Elif Batuman, the LRB and creative writing programmes

Elif Batuman recently wrote a piece in the LRB about creative writing programmes. Ostensibly it was a review of Mark Gurl’s history of such programmes – The Programme Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing. As so often though the review became not just a critique of the book but a critique of its subject matter too.

I’m not going to rehearse the arguments in full. You can read the article online (even if you’re not a subscriber I think) here. That link also has the replies to the article in later issues of the LRB some of which make a very good case in rebuttal.

By temperament, experience and if I’m honest prejudice I’m inclined towards Batuman’s argument. Why I’m inclined to it is best summarised by this quote; the penultimate paragraph of his piece:

The continual production of ‘more excellent fiction … than anyone has time to read’ is the essence of the problem. That’s the torture of walking into a bookshop these days: it’s not that you think the books will all be terrible; it’s that you know they’ll all have a certain degree of competent workmanship, that most will have about three genuinely beautiful or interesting sentences and no really bad ones, that many will have at least one convincing, well-observed character, and that nearly all will be bound up in a story that you can’t bring yourself to care about. All that great writing, trapped in mediocre books! Who, indeed, has time to read them?

It struck a chord with me because I recognise it. Time and again I read reviews of what appear to be finely written books, but books with little to distinguish them from many other similarly finely written books. Technique alone is not always enough, particularly where technique alone may not be that rare a commodity.

Now, to an extent if I don’t read a book I can’t know if I was right not to read it. That’s a paradox all readers face: we can only really know if a book’s worth reading by reading it. It’s important then to occasionally push oneself and leave room to be surprised (as Maile Meloy is surprising me right now even though arguably hers is exactly the sort of work Batuman is criticising). At the same time it’s also important to recognise that we all only have so much time.

If a reader decides that they don’t much like the sound of sf then there’s only so much value in them checking out sf titles to see if they’re right in that pre-judgement. I don’t much like the sound of paranormal romance, but I haven’t tested that by reading Twilight. Ultimately I only have so much time in which to read and that’s probably not a good use of it.

Similarly, I only have so much time to read and there’s only so much value in spending it on the product of creative writing programmes. The problem is that while it’s unlikely I’d be a Twilight fan if I just gave it a chance it’s not so unlikely that in avoiding skilfully written tales of middle class angst I miss out on some books that I would truly love (Revolutionary Road after all is just such a book).

Where does that leave me? Still hungry for something more than dull but beautiful books, but recognising too that my own instinctive dislike for that form is problematic for me as a reader in a way that another’s instinctive dislike for sf might not be. Caveat lector.

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32 Comments

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32 responses to “Elif Batuman, the LRB and creative writing programmes

  1. Well max I feel publishers are equally to blame for this ,particularly in English they tend to take safe choice sellers rather than trying fiction .a look a the gulf in scope between books up for booker and the French and German version of the prize shows how safe UK and us fiction is nowadays .there is good writing out there but to many writers influenced by the whole UEA school of writing or the macall smith template .also reminded me to get Meloy I ve new aimee bender another talented us writer ,all the best stu

  2. Who, indeed, has time to read them?

    No one person has time to read them. Why is this a problem, a problem in any way? Should the bookstore only have the exact number of titles that Elif Batuman has time to read?

    Every book on the shelf at a bookstore has been read – by agents, editors, publishers – enough of whom thought the book was good enough that it had a chance, at least, to be read by enough other people to cover its costs. Why does Batuman find it “torture” if she is not one of those people?

  3. There’s certainly some truth there Stu. Publishers can be very conservative given how tough the market is. Could you comment more on the differences between our prize and the French and German ones? You know much more than I do about that I think.

    Aimee Bender eh? I’ll take a look.

  4. Hi AR,

    I can’t speak for Batuman, but I think her argument was that literature could be more but was settling for less. Well, part of her argument anyway. I read it in part as a critique of talent being bent towards ultimately uninteresting novels and so diminishing us by reason of that diversion of that talent.

    Another reading of course is that Batuman wants to be on top of the literary world but can’t be because it’s too large. I don’t think that was the point but it’s an arguable reading.

    For me it’s more a frustration occasionally with the literary pages of UK and US newspapers which seem to do a much worse job than the blogosphere of trying a range of fiction and of styles. The various blogs I link to on my sidebar have differing spheres of interest, but each of them shows a willingness to stretch and to explore that I tend to find absent from the public debate.

