September 22, 2019

"Respectfully, it's an odd thing to say that Coates's debut is essentially long and shallow, but compare him to some of the most masterful storytellers in the canon."

"I understand it's challenging in this day in age to just say one or the other for fear of being cancelled, but you don't need to bring in Octavia Butler or Toni Morrison in order to do so. None of the sentences highlighted here suggest the tonality of any of the writers you've compared his debut to, either, except for Stephen King — even then, the most comparable thing seems to be pace and plot, not the shape or substance of the novel."

That's the top-rated comment at the NYT review of "The Water Dancer," the first novel by the high-profile nonfiction writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. I can see how the unsung fiction-writers of the world can be very easily irked when somebody who's already successful for some other reason suddenly presents himself as a novelist.

The review is by Dwight Garner — I don't have a problem with the name Garner — and I was looking at the NYT list of his other reviews and I see he reviewed a novel that I happen to have just finished reading: "With ‘Doxology,’ Nell Zink Delivers Her Most Ambitious and Expansive Novel Yet." As in the "Water Dancer" review, Garner names a lot of other writers, and unlike the "Water Dancer" review, this review has some solid quotes from the author to prove the praise is soundly based on artistic merit:
Here’s a sample of this writer’s sociological acumen — her ability, like Tom Wolfe by way of Lorrie Moore, to cram observation into a tight space:

“The ’80s hipster bore no resemblance to the bearded and effeminate cottage industrialist who came to prominence as the ‘hipster’ in the new century. He wasn’t a ’50s hipster either. He knew nothing of heroin or the willful appropriation of black culture,” she writes. “Having spent four years at the foot of the ivory tower, picking up crumbs of obsolete theory, he descended to face once again the world of open-wheel motor sports and Jell-O salads from whence he sprang.”

Zink adds, as a flourish: “An ’80s hipster couldn’t gentrify a neighborhood.” She writes: “His presence drove rents down.” Also: “The ’80s hipster could get served a beer in the Ozarks.”

If you care about this sort of thing, Zink writes about music as if she were a cluster of the best American rock critics (Ellen Willis, Ann Powers, Jessica Hopper and Amanda Petrusich, let’s say) crushed together under a single byline. This novel is replete with erudite signifiers that drop all over the place, like a toddler eating a pint of blueberries: Robert Christgau jokes, nods to the “Casio-core” sound, paeans to the righteous punk glory of Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi.

One band sounds “like lawn mowers ridden by nymphets playing banjos.” When Pamela plays guitar, “her fingers move like it’s freezing out and she lost her mittens.”

Pamela goes into a funny monologue about the weird confluence between Todd Rundgren (“Todd is God,” she says), John Lennon and Mark David Chapman, Lennon’s assassin. Daniel stares at her and thinks: “It was a kind of knowledge he didn’t expect a woman to have, much less care enough to say something post-sensitive about.”
That's well done and fairly written. I'm not going to take an anti-Garner position. I'll just let that comment about the Ta-Nehisi Coates book stand for what it's worth. If you look at the comment and then back at the review, you can see Garner's disapproval:
“The Water Dancer” is a jeroboam of a book, a crowd-pleasing exercise in breakneck and often occult storytelling that tonally resembles the work of [some famous writers].... The ride is bracing, even if one sometimes misses the grainy and intense intellection of his nonfiction writing. In his earlier [nonfiction] books each paragraph felt like a bouillon cube that could be used to brew six other essays. Here the effect is more diffuse, and something intangible goes missing....
Coates’s novel sometimes feels as if it were written quickly, and it has the virtues and defects of that apparent spontaneity. Where his nonfiction runs narrow and quite deep, “The Water Dancer” mostly runs wide and fairly shallow. It’s more interested in movement than in the intensities of sustained perception.

105 comments:

chuck said...

nonfiction writer Ta-Nehisi Coates

Now that's funny.

Skylark said...

I stopped reading at “appropriation of black culture.”

