pleasurable thing on earth.

This is not shallow. This is life.

At first glance (and at second, too), Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow, albeit full of Jerome's cleverest remarks on human nature, lacks common structure: there are no resolutions to the initially proposed issues of discussion; there is too much chaos and too much deviation. But it is exactly these deviations that make the essays such a pleasurable, and edifying, read.

13 Apr 2014

The Circle of Literary Influences

Everybody knows that a good book is full of allusions to another good book. One of the most obvious examples would be my favourite John Fowles, who used to refer to Shakespeare in nearly all of his works. Of course, Fowles took his obsession over Shakespeare to an extreme - my college professor even used to say that Fowles was a Shakespeare-wanker (which is an extreme on its own, too). Nevertheless, it is true that literary history is ample with evidences of great poetic influences: Virgil, the father of Roman cultural heritage, set Homer as an example for imitation and modeled his 'Aeneid' on Homer epics. Virgil himself, in turn, was a literary 'father' to Dante, Dante to Chaucer, Chaucer to Spenser, Spenser to Milton, Blake and Wordsworth...This all only supports the fact that literary influences is a thing that should be taken into a strong consideration when reading a novel, as knowing where 'that' comes from, helps to undesrand what 'this' means.

Getting familiarized with the circle of literary influences is beneficial not only for mere readers and connoisseurs of art, but also for writers themselves. Nearly a century ago, T. S. Eliot, in his essay 'Tradition and Individual Talent', declared that a poet must 'develop or procure' an understanding of writers'predecessors, to whom we, moderns, own absolutely everything and without whom we would never exist. Which, if you think about it, is completely true.

However, the genealogical tree of literary influences is not entirely marked with solely blue-blooded signs. It is, on the opposite, a kneaded texture of allusions and borrowings from every possible form of human imagination, beyond literature: chemistry, physics, mathematics, music, cinema, philosophy, et cetera, et cetera. This one huge genealogy is a reflection of the whole heritage of artistic conceptions and perspectives on life.

The illustration presented below (source: BrainPickings) does not portray the chronological order of first and last things but is still immensely interesting as it helps to comprehend how all the forms employed by the human imagination are all puzzle pieces of the complete vision of the world, enfolded in a single circle - the circle of influences.

11 Apr 2014

Book Review: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

I was never a fan of contemporary literature. Not because I didn't like it, but simply because I just never read it. I thought: it can never be as good as classics, which was a view imposed by my literature teacher at school, a harry-potter-hater. And so I never really tried how it tastes.

Well, The Secret Life of Bees tastes like honey. It is a sweet, viscous consistency of words that had a liberating, soothing effect on me. Sue Monk Kidd writes in a gorgeous language, using simple words that have a great power.

At first glance, the plot of the story looks a bit unoriginal: another coming-of-age story, another Bildungsroman. The main motifs are plain and unpretentious, and the end is quite predictable - a girl sets off on a quest to find truth about her long-dead mother, and she does, and eventually she even discovers for herself something more significant than that. On her way to finding the 'truth', Lily (that's her name), a tragic optimist and a naive believer, goes through things that may be even eye-rolling for some of the readers: first life-turning menstruation, first can-never-be-together love, dealing with an abusing father who lost his ability to love and withdrew into himself, and another set of cliches. Plus, the background motif of black people fighting for their rights is also quite hackneyed.

But. All these cliche stories touching upon the commonly known questions that have been on the table for no less than eternity already are so moving that it is simply impossible not to fall under their charm. And 'simply' is a determining word when it somes to this novel.

I like the simple idea conveyed in the book (which I define as a 'quest for independence') that in order to fully mature, it is necessary to find confidence and drive within, and stop seeking and craving for other people's acceptance. Accept yourself first. Love yourself first, forgive yourself first, cherish yourself first, and then the whole world will repeat after you, like a reflection in the mirror. This is what the real faith is. And Lily learns that this real faith is not hidden behind some certain symbols; instead, these symbols of faith can be anything else - a black Madonna, a bee-hive, a stone wall. Or Rosaleen's pancakes.

