Cerebus Chow: Writers Who Shouldn’t Have

We like to fancy ourselves as bookish and clever around here, as we advertise right up top.  Today, instead of talking about writers I love or relishing one of my favorites, I’ve decided to dish a little dirt.  After the break, a Very Biased List of who I consider to be The Worst Published Writers in the World. 

Ernest Hemingway. Not only is he perhaps the blandest writer to describe the alpha-male experience for the bajillionth time, he seems like an asshole:

If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing. A writer who appreciates the seriousness of writing so little that he is anxious to make people see he is formally educated, cultured, or well-bred, is merely a popinjay. And this too, remember: a serious writer is not to be confounded with a solemn writer. A serious writer may be a hawk or a buzzard or even a popinjay, but a solemn writer is always a bloody owl. -E. “Asshole” Hemingway from Death in the Afternoon (Scribner, 1932)

Bret Easton Ellis. He’s been a fucking hipster for damn near thirty years.  His stilted, grating, redundant style was almost forgivable when he was a nineteen-year-old darling fresh on the scene.  One would think polluting the American canon with thirty years of the same story over and over again would have forced him to improve.  Not so much.  Bret has contributed one important bit of coffee shop chat spat fodder to the world.  He’s the creator of the first and only time a movie was ever better than a book. Bret Easton Ellis can make serial killers boring. Read the following and tell me you’re not more bored than repulsed:

Got you. You’re mine now. For the rest of the day, week, month, year, life. Have you guessed who I am? Sometimes I think you have. Sometimes when you’re standing in a crowd I feel those sultry, dark eyes of yours stop on me. Are you too afraid to come up to me and let me know how you feel? I want to moan and writhe with you and I want to go up to you and kiss your mouth and pull you to me and say “I love you I love you I love you” while stripping. I want you so bad it stings. I want to kill the ugly girls that you’re always with. Do you really like those boring, naive, coy, calculating girls or is it just for sex? The seeds of love have taken hold, and if we won’t burn together, I’ll burn alone. – B.E. “Onan” Ellis in Rules of Attraction

Erich Segal.  He wrote Love Story.  Yeah, I said it, Love Story is shit.  Even worse than Love Story is the stupid sequel, Oliver’s Story.  I’m not sure I can fully put my hatred of Segal into words, so I’m going to let you read for yourselves:

I got an A minus on the exam, coincidentally the same grade I assigned to Jenny’s legs when she first walked from behind that desk. – E. “Really?” Segal in Love Story

If that’s not enough evidence, how about this?


Ayn Rand.  My hatred for Rand has nothing to do with my political temperament.  Okay, maybe a little. (Internet trivia! Did you know there is an Ayn Rand dating site? There is!)  Mostly, I hate her because she’s a terrible writer. For funsies, read the following aloud in your best Scarlett O’Hara imitation:

In the name of the best within you, do not sacrifice this world to those who are its worst. In the name of the values that keep you alive, do not let your vision of man be distorted by the ugly, the cowardly, the mindless in those who have never achieved his title. Do not lose your knowledge that man’s proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads. Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours.  -Ay”aw”n Rand in Atlas Shrugged


By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

38 replies on “Cerebus Chow: Writers Who Shouldn’t Have”

I have one thing that bugs me about these authors.

Their work is so devoid of any diversity.

I realize that writers write about what they know, but jeez…I don’t expect old, drunk white doods to know about a WOC’s life experience, but I have a really hard time grasping such their worlds, which are stilted and cloistered.

Some of it is obviously a sign of the times, but some of it is clearly exclusionary and that’s infuriating to me.

Yup. Yes. Ditto. And it’s not *just* that their writing is exclusionary almost to a fault, but that on the rare occasion that a POC is included, the character is reduced to trope or stereotype.

Jonathan Safran Foer comes to mind as a beautifully fucking illustrated example.

Oh, agreed on Bret Easton Ellis. The shock jock of literature, for sure. But I like Hemingway and Steinbeck, I guess in part because their prose is simple and not over the top. Dan Brown is one of the worst writers ever. Stephen King has great ideas, terrible style. When I picked up Twilight, I expected good trashy writing from Stephanie Meyer. Nope, just trash.

Ha! I expected the same from Twilight; I have younger brothers who are friends with really interesting, intelligent girls who LOVED the books (and now claim the films have ruined the franchise). I picked up the first one out of curiosity and was so disappointed! It’s not even so-bad-it’s-good!

Nooo! I’m so distressed by all the Dickens-hate. Granted, I’m finishing up my dissertation on the nineteenth-century British novel, so I might be biased. Still. Dickens is FUNNY!

Thanks to a miserable 8th grade experience reading Great Expectations, I thought I hated Dickens for years. And then I read Our Mutual Friend as a sophomore in college. Sure, some of his writing is not great–overly sentimental, wordy, etc. But if you’re basing your hate on any of the three commonly taught in HS, I urge urge urge you read either Bleak House, Little Dorrit, Our Mutual Friend. I dare you to find Little Dorrit predictable (beside the main marriage plot, of course).

