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Top 10 Overrated Contemporary Writers

Dave Eggers
Dave Eggers
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We’ve read something by all of the authors on this list.

For the most part, we’re into whatever they’ve published, whether it’s a novel, short fiction or an essay collection.

Which means this list isn’t some sort of Spanish Inquisition-ish and tearing down of these scribes. It’s just that these authors get a little too much love and perhaps a lot of blind praise.

Basically, we actually like, or can at least deal with, all of these writers.

Oh, except for Chuck Klosterman.

Jonathan Safran Foer

Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close were enjoyable enough, though critics have trashed Foer as the most gimmicky scribe living today. (We’re on the fence.) But then Eating Animals, Foer’s sojourn into nonfiction, happened.

The memoir/investigation into the business of meat production is bunk. Foer, inspired by “fatherhood” (UGH) to become a vegetarian and write this dissertation, lays out a played-out argument about why meat is the worst thing in the world.

In a video promo for Eating Animals – which won a Moby Award for “Most Annoying Performance by an Author in a Book Trailer” – Foer constantly tells the camera that he lives in Park Slope in Brooklyn. We guess it could’ve only been more annoying if he had said “Williamsburg” over and over.

Top 10 Overrated Contemporary Writers
Houston Press

Joan Didion

The 82-year-old writer has been lofted as a great writer to such a degree that she’s now a brand and a so-called legend.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem is an okay collection of essays and magazine articles penned by Didion. The lofty, ceaseless praise of the book? Don’t get it.

Same goes for her more recent memoirs, Where I Was From and The Year of Magical Thinking, which seem as if she wrote for the literary elites and the Didion superfan and not for the “normal” reader.

Billy Collins

Poetry is generally underrated. Does that make Billy Collins less overrated among the overrated canon?

No way.

Collins’s poetry is light and fluffy, kind of like Froot Loops, a recipe that appeals to the masses.

To boot, Houston-based writer and poet Anis Shivani calls Collins a “one-trick pony.”

Top 10 Overrated Contemporary Writers
Houston Press

David Foster Wallace

The author of Infinite Jest and The Broom of the System was a tour de force. Then he killed himself, which sucked so hard.

Contrary to American author Bret Easton Ellis, we’re no douche for liking Wallace. “Anyone who finds David Foster Wallace a literary genius has got to be included in the Literary Doucebag[sic]-Fools Pantheon…,” Ellis wrote in a 2012 Twitter screed.

Wallace also isn’t a “fraud.” Anyone who cranks out a complex, nuanced book that measures nearly 1,100 pages will never fit that definition.

However, since Wallace’s 2008 suicide, there have been a The End of the Tour full-length movie, at least 12 dissertations (marketed as monographs) on DFW pitched to university presses, a book of essays, a reader’s guide to Oblivion and a reissue of Signifying Rappers.

There’s more to come, writes Mike Moats in Fiction Advocate. “I think it’s a real possibility that we will see a book of Wallace’s letters, a Portable David Foster Wallace reader, or another collection of unpublished short fiction. Comparisons to Tupac’s posthumous catalog will endure.”

Which is cool, but also kind of overdoing it?

Miranda July

We’ve taken July to task before as an actress and filmmaker.

As an author? Not much better.

July’s first book, a collection of stories packaged in No One Belongs Here More Than You, doesn’t contain any quotation marks around the characters’ dialogue. Okay, that’s a fine artistic choice.

But maybe it’s not fine, if we’re to believe what The New Yorker uncovered in a 2011 essay about July: “Her first book contains no quotation marks, because she didn’t understand how to attribute dialogue.”

Wait. Seriously?

Top 10 Overrated Contemporary Writers
Houston Press

Dave Eggers

Eggers is cool. Loved What Is the What (though the construction of the narrative was a bit off-putting) and liked A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and Zeitoun. The People of Paper, published by Eggers’s McSweeney’s imprint, is an all-time favorite.

But then there’s The Circle, which could’ve been a 180-page novel and not 500-plus — it's kind of like Murakami’s 1Q84, where it takes hundreds of pages to explain one simple action. Meanwhile, the best part of Eggers’s loose adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s The Wild Things is the fur cover.

While he’s on the receiving end of mad hatred for his so-called arrogance about his deconstructed process, who gives a what about that? We don’t. In the end, it’s how the final project reads and Eggers is hit or miss rather than hit after hit.

Chuck Klosterman

The author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto is kind of the worst.

In a majority of Klosterman’s writings – Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story, I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains – there’s very little insight. Instead, what you get is a true elitist making fun of people, places and things that aren’t as “cool” as Klosterman.

Whether he’s spouting crackpot theories on pop culture in Esquire or declaring that everything about sports is pointless on Grantland.com, dude’s a dour downer.

Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell turns seemingly complex ideas into digestible, thought-provoking bits that often leave readers bowing down to his “genius.”

It’s pseudoscience. And he’s sometimes flat-out wrong.

His breakout effort, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, harps on obvious trends that are cloaked underneath Gladwell’s needless over-intellectualism. The follow-up, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, is a desperate, formulaic attempt at cashing in on the success of The Tipping Point.

Bill Bryson

We lied at the top of this piece when claiming that we’ve read a book by all the authors on this list.

Despite multiple attempts, we can never get through even a few chapters of A Walk in the Woods by Bryson, who, for some weird reason, is looked upon as the country’s soothsayer for travel writing.

The “I’m an out-of-shape and balding old chum who can’t even cook a piece of toast, but golly will I try to put one foot in front of the other in these idyllic natural settings” shtick was tired before it was even invented.

Chuck Palahniuk

If your name is Chuck and you’re currently toiling on a novel at the Iowa Writers' Workshop or underneath a stair-nook inside of your home, you should probably stop writing. Forever.

Chuck Palahniuk isn’t as lame as Chuck Klosterman, but the author of Fight Club, Invisible Monsters and Choke is basically a hipster version of Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons).

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