Yes, yes, yes, all I needed to read to praise it to the skies!

rhhardin said...

It's all really bad writing.

Bill Peschel said...

Of course, I frequently reflect on the deep thinking of Ellen Willis, Ann Powers, Jessica Hopper and Amanda Petrusich, when I'm not annotating my copy of the new Sontag biography with the author's errors in judgment and misreading.

I love how Zink really connects with readers' experiences in her metaphors. Who hasn't experienced a nymph playing a banjo while riding a lawn mower in their life and nodded at that passage?

Bob said...

Sorry, I got stuck on the first line "day in age". Thinking I'd heard it wrong all these years, I looked it up - cause of course you can look anything up nowadays. I discovered it's an 'eggcorn' - a terrific find of a word. I won't spoil it - look it up.

Ann Althouse said...

What's "weird confluence between Todd Rundgren (“Todd is God,” she says), John Lennon and Mark David Chapman"?

"Daniel suppressed a smile. He had nothing against John Lennon, and no sympathy for the man who shot him, but knowing that Todd Rundgren had composed “Rock and Roll Pussy” about Lennon, that Lennon had responded with an open letter to “Sodd Runtlestuntle” in Melody Maker, and that Mark David Chapman had cared enough to take the affair to its logical conclusion while wearing a promotional T-shirt for Todd’s latest album—it was a kind of knowledge he didn’t expect a woman to have, much less care enough to say something post-sensitive about. He was starting to get a serious crush on her. He personally had first heard of John Lennon the day he died. His family was more into Up with People."

Zink, Nell. Doxology (p. 27). Ecco. Kindle Edition.

Michael K said...

I've been reading a series of novels written by a British professor of economic history who also spent ten years with the police in Papua New Guinea. Pretty interesting subjects by someone who knows them well. Coates and Morrison are examples of Affirmative Action run amok.

Ken B said...

I'm with Hardin. It’s all bad.

I wonder if Althouse sees the snobbery in “the foot of the ivory tower” or the crack about the Ozarks or the reference to Jello. That is part of why this writing is so bad: it is predicated on an appeal to prejudices and attitudes the writer simply assumes are shared. It is, in other words “replete ... with signifiers”.

rcocean said...

What strange weird writing.

"Jerobuam"?

"None of the sentences highlighted here suggest the tonality of any of the writers you've compared his debut to"? Tonality?

"Even if one sometimes misses the grainy and intense intellection of his nonfiction writing." "intellection"? WTF! "grainy and intense"? He must mean Vapid and verbose.

Its amazing how dumbed-down the NYT writing has become. I was looking at 1954 NYT book review of a history book. Just a standard book. And its 10x better written than this nonsense.

Big Mike said...

I agree with chuck (lower case ‘c’). Coates has never written any non-fiction.

rcocean said...

Toni Morrison is now a "Master story Teller"?

rcocean said...

James Baldwin was better than any of these hacks, if was want to stay with Black Authors. As for TNC, I'll just say he's the biggest fraud of the 21st Century. I refuse to believe all the white liberals who love him actually read or care about any of his books. Or maybe, I'm overestimating their intelligence.

Skylark said...

I the best example of your prose looks as if it could have been written by a parodist at Mad Magazine.... well....

Ann Althouse said...

"her fingers [playing guitar] move like it’s freezing out and she lost her mittens"

This is as mystifying as "what is the sound of one hand clapping?"

Whether you'd lost your mittens or not, you wouldn't wear your mittens — if you had them — to play guitar. Or would you? Is that some kind of punk rock musicianship, playing with mittens on. Or is it just that if you'd had your mittens on before you started playing, they'd be pre-warmed and you could take them off and have nimble enough hands at least for a little while.

Mittens must be important, because you could just as well have said gloves, and playing guitar in gloves would work better than playing guitar in mittens... or would it?

