A Reader’s Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose
by B. R. Meyers, which originally appeared (in an abbreviated form) as an essay in the Atlantic Magazine
, set off a storm of controversy. Meyers bemoans the wordiness, mixed metaphors, and downright incoherency evident in much contemporary writing and specifically lampoons current “giants” such as Don DiLillo, Annie Proulx, Cormac McCarthy, Paul Auster, and David Guterson. Meyers’ examples are often very funny; I particularly liked this quip about The Shipping News
, because I remember having precisely the same reaction: “On the second page of The Shipping News
, Proulx introduces the central character as a man with a body like a loaf of bread, a head like a melon, facial features like fingertips, eyes the color of plastic and a chin like a shelf. The reader is left trying to care about a walking Arcimboldo painting” (12).
In his witty conclusion, Meyers provides the ten essential rules for “serious” writers: e.g., 1. Be Writerly, 2. Sprawl, 3. Equivocate, 4. Mystify, and so forth. Meyers explains how to achieve the proper degree of writerly pomposity in Rule no. 10, “Playing the Part”: “Take yourself seriously. Practice before the mirror until you can say things like this with a straight face: ‘It’s because I want every little surface to shimmer and gyrate that I haven’t patience for those lax transitional devices of plot, setting, character, and so on, that characterize a lot of traditional fiction’” (133).