The Idiot Writer Who Had Nothing to Write About

[MAY 14, 2009 UPDATE: Four years later, it turns out that Steve Almond was right and I was wrong. Mark Sarvas used me. Just as he’s used other people. Which means that the thesis behind this post no longer holds up. (Indeed, four years later, it’s a silly post. But then I’m a silly person.) Essentially, I defended a scumbag who pretended to be a friend, and now the whole damn essay here is phony.

I have personally emailed Steve Almond to apologize for my words. But I leave this riposte and the subsequent comments up: unedited, unmodified, and all the regrettable nastiness presented as is. Because unlike Mark, I don’t rewrite history to serve my ever-shifting purpose. Unlike Mark, I don’t delete entire posts and comments. Unlike Mark, my feelings and encouragement to others is genuine. I’m interested in people because I’m interested in people. The literary community is a small one. And we’re all in this together. But I don’t react to entitlement and arrogance very well. And it’s a considerable understatement to say that I feel like a chump.

Not that it matters now, but Mark Sarvas basically used Dan Wickett and me (and a few others) to keep the Litblog Co-Op going. I was proud to be part of the LBC. It was a moment in litblog history when the litblog world wasn’t nearly as competitive as it is now. When litblogs came together to champion books. I miss those days. But let’s face the facts. They’re over. I’ve tried tor restore some of the spirit in some of the roundtable discussions included on these pages. But at least Twitter has some of that old school cooperative feel.

Behind the scenes, Dan Wickett and I rallied the team. I was the one who made all the calls to the publicists for the books, negotiated with them to send 20 copies of books to various bloggers (no small matter; this was a time in which the publishing industry was still trying to understand what blogging was all about), and I produced all the podcasts. Until Carolyn Kellogg came along to help me out on the latter. But it all became too much. There were too many nights in which I was going to bed at 3AM and waking up at 6AM to keep things going. And I was forced to resign from the LBC. Sadly, the LBC’s demise came not long after.

What did Mark do? In his defense, he offered an early push for the LBC. Certainly when the newspapers wanted to give him his attention. But after that, nothing. He basically sat back and hogged all the media attention. There was a false peception in the literary community that Mark had done all the legwork. But since I’m so used to being screwed, I stayed quiet and tried to be the better man. Mark would constantly belittle me every time we’d hang out. And any time I would leave even a remotely critical comment on his blog, he would throw some hissy fit and attempt to destroy our relationship. (Never mind that he said nastier words to me.) Then I’d try some diplomacy. And this would happen again, and again. And he only communicated with me to serve his purposes. Which was publicity for Harry, Revised, which I gave him in the form of a one hour podcast. And then he dumped me like a sack of potatoes for the stupidest of reasons. Just as he’s done with so many other people. Just as he managed to get his wife to leave him.

Mark took advantage of my empathy. He took advantage of my passion. He took advantage of my indefatigable work ethic. You might call Mark the Wiliam Shatner of the early litblog scene. A somewhat charismatic talent capable of so much more, but ultimately a narcissistic prima donna who will probably end up in a sad and lonely place in a few decades. Because he hates people. He’s incurious about them and it shows. He insists upon being the center of attention. He hates genre. Aside from Paul McCartney and Star Trek (the latter of which he doesn’t have the guts to be geeky about), he hates anything even remotely populist.

And really if you can’t laugh or marvel over something that regular people enjoy from time to time — as Steve Almond did with Candy Freak — then how in the hell can you live with yourself?

I’m sad that it came down to this. I do actually feel sorry for Mark. But he’ll have to learn to live with himself the hard way. I just hope that others don’t find themselves as emotionally exploited as I was.]

Steve Almond had been spewing out drivel for years. Then he ran out of ideas. So he somehow conned Salon into buying a near libelous piece about Mark Sarvas.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine sent me a link to a weblog. A man named Steve Almond was guest-blogging at Bookslut. One of his entries read as follows:

I want to direct you brave fucknuts to a piece on Nerve.com by Lisa Gabriele, called Writers’ Block. It’s a brilliant rant about the dearth of good sex writing in the current crop of literary up-and-cummers, a veritable WEAPON OF ASS DESTRUCTION when it comes to all those prudish high-brows who feel it is beneath them to get graphic. I wish I knew how to represent the sound of a chicken clucking in print, cuz [sic] that’s what these folks deserve. The books Gabriele cites are all terrific examples of the literary tease, the good old, “Then we were in bed and it felt good and then it was the morning.” Cluck cluck.