Oh, wait, I looked it up. It's dialogue. There's a character who *says* "mittens," and he has an unusual way of looking at things and speaking, and the other character brings out the problem of not making sense"

“Pam’s the worst lead guitar player in the universe,” Joe said. “Her fingers move like it’s freezing out and she lost her mittens. But in Marmalade Sky, she plays massive power chords she knows how to play, and I play the tunes.”

“I play like I’m wearing the mittens,” she corrected him. “It’s the evil influence of Simon. He wants everything to sound like it’s been dragged through candied heroin.”

Zink, Nell. Doxology (pp. 23-24). Ecco. Kindle Edition.

Michael said...

“...in this day in age”. Is this correct? I have always hear, read, an “and” and not an “ in.”

rcocean said...

Nobody in the 80's were "Hipsters". The "Hipsters" like the "Hippies" belong to particular place and time. The 50's hipsters were rebels, non-conformists. In the 80's there was no bourgeois culture to rebel against. Everybody was a nonconformist conformist.

rcocean said...

This day n' age? Typo? Yes, should this day AND age.

Chief Executive Lawbreaker - Whiny Weasel Trumpkins said...

Coates is funny. He did good work on redlining and basically has a lot of good insights into the single topic of race in America. That's his almost exclusive subject interest, and one that he bleakly finds consigned to an eternally unjust outcome so I'm not surprised that his book is about a slave with special powers. Well, that and because he also likes comix books.

Ann Althouse said...

"I wonder if Althouse sees the snobbery in “the foot of the ivory tower” or the crack about the Ozarks or the reference to Jello. That is part of why this writing is so bad: it is predicated on an appeal to prejudices and attitudes the writer simply assumes are shared. It is, in other words “replete ... with signifiers”. "

I wonder if you see the words in the quote that make you quite wrong.

Let me help: "the bearded and effeminate cottage industrialist"... "crumbs of obsolete theory"...

Ken B said...

The funniest thing, and I admit it’s a bigger laugh than anything in the Bee, is that Althouse thinks this is great writing but spent months denigrating The Great Gatsby.

Ann Althouse said...

"I wonder if Althouse sees the snobbery in “the foot of the ivory tower” or the crack about the Ozarks or the reference to Jello. That is part of why this writing is so bad: it is predicated on an appeal to prejudices and attitudes the writer simply assumes are shared. It is, in other words “replete ... with signifiers”. "

I wonder if you see the words in the quote that make you quite wrong.

Let me help: "the bearded and effeminate cottage industrialist"... "crumbs of obsolete theory"...

Ann Althouse said...

"but spent months denigrating The Great Gatsby"

You don't know how little you know or even not to flaunt it.

rcocean said...

Isn't Coates the guy who came up with the stupid phrase "black bodies"? I think that's his sole contribution to [insert pompous voice ]"The Discussion of Race in America". White liberals need a black intellectual they can use as a sock puppet. TNC is it.

Char Char Binks said...

Coates set his novel in a 19th century plantation because “You right what you know”.

Ann Althouse said...

Coates was a jerk to me years ago. I'd have to look it up to remember what that was all about. But I try to keep my distance because all I remember is that I believe he treated me badly.

Ann Althouse said...

"I've misspelled Coates's first name, and he's cursed me and connected me to racism because of that."

Ken B said...

Ok Ann, explain it to me. Those phrases are not yours. One cannot therefore assume they reflect your thoughts. How do they prove I have erred in wondering about you? Or are you saying that those further examples of snobbery disprove my charge of snobbery?

Rusty said...

I don't think a novel by someone who whines a lot is going to hold my interest.

Ann Althouse said...