I also like how symbolically Sue Monk Kidd drew a parallel between the life of bees and life of humans. In the ancient times, the bees were considered to be a symbol of life, death and rebirth which is everything Lily underwent once she ran away from home and started a new life in the honeyland.

I love the simplicity of The Secret Life of Bees. It is exactly what makes the book so complex and so interesting - Sue Monk Kidd took everything we all already knew and mashed it up together in a unique combination that proposed a new, fresh, and a strong perspective on some everlasting things. And ultimately changed my views on the value of contemporary literature.

PS. Did you know that honey can be purple?

8 Apr 2014

Suicide Club: Writers Who Committed Suicide

Suicide is a word strongly associated with artistic people. It not just happened to be so - the long lists of suicidal writers, singers, painters, dancers and philosophers can hardly discredit this idea. I assume that in some cases, the inborn empathy, which is the source of artistic creativity, is as much of a gift as it is a curse...

Depression seems to be a connecting thread between many famous writers who decided to tear off its end by saying goodbye to life. Sometimes it was a simple way out of boredom, or severe illness, but sometimes it was a result of despair, of being driven into a corner, of feeling trapped, of having to step on the throat of one's own song... The motivation for some writers' suicide is still widely debated and maybe it will never be all cleared.

Until it is, here is the list of some of the greatest writers who commited suicide. There are, of course, many of those who did it, but in this list I tried to put the very creme de la creme. It is a funny feeling to see that even in death writers compete in creativity with each other.

Virginia Woolf, age 59: filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself in the river
It may sound horribly cynical, but it's difficult to imagine other end for Virginia Woolf. Early in her life, she suffered from sexual abuse which most likely was the cause of her mental instability. Numerous nervous breakdowns, several suicide attempts, her frigidity and absence of female and maternal happiness steadily built up toward the moment when she finally gave up on life on March 28, 1941.

Stefan Zweig, age 61:  suicide pact with his wife

Just few years before the suicide, Zweig was leading a full life: he was a world famous writer of standing reputation, a successful novelist and biographer, friends with Thomas Mann, James Joyce and Sigmund Freud,  happily married... But being Jewish made him feel all the trials and tribulations of the Hitler regime. In 1934 Zweig left Austria to England but then, due to swift advances of Hitler's troops, he and his wife crossed the Atlantic ending up in Latin America. Zweig was not simply afraid for his life - his biggest fear was that the world would eventually submit to Nazism, leaving no hope for the future of humanity. Having drowned in utter and complete desperation, he and his wife died together of drug overdose. They were found holding hands.

Marina Tsvetaeva, age 48: hanged herself
The young years of Tsvetaeva were cloudless. She came from a very respectable family, got excellent education, was fluent in Russian, Italian, French and German, published her first collection of poems at the age of 18, and got happily married to another poet, Sergei Efron. However, her perfect life turned topsy-turvy after the civil war: her husband was sent into exile and executed, one of her daughters starved to death, another one got arrested, and she herself was evacuated to Tatarstan where she hanged herself leaving a heartbreaking death note to her son:
"Forgive me, but to go on would be worse. I am gravely ill, this is not me anymore. I love you passionately. Do understand that I could not live anymore. Tell Papa and Alya, if you ever see them, that I loved them to the last moment and explain to them that I found myself in a trap."
Vladimir Mayakovsky, age 36: shot himself
One of the major representatives of Russian futurists, the enfant terrible, Mayakovsky was also a supporter of the Bolshevik revolution. On the contrary to this fact, Mayakovsky was not supporting the Reds and saw himself as a proletarian writer. The year 1930 was literally a big fail for Mayakovsky: his personal exhibition was ignored by all notable literators, his play 'The Bedbug' was very unsuccessful on stage, and rumour had it in the literary cirlces that Mayakovsky merely 'wrote himself out'. He was constantly surrounded by quarrels, scandals and gossips, and on April 14, 1930, unable to bear the pressure, he shot himself in the chest. Mayakovsky didn't die playing Russian roulette - this is another rumour. He left a note that started with probably the most famous suicide line ever written:
"Dont gossip [about my death]. The deceased hated gossip."
Ernest Hemingway, age 62: shot himself with his favourite gun

