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Klam > Ferris

I read Who is Rich and it was excellent so I reread Sam the Cat which was as amazing as I remembered. Sure, it’s basically the same story 7 times in a row, but it’s a good story, very well told.

Meanwhile Ferris did the opposite trajectory, first publishing the amazing novel (Then We Came to the End), which was a “tour de force,” as the literati say, followed by a couple mediocre novels that had good points, and then a collection of short stories which was pretty much Sam the Cat but with more drinking.

Matthew Klam and Joshua Ferris are basically the same writer: twins who happen to be 10 yrs apart in age. I mean, sure, you’d rather be the younger one: there’s a big difference between being in your forties and settled with a seemingly limitless future, and being in your fifties and feeling like you only have a few more bounces of that yo-yo left in you.

What’s with Klam, though? Based on the interview I read, it seems like he’s sweating blood to write these books. His sentences are beautiful but it’s harder to enjoy them if you think about how much work each one of them takes. It all looks so effortless from here. I mean, sure, I struggle to write too. Each book takes an incredible amount of effort and I always feel like quitting. But at least I can distract myself by teaching or working on Stan or whatever. If all I had to do was write books . . . Shit. Lots of pressure.

Anyway, yes, Klam and Ferris have the same affect, the same writing style, the same characters—or, should I say, character, as these are some seriously solipsistic writers. But Klam’s better. It’s clear. The difference is small but identifiable. It’s not like Updike/Cheever who have similarities (they’re the disillusioned bards of late-mid-twentieth-century suburbia!) but who are different enough that you can’t rank them. Or Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates: again, their attributes are not parallel enough to rank them. Maybe a better analogy would be Scott Turow who’s very similar to, but dominates, John Grisham. Or, here’s one: Auden vs. any of the rest of his crowd, Spender and all the rest. They’re all baby Audens, there’s no comparison. Klam and Ferris, though, are a more interesting comparison because they’re sooo similar, and Klam is only a tiny bit better than Ferris; it just happens to be a tiny bit that’s clearly identifiable.

Hey, Ed Park: Could you please write another novel? Your last one was just too similar to Then We Came to the End. I’d like to see you try again.

And Joshua Ferris: It’s not too late for you to catch up. Then We Came to the End was a tour de force and also “compulsively readable” (I love those sportswriter-style literary cliches) and really made me think. Next time, just try to write something that’s not a tour de force; it just has to be readable and thought-provoking, that’s enough. I think the whole “tour de force” thing is mucking up the works. That whole dentist thing? It didn’t work.

I remain sad that there’s not enough room for all these writers to thrive. They can’t compete with TV on demand. Back when I was a kid, people said TV was killing books and movies, but print was still the only medium that you could have on demand. No more. I lament the closing of an era in which one man or woman could singlehandedly create entertainment and food for thoughts for millions.

And I do my part to wreck the economics of journalism by writing and posting every day. Hard for pros to compete with amateurs who give out free content on a regular basis.

8 Comments

  1. Paul Alper says:

    Andrew:

    “Shit. Lots of pressure.”

    Bill Cosby, to put it mildly, has been in the news lately so I watched videos of his famous routines. His standup, i.e., sit-down performances, are hilarious and unlike those of the comedians of today, devoid of scatological or obscene words. The same cannot be said of blogs in general or Klam’s writings in particular. Blogging by its nature encourages vocabulary limititations. However, in Klam’s case, the 16 years between his famous publications indicate some thought must have gone into his choice of words even if the excess is juvenile.

  2. You are an engaging writer Andrew.

    Foxes vs. Hedgehogs to borrow from Philip Tetlock.

    I deviate a bit from his characterization in that, my observation the subset of foxes are not only idea generators but are the fount for hedgehogs. But not as interesting and as intellectually stimulating as foxes.

    Well that oughtta explain it. LOL

    • Andrew says:

      Sameera:

      Maybe I should repost this one from a few years back.

      • Thanks for reposting your 2005 article. I have only recently come to understand how statisticians think. I’m still learning how they think. I haven’t yet read any biography of statisticians. Just gleaned biographical anecdotes from current statisticians like Stephen Senn, Ian Hacking, Stephen Goodman, Deborah Mayo, Gerd Gigerenzer. I am more attuned to the ones who tweet regularly on Twitter. I’m relieved to say that they aren’t boring. Nevertheless, some seem very ideological as well preferring one school of statistics over another.

        You are right to suggest that most [all?] statisticians are some combination of ‘hedgehoginess &’foxiness: each thinking disposition [if one can call either that] manifests differently at different points/stages of their queries/projects/scholarship.

        Philip Tetlock and I have starkly different notions of the role of Foxes. I submit that, as I mentioned before, that subsets of foxes have been fount for expertise in certain fields, like in sociology, religion, literature, science, and psychology. Philip Tetlock thinks that it’s the other way around: That Foxes co-opt from Hedgehogs. It may be that I have had long association with the academics of a particular era. There doesn’t seem to be anyone who I haven’t known personally and have read. For someone of my age at 16 to have heard Feyerabend and I am quite certain Hacking too, was unusual. We have to take into account who provided the charismatic ideation for themes that became salient in the aftermath of WW2. Experts [hedgehogs] got their inspiration from eclectics who I’d equate to Foxes. Then they expanded on the themes gleaned from eclectics.

        The above observations are still true. So when Prof. Tetlock suggests that some ‘foxes do better’ b/c those foxes were instrumental in shaping the ethos of this last century. In small and big ways. I have continued to suggest that we made a big mistake by relying on small sample opinions of hedgehogs and foxes.

  3. Phil says:

    My friend Lili Wright wrote a novel, ‘Dancing With The Tiger’ (here is the very favorable NYT review) that seems to have everything going for it. It’s really good; it got good reviews; it’s a sort of thriller/mystery and the public still reads thriller/mysteries; it has a good cover that won an award (hey, these things can matter, I’m told). And it didn’t sell. In fact I think the publisher decided not to bring it out in paperback, because the hardcover did so much worse than they expected.

    I know, N=1, this doesn’t necessarily say much about whether the public is watching on-demand TV instead of reading, but it’s still sad.

    And let’s make it N=2: yesterday we had a garage sale that included three bookcases, two of which are quite nice and the other one not bad. We had, I dunno, 100 visitors or something, and sold a whole bunch of stuff I didn’t think we would sell — dishes, little sake cups, corner tables, an old magazine stand of the sort I don’t think has been popular in 40 years, all kinds of crap. But the bookcases? Not a single person so much as asked the price. I would have given them away for free! I mean, sure, it’s not so easy to buy a bookcase at a garage sale, but even the people who buy stuff to resell weren’t interested in the bookcases.

    Sic transit gloria mundi.

    • Essentially all of the fiction or nonfiction I’ve read has been in ebook form for the last three years. A major reason is that I don’t want to store all that paper. What few paper books I read were library ones I could return.

      It’s especially true for technology books, there’s no reason to own paper books about tech that will be obsolete in 3 years.

  4. Z says:

    To Rise Again at a Decent Hour was great! I maybe even liked it slightly more than Then We Came to the End

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