Letters: Best (And Worst) of 2009

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12/23/2009 4:00 AM |

Worthy Cause Most Hopelessly Undermined by Our Feelings Regarding Its Proponent

Basically, if Jonathan Safran Foer tells us it is very, very important that we do something, we will almost certainly be tempted to do the opposite. For instance, having recently read an excerpt from his new book Eating Animals, we suddenly find ourselves struggling against an overwhelming desire to spit-roast a factory-farmed panda. Yes, we are aware that this makes us terrible people. We’re sorry. He just brings it out in us.

Falsest Advertisement for the Writer’s Life in Brooklyn
If the aggressively local-knowledgeable Bored to Death is to believed, then you—yes, you!—can parlay self-deprecating, resolutely minor-key, barely fictionalized navel-gazing into encounters at the cultural center of New York City, just like Jonathan Ames. You cannot. Trust us.

Pettiest Letter to the Editor in Response to a Positive Review of One’s Own Book
Malcolm Gladwell sent a piddling, self-justifying letter to the November 29 edition of the New York Times Book Review, after Steven Pinker, in a review of What the Dog Saw, found problematic Mr. Gladwell’s use of a potentially weak football analogy in an essay regarding teacher selection and professional performance. Yet note: Mr. Pinker’s review had been quite positive. Note: Mr. Gladwell’s letter is shamefully catty. And note: Mr. Pinker’s reply thereto is irked and curt. Might it not have been preferable, then, Mr. Gladwell, to be grateful for a great review, and to accept differences in opinion when it comes to sources for football statistics? If you’re genuinely tickled (or your mom is, anyway) that Mr. Pinker calls you a “minor genius,” you might have demonstrated enough congeniality to let sleeping dogs, winking or not, lie.

Most Egregious Examples of Feminism’s Giant Backward Strides
While Twilight and the continued prevalence of Sarah Palin may be the most visible factors setting women back 60 years, Elizabeth Ford and Daniela Drake’s Smart Girls Marry Money is the killshot: a manifesto pushing women to marry solely for money, and soon, before age and wrinkles spoil their chances. The thesis may sound like cynical realism, but the authors cite fewer than 15 sources to support their premise, and are reduced to quoting their own “expert” opinions.

Best Reminder Once Again That If, In Fact, You Truly Want Your Unfinished Works Burned When You Die, You Really Ought To Just Go Ahead and Do It Yourself
When we were kids we had a dog named Footnote who loved to sit on our living room couch. A dog on the couch, however, was against house rules—a fact that we spent much time communicating to Footnote. Eventually, he got it, and so long as someone was in the house, Footnote would stay off the couch. When we left, however, this understanding broke down, and no matter how many times before heading out we told Footnote “no getting on the couch,” we would inevitably return to find the tell-tale signs of dog hair and warm cushions. The recent situation with Nabokov and Dmitri and The Original of Laura reminds us a lot of that. Although to be fair, Footnote really wasn’t in Nabokov’s league as a prose stylist.

Best Reason to Feel Not-So-Bad That the Publishing Industry is Slowing Collapsing Before Our Very Eyes
Last year National Review’s Jonah Goldberg put out his long-awaited tome Liberal Facism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. Reviews were middling to poor, but because people like your Dad get a kick out of books that call Hillary Clinton names, it sold a gazillion copies and made everyone involved infinitely more money than they deserved. A few weeks ago Goldberg got a $1 million contract to do it all again. And this is why we now confine our reading to celebrity Twitter feeds.

Unexpected Demise Occasioning the Lustiest Cheers From The Industry’s Agent and Editor Corps
Larry Bird once said of infamous NBA heckler Robin Ficker, “If there was an open season on fans, he’d be the one I’d bag.” Coincidentally, this is how many in publishing felt about newly defunct Kirkus Reviews. Rest easy writers, now you’ve just got Publishers Weekly to worry about, and they like pretty much anything.

Worst News for Anyone Still Laboring Under the Delusion That Writing Fiction Can Be a Lucrative Enterprise
As you might have heard, Oprah is ending her show in 2011. This, naturally enough, leads us to the following question: Hey, Mr. Jonathan “In-Retrospect-I-Feel-Kind-Of-Dirty-Having-Hawked-My-Wares-On-Oprah-Although-Granted-It-Probably-Did-Net-Me-A-Couple-Hundred-Thousand-Bucks-I-Otherwise-Never-Would-Have-Seen” Franzen, where are you gonna go the next time you’re looking to drum up interest in your latest literary effort? The Joy Behar Show? Yeah, good luck with that.

Best Use of the Internet to Trick a Bunch of People Into Putting Down Their Computers and Spending Several Months Reading an 1104-Page Novel Instead
Last summer The Morning News sponsored the “Infinite Summer” project wherein hundreds (thousands? We couldn’t find a precise number) of people around the world gathered together online to read and discuss David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. “A noble and crazy enterprise,” was how John Hodgman described it. That sounds just about right to us.

Greatest Validation for the Many Wonderful People Toiling for Little Money and Less Recognition at Small and University Presses Across This Land of Ours
There have been some head-scratching Nobel Laureates in Literature over the years (Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson? As if!), but as an ongoing history of world literature it’s, you know, not bad. Yet to the extent that Herta Müller, the Romanian-born German author who won this year’s Nobel, has even a toehold in the American consciousness, it’s because her output has been released sporadically, to little fanfare, by the likes of Metropolitan, Serpent’s Tail, and the University of Nebraska and Northwestern University Presses. Proof, if further proof were needed, that foisting literature in translation upon an indifferent public really is god’s work.