Underneath his masculine image, Hemingway was suffering from depressions throughout his whole life, and was generally inclined to suicide. In fact, his whole family had a long suicidal history: Ernest's father Clarence commited suicide, just like his own father had. Hemingway's brother Leicester, sister Ursula and, later, granddaughter Mariel succembed as well, so the very lovely idea of suicide ran in Hemingway's genes.

Sylvia Plath, age 30: poisoning herself with carbon dioxide

Plath continuously suffered from severe depression. She has been through electroconvulsive and insulin shock therapy but her suicidal ideation remained untouched, and so she further attempted to succumb various times. As the matter fact, in all of these attempts she tried to be as diverse and creative as only possible. She was a poet, after all. So she used to come up with all kind of stuff: slashing herself, overdosing with sleeping peels, running the car off the road, et cetera, until one day she sealed herself in the kitchen, put her head in the gas oven, and turned the gas on. She left behind two little children that were with her in the same house when she finally succeeded in killing herself.

Hunter S. Thompson, age 67: shot himself
It is hard to understand why would anybody commit suicide having already lived so long, but it seems like that was the very reason for Thompson's desicion: life bacem too long and too boring. His final words were:
"No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun - for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax - This won't hurt."

Jerzy Kosinski, age 57: asphyxiated himself with a plastic bag

Kosinski was an extremely successful Polish-American novelist, literary award winner, bestselling author, with his works translated into over 30 languages. However, at the end of his life, Kosinski's health was severely undermined, putting him through irregular heartbeat and physical and nervous exhaustion, also caused by accusation in plagiarism.  He ceased to live on May 3, 1991, when he overdosed himself with drugs and alcohol, and, just to be sure of successul outcomings, wrapped a plastic bag around his head and suffocated to death.

Anne Sexton, age 45: poisoned herself with carbon monoxide
Sexton was fighting a long battle against depression, suffering from mental illness and having suicidal tendencies throughout her whole life. She went through therapy, and her therapist Dr. Orne was, in fact, the one who encouraged Sexton to start writing poetry. Good adviser, bad therapist - Dr. Orne used hypnosis and anesthetics to recover her quasi repressed childhood memories, and struggled to diagnose whether she was suffering from bipolar disorder or histeria. But Sexton was definitely suffering from something: reportedly, she was physically violent with both of her children and her husband, and apparently even sexually assaulted her elder daughter Linda.
Sexton died on October 4, 1974. She put on a fur coat belonging to her mother, drank a glass of vodka, went to the garage and started the engine of her car, dying from carbon monoxide poisoning.
At that time, Sexton's poetry collection The Awful Rowing Toward God was about to be published, and she never wanted the world to see it before her death. So maybe she just couldn't wait until the book was published.

John Kennedy Toole, age 31:
Toole was an English teacher aspiring to become a writer. He submitted his first novel to a publishing house Simon & Schuster where it got rejected due to its 'essential pointlessness'. Unable to face the rejection, Toole ended his life by attaching a garden hose to the tailpipe of his car, running it into its window, and dying from the exhaust. For the next decade, his poor mother would obsess about getting his manuscript published. When she succeeded, her son was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1981. 

5 Apr 2014

How Books Are Born

Has it ever occurred to you that we don't appreciate physical books anymore? Well, at least not as much as we used to. We literally take paper books for granted, assuming that they are going to stay there forever and that our 'romance' with e-books is no more than just a mere fling. It is true that nowadays we give more and more preference to e-readers instead of traditional books. And it's understandable: e-books are way cheaper, always available and it's easy to transport them, without having to worry about overweight in the airport.