    That and I thought it an interesting article. The rebuttals are at least as worth reading as the article itself. As I noted above the responses are largely well made.

  5. Well prix goncourt in France has run for nearly hundred years awards in various categories and German book prize newer was based on booker ,think it is more fact there is a much higher percentage of books published in translation in both languages thus think writers in both languages have to try harder to shine also lot more immigrant fiction in both languages last years German book prize winner was a book set in eastern Europe

  6. That makes a lot of sense. Thanks Stu.

  7. I walk into a bookshop and the initial thrill turns to ‘what a load of old shit’ when I see certain books given prominence. Used bookshops are much more interesting.

    Creative writing programmes are indeed strange beasts. Not that I was ever enrolled in one, but as a lit major, I rubbed shoulders with many who were enrolled in CW. It’s peculiar to share space with people who diverged into the CW programme and don’t really want to be in the room discussing Tennyson with the rest of us.

    You are right, we will never know what we are missing when we turn down one book and pass to another, but I don’t find myself wondering about those I pass over much. There’s so much rubbish out there these days. That ‘victimhood’ discussed in the article for example, and I’ve learned to avoid those novels with blurbs that tell me what my reaction is going to be. I get fed up with the sheer sameness of some of these books. Good technique or not, the subject matter plays a large role in the ‘shall-I-read-this-or-not’ factor. And I’ll be honest, a book credited to CW programmes or workshops is a negative factor.

  8. Isn’t it very likely to be the case, though, that the majority of books one reads in a year are going to be like that, and only a few will be exceptional — creative writing programmes or no?

    I’d agree, though, that the literary pages could do with greater diversity. And I’ll also second Aimee Bender; her The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is probably the best book I’ve read so far this year, and the first I could imagine making it on to my best-of-year list.

  9. I think I am more optimistic than you are, Max. My first filter (and my impression is that it is yours as well) is a run through the 12 or so blogs that I regularly visit. To cite just one example, I’m not much of a mystery or sf reader — but I certainly like to read reviews from Guy and yourself on both genres, since that gives me about as much as I want to know (and does lead me to the occasional book in both genres). The second filter is conventional publications — the daily or weekend press online and LRB, New York Review of Books and Literary Review of Canada by subscription. I’m not a frequent non-fiction reader, but an extended essay on a work in those latter three usually tells me all I want to know about many non-fiction works (particularly bios and memoirs of fiction writers). Finally, and most particularly with Canadian fiction, regular chats with friends and a subscription to Quill and Quite (the national trade publication) gives me a pretty good short list.
    Certainly, that approach has led to overlooking many worthwhile authors until late in their career or even post-mortem — John McGahern and Patricia Highsmith would be just two who I’ve discovered in the last two years.
    I was inclined to agree with much of the Batuman article when I read it — Creative Writing programs are much more established in North America than in the UK and, I regret to say, that has resulted in the publication of many marginal works. On the other hand, I couldn’t help thinking as I read it that both Wallace Stegner and John Williams, both on my personal shortlist of Greatest American novelists, ran Creative Writing programs — and both produced some stunning graduates.
    So, given the time that I have to read (and that is a lot since I have left the conventional work force), I am convinced that I have a full reading agenda of worthwhile books, chosen through both my own experience and those filters I outlined at the top of this comment. Given my interest in new works, I also follow the shortlists of a number of prize competitions, which completes the list.
    I am sure I would be grumpier if I had less time to read and certainly would regard it as ludicrous to claim that I have covered even a half (quarter? eighth? sixteenth?) of worthwhile titles. On the other hand, I am personally quite satisfied that I have invested my time wisely.

  10. Honestly, the article is too complicated for me, and I’m not just talking about the language. For me creative writing classes are an Anglophone stuff, I don’t think we have so many of them here.

    My first reflex is to think it is strange. I imagine writing literature not as a job but as a calling. Like Rilke said in his Letters to a Young Poet, something the author NEEDS to do to be himself/herself, something they’ll do anyway, published or not. Brilliant writers have a voice of their own. I’m not sure it can be taught. Perhaps it’s too romantic to be true.

    However a painter, a musician must learn some technique. So why not a writer? And then I’m not so sure about what I wrote before. Maybe creative writing classes are useful to practice, like a pianist warming their fingers by playing their scales. That doesn’t make of anyone a writer or of any writer an artist, but perhaps it can help an artist to develop their voice.

