« Ten Worst Books? | Main | The Other End of Your Writing Career »



Your Good but Dangerous list included all my picks. I'm not sure whether I agree with some of your list but Atlas and Catcher especially caught me as excellent choices.

I think the GbD should also include, as a class, both the "loose, baggy monsters" of Russia and the entire canon (literary and critical) of Henry James. There's a good middle ground between form and theme, and taking either side to the extreme is bad literature.

alex castro

do you remember me? Alex, from Liberal Libertário Libertino. You linked me on your other blog. Your list is perfect, but you forgot one book: The Stranger.

Boy, I have lost counts of how many novels I have read (especially when written by beginners) narrated by Mersault.

I think Mersault's voice (although tedious) is the most widely imitated literary voice of the century

Melanie McBride

I can't agree more about the ayn rand especially. I despise her work. The only people I've ever met who enjoy her novels are neo-cons and arch invididualist libertarians. Granted she lost all her bourgeois privilege at the hands of fascists but failed to make anything really productive out of the experience other than "the bad people who took our money weren't as special and talented as we were and that's why they hated us." It's the classic position of the privileged to assume that status is somehow meritocratic and that talent and intelligence are the product of a *unique* and (especially, priviliged) sensibility - rather than the collective influences and efforts of others who contributed to ones specialness (i.e., their parents for providing them with their privileged education, their excellent mentors/advisors, their access to knowledge, their level of economic comfort and stability, etc). It's essentially all an argument for Burke's reflections on the revolution in France: that only the rich/privileged/leisure class should ever lead because they are the ones with the time and inclination to really contemplate big ideas, etc (unburdened by the workaday realities of the underclasses).


Bridges of Madison County isn't on the list, but Love Story is, so I won't quibble. I read them both over lunch. Their brevity was their only redeeming virtue.


Uh-oh. I'm still enamored of McCarthy, and am into Suttree right now. I admire the words that drag you deep into a very dismal life that feels like a layer of grime on your skin.


I'm actually somewhat confused by the thought behind this top ten list. Is the issue with the writers or with the penchant to be derivative, a habit that is both encouraged by literary markets and that can actually aid in learning how both to do and not to do. If Kerouac spawned imitation, then with whom should we take issue? In addition, should we simply agree with Capote's comment.


I don't agree with all of these, but I see the point behind them with the exception of "The Big Sleep." Having just read it, I found Chandler's prose crisp and witty. I think the problem is with all the films his writing spawned and their overuse of florid voice-over narration that became so easy to misuse and parody.

That, however, can hardly be considered Chandler's fault.


I just came upon your blog today. In your list of ten most harmful books- or maybe worst books- I was expecting to see Naked Lunch. I had heard people raving about it for years and last summer I finally got a copy. Never made it thru to the end, and I almost lost my own lunch several times while trying to wade thru it. It was like, okay, let's see how many drug-induced grotesque images we can dredge up.
Anyway, great blog! as a middle-aged writer I was glad to find this. Ellen

Crawford Kilian

I was listing mostly books that posed a threat to me as a young writer, and Naked Lunch never had much impact. I read some of it and, like Norman Mailer, got bored with it.

Reading something by Jerzy Kosinski, however, I quit when I realized it was quite possible to have my imagination poisoned. The same with John Irving; after reading his early novels with some interest, I got halfway through Garp and then, um, threw Garp across the room. I don't like being manipulated.

A really bad novel usually isn't too harmful; it's the well-written ones with a brilliant concept that can cripple future writers. Hence Chandler and McCarthy, who are wonderful writers...but they make their kind of writing look both easy and worth doing.

Ray Pence

I've not read Atlas Shrugged, but over the years I've run into more than a few people who become absolutely sold on Rand and her worldview. These folks go through a phase where they seem to see everything from a Randian perspective and it's very depressing. In terms of influence on writing, I can't speak to that. My guess is that Rand is a rotten fiction writer but that won't stop her from being influential. People want positive reinforcement for being selfish and becoming more selfish and they'll get it with Rand.

Regarding Kerouac and Salinger, and maybe Hemingway, I don't think as much of these books now (at age 41) as I did 20-25 years ago, but I'm not sure I'd call the books dangerous just because I have a more complicated and less celebratory view of them. I believe that all three writers are very important, in some ways more important culturally than artistically or aesthetically. It's important for all books to be read critically, of course, but don't young people have the right, need, whatever, to be carried away and naive about works like On the Road? Capote's pompous sarcasm aside, how influential is he today? Didn't he turn into something not all that different from Kerouac, i.e. a major substance abuser better known for his image than for his art?

People need to know that Kerouac was about a lot more than OTR. He helped me care more about writing than most artists have, because he truly gave his life to it. If these books get young people excited about reading and writing, as they did me, I say that's a positive thing. Those who are serious about it will refine their work and their views over the years, but there needs to be some kind of door opener, and I can think of worse authors to do that than Kerouac, Salinger, and Hemingway.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Blogs

Writers' Blogs and Sites

Read The Tyee

July 2020

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31  

Writers' Resources