This “analysis” or “commentary,” whether of “highbrows” or erotica who could say, wouldn’t even score a 1 on the analytical writing section of the GRE. Had this ostensibly developmentally disabled baboon even seen the inside of a classroom? (To my great horror, I learned that he had. More anon.) Why hadn’t such a sad case been relegated to a LiveJournal page where he could drone on and on like an overgrown teenager about the important things in life, such as Paris Hilton or (as I would learn later) peurile paeans to candy?

The thinking behind the post was so convoluted that I wondered if the man who penned these words even had the mental capacity to balance his checkbook. I lost tally counting the mixed metaphors in that first sentence. Was it four? Or five? “Brave fucknuts?” This guy reminded me of any number of people in junior high, many of whom used “fucknuts” within their limited stock of witticisms and their remarkable ability to occupy detention halls every weekend.

And if “Then we were in bed and it felt good and then it was the morning” was this guy’s idea of exemplary suggestion, the apotheosis no less, then heaven help the future of erotica and literature.

As it turned out, this Almond guy was a regular contributor to Nerve himself (nepotism anyone?), turning out such stories as “Skull,” which featured such contributions to the English language as:

She had the kind of voice you always imagine a phone sex operator would have, moist and soothing. The unusual thing about Sharon, she had a plastic eye.

I have never talked with a phone sex operator. But “moist” is not the adjective I would use to describe a voice. “Moist” in relation to a sponge or soiled panties? Sure. But given that the mouth is constantly piqued with moisture, Almond’s attempt at suggestion is redundant. Unless, of course, the phone sex operator was magically situated in the Mojave Desert in a hovel without air condtioning and had just imbibed some precious water just before talking with the protagonist. Only to talk with the protagonist. But it is doubtful that Almond, banging out this sentence faster than most of us utter a preposition, thought this far ahead.

Who was Steve Almond? Well, he was a writer, of course. A bad writer. A writer so abysmal that he had me reaching for the likes of Jude Deveraux and Jacqueline Susann for comfort. I hadn’t seen anyone mangle language like this since I had helped a young relative of mine spell “Pynchon” with a Crayola.

But more than a bad writer. I had discovered this picture of the infant savant turning his head from a camera — the same way that I often saw the most inebriated and coked out groomsmen at bachelor parties, completely oblivious that the debauchery they were committing was, in a sad and ironic manner, preparation for a beautiful ceremony.

Even more astonishing, this marsupial was actually teaching creative writing at Boston College. In other words, some hapless administrator had actually hired this guy to pollute the fresh vellum of students hoping to find a critical but encouraging voice and perhaps a bit of inspiration. But a quick search at the Boston College website revealed that Almond was neither a professor, nor even an assistant professor. Rather, he was in that safe and nebulous realm of Adjunct Lecturers & Part Time Faculty, the place where barely qualified instructors go to die or where hack writers hole up to make ends meet. No degree was listed by his name. Could it have been a correspondence course? A more closer angle on the Boston College page revealed another Almond photograph. He had an unmistakable resemblance to a gym teacher. It was only a hop, skip and a jump to Rate My Professor to learn that Almond had rated high on Easiness and low to mixed on Helpfulness and Clarity. One student had written, “Ewwwwwwwwwwww. indeed.”

Almond lived in Someville, Massachusetts, a city of 77,478 often referred to as “Slummerville” for its high crime rate. It was the town of Whitey Bulger, a man on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List who had committed 18 counts of murder and the leader of the notorious Winter Hill Gang. While Almond, to his credit, hadn’t yet put a knife to anyone’s throat, I learned from colleagues that his homicidal impulse concerning more enlightened topics (namely, the printed page) was Bulgeresque in nature.

Almond had written a book called Candy Freak, which had a charming enough premise (a memoir about his candy fixation). But in the hands of Steve Almond, what could have been a tale of how an obsession is related to identity goes quickly awry within the opening pages:

And then, as if we weren’t bamboozled enough, there was the sleek red package, which included a ruler on the back and thereby affirmed the First Rule of Male Adolescence:

If you give a teenage boy a candy bar with a ruler on the back of the package, he will measure his dick.

Oh where are you now, you brave stupid bars of yore?

