I know, I know. It’s been awhile. No excuses — I simply haven’t felt like writing, not even to finish up the promised series on writing influences. But it’s going to get better from here on out. Seriously. No, I promise.
So, for authors I consider the literary equivalent of Eli Wallach … I don’t even know how to explain what I mean. I guess I consider their work the equivalent of the stuff you see when you change a newborn’s diaper. And yet many of them have an incredible literary reputation. Take Herman Melville for instance. The only thing Melville ever wrote that was worth a damn was Bartleby the Scrivener. Moby Dick has one great line: “Call me Ishmael.” The rest of it is a great story marred by lackluster writing — details dry enough to be a technical paper on how a whaling ship works, but of little damn interest to most readers. Melville, along with guys like Tom Clancy, are the kind of writers that when you ask what time it is, they tell you how to build a wristwatch.
And what about J.D. Salinger? I’ve read The Catcher in the Rye and several short pieces by Salinger, and I’m one of those people who is simply not impressed. Maybe it’s because I re-read the book as an adult, but the teen angst Salinger portrays had little to do with what I felt as a teenager. It’s essentially a meaningless trifle — and I’m not really sure why it’s meant to be read as so much more.
So there are three — and there are many more to choose from. The Ugly authors are ones who, no matter how successful, remind me that bad writing knows no bounds — not even fame or fortune. And especially not the boundaries of literary critics, scholars or classrooms.