free speech & snobbery

Harold Bloom is a Very Big Name in literary circles, and a man of strong opinions. This is what he told the New York Times when the National Book Foundation gave the most prestigious award it has to offer to Stephen King:

“He is a man who writes what used to be called penny dreadfuls…That they could believe that there is any literary value there or any aesthetic accomplishment or signs of an inventive human intelligence is simply a testimony to their own idiocy.”

This kind of thing makes me (1) mad; (2) melancholy; (3) really glad I got out of academia. Do I think King is the best writer ever? No. Does he understand how to tell a story? Yes. Has he made a significant mark on American literature of the present day? Absolutely. Does he deserve this award?

There’s the issue, and here’s my answer: I don’t know. It’s not something I’ve given a lot of thought, mostly because my opinion doesn’t really matter on this. What I do know is, Harold Bloom epitomizes what bothers me about the literary elite, so ready to get out knives and cattle prods and go to work. I would bet that Harold Bloom has never read Stephen King. I certainly wonder how he defines ‘inventiveness’.

At any rate, the reason I got into this was, I wanted to point you to a very good essay by Steve Almond on this Bloom on King business: The Bloom is Off the Mark. I don’t agree with every premise, but I think he nails Bloom quite nicely. On the same site there’s Almond’s excellent piece on blurbs.

While you’re over there, have a look around MobyLives. It’s an interesting place and you might want to visit Steve Almond’s webpage too.

3 Replies to “free speech & snobbery”

  1. Thanks for that recommendation, Barbara. I’ve been meaning to read that book, and you’ve reminded me.

  2. I just finished reading Stephen King’s book On Writing: A Memoir of the Writing Craft. King has a very good outlook on what the literary critic have to say about him and his work. However the comment was meant to insult him and the judges—I don’t have much respect for people like that.

    Since you mentioned reading Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott I thought I would suggest this one to you.
    It is half memoir and half writing instruction, filled with revealing stories that were interesting and entertaining.

    My favorite story was about how he came up with the idea for the book Misery. When he was on a flight to London he fell asleep and dreamed the plane crashed and he was nursed back to health by a psychotic fan.

    When he arrived at his hotel he couldn’t sleep until he had developed the story idea further. He asked the conceirge if there was a quiet place he could write in the hotel. He was taken to a beautiful cherrywood desk the gentlemen said once belonged to Rudyard Kipling. After several cups of tea and hours of writing he went back to thank the man for letting him use the desk. Then he was told Rudyard Kipling died from a stroke at that desk while writing.

    (LOL) It and seemed an entirely fitting experience for a horror writer to me.

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