It becomes immediately clear that Almond, instead of pursuing original and unlikely metaphors, opts for the easy sexualization of candy that has been a metaphorical mantra in this nation ever since the invention of the Blow Pop. Almond reveals his own shortcomings almost instantly. His defenders might view this as a cheap but amusing joke for the Animal House crowd. But, as a man who went through adolescence himself, I can assure you that Almond is utterly wrong about the First Rule of Male Adolescence. No adolescent male would be so reserved to stop at a mere ruler or its likeness. Because it is masturbation, as frequently and as frantically as possible, that is the thing. This penis is, after all, a fantastic utility that brings fantastic pleasure. Far from the myths that suggest that hair grows on the palm of one’s hand, masturbation is to teenage boys what habanero peppers are to good chilli: a way to put things into perspective during an explosive onset.

This leaves only one possible conclusion: The teenage Almond may have suffered from some permanent detumescence. While his adolescent friends were discovering a new application for Kleenex and Vaseline, Almond was left wondering why his own John Thomas failed to function. This may explain his later drift towards erotica (and, as we have established, unconvincing erotica). After all, what motivates a hopeless straggler than the allure of figuring it all out?

Almond’s remarkable incompetence is, like any failed exhibitionist, well on display at his website. His latest book, The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories, has paragraph excerpts (presumably because any story as a whole would reveal Almond’s deficiencies in toto). Here are a few choice excerpts.

From “The Soul Molecule”:

Wilkes had that drowsy pinch around the eyes you see in certain leading men.

Not a flap of skin, but a pinch, as if every thespian eye is inherently pinchable beyond the teevee. It doesn’t seem an accident that the only reference we have for Wilkes’ introduction is something purloined from a television set, rather than the more dimensional realm of reality.

From “Appropriate Sex”:

“This was a Friday in April, one of the last days of the term, and the undergrads were all worked up. You could see it in the way they touched themselves, those lewd innocent little caresses of the self, the way they lingered over their cigarettes out on the steps, a thousand bright sucking lips.”

Apparently, Almond believes his readers are too idiotic (or perhaps he himself is too idiotic) to figure out that April is near the end of a school term. Instead of clarifying specific gestures suggesting why these undergrads are “all worked up,” Almond, perhaps channeling Bulwer-Lytton’s inestimable lack of grace, paints a preternatural portrait of students all self-absorbed, somehow capable of ponying up five dollars each day for a pack of cigarettes (Almond is apparently unfamiliar with the commonly impecunious existence of college students) to sustain an existence, ending it with the overwrought image of “a thousand bright sucking lips.”

From “The Problem of Human Consumption” (Funny how all the Almond short story titles seem culled from the titles of undergraduate essays. Is this where he gets his inspiration? Can we expect “The Paradox of de Maupassant” as a future Almond offering?):

Paul looks at his daughter, looks her flush in the face, that soft pink swirl of youth, and suddenly he is hungry again, famished.

Clearly, these linguistical repetitions show that Almond is a man who, metaphorically speaking, couldn’t do the Lindy hop even if a league of instructors spent an entire weekend getting this incompetent bozo to step in time. Word count seems to be more of a priority in the Almond writing corner than clarity and polished coherence. As if we didn’t get the hint the first time that Paul is “hungry,” Almond reminds us a mere two words later that he is “famished.” He can’t even describe the daughter’s physical features, which might make us forget about the incestuous taboo Paul’s about to break. He settles instead on “that soft pink swirl of youth” rather than, say, “vigorous eyes calling for curiosity.”

Thus, the initial impetus that spawned Almond’s fury for Mark Sarvas is ironclad. He cannot spin sentences. He cannot properly describe. He cannot even suggest. He cannot, in sum, touch even remotely at this crazy little thing called life that fuels the best of writing. He cannot even get his terminology right in the Salon article. He suggests that Mark has committed “long-distance slander” when any dummy with a remote understanding of journalism knows that slander is spoken and libel is written. Here’s the initial entry from Mark’s blog that Almond cites as “false and malicious”:

The adulation accorded Steve Almond constitutes one of the blogosphere’s enduring mysteries. From the very first days of this site, I’ve shaken my head in a sort of dazed wonder at the wake of overheated prose stylings the guys [sic] leaves behind. So I am, of course, delighted that the Washington Post’s Jonathan Yardley finally steps up and speaks the truth.

If Almond devoted a fraction of the efforts [sic] he brings to self-promotion to his writing, he might finally be on to something. But I doubt it.