    As I’m a very practical people, in the end, what matters to me is that I had what I was looking for, either something challenging, thought-provoking or something entertaining. I read for myself. I don’t have any responsability in discovering the next Proust. If I had a good time reading something coming from a creative writing class, why not?
    And like Guy, “victimhood” is what keeps me away from books about the writer’s cancer, the writer’s pain when she lost her child (we had TWO of those the same year in France, one accusing the other of plagiarism), the writer’s pain when his wife left him, the writer’s unbearable experience of incest, etc…Or worse, all miseries in one like in Hidden Lives by Sylvie Germain.
    Curiosity is my guide, sometimes a bad one, and I hope my blog reflects this. That’s why I read Twilight, such a success, it must mean something about our societies, if not about literature. I try to remain open-minded, I would never have read Vonegut without your recommendation, it’s on the SF shelves. And if I miss the genius of the century with my random method of chosing books, I’ll live with it.

    PS : I usely don’t read the book winner of the Prix Goncourt. It’s become a business between publishing houses. However, I recommend to have a look at the Prix du Livre Inter. It is given by common readers who are different every year.

  11. GB Steve

    I mind that I’ve only got enough time to read about another 2,000 books (1 a week for 40 years). I don’t mind that there are plenty from which to choose, even if they aren’t all ‘great literature’. That tends to bore me anyway. It’s almost all old and I find it hard to read anything written before about 1910. We just don’t remember, or see, all the terrible things written before then. There are three times more people as there were 140 years ago. These people are better educated and have more leisure – they will consume a lot more books, for a lot more tastes.

    Elif can just get off her high horse.

  12. I like to read challenging, eccentric novels – and I think it’s sad that they’re hard to find, and often from yesteryear.
    Thank heavens for the blogosphere. which helps me choose. If I had to rely on print reviews, I’d read a lot of rubbish, IMO.
    Lisa (riding off on a high horse with Elif!)

  13. leroyhunter

    It’s an interesting piece, and a good discussion.
    I thought her points about “victimhood” writing and the wilfull ignorance of literature’s wide, long history (eg the Kesey story) were particularly interesting.
    I agree with Guy: there’s a lot of work out there that’s easy to dismiss and ignore, it’s just not interesting.
    I agree with Kevin and bookaround: I trust my instincts as a reader and I use a number of sources of information to sate my curiousty about new, unknown or unexpected material.
    I disagree with David H: I’d say about 40 of the books I read last year were very high quality, such that I want to reread them or follow the directions they’ve opened up. That’s about half of what I read, a decent strike rate I reckon.

    Fundamentally there’s something in this that Max and bookaround have captured: the idea that the “competent craftsman” approach to writing is diluting the “overpowering (romantic?) need” that we often think (expect?) drives the best writers. That’s of course because MFAs, creative workshops etc are fundamentally answering a commercial, rather then an artistic need: to produce technically proficient writing about broadly similar themes that will be acceptable to publishers and has a chance in the marketplace.

    As an aside, I notice Carver always gets mentioned in this context, and never in a good light (there was an extraordinarily vitriolic comment thread about him on Chris Power’s Guardian Short Story blog a few years ago). I only read his first collection last year and I must say I was pretty impressed with it. Maybe it’s because I’ve insulated myself from the rest of this “school” of writing?

  14. Well, I have to say the descriptions of what people think happens in these courses doesn’t really match up with my experience. In my long and fruitless search for literary success, I have done a number of short-term courses and I recently completed an MA in creative and life writing from Goldsmith’s College in London (on the assumption that if I was never going to be a success I could at least get a certificate to impress my mum; she was duly impressed but my graduation was upstaged by my dad flamboyantly dying – typical!)

    Some of the shorter term, entry level courses are very prescriptive and rudimentary – “this is what works; do this, don’t do that”. That’s useful advice for young writers.

    My MA was more focused on figuring out what one is trying to achieve and on helping to achieve it. No one was told what they should write, in terms of theme or subject matter, but people could be called if it was felt they were being bogus or disingenuous, although always with the focus on concrete examples from the text.

