Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The sport of writers: insults, all sorts

Vladimir Nabokov: not a fan of Fyodor D., either

It's proven that writers generally tread lightly when discussing other writers, at least in public. There are moments, though when exasperation, frustration and sheer cussedness break through the professional literary surface -- usually when the target is well out-of-range or (in the case of Twain savaging Jane Austen) safely beyond reply.

Emily Temple has compiled a list of the thirty best zingers between writers. As she writes, we forgive our dear authors for their makes sense that the people they would choose to unleash their verbal battle-axes upon would be each other, since watching someone doing the same thing you’re doing — only badly — is one of the most frustrating feelings we know.

Here's a sample from her selection, culled from world literature, that shows Cervantes can be just as much a bore at that run-at-the-mouth Proust. Not to be outshone, readers sent in a few of their own favorites that seemed worthy of a second set of thirty.

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

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

17. 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.”

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

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

11. Vladimir Nabokov on Ernest Hemingway(1972) “As to Hemingway, I read him for the first time in the early ‘forties, something about bells, balls and bulls, and loathed it.”

5. Evelyn Waugh on Marcel Proust (1948) “I am reading Proust for the first time. Very poor stuff. I think he was mentally defective.”

4. Mark Twain on Jane Austen (1898) “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.”

And a few readers' contributions:

Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman “Every word she writes is a lie, including the "and"s and the "the"s.”

H.G. Wells on Henry James “A hippopotamus trying to pick up a pea.”

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