The writosphere is aflutter after Stephen King said, in an interview with USA Weekend: “The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good.”
After some further thoughts on Erle Stanley Gardner (King: “terrible”), Jodi Picoult (good), Dean Koontz (good and bad) and James Patterson (bad), King said further:
“People are attracted by the stories, by the pace and in the case of Stephenie Meyer, it’s very clear that she’s writing to a whole generation of girls and opening up kind of a safe joining of love and sex in those books. It’s exciting and it’s thrilling and it’s not particularly threatening because they’re not overtly sexual. A lot of the physical side of it is conveyed in things like the vampire will touch her forearm or run a hand over skin, and she just flushes all hot and cold. And for girls, that’s a shorthand for all the feelings that they’re not ready to deal with yet.”
The whole situation is not without its irony. After Stephen King won a National Book Foundation award for “distinguished contribution” to American letters (and surely books as well), the critic/professor Harold Bloom wrote in the Boston Globe:
“What [King] is is an immensely inadequate writer on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, book-by-book basis. The publishing industry has stooped terribly low…”
Aside from putting books in the news, which, hi, doesn’t happen very often, this whole spat raises some interesting questions. Or rather one interesting question: who decides what is good anyway?
Is it the readers? After all, if Meyer is so successful she has to be doing something right. And in this world of American Idol, everyone fancies themselves an expert. But surely there is some difference between commercial success and artistic merit, right? Are we ready to crown the most successful books the “best” books?
Is it the critics? Should we leave “good” to the people who devote themselves to sifting through the books and movies and decide what’s good and bad? Surely there’s something to be said for expertise, right?
Is it the writers? Who knows better than the people who are actually writing the books, right? Or do they?
Is it the scholars? Yesterday’s potboilers are today’s classics. Yesterday’s drivel is today’s unappreciated genius.
What do you think?