    Brautman says:

    “In the final pages of his book, drawing up the merits of programme writing, McGurl ultimately falls back on the one thing the programme really does teach: technique. ”

    I haven’t read the book under review, so I don’t know what that guy says, but in my MA – and every creative writing course I’ve done – it was assumed that technique was all that was being taught. Everything else came from self-examination. If something didn’t convince the group, it was up to you to figure out whether it was a problem of content or persentation, and if you couldn’t figure that out then maybe you weren’t cut out for the job (and you’ll never find out if you don’t give it a try; probably you’ll never find out, alas, and keep bashing your head against the brick wall out of habit… sigh…).

    These courses exist because students want them. Students want them, because they have stories inside them they want to get out, the same as writers ever have. The getting-out of stories is actually a pretty complicated business, and everyone – every writer ever in the history of writing – needs some pointers along the way, especially when they’re just starting out (and, of course, no one bothers with shorts any more, so everyone just jumps in the deep end, and starting a novel is a very short road to creative desperation).

    Are all these stories worth telling? Probably not, but I am really struggling to understand how helping these people tell their stories is a bad thing.

    Creative writing M(F)As are now firmly established in the publishing process, just like having an agent has been for a decade or more. There’s no getting that genie back in its bottle, I’m afraid, whatever romantic notions about solitary artistes we may foster. With more people crowding up the gates, there are now more layers of gate keeper, but assuredly there have always been gatekeepers and creative writing courses are as democratic as any other; more so, even, I would have thought because any suburban house wife who fosters her child benefit can afford to spring for a course in the OU.

  15. Thanks for all the comments; too many I think to answer each individually.

    I’m actually pretty happy with my own reading choices. More precisely there’s vast amounts I want to read but I know I can’t read it all or even a fraction of it. I just finished a Tom McCarthy. I read a review once where he castigated some group or other for not having read some modernist canon or other. Who can read every canon? Who has the time? Which of the many canons do we choose?

    The Tom McCarthy though not flawless did bring home how conservative the literary pages are. Yes they’ve caught up with him now, but there’s a tendency to focus attention on safe grand names whose best work is frequently years behind them. Newspaper literary pages sometimes seem like travel sections. Book reviews for people who won’t read the books reviewed. Travelogues for people who won’t go on the holidays described.

    Technique clearly can be taught – to a degree anyway. What I think can’t is a unique perspective. An imaginative grasp. Writing about what you know is so terribly limiting since most of us really know so little from personal experience. It leads to a dominance of certain kinds of voices in fiction.

    I was in Amsterdam recently with colleagues. We took a canal boat ride with beer and sausages and so on. As we went along we passed some flats which had been built on floating platforms on the canal. Some of us, me included, thought they looked lovely. Others thought about problems with damp and insects.

    Art is always something of a struggle between romance and practicality. All the inspiration in the world won’t help if you don’t sit down and actually write. A vision won’t help if you can’t put a sentence together (well, maybe in some genres it might, not otherwise). And even if you’ve had your vision and put it on the page it still needs marketing to reach an audience.

    For all that I think Leroy captures what troubles me with these classes. They seem more driven by the needs of commerce than art. Ultimately I’m not much troubled because there’s more than enough books out there that I could avoid every one of these works and still have more great novels left than I could read in a hundred lifetimes (and I don’t go out of my way to avoid CWP titles). I do think though that they’re part of why contemporary Anglo-American literature interests me less than say early 20th Century Eastern European literature.

  16. We crossed posts Patrick. I’m sorry to hear about your father.

    I don’t think anyone here is arguing for somehow trying to stop the courses (which would be a doomed enterprise anyway). I think Batuman was more arguing about their effect.

    I’ve read at least one of your short stories (the teleportation one) and I don’t think that’s at all the sort of thing Batuman was getting at. Yours was a rather joyous piece of (to me) golden age sf. It wasn’t your own background with added vague melancholy.

    If a book finds a reader who appreciates it it was probably worth publishing on an artistic level (if not necessarily a commercial one). That doesn’t mean a certain approach to publishing can’t foster certain kinds of books over certain others though or that a certain saminess may not be the result if publishers over-rely on certain routes. As I said in the post that crossed yours though while I have some concerns I’m not overly troubled. I thought it an interesting article though and worth discussing.

  17. Ah well, old men die, it’s what they do. Thanks, though.

    To address this:

    “Technique clearly can be taught – to a degree anyway. What I think can’t is a unique perspective. An imaginative grasp. Writing about what you know is so terribly limiting since most of us really know so little from personal experience. It leads to a dominance of certain kinds of voices in fiction.”