Nowhere in Mark’s passage does he attack Almond’s character. He’s commenting upon his writing. Indeed, Mark is being encouraging by suggesting that Almond redirect his energies to something useful, like improving his writing.

From here, Almond makes a flying leap into his main thesis that Mark Sarvas is obsessed with him, based solely on an offhanded remark that Mark typed in an email to Dan Wickett about his “loathing for Steve Almond.” Not stalking. Not obsessing. Loathing for his prose, as established at his blog. But does this really make Mark a stalker?

Before I continue, I want to say a few words about Mark Sarvas. When I wrote and directed a play, do you know who came up all the way from Southern California to see it (aside from my sister)? Mark Sarvas. How many faraway friends do you know who would do that? When he was in Europe, he sent me a photo of Knut Hamsun’s grave. We’ve exchanged emails, talked to each other through rough times, encouraged each other, and suggested authors to each other. Beyond this, Mark Sarvas was the guy who organized the LBC idea. He is an avid bicyclist, a man who regularly checks up on all people he cares about, and a guy who even devoted time out of his schedule to teach an eight-week class to at-risk boys. Mark has never once invaded my privacy, nor has he showed up unexpectedly at my doorstep. He is a stable man with an exercise regimen that I don’t think I’d ever have the energy or discipline to maintain. Like any man of character, Mark is a passionate soul and he often lets loose words on one of his chief interests: literature. But they are no different from a cinema afficianado shouting at a television set during the Oscars about some has-been and untalented celebrity being granted a statutette while the real (and less attractive) talent who put his heart and soul into the part offers a sad grimace.

That Almond should fail to see the distinction between passion and stalking is not much of a surprise. But that he would be such a boorish and oversensitive pussy and put his poison pen to condemn Mark’s character through specious associations not only demonstrates how much litblogs have become a threat to traditional media and their counterparts (such as Salon), but that he truly has no worthwhile interest worth writing about.

Let’s take the examples that Almond uses to assassinate Mark’s character:

1. Shortly after a panel, while Mark is hunkered over his laptop, clearly in the middle of live blogging what went down, Steve Almond is amazed that anyone in the act of writing would be “startled.” Now if any rude asshole shouted in an earth-shattering voice, “Hi, I’m So-And-So,” when I was in the middle of writing, instead of, say, asking me if I were busy (when it’s clearly obvious), if it were me, I’d tell him to go fuck himself. But Mark, trying to maintain focus and friendliness, suggests that Almond talk with Jim Ruland. Classy guy. Decides instead, like any mischief maker, to note it on his blog, since Almond is there, wondering why his rude gesture hasn’t been rewarded with a handshake. And, no surprise, not a stalker!

2. Almond bemoans Mark’s failure to “rush the stage” after his reading, as if expecting the guy he’s just been a complete dickhead to, to gush him with adulations. Cry me a river, Almond.

3. I think it’s Almond who’s the real stalker here. He’s the man who’s expressing feelings of arousal, speculating about Mark’s sexuality, and going out of his way to make his life a living hell by not approaching him at, say, a post-reading bar when he’s not working. Like any DSM-IV case, it’s Almond there speculating about him with his girlfriend and his friends and now a long and self-serving essay.

4. Almond criticizes Mark Sarvas’ entry as being gossipy and conducive to “his own towering envy.” Too bad for Almond that the full entry Almond cites can be found here. It’s clear to just about anyone reading it that Sarvas is there asking questions of Wasserman, asking about the role of litblogs versus book review outlets — an ongoing dialectic carried over to his appearance on Radio Open Source.

5. Almond then wonders why a concentrated population reads litblogs. But it never occurs to him that litblogs are actually going out of their way to discuss literary topics. If we’re so foolhardy and if we’re such poor thinkers, why did Wasserman himself suggest to Mark during his Radio Open Source show that one of his posts proved thought-provoking. So if litblogs represent a certain nadir, is it possible that litblogs represent a nadir that is slightly more tolerable than the nadir of the L.A. Times and New York Times Sunday book review sections?

Perhaps Almond’s essay represents a confession. Having failed to get the customary rim job by someone who he presumes is one of his fawning admirers, he remains mystified that anyone with an online conduit would actually criticize his writing.

