I Love Me …

“I see myself capable of arrogance and brutality… That’s a fierce thing, to discover within yourself that which you despise the most in others.” ~George Stevens

Everyone has them … articles that make you cringe. Things that make your skin literally itch to crawl off your bones in disgust. Pet peeves. Mine is literary elitism and I just read the mother of all posts on the subject. You can find it here. Go read it, or the rest of this post won’t make any sense. Seriously … I’ll wait.

OK, I trust you’ve read it. Here’s my problem … not only is Andrew Brown asserting that readers, who enjoy the prose of writers such as Dan Brown, are illiterate … wait for it … he has the balls to go on and on about his spotless and (worse yet) brilliant method of assuring that his style transcends the likes of Dan Brown and his ilk. “Flat prose” isn’t a new term, not by a long shot, but once again I find that intellectuals such as A. Brown are using their distaste for popular fiction as a childish weapon against feeling jealous of others’ success.

Comments are closed, no shock there, but I’ll give them some credit since the article is virtually archaic (2006). Still, it smacks of pretentiousness and frankly, I found the whole thing nothing more than a stroke-fest.

Unfortunately, A. Brown isn’t alone in his thoughts. If he read my work or anything at The Asylum, it would do nothing but verify his claims. After all, I’m sure this post is rife with dull, unadorned, and unpolished conversational fluff. But, my point in bringing this article up is that he’s gotten one thing in particular grievously wrong: what he calls flat prose, is simply elemental. Some stories are larger than the words with which they are told, and no amount of complexity is going to change that. Yes, he does give a little credit to LOTR for being just such a story, but did you catch the nastiness in his reference?

“Not all bad books would sell better if they were better written: if you rewrote The Lord of the Rings so that it did not read like a translation from invented dead languages, a lot of the book’s strange credibility would vanish, though by no means all. Its deeper credibility is non-stylistic and has more to do with the experience of war and loss than anything else.”

Strange credibility? Tolkien was a brilliant linguist and despite some of my personal issues in adoring his dialog, I’m not dense enough to wonder at the work’s credibility. LOTR is epic in more ways than one.

But, it doesn’t stop there.

“But there is a class of author where even this kind of explanation breaks down: Dan Brown, Dennis Wheatley, and some other thriller writers like Robert Ludlum fall into this category. They all produce books so aggressively badly written that no virtues of plot or characterisation – even if they existed, which they clearly do not – could make up for the deficiencies of style.”

No virtues of plot or characterization? Really. Who the hell is this guy to make such heated claims about the works of others in comparison to his own work? Five years later … how many Andrew Brown books do you have on your shelf?

Oh wait, we’re the illiterate masses. We wouldn’t have purchased his books anyway because we would be far too daft to fully grasp the understated brilliance of his stylish, yet-oh-so-humble prose. Wouldn’t we?

Or is it that something deeper within these works touches the hearts of real readers … the ones who carry those books near their souls and speak of those stories years after first reading them, as one would an old and dear friend? Perhaps there is something about the sort of narrative that transcends the overly ornamental prose of whomever it is he deems as worthy. I can’t give you names because he doesn’t bother to quantify what he thinks is relevant, worthwhile fiction. Other than his own.

But here is the real rub, and the most offensive claim he makes:

“I labour the point, but this resemblance to ordinary speech (except for the small matter of being unspeakable) is, I think, the secret of these books’ success. It is not just that they are written by people who can’t, in any interesting sense, write; they are read by people who have not properly learned to read. I don’t mean their taste is uneducated, or that they can’t spell, or that they have trouble with long words, though all those things may be true; I mean that they have not internalised the activity of reading so that it feels natural.”

Who can’t in any interesting sense, write? Wow. There aren’t words. At least not that come easily enough to rip this guy the new asshole he deserves. There are certain circles that would applaud his elitism. I hope, for his sake as an author, that those circles are large enough to maintain his livelihood. Calling everyone who doesn’t “get” your work, illiterate, does absolutely nothing for your career … as any professional publicist would tell you. Then again, maybe that small group of readers is who his writing best suites. I looked up some of his “refined” work and found it unutterably dull. But, perhaps that’s my fault for being so uneducated. He does after all hint that he believes all best-sellers to have been written for the poorly taught masses.

Andrew Brown, like so many of his professional peers, is a literary bully. His words are strong, but unlike a good cup of coffee, they have such little substance that drinking them leaves one feeling like a naked emperor just walked by, reveling in his new cloak, gloating over how it makes him look.