    There are more ways to “know” than personal experience (otherwise no one would ever write historical novels) and the phrase covers more than the literal circumstances of one’s life. Again, I haven’t read the book Brautman’s reviewing, but she seems to take the most reductive and literal approach to this and to the question of point of view. In the course of my MA, we had a number of wide-ranging discussions on these issues and what they mean beyond the obvious. It is not an exhortation to write only thinly-veiled autobiography.

    In terms of my own work, well, the same things apply. I’ve never teleported or suffered inadvertant duplication, but I have the experience of multiple versions of myself – past versions, drunken versions, “What if-?” versions (where I joined the Fantastic Four, eg), the various faces I put on for work, family etc etc. In that sense, I was writing what I “know”, although dressed up in a metaphor and with some jokes and the odd punch in the face.

    “That doesn’t mean a certain approach to publishing can’t foster certain kinds of books over certain others though or that a certain saminess may not be the result if publishers over-rely on certain routes.”

    It has ever been so! My opinion is that creative writing courses represent the spreading of a much wider net than the previous old-boys-network version did.

  18. I can only complain about the problems in publishing I see around me today though. Fifty years ago had I been publishing a small press magazine (the nearest equivalent to blogging I can think of) I’d have fulminated against the dead hand of convention and old-boys-network strangling fiction and preventing working class writers like Kersh or Sillitoe from being heard (to pick two I’ve read and who were in fact heard).

    Actually, those voices still struggle to be heard. Whatever their merits may be I don’t see the creative writing classes ushering in a new world of diverse voices. The voices we get don’t seem that different to those the old boys used to let through.

  19. Well, having done one and witnessed the reality of it, that is not what I experienced. I am just writing what I know!

  20. Ah but while diverse voices may be joining the courses, are they getting on the three for two stacks?

  21. To prove it one way or another would require more data mining than I am interested in doing – if you think you’ve got something up your sleeve, please do present it! We’d probably have to come to an agreement by what we meant by “diverse voices”, too. I’m not sure that’s one we could easily hammer out.

    My own argument comes from the – admittedly risky – territory of common sense: more people going to uni, more people doing creative writing courses, more publishers and agents getting more manuscripts from them and publishing them.

    As data points, Evie Wyld, Amy Sackville and Ross Raison (sp?) were recent Goldsmith’s graduates, although I’m not sure I’m doing my argument any favours by referencing them… (I’ve only read Amy’s novel which was fantastic!)

  22. I’m going on anecdote as much as the next man. Like you I’d rather not give up the day job to research all this.

    I think it’s the last part of your chain where it breaks down:

    “more people going to uni, more people doing creative writing courses, more publishers and agents getting more manuscripts from them and publishing them. ”

    Publishing them. I’m not sure that bit’s happening. More manuscripts doesn’t mean more voices being published (or more diverse ones anyway). It’s also not just a question of who gets in print but who gets pushed.

    Of course publishing is a business. It would be naive to expect a big marketing spend behind books which they expect to have only limited appeal. The best marketed literary fiction is middlebrow literary fiction. The mass market always tends to want the expected and publishers would be foolish not to spend most of their budget giving it to them.

    Hm, I think I just about avoided being an incredible snob in that last couple of sentences. I’m certain I did. Yes.

    The small press are better for this sort of thing. Tindal Street for example are good at publishing authors who don’t quite fit the usual mold and there are other specialist publishers I could mention (though Tindal stands out for publishing new authors rather than older undeservedly forgotten works).

  23. Here’s a link to an article I’ll be citing in my next blog post which talks a bit about this:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/tom-mccarthy-how-he-became-one-of-the-brightest-new-prospects-in-british-fiction-464502.html

    Being on the same side of an argument as Tom McCarthy isn’t ideal actually. He tends to come across poorly in interviews…

  24. “Of course publishing is a business. It would be naive to expect a big marketing spend behind books which they expect to have only limited appeal. The best marketed literary fiction is middlebrow literary fiction. The mass market always tends to want the expected and publishers would be foolish not to spend most of their budget giving it to them.”

    I agree with that bit, Max, so I cut and pasted it. The heavily marketed stuff typically worries me, and so many books are hyped as something special when they’re not. Of course the same thing happens with film. The foreign films that make the Oscar nominees are not necessarily the best of the year–but perhaps they are the ones more likely to appeal to a wider audience.