The real person to pity here is Almond. The problem is that pitying types like Almond is that it causes these characters to feed their own overinflated egos and, through their ostracizing actions, gets them removing themselves unknowingly from the great vales of human decency. Having failed to understand why his writing is deficient, why anything outside Almond’s head is worth considering, or offering a rational theory for why litblogs function, he has instead used his questionable professional credentials to confess unintentionally to the world that It’s All Steve, All the Time, giving into the First Rule of Sustained Adolescence in Adulthood: It’s all about me and every human action, no matter how minute, is directed somehow at me.

Kinder souls would call such a person “high maintenance.” I call one a self-absorbed asshole to be avoided at all costs. And a no-talent hack to boot.

Be Sociable, Share!

49 Comments

  1. “Had this ostensibly developmentally disabled babboon even seen the inside of a classroom?”

    Steve Almond’s ad hominem was/is funny and creative, setting aside whether you think it would pass muster on the GRE. Your ad hominem on the other hand, is none of those things. Plus, if you’re going to go to all the trouble of calling someone a baboon, and especially a developmentally disabled one, you should at least spell the word correctly, don’t you think?

  2. Re: point 2. “rushing the stage”. If you actually read the article it would be clear that Steve was not expecting a “gush of adulation”, but rather a storming of the stage.

  3. Ed. Ed, Ed—

    This is a lot of work to document the well known short comings of the vile writer named after a nut , though admittedly I agree that sliming Mark requires some retribution.

    Jews do have an appropriate response to such schmucks. It’s called sitting shiva. The marginal talents and unoriginal insights of the party in question are buried and their passing is more or less mourned (or celebrated).

  4. It’s good to see everyone chiming in on the subject. I think the strategy of developing an online nemesis with which to do battle and bring public is wonder way to shill up interest for all bickering, re-enforcing and commenting parties involved. I was turned on to this little spat through Almond’s Salon article, but if it wasn’t for that article, it would still be a little lovers quarrel only a few would know about. So now that it has more attention it seems everyone wants to comment on it in order to be seen, to shill for themselves on the Steve and Mark Talent Search Show. I say, ooh ooh. Over here. Notice me too.

  5. I’m afraid you lost all credibility with me when you misspelled “Devereaux” and “Susann” in the same sentence. Maybe you were being cute? Anyway, at that point I lost interest. Since I’d never heard of you, Steve Almond, or Mark Sarvas before yesterday, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything particularly significant.

  6. It’s interesting that you claim that Steve Almond’s piece on Salon is “near libelous” – yet you have engaged in the same sort of vituperative attack that you are criticizing him for.

    Was this supposed to be an intelligent deconstruction of the man’s work? Because let’s be honest – it sounds like a petty bitch & bash. What was the point of calling him ‘a marsupial’ or suggesting that he suffered “permanent detumescence” as a teenager?

    How are statements like that relevant if you are supposedly critiquing his work?

    An intelligent argument does not need to rely upon insults to get one’s point across.

  7. Eduard, I’m super-sorry, I’m a fan of TEV, and I’ve got no problem with Sarvas, and I’m not a fan of Almond, but I have to say that Almond’s piece totally rings true, Sarvas’s linking to it from his blog is pathological and weird, and his comments and responses to others’s comments are dodgy and as immature as Almond suggests. Really: sorry. Hate to say it.

  8. Apparently, you are one “no-talent hack” who doesn’t even know how to spell the names of writers. I find it particularly humorous that you manage to “mangle” both names in your diatribe: “Well, he was a writer, of course. A bad writer. A writer so abysmal that he had me reaching for the likes of Jude Duvureaix and Jacqueline Sussan for comfort. I hadn’t seen anyone mangle language like this since…”

    It’s Jude Devereux and Jacqueline Susann.

    You know the old “glass houses” adage, fella…

  9. I thought Almond came across as whiny and weird and did plenty to hang himself, but this is even worse.

    I think it’s cool to rally around a friend, but this doesn’t really help TEV much.

  10. “Rather, he was in that safe and nebulous realm of Adjunct Lecturers & Part Time Faculty, the place where barely qualified instructors go to die or where hack writers hole up to make ends meet. No degree was listed by his name.” OH THE HORROR. What kind of safe and nebulous job do you have, sir, in which you can spend all morning writing this rather ridiculous and pointless post?