"Why is Ta-Nehisi Coates shouting an obscenity at me? He writes: "Ta-Nahesi Coates. Fuckin' Althouse. My name's at the top of the blog and I still can't get Ann's respect."... My post links to Coates calling out Glenn Beck for sounding like a sexist. It's phrased to imply that Coates probably wouldn't call out a liberal for sexism, but now that there's an opportunity to slam Beck, he's up for defending Palin. Now, explain what set Coates off in this new post where he curses me. Maybe he didn't understand my post and thinks I didn't realize I was reading his blog (since I didn't use his name in my post — I just linked). I'm not really sure. Perhaps he's so ready to hate me that he didn't pick up my bloggerly comic concision. But — wow! — there he is on The Atlantic website spewing an obscenity at me for... nothing. As if to cover up his brutishness, he combed through my comments section and found something offensive that one person said. He quotes someone named "grapp" — with no available profile— who said "I might respect Ta-Nehisi Coates more if he has less of a jackass ghetto name and was more of a serious thinker." Grapp — who claims to be a black woman — wrote at the end of a long thread, and 2 of the 4 comments left on the thread take Grapp to task. Nevertheless, Coates goes on to say "She'd respect me more if I "has less of a jackass ghetto name." He says he finds the comment hilarious — presumably because of the typo/grammar error. Because of the way he began his post by weirdly accusing me of some sort of disrespect related to his name, he's cued his commenters to trash me, which they basically do."

Michael K said...

James Baldwin was better than any of these hacks, if was want to stay with Black Authors. As for TNC, I'll just say he's the biggest fraud of the 21st Century.

Yes. Agree completely.

Ann Althouse said...

To continue from my 10:08 comment... I eventually realize what irked him was that I spelled his first name wrong in the *tag."

"Now, I see that the problem was that I had a tag for his name and I misspelled it. That brought an obscenity... and a connection to a commenter who took a racial point of view. What a jerk."

rehajm said...

That is part of why this writing is so bad: it is predicated on an appeal to prejudices and attitudes the writer simply assumes are shared

I don't believe authors necessarily assume they are shared prejudices and attitudes. They are revealing and good writing can make use of that. OTOH, I do believe it's fair in Coates's case to assume the worst.

Michael said...

Coates is touchy. And with a badass ghetto name.

Fernandistein said...

"storytellers in the canon"

"an authoritative list of books accepted as Holy Scripture"

"a collection or list of sacred books accepted as genuine."

I can see why people often call leftism a religion.

Darryl Thomas said...

Michael K: I've been reading a series of novels


Author please! (Tried to ‘google’ with your hints but could not find)

Thanks

rcocean said...

I think Mr. Coats and Anne are both used to misspelling of names.

chuck said...

> The 50's hipsters were rebels, non-conformists.

Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me was a good read. The ending, with Gnossos hauled off down the steps to the army pretty much captures the difference between the 50's and what followed. Many reviewers say it captures the 60's, but the 50's seem a better fit to me. Holden Caulfield goes to college.

Char Char Binks said...

Nahesi is the new n-word.

Andrew said...

Everything this man does is overrated. He's a pseudo-intellectual.

One time years ago I made a comment on his blog that disagreed with one of his arguments. He banned me with the words, "Off to Stormfront with you." He loves to falsely accuse people of racism. That's his m.o. Which is why he's so popular.

He goes to Paris on a grant, drinks wine and eats caviar, and still talks like he's the victim.

Ann Althouse said...

@Ken B

I'm not giving you remedial tutoring. You're rude to me repeatedly. Do your own reflection or live in ignorance. You're not my job.

Birkel said...

Tennessee Coates < Tennessee Ernie Ford

Tennessee Coates > Tennessee Vols

Char Char Binks said...

Dwight was afraid of what he would garner by panning a black writer, so he tossed a word salad for Cotes.

dwshelf said...

Coates was a jerk to me years ago.

You could have done worse.

There is a white lady named Robin Diangelo who is a "diversity trainer". Corporate and government employees get sent to her for group training. She publicly accuses them of being racists, using pretty much the arguments of Coates, but then she judges, in public, their reaction. Crying, for example, is a not-uncommon reaction of a liberal to being called a racist. Or arguing. Or going silent.

Unlike blogging, her audience is not free to go. She can report such uncooperative behavior to their management.