    And GB Steve: Look on the bright side. The projected number of 2,000 books may increase as you age. If and when I retire, I hope to triple my reading at a minimum. I read a book about Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) and the author said Lee spent all day reading. Now that’s more like it!

  25. I don’t even know what “middle brow” means. Is it just a euphemism for “pretentious”?

  26. No, not at all. It’s not remotely my term actually; just one that was useful there.

    It’s just fiction that isn’t lowbrow or highbrow, and of course there’s no hard and fast lines between any of this. Tony Parsons strikes me as clearly middlebrow. You’re generally talking reasonable writing and solid story which is after all what most people want. You’re not trying just to please the crowd but nor are you trying to play games with language or perspective or experiment with form or anything remotely like that.

    I’ve seen it used as an insult, but then I’ve seen that with lowbrow and highbrow too. Highbrow is sometimes used as a synonym for pretentious but never middlebrow.

    Speaking personally I’d guess the majority of the tv I watch is middlebrow. In terms of books probably some of the crime too (though the whole middlebrow/highbrow thing isn’t really used much with genre) but I tend to prefer either lowbrow or highbrow. I like action and fun or something to get my teeth into. A good story well told is a powerful thing and something I sometimes enjoy, but it’s not what I mainly read for.

    Like all these terms it’s really just a shorthand. Highbrow fiction is the ultra-serious stuff, lowbrow the lowest common denominator crowd-pleasing stuff (which can still be very good – take a bow Mickey Spillane) and middlebrow the stuff in between.

    What I meant in the comment about marketing middlebrow literary fiction is that what gets the biggest push is reasonably safe well written literary stuff. Books which undermine the reader’s confidence in the narrative or which play with tenses or whatever tend to leave a lot of readers cold. Many find them overintellectual. Remainder is a great example of that. The three for two sections in Waterstones where they include literary fiction (which they do a fair bit) mostly have stuff which isn’t really that challenging because most people don’t read to be challenged (any more than I watch tv to be challenged so I’m not knocking it).

  27. Pingback: French Ways and their Meaning by Edith Wharton « Bookaroundthecorner's Blog

  28. leroyhunter

    Point/Counter point: the subject of Batuman’s review responds:
    http://lareviewofbooks.org/post/5389807479/the-mfa-octopus-four-questions-about-creative-writing

    Meee-ouch

  29. Thanks Leroy. I’ll print it off and have a read.

    Pistols at dawn! Batuman’s a Russian literature enthusiast. She should be fine with duelling.

  30. I had a chance to read the rebuttal over the weekend. I didn’t find it wholly persuasive. He creates this utter strawman of the “dour old Maoist” which he then talks about at some length, but it’s a creation entirely of his own making. He addresses his interpretation of Batuman’s argument much more than the argument itself. He cites a laundry list of authors to prove that contemporary fiction is in good shape but admits that many of them didn’t go through creative writing programmes and in all honesty I wasn’t that blown away by his list (which extends to postwar fiction, I think Batuman was talking primarily about the state of literary fiction today even though the scope of her comments extended further).

    He opens quite well when talking about the laundry list of standard criticisms (many of which I’ve made myself) and about how they are both tired and wrong. I’d have liked to see him better show why they are wrong though, and I didn’t really feel it quite did that.

    It’s also very personal in places (literary journalism’s “own Ann Coulter” and the accusations of elitism). What were your thoughts on it?

  31. leroyhunter

    Similar to your own Max, the whole Maoist thing left me none the wiser and the bulk of the response was catty, personalised and flimsy. I got a real tone of “who are you to question or criticise my work?” from the essay. Which of course doesn’t answer the questions or criticisms.

    Having said that, other stuff I’ve read by Batuman has put me off her quite substantially as well. So given her self-stylings and anointment (in certain places) as a significant new critical voice, I can (almost) understand the snotty response. I’ll still read her Russian lit book given the chance.

  32. I have mixed views on Batuman myself; like you the more I’ve read by/about her the less I’ve been keen. I may read her book, but my impression is that those who enjoy it most are those who know Russian literature least and vice versa.

    Now, my knowledge of Russian literature still isn’t that great so I’d probably enjoy it, but something about that impression worries me.

    The thing with the rebuttal is that it may be correct, but it fails to make the case. The whole dour Maoist thing in particular is just misconceived. Argue with what was said, not with what someone you’ve made up might have said.

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