Brooklyn Declared Source of Liteary Pestilence by The American Scholar

American Scholar: “To achieve this miracle, certain writers produce Brooklyn Books of Wonder. Take mawkish self-indulgence, add a heavy dollop of creamy nostalgia, season with magic realism, stir in a complacency of faith, and you’ve got wondrousness. The only thing that’s more wondrous than the BBoW narratives themselves is the vanity of the authors who deliver their epistles from Fort Greene with mock-naïve astonishment, as if saying: ‘I can’t really believe I’m writing this. And it’s such an honor that you’re reading it.’ Actually, they’re as vain and mercenary as anyone else, but they mask these less endearing traits under the smiley façade of an illusory Eden they’ve recreated in the low-rise borough across the water from corrupt Manhattan.”

I don’t entirely disagree with Melvin Jules Bukiet, but there are several hysterical statements in this article that I will leave others to respond to.

I’ll just point out that Dave Eggers and the McSweeney’s operation are based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Alice Sebold is also in California, and that Benjamin Kunkel is, as I understand it, based in Manhattan. So while I appreciate some of the sentiments in this article against superficial books, I think that Bukiet is foolish to wag his vitriolic finger to Brooklyn as the source of this apparent “Books of Wonder” epidemic. This is the kind of scummy and atavistic mentality that eventually gets people forcibly removing Japanese people from their neighborhood and placing them in internment camps.

And Bukiet doesn’t know Brooklyn very well if he thinks the hipsters ride the F train. If we’re going to reduce speculation upon the five boroughs to base generalizations, as anyone who actually gets off the island of Manhattan from time to time knows, it’s the L train to Williamsburg where you’ll find the ponytails and goatees.

(Thanks, Sarah)


  1. That article was a hoot.
    Sorry, but The Plastic People of Brooklyn needed to be slapped in the face with a pair of white gloves. It’s not the center of the literary universe. There are other place where people can live and write and be culturaly significant. I lived in Park Slope from 99-01, use to have breakfast at Dizzy’s every Sunday, had my two slices and an ice at Pino’s for lunch, and I still have very fond memories of living there and riding the train into the city so I could write about new products for Beverage World Magazine, but I have to say that most of the fiction that is written and published by the Brooklyn writers is middlebrow, indicative of absolutely nothing important that is going on in the country, let alone the world. Just a bunch of smart kids letting you know how smart they are. I’m glad someone decided to take them down a peg. Maybe now they’ll all wipe that collective smirk off of their face. Except for Auster. Auster is the original, lived there when there was no cache in doing so. The rest are just tourists, and I include Lethem in that, just because I know it’s irritating, just like his insistence that he is the King and Lord of Pop Culture. Okay, Johnny, no one’s a bigger fan than you are.

  2. As someone who lived off both the L and F train, you’re right about the hipster-ish factor being on the L – but only on the first few stops. I lived in the deep ghetto about twelve stops out, in Bushwick (nicknamed Poverty Palace) where there was none of that hipster vibe. And on the F, that’s where all the hipsters USED to live. So the info’s just old – he was right about twenty years ago.

  3. You’re kidding about the internment camps, right? I read “Brooklyn” as a state-of-mind while writing – anyone anywhere could write a novel that has the qualities talked about here.

  4. I’m not sure about today, but McSweeneys started in Brooklyn and had an office here for a long time, may still do. It is not an error to state that Eggers and McSweeneys has a big influence in Brooklyn, regardless of its S.F. branch or even HQ. Those who pick nits must ensure that they are nits.

  5. Yes, hipsters take the “L”, but ponytails and goatees aren’t hipster.

    They’re classic Park Slope squaresville.

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