October 25, 2010

"i hate reading, and i hate books."


Last week, KCRW’s Bookworm interviewed Tom McCarthy, author of the Booker-shortlisted C, a book which host Michael Silverblatt describes as a “novel that wants you, and wants itself, to know as much as possible.” When asked, “Are you allowed to not read an important classical book if you want to be literate?” McCarthy answered: “No.”

McCarthy‘s unabashedly “elitist” criteria and modernist sensibilities prompted a negative response from one commenter on the interview’s webpage:

i hate reading, and i hate books. i am forced to listen to this show because my teacher thinks it will make us more interested in books. so to earn my participation points, here are a few questions for the literate few who actually listen to this program: why can’t people who write literature just say what they mean in a simplistic straightforward way? why do writers yearn to be obscure? why do people read books that require additional books to understand? what’s so great about kafka? additionally, I had to read a short story by Donald Bartheme (i think there’s an L in his last name somewhere, but i forget where), titled “Indian uprising” – it was discursive and i couldn’t cobble together a coherent narrative for the life of me? what are the Indian’s fighting? it was more vague than a John ashbury poem. i don’t know, i’m frustrated. and i suppose i am anti-elitism. and if McCarthy and Silverblake are right about having to read all the classics to be called “literate,” i don’t know if i know of anyone who is or ever will be “literate.” why can’t life be simple? i just want to be someone like someone else once was.

-Dan McCarthy (no relation to Tom, i’m from Orchard Park, NY)

The message seemed almost too good (or too bad) to be true. The misspelling of Barthelme and Silverblatt, the implausible reference to Ashbery and use of the word “discursive”… but it was Silverblatt himself who caught the smoking gun.

Dear Dan, I wish you weren’t forced to listen to this show. I don’t like the idea. I didn’t read because anyone forced me to, but because I love it. So excuse me for your indenture.

But, how about it, Dan, there’s something nagging my memory. Isn’t your last line “I want to be someone like someone else once was” a quote? It’s one of my favorites. It’s the first sentence the feral child Kaspar Hauser ever spoke, according to Peter Handke in his play.Kaspar.

So thanks for writing in, Dan, and by the way who are you?

Who indeed? My guess is that this comment was posted by a fan of McCarthy (or McCarthy himself?!) since the comment (1) presents his critical opponents as absurd and ignorant, and (2) is precisely the kind of multi-layered modernist conceit that McCarthy himself endorses.

The impostor commenter (or “sock puppet“) is an odd and fascinating internet creature. When I first noticed them appearing in the press, their motives were typically crass, such as Lee Siegel‘s self-aggrandizing comments at The New Republic or Whole Foods CEO John Mackey‘s anonymous attacks on Wild Oats. However with Fake Steve Jobs and the proliferation of fake Twitter accounts, the sock puppet has become a semi-accepted part of internet discourse, and a minor art form of its own.

Unsurprisingly, my first encounter with amusing fake literature-related comments were both reviews at Amazon, which probably attracts more “sock puppet” commentary than any other website. Actually, sadly, the review of Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s One Hundred Years of Solitude (“some of the stuff that happened in this book would NEVER happen in real life”) might be real…