All of these reactions are examples of "white fragility". She wrote a book of that title, deriding her "students" for their reaction to being called a racist.

Coates is equally brusque with my views of myself, but he doesn't capture first, and then deride me for not accepting his accusations in a docile way. He states what it is he says, and leaves it for me to react to as I see fit. That seems fair.

Ann Althouse said...

"Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me was a good read."

Funny, I've had my old paperback out on my desk for months with the idea of rereading it. Thought I might do a thing of rereading a bunch of books that I read when I was about 19.

rcocean said...

I thought I'd see a BHTV episdoe where Althouse talks about TNC blowing up at her, but I can't find it. maybe i imagined it. a false memory.

Ken B said...

Well Althouse that is not an answer. If you misunderstood my “I wonder if” as “I assert that” then I will simply say, I was wondering not asserting. It’s you being rude here.

mccullough said...

The Gatsby Project was awesome.

Coates is aptly named. He lays it on thick.

Nichevo said...


Coates was a jerk to me years ago. I'd have to look it up to remember what that was all about. But I try to keep my distance because all I remember is that I believe he treated me badly.

Irish Alzheimer's? You forget everything except the grudges.

Bay Area Guy said...

Tennesse Coates is writing fiction now? How is he gonna incorporate his reparation snake-down dance in fictionalized work?

Wait......

mccullough said...

Coates novel can’t be worse than his comic book. Not possible.

bbkingfish said...

I never saw anything in Mr. Coates' non-fiction writing that suggested he might be a talented writer of fiction. I never read any of his books, but I did read several shorter pieces, and found them interesting/illuminating, but certainly not because he was anything like a literary stylist. I'm amazed, to tell you the truth.

Christopher said...

Coates is often compared to James Baldwin, which is an intellectual crime. I don't think Baldwin and I would be best buddies, but that dude could write.

Coates is a hypersensitive mediocrity. He's a right-place right-time guy, nothing more.

madAsHell said...

Coates was a jerk to me years ago.

You know.....I would not be surprised if Trump reads this blog. I'm pretty sure our hostess swings a bigger stick than she can imagine.

Don't give credibility to a moron like Coates.

doctrev said...

I love how lots of commenters are openly mocking Tennessee Coates' stupid faux-African name, and that even an urban law professor like Althouse made a small spelling error- which of course means that she may as well be flaying his back with a bullwhip and calling him Toby Keith.

Immigrant parents can pick names for their children that the white majority are likely to pronounce well. In some cases, this leads to lifelong burdens. Given that his father was a Black Panther, it's likely that a ghettoized version of an actual name was picked out of misguided racial solidarity. You'd see more humility in Coates' modern writing if the first few white people to hear "It's pronounced Tah Ney-HEE-SEE," had just said, "okay then, Jiggy Coates." Ah, the mistakes of the past.

JPS said...

Prof. A: "I've misspelled Coates's first name, and he's cursed me and connected me to racism because of that."

Coates: "Ta-Nahesi Coates. Fuckin' Althouse."

This puts me in mind of Office Space:

"It's not that hard: Na-ghee-na-na-jar. Nagheenanajar."

"Naga... Naga... Naga... Not gonna work here anymore, anyway."

Yancey Ward said...

For those who don't know it, Mark David Chapman was obsessed with Rundgren, too- he was even wearing a promotional tee-shirt for a Rundgren album when he was arrested after the shooting, and it is believed that he was also targeting Rundgren for assassination. Additionally, there is the history between Rundgren and Lennon themselves which was a bit antagonistic.

The Minnow Wrangler said...

Coates has seemingly mastered the art of flowery prose based on most of his writings that I have seen. "Black bodies" etc. He always uses too many words to say simple things.

It does seem like a case of affirmative action the way white liberals lavish praise on his every utterance.

His influence is malign to put it mildly, pitting every black person against every white person, forever.

Yancey Ward said...

I see Althouse already explained it. Nevermind.