I’ll tell you how it makes him look. It makes him look like a jackass.

You see, there is bravery in saying precisely what you mean. There is danger in it. You can’t be misunderstood that way. Complex prose, often lends itself as its own excuse and defense against criticism because you can easily claim that you were misread or that the reviewer missed the point. Dan Brown doesn’t have that problem. There’s no cowardice in his work, because it merely is what it is. And millions of people think it’s incredible.

So, with that in mind allow me to translate Andrew Brown’s post for all of us illiterates out there. You’ve read what he wrote. But here is what he meant: “I love me. But my shit ain’t selling. So, it’s your fault because obviously you don’t know how to read. Not interestingly anyway and my work is infinitely more interesting than Dan Brown’s. Maybe when you’ve gone back to school and learned to naturally read my clumsy, clod-footed prose, you’ll understand my genius for what it really is. Until then, I pity you for your tastes.”

Nice. Good luck with that. I pity you for your arrogance.

**Brown (Andrew) is the author of The Darwin Wars: The Scientific Battle for the Soul of Man and In the Beginning Was the Worm: Finding the Secrets of Life in a Tiny Hermaphrodite. And no, I didn’t just make that last title up.

10 responses

  1. I’ve never heard of this jerkoff until today. That’s a good thing. However, his ideas are not new to me. Book Snobs are the exact kind of people I abhor. Saying this book is better because it was written by this author or because it is in that genre. Well fuck you! As long as a person enjoys reading, who cares WHAT they read?! I read just about everything from Classics to Sci-fi/Fantasy to Horror to Romance to Mystery to Western to Non-fiction. As long as the story is good, who cares?!

    And his claim about best-sellers? Has he never heard of The Caine Mutiny, The Road, To Kill a Mockingbird? They won a little prize called the Pulitzer and stayed on the best-seller lister for several years. Does that make the people who read those books illiterate too? How far does he really want to go with this?

  2. Brilliant you are, my dear, and way out of A.Brown’s league. You nailed him exactly: I’m not selling and I hate those who do. Give me “flat” prose like Jk Rowling any day. She, by the way, has a degree in Classics — who is he calling uneducated??!

    If I ever run across any of his stuff I’ll be sure to leave it on the shelf.

  3. Another nail hit square on the head. The references to JK Rowling, JRR Tolkein, and the likes drip with “nastiness”, as you put it. (Having read, and enjoyed, those authors, I was thoroughly offended for them.) I am a classically trained reader, writer, and scholar, and I know many other illiterates who share this same background or similar educational deficiencies. Never heard of this guy; if I ever do again, I’ll be sure to mention his viewpoints about any potential purchaser of his works to them so they are thoroughly edified. Mr. Brown is another classic example of someone who takes himself, and his opinions, too seriously to do any real good in the world. Book snob, literary bully–they are very nice terms to describe a not-so-nice kind of fella.

  4. How arrogant can you get? What gives this guy the right to decide what’s ‘good’ in writing and what’s ‘bad’? He can speak for himself but he certainly can’t speak for the reading public. Surely a book’s success (or lack of it) is the only true measure of whether it’s any good or not? And even that measure can be qualified by how much exposure it’s had or not had.
    This is definitely the worst case of sour grapes I ever had the misfortune to read. I couldn’t even finish his rant because it made me feel both sad and sick. I pity him for his ignorance – if he’s an example of an ‘educated’ and ‘literate’ person, then I’m happy being thick and illiterate! 🙂

  5. Sounds like you made all of his titles up. I suppose he thinks those titles are clever? I’ll bet he does. Sigh. This whole thing was sad. This is why I stay the heck away from most of the internet and anything that resembles a “book review” – especially of my own books. I love and appreciate my readers. I don’t want to get ill feelings toward them because of one bad, poorly-written review. That happened a little bit with Cinders, and I’m still trying to fix things in my head.

  6. Wow. That guy is going on my “never touch a book by this author” list. And until reading his article, I didn’t have such a list. Congrats A. Brown (which is funny in its own right now that I think about it…), you are the first on the list and there by yourself. Guess he IS elite after all! 🙂

    Thanks J.S.

  7. Very nicely put. I, frankly, am appalled by his public rave against authors that have a hell of a lot of credibility to their names. And to be honest – if they want to write literature that the masses devour in plain English – then they can go for it. It sells.

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