I got an email today from someone at oedb.org (Online Education Database) asking me to share an article with my blog readers. Generally, I ignore such requests, partly because the articles seldom have anything to do with the topics covered in this blog, and partly because . . . well, this is my blog and my personal soapbox. But I am making an exception in this particular case because I liked the following introduction to the article, “The Worst Books by the Best Writers.”
It is said that even a blind pig finds a truffle now and then. That may be true, but writing a good book (despite what so many deluded amateurs seem to believe) is exceedingly difficult. A lousy writer is unlikely, under even the best circumstances, to produce a novel of any value. The reverse, however, unfortunately happens quite easily. The finest writer, if prolific enough, is still practically guaranteed to come up with a couple of duds. Lest anyone mistake the spirit of this inquiry, in which we look at failures on the part of authors whose reputations remain unimpeachable, let it be understood that our choices, though bound to rankle in some cases, are not meant to offend. It may be that we can learn something from great novelists’ misfires, perhaps as much as we can from their successes.
You can find the rest of the article and the list here: The Worst Books By the Best Authors.
Quite frankly, I’m not sure that I consider any of those writers to be the best. (They list Ernest Hemingway, DH Lawrence, John Updike, Tom Wolfe, S.E. Sinton, Kurt Vonnegut, Flannery O’Conner, Bob Dylan, Alice Sebold, Jeffrey Eugenides). I know don’t remember being particularly enamored of any of their books. But still, the person who wrote the article has a good point, that we can learn to be better writers by considering books that missed the mark.
My current concern is that except for a select group of writers and perspicacious readers, few people seem to value good writing or good books, let alone great books. In a world where everything has devolved into opinion, and one person’s uninformed opinion is the same another’s studied judgement, the only books anyone seems to care about are those that sell, usually because of some sort of titillation, whether erotica or violence. I sound jaded, I know, but what passes for good writing today makes me want to weep. If by chance the writing is okay, the story is often trivial, which is just as bad. Triviality is not the mark of a great writer.
It won’t be too long before literature degrades to the point where all we can do is celebrate the best books by the worst writers.