Amadeus 48 said...

The Gatsby Project was brilliant. It is the great American novel.

Kudos, Althouse.

Yancey Ward said...

I have never read any of Coates' books, but quite a few of his essays- the man is a hack- Paul Krugman is a better essay writer with, at least, the ability to teach you something important every now and again, and I think Krugman is the worst op-ed writer at the NYTimes.

narciso said...

He thinks himself james baldwin maybe even a little dubois.

tim maguire said...

I always felt coates is an intellectual fraud and love that, as a white guy, I don’t need to take a stand on it because John McWhorter was kind enough to do it for me.

https://www.the-american-interest.com/2018/05/24/atonement-as-activism. today’s “woke,” educated white people would quite often lap up being apprised of the racism inside of them by a black speaker they paid, lodged, and fed. That speaker as often as not today is Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nahesi Coates, the guy white liberals love to have hate on them.

The Cracker Emcee Refulgent said...

“White liberals need a black intellectual they can use as a sock puppet. TNC is it.”

Coates, like Obama, recognized a shuck that would be richly rewarded by the White Establishment and ran with it. I certainly don’t blame him but the idea of taking him seriously is ludicrous.

Amadeus 48 said...

The commenters are right about James Baldwin. His creed: “ I want to be a good writer and an honest man.”

In the 19th century, Frederick Douglass is honest, fearless, and a master of the English language.

All praise and honor on these men.

Sebastian said...

“The ’80s hipster could get served a beer in the Ozarks.”

"He personally had first heard of John Lennon the day he died. His family was more into Up with People"

So that's "sociological acumen"? I guess it is, if such acumen stands for condescending or plain stupid BS.

William said...

I would not want to read Coates based on that review. In fact, I'd probably purposefully avoid him. The Althouse put down, however, piques a mild interest in him.....He probably garners more readers from the negative reviews than from the positive ones. His books don't sound like much fun. Maybe he's the latest edition of Susan Sontag. She's another writer who was more famous for the enmity she inspired than for the readability of her books.

Sebastian said...

"This is as mystifying as "what is the sound of one hand clapping?""

More mystifying. Many of us can do the stupid human trick of clapping with one hand loud and clear, which is "mystifying" only to those who lack the requisite skill.

daskol said...

Intense intellection, says the reviewer of Coates’ nonfiction. Is that a fancy version of clean, bright, articulate and nice-looking?

rightguy said...

Coates is a race monger son of a Black Panther who thinks he lives in a country run by white supremacists. The fact that he has the correct current politics, tells me that The Water Dancer must be an absolutely dreadful book, otherwise Garner wouldn't have been so polite and restrained in his criticism of it, while effusively praising Coates non-fiction writings.

Sebastian said...

"even if one sometimes misses the grainy and intense intellection of his nonfiction writing. In his earlier [nonfiction] books each paragraph felt like a bouillon cube that could be used to brew six other essays"

Whitey in CYA mode: yes, Tennessee C. is a genius, but, but, his latest is not quite as good as his prior works of genius, now don't call me a racist, cuz I recognize the genius of this black genius.

Michael K said...

Given that his father was a Black Panther,

I had a medical student whose parents were Black Panthers from Oakland, both of them.

For a while I thought he was schizophrenic. Very odd kid. I eventually learned that he did not know how to talk to white people, some of whom were patients he had to talk to practice his profession. For a while I wrote up a script for him so he could hold a conversation with an adult. He seemed to get along with fellow students his age. If I remember, Ritmo mocked this out of ignorance. Anyway, he finally got to function taking a medical history and graduated. I have no idea what he is like as a physician.

It must be difficult to grow up in such a home. Not as bad as a single parent home as so many black kids do. Still many black mothers want their kids to go to school and learn,

Lewis Wetzel said...

Blogger rightguy said...
Coates is a race monger son of a Black Panther who thinks he lives in a country run by white supremacists.
. . .

