KR BlogReading

Really, Rachel Donadio?

The lit blogs have already panned Rachel Donadio‘s NYBR article on literary feuds. Donadio, always fond of the poorly-thought-out “think piece,” managed to write about literary gossip in the most boring way possible, suggesting there are no literary feuds anymore–possibly because there is no literature anymore. The death knell for fiction, besides being so 2005, is belied by this year’s best-selling literary novels (Pessl, Messud and Danielewski spring immediately to mind). “The memoir is dead” is the new “fiction is dead.”

The fact of the matter is, the literary feud is also alive and kicking. There’s Richard Ford spitting on Colson Whitehead, the dustup in Australia’s poetry world–John Kinsella vs. Robert Adamson and Anthony Lawrence–that resulted in a restraining order, and, in a more polite vein, John Derbyshire vs. Ramesh Ponnuru, just off the top of my head. If we stick to America only, we still have this amusing list to choose from.

But that isn’t even the biggest issue I had with the piece. The problem was that Donadio had nothing to say. She failed to come up with a good angle. I can’t imagine how–maybe she is just having a rough week and I should lay off. But this seems like the sort of stuff that is easy to write about whenever it falls into your lap.

I can think of one really fascinating angle–taking a classic literary feud, analyzing it blow-by-blow, and then applying it as a model for others–which would, of course, require research, but hey, that’s why God created interns. Or maybe taking Hitchens’ angle that “the lack of good literary feuding in the United States to ‘the appalling policy’ of the Book Review and most other American publications ‘of not allowing people to review their friends’ books or their enemies’,'” and running with it, arguing that we ought to be allowed to exercise our personal vendettas on the page. Or summarizing recent feuds. Or reacquainting ourselves with classic ones (the bad blood between Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy, by the way, never, ever gets old).

Although if the Times really wanted a good piece about feuding, Donadio is not the person to write it. Having a literary brawler do a post-mortem of a feud? Brilliant. See if you can get Richard Ford.