As a consequence, though, we eventually stopped appreciating the art of bookmaking.

The first print book ever was made by Johannes Gutenberg in 1454, Mainz, Germany. That makes the bookmaking craft only 560 years old. Not that much, if you think about it. So it makes me just sad to realize that the art of bookmaking may die so young and that the books themselves will eventually end up as objects that are merely massing dust.

Take a look at this 2-minute video made by Daily Telegraph that shows how hardback books are made. The birth of books is a long, complicated process carried out with love and patience so that we, bookworms, would always have something to sniff. I know. Sounds great, doesn't it?

4 Apr 2014

Top-40 Author-On-Author Insults

Every writer is, first and foremost, a reader.  And equally with us, ordinary bookworms, they have their literary preferences and favourite authors, too. For example, world famous Dostoevsky admired Tolstoi, and Pushkin worshipped Dante. However, what happens when one famous author doesn’t like the work of the other one? By all means, this antipathy should be declared, out loud, in a form highly sardonic and offensive.

It’s funny to read how 2 famous writers of, let’s say, 20th century that are equally beloved now in the 21st, are hurling juicy insults at each other, using quite a strong language and humiliating epithets.  It’s hard to comprehend, really, how anybody would want to dig out Shakespeare’s corpse and pelt it with stones. And how that person could be Bernard Shaw. 

I offer a list of 40 roughest author-on-author insults – juicy, hilarious to read and incredibly offensive.

40. Salman Rushdie on E. L. James
“I've never read anything so badly written that got published. It made 'Twilight' look like 'War and Peace.”

39. Ayn Rand on C.S. Lewis

“The lousy bastard who is a pickpocket of concepts, not a thief, which is too big a word for him…This monstrosity is not opposed to science — oh no! — not to pure science, only to applied science, only to anything that improves man’s life on earth!”

38. Noel Coward on Oscar Wilde
“[I] am reading more of Oscar Wilde. What a tiresome, affected sod.”

37. Gertrude Stein on Ezra Pound
“A village explainer. Excellent if you were a village, but if you were not, not.”

36. Conrad Aiken on Ezra Pound
"For in point of style, or manner, or whatever, it is difficult to imagine anything much worse than the prose of Mr. Pound. It is ugliness and awkwardness incarnate. Did he always write so bardly?"

35. Charlotte Bronte on Jane Austen
"Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. What induced you to say that you would rather have written 'Pride and Prejudice'...than any othe Waverly novels? I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses."

34. Ralph Waldo Emerson on Jane Austen
“Miss Austen’s novels . . . seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in the wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched and narrow. The one problem in the mind of the writer . . . is marriageableness.”

33. Samuel Butler on Goethe
"I have been reading a translation of Goethe's 'Wilhelm Meister'. Is it good? To me it seems perhaps the very worst book I ever read. No Englishman could have written such a book. I cannot remember a single good page or idea... Is it all a practical joke? If it really is Goethe's 'Wilhelm Meister' that I have been reading, I am glad I have never taken the trouble to learn German."

32. Wyndham Lewis on Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein's prose-song is a cold black suet-pudding. We can represent it as a cold suet-roll of fabulously reptilian length. Cut it at any point, it is the same thing; the same heavy, sticky, opaque mass all through and all along.”

31. Samuel Johnson on Jonathan Swift
"Swift has a higher reputation than he deserves... I doubt whether 'The Tale of a Tub' to be his; for he never owned it, and it is much above his usual manner."

30. Samuel Pepys on William Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night's Dream)
"...we saw 'Midsummer Night's Dream', which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life."

29. Robert Louis Stevenson on Walt Whitman
“…like a large shaggy dog just unchained scouring the beaches of the world and baying at the moon.”

28. Friedrich Nietzsche on Dante Alighieri
“A hyena that wrote poetry on tombs.”

27. Vladimir Nabokov on Fyodor Dostoevsky
“Dostoevky’s lack of taste, his monotonous dealings with persons suffering with pre-Freudian complexes, the way he has of wallowing in the tragic misadventures of human dignity — all this is difficult to admire.”