Oh, he is worse than that. Read "Between the world and me" some time. He thinks "black" and "brown" are authentic identities, but "white" is not, it is an identity only assumed to oppress black and brown people.
This is a common belief among racially obsessed blacks. Toni Morrison expressed something like this in "Beloved."

Jack Klompus said...

Coates is such an untalented hack and a third rate thinker but he knows how to make bank on the coattails of white liberal guilt. I substituted at The Haverford School, as mainline old money as you can get, and walked by a book cart stacked with Coates' unreadable screed. He's got Brooklyn mortgage payments and if he can sucker white bluebloods into making them out of some indulgence buying soul cleansing, more power to him.

JackWayne said...

“If you care about this sort of thing, Zink writes about music as if she were a cluster of the best American rock critics (Ellen Willis, Ann Powers, Jessica Hopper and Amanda Petrusich, let’s say) crushed together under a single byline.”

To me, she writes like she’s Cusack in Hi Fidelity.

daskol said...

I hope Garner got paid extra, the reviewer’s equivalent of combat pay, for this review.

Skylark said...

"One band sounds “like lawn mowers ridden by nymphets playing banjos.”

Bathos: The act of a writer or a poet falling into inconsequential and absurd metaphors, descriptions, or ideas in an effort to be increasingly emotional or passionate.

It’s turning into my word for the week!

Skylark said...

When I see Coates struggling to justify one his his rationalizations arrived at through his paranoid imagination as if it were a ratiocination arrived at through intellection, I am reminded of a color blind man lecturing the world on the choice of neck ties.

Skylark said...

He banned me too from The Atlantic because his stuff sounds much better if nobody asks any questions.

Bill Peschel said...

I can't comment on Coates, not having read him, but his thin-skinned reaction to a simple misspelling is of a kind with the behavior of a number of blue-checkmarked Twitterati.

I remember being called on the carpet while in the signing line at a bookstore in Rock Hill, S.C. I had given the author a centerpiece profile on our newspaper's bookpage, plus a glowing review of her latest book.

My sin? Writing "Don't call xxxxx just a mystery writer."

"You don't write about what a person isn't," she shouted at me. "You write about what they are!"

The bookstore owner was mortified. I received a gift basket from her publicist, apologizing for her outburst (this was in pre-internet days, so I assume the owner told her; I didn't).

I trashed the signed book immediately and vowed never to review her ass again. I still cringe at the memory of that verbal beatdown.

But I must admit, she was right, and I haven't written a line like that again.

Sydney said...

The only novel I ever read by a famous non-novelist was a work of fiction by William Safire. I expected it to be good because Safire was famous for loving words. I was wrong. One of the worst books I ever read. It takes more than a love of words to tell a good story.

Ken B said...

Bill P
Trudeau is not an honest man.
Warren is not a Native American.
Trump is not a Russian stooge.
Bernie is not a logical person.
I apologize for none of these.
Your writer was not an infallible authority on writing.

Jupiter said...

Its nah-ta-easy, to spell Ta Na-Hesi.

Char Char Binks said...

"The only novel I ever read by a famous non-novelist was a work of fiction by William Safire."

If you ever get the urge to read "Contact" by Carl Sagan, don't. Just don't.

Nichevo said...

FTR, and of course who cares, it's Ta-Nehisi, not Ta-Nahesi.

That said, what was wrong with "Joe?"

Michael K said...

If you ever get the urge to read "Contact" by Carl Sagan, don't. Just don't.

Not bad if you can ignore the left wing politics. Safire's was not bad. Lots of sex.

narciso said...

which one scandalmonger, or sleeper spy, if memory serves, in that last one, the spies were in the federal reserve, and one character in the company,

JMW Turner said...

Mittens are best for playing slide guitar.

Ben Lange said...

Saying his writing is “long and shallow” and comparing it to Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler...seems accidentally revealing, doesn’t it?

Joan said...