If you still hate him afterwards, I wash my hands :)

Henry James, however, I loathe. Talk about a snoozefest.

I’m with you, I LOVE Dickens! Especially Little Dorrit. I’ve been rereading the stereotypical high school Dickens books as well, because I don’t think I was able to appreciate them at that age.

I get especially frustrated when people argue that they hate Dickens because he was only that wordy because he got paid by the word. To which I say, much literature at that time was published serially, and authors were paid that way. Dislike his level of detail, fine, but calling him mercenary is a poor criticism.

This post is going to make us all start arguing with each other! People feel passionately about literature!

I see that Margaret Atwood made the list below. She’s my favorite modern author…*sigh* I suppose her writing style can be a bit dry, but I love her characters.

For me, a really terrible writer that is constantly getting accolades is Stephanie Meyer. I’m sure a lot of you would agree with me. The writing in those books is just terrible. It’s not just because its young adult fiction, either. There are some really great writers who write for YAs, like Lois Lowry, Scott Westerfield (author of the Uglies/Pretties series), etc…Stephanie Meyer is just bad. I read the first Twilight book and had to put them down. Painfully bad.

I think Stephen King is highly overrated in terms of writing ability, but I’ll begrudgingly admit that he can tell a good story. I love his books despite feeling like I could write one myself every time I read something of his.

I hear you on Stephanie Meyer. A lot of my feminist-minded friends tried to convince me to read the Twilight series “because it’s sooo hilarious”, but I couldn’t make it past the first chapter. She is a truly horrible writer. One would think, reading Twilight, that it wasn’t even edited. Knowing that it was and was still released in that condition gives me the shivers. Blech.
The movies, on the other hand, oh lawdy are they ever fun to drink with.

Is Wally Lamb considered great? Because I loathe his writing. I’m all for downers, but I get about halfway through his books and think, “How much more bad shit needs to happen to one person?! ENOUGH!”

I thought the exact same thing about The Kite Runner, and I can’t bring myself to read anything else by Khaled Hosseini because of that book.

God, yes. He’s such a self-satisfied schmuck, too. If I recall correctly, he believes himself to be a better writer than Cormac McCarthy (another author who’s not my favorite cup of tea, but that aside…) and a handful of other contemporaries.

Such self-assuredness from someone who writes the same story every damn time but changes the characters’ names. To wit, Two White people meet, they fall in love, DRAMA!, one (or both) of them dies. The end.

Hemingway shot himself. I imagine he would have agreed with you.

On my others-might-love-them-but-I-would-rather-read-the-ingredients-off-a-cereal-box-list-after-coming-back-from-the-optometrist-with-those-horrible-pupil-dilating-drops-still-stinging? Of the top of my head… Jane Austen. J.K. Rowling. Margaret Atwood. Nicholas Sparks. Wally Lamb.

I’m assuming this list includes authors who are otherwise considered great but you deem as The Worst? Because this list would be remiss without authors like Koontz and Meyers. Right? Maybe those are too obvious. Am I being obtuse?

I’m casting my vote for Dickens and Thomas Hardy, whose obsessive attention to minute details makes me want to cut off my feet and re-attach them to my retinas so that I might never read again.


My brother-in-law and I were both English Lit majors. His focus was American, mine was British. One of the reasons I avoided American lit was Hemingway (Faulkner was another). I refuse to discuss Hemingway with him. I cannot for the life of me understand how such a sweet, kind soul as he can love Hemingway so freaking much. It just doesn’t compute.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Steinbeck, but I got pretty lucky in how I came to read him. There was a huge boxed set of his classics at Costco and my dad bought it for me, assuming (correctly) that I might like them. I managed to plow through Of Mice and Men, Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, and Travels With Charley before we ever got to them in high school English class. It’s probably that I didn’t have to pick them apart that let me enjoy them. Travels With Charley in particular has long been a favorite of mine, but then I love a good travelogue involving americana and charming dogs.

I agree entirely, but you left out Robert James Waller, author of The Bridges of Madison County, the only book that can beat out Bret Easton Ellis’s for being so incredibly crappy that the crappy, boring movie was still better. Here’s an excerpt:

“A pheasant called from the fields. Jack, the collie, barked twice out in the yard. Mosquitoes tested the window screen near the table, and a single moth, circuitous of thought yet sure of instinct, was goaded by the sink light’s possibilities.”

Please let one of those mosquitoes be carrying malaria and bite the stupid, boring protagonists.

I only disagree on Hemingway, and that’s only because I only hate him maybe 40% of the time.

I have an impassioned rant kicking around somewhere on Rand and Atlas Shrugged that includes “Mommy’s Special Little Snowflake Syndrome” and “cow vomit” as central themes.


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