26. Gustave Flaubert on George Sand
“A great cow full of ink.”

25. H. G. Wells on George Bernard Shaw
“An idiot child screaming in a hospital.”

24. Lord Byron on John Keats
“Here are Johnny Keats’ piss-a-bed poetry, and three novels by God knows whom… No more Keats, I entreat: flay him alive; if some of you don’t I must skin him myself: there is no bearing the drivelling idiotism of the Mankin.”

23. Vladimir Nabokov on Joseph Conrad
“I cannot abide Conrad’s souvenir shop style and bottled ships and shell necklaces of romanticist cliches.”

22. Dylan Thomas on Rudyard Kipling
“Mr Kipling … stands for everything in this cankered world which I would wish were otherwise.”

21. Samuel Johnson on John Milton (Paradise Lost)
“'Paradise Lost' is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is.”

20. Martin Amis on Miguel Cervantes
“Reading Don Quixote can be compared to an indefinite visit from your most impossible senior relative, with all his pranks, dirty habits, unstoppable reminiscences, and terrible cronies. When the experience is over, and the old boy checks out at last (on page 846 — the prose wedged tight, with no breaks for dialogue), you will shed tears all right; not tears of relief or regret but tears of pride. You made it, despite all that ‘Don Quixote’ could do.”

19. William Faulkner on Ernest Hemingway
“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”

18. Ernest Hemingway on William Faulkner
“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”

17. Gore Vidal on Truman Capote
“He’s a full-fledged housewife from Kansas with all the prejudices.”

16. Truman Capote on Jack Kerouac
“That’s not writing, that’s typing.”

15. Oscar Wilde on Alexander Pope
“There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope.”

14. Vladimir Nabokov on Ernest Hemingway
“As to Hemingway, I read him for the first time in the early ‘forties, something about bells, balls and bulls, and loathed it.”

13. Henry James on Edgar Allan Poe
“An enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection.”

12. Elizabeth Bishop on J.D. Salinger
“I HATED [Catcher in the Rye]. It took me days to go through it, gingerly, a page at a time, and blushing with embarrassment for him every ridiculous sentence of the way. How can they let him do it?”

11. D.H. Lawrence on Herman Melville
“Nobody can be more clownish, more clumsy and sententiously in bad taste, than Herman Melville, even in a great book like ‘Moby Dick’….One wearies of the grand serieux. There’s something false about it. And that’s Melville. Oh dear, when the solemn ass brays! brays! brays!”

10. W. H. Auden on Robert Browning
“I don’t think Robert Browning was very good in bed. His wife probably didn’t care for him very much. He snored and had fantasies about twelve-year-old girls.”

9. Evelyn Waugh on Marcel Proust
“I am reading Proust for the first time. Very poor stuff. I think he was mentally defective.”

8. Mark Twain on Jane Austen
“I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

7. William Faulkner on Mark Twain
“A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven sure fire literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.”

6. D.H. Lawrence on James Joyce
“My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness.”

5. Robert Louis Stevenson on Walt Whitman
“…like a large shaggy dog just unchained scouring the beaches of the world and baying at the moon.”

4. Henry James on Edgar Allan Poe

An enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection.”

3. Anatole France on Emile Zola
His work is evil, and he is one of those unhappy beings of whom one can say that it would be better had he never been born.”

2. Mary McCarthy on J.D.Salinger
"I don't like Salinger, not at all. That last thing isn't a novel anyway, whatever it is. I don't like it. Not at all. It suffers from this terrible sort of metropolitan sentimentality and it's so narcissistic. And to me, also, it seemes so false, so calculated. Combining the plain man with an absolutely megalomaniac egotism. I simply can't stand it."

1. Virginia Woolf on James Joyce
“[Ulysses is] the work of a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples.”
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