Putting Octavia Butler and Toni Morrison in the same category is insulting to Butler, IMO. I was a subscriber to Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine when she started writing and getting published there, and I still remember her short stories vividly. The thing about Butler is that she could write about marginalized people, for example, but she did it in a way that you didn't feel like you were preached at, or screeched at, through the whole thing. She wrote compelling characters in interesting situations and managed to illuminate human nature at the same time.

I really just popped in to say I never realized Coates' first name is just an odd spelling of Tennessee, until I read this comment thread! The Althouse Commentariat, as usual, makes all things plain.

Yancey Ward said...

The only novel I ever read by a famous non-novelist was......

Interesting thought- the only novel I can think of that I read that was written by someone who was a famous non-novelist was "Bonfire of the Vanities", but then Wolfe later wrote a few other novels in the following 3 decades.

FullMoon said...

Followed the link, and then another, to the 2009 comments. Interesting to see several familiar names, including the infamous Micheal McNeil. :-)

Michael K said...

There is a whole community of fake black writers who are celebrated by white leftists who do not for a moment consider them to be competent writers. This is all theater by the left which considers blacks to be inferior but tries to fool them in return for votes.

John Lynch said...

Octavia Butler is a good writer. She wrote a time travel book where the black protagonist had to save one of her ancestors...a white slave owner.

There's also the story about bugs who need humans to incubate their young... pretty nightmarish.

narciso said...

Well wolfe was an essayist and commentator at the time of bonfire, the right stuff has novelistic touches

D. said...

>Whether you'd lost your mittens or not, you wouldn't wear your mittens — if you had them — to play guitar. Or would you?<

A skillful guitar may be able to. Say Walter Becker.

D. said...

>Whether you'd lost your mittens or not, you wouldn't wear your mittens — if you had them — to play guitar. Or would you?<

Expanding on my previous comment- A skillful or even not so skillful guitarist would work around the limitations presented by the mittens. A fraud like Tn Coates is projecting.

Zach said...

There are a couple of funny quips in the excerpts from the second review, but I still don't know what an '80s hipster is, or who would qualify.

Are we talking David Byrne or Brian Eno here? David Bowie? Ric Ocasek?

The '80s were more avant garde than hip, really.

Kirk Parker said...

rcocean @ 9:51am,

"I refuse to believe all the white liberals who love him actually read or care about any of his books. Or maybe, I'm overestimating their intelligence."

Embrace the healing power of 'and'.

Le Stain du Poop said...

I think this is the first internet blog post of which I could not understand one single word.

Can't win 'em all.....

MadisonMan said...

Coates' book sounds like an ideal candidate to go write next to Hillary's.
Show your wokeness by the unread books on your shelf.

Tina Trent said...

Coates is a fraud. He plagiarizes utterly shamelessly from James Baldwin's essays, and his acolytes shamelessly pretend to not see it.

Tina Trent said...

I once allegedly mispronounced a Hispanic woman's name at a conference related to my job. She insisted that we all go around the room and say her name with an exaggerated trill to combat ethnic insensitivity -- this was part of her talk -- and I apparently failed to satisfy her.

She told me to come to the front of the room and repeat her name over and over again, in front of some fifty people who were frozen with fear of being singled out -- or were sadistically enjoying the mau mauing.

After some time doing this, I objected. The meeting was adjourned and an "emergency" meeting was held among the minority group leaders. We reconvened that afternoon. I was told to stand in the middle of a circle and the minority group leaders read poems they had written to me, using my name repeatedly, critiquing me for my racial insensitivity. Poems. Really bad, really stupid, really illiterate garbage.

But it worked. I hate each and every one of them, and their stupid racist cause.

This will happen to all of you someday if we don't fight like it matters.

Elmer T. Jones said...

They don't call him Genius T. Coates for nuffin!

Char Char Binks said...

I've known many latinos, but I've never harassed them for mispronouncing my name, or saying it in the wrong accent.

jaed said...

from whence he sprang

From whence? From whence???

My God in heaven.