  11. At least with Ed’s response, I understand the motivating force behind the attack — a friend has been unfairly maligned and Ed’s coming to his defense. (We should all have such friends.) But making a hateful and dismissive response — no matter how funny and clever — to someone’s else’s criticism of your writing as hateful and dismissive (and motivated by jealousy?) seems a little backward. Wait, add pointless and MEAN. And yeah, saying bad things about Birnbaum is Just Too Far. (Yeah, it’s convoluted, because so is Almond’s “argument.”)

    I don’t see how anyone who is piling on the meanness here can feel superior or right while doing it. Especially if all they know about the blogs in question is what they read in the sainted Salon!

  12. “Almond lived in Someville, Massachusetts, a city of 77,478 often referred to as “Slummerville” for its high crime rate. It was the town of Whitey Bulger, a man on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List who had committed 18 counts of murder and the leader of the notorious Winter Hill Gang. While Almond, to his credit, hadn’t yet put a knife to anyone’s throat, I learned from colleagues that his homicidal impulse concerning more enlightened topics (namely, the printed page) was Bulgeresque in nature.”

    You’re pulling out everything you can find, huh? Bashing someone for the town that they’re from is the height of pretentiousness. Then again, that would fit in perfectly with the rest of this massive tirade.

  13. Mike above says this is a little much. I say it’s not enough. The unforgivable flaw of your post (and Ron’s over at Galleycat) is that it’s BORING. Mark’s is better, but Steve’s article on Salon was fun and witty. His 5 pages on a subject that I don’t even care about created enough interest that I clicked through, not only to Mark’s site, but to yours and Ron’s as well.

  14. Let’s put this in a little perspective. Forget Salon, which can be as bad or as good as anybody cares to paint it. But the blogs are supposed to be alternatives, places for that intelligent discussion we’re always hearing about (leaving aside for the moment the fact that Sarvas’ comments section is “moderated,” and so far he’s failed to post an inoffensive comment of mine). So why, days after the Booker, one day after the hated Quills, the morning after the National Book Award nominees are announced, and the day that Pinter wins the Nobel, has Sarvas chosen to place himself at the center of the literary world? He so clearly isn’t.

  15. I’m one of those ‘Salon click throughs’ that read and enjoyed Almond’s very funny article painting a vivid portrait of a sniveling little fellow (whether he is or not). Finding the….yes, I agree with a previous comment…..boring tirades on this and Sarvas’ blog simply rounds out Almond’s image. This is the first time I have ever read a litblog and I must paraphrase an old cliche, “Those that can, do. Those that can’t, write. Those that snivel, litblog.”

  16. Seems to me that most working writers, including ones who are only moderately successful (i.e. they have books and their pieces appear in print magazines and journals), don’t have the time or inclination to be bloggers, especially of the kind who all too often use their words to tear down other writers.

    So what kind of writer does ridicule and attack other writers?
    An envious one? A bitter one? One who must satisfy his vanity at the expense of others?

  17. I read the Almond piece because I read Salon on occasion. It was a good read. Enough for me to click over to Mark’s blog and then to yours. I have never heard of any of you guys before. But I have to say that I would be much more likely to read Almond in the future. He’s interested in art when you guys seem like your passion is gossip. I would say that if you are trying to slam someone, you ought to take a page from Almond and take the time to come up with a good response. He comes across as honest while you guys seem to not want to admit what everyone else in the room knows: you’re not wearing any pants.

  18. Almond writes primarily fiction, so I took the Salon piece with a grain of salt. I did laught at a few points. For example, the idea of Live Blogging, someone sitting there, staring at a screen, and ignoring other people, is amusing. It reminds me of my college roommate going to the most social place on campus to sun himself and write programs on his laptop. Certainly not a new juxtaposition in our digital age, but like much of the piece, it was there to entertain. I actually disliked the end since it became too much a diatribe against blogs in general.

    I think Mark Sarvas did himself a disservice by linking to this other blog. I read his post on the matter, and it seemed to confirm that Almond’s piece contained hyperbole. Then I read this blog. While it is fair to defend a friend’s honor or to critique another’s writing, it is rather easy to degenerate into a frothing rant. I am certain this happened here. Trash talking someone’s home town, insulting his job as an Adjunct Lecturer, commenting about a possible limp penis (“permanent detumescence”), and ending with a rant’s obligatory “asshole” certainly don’t show this blog raising above the “poison pen” its writer sees in Almond’s piece.

  19. I must confess that, like several others, I’d never read this blog or Mark’s before, and that I was linked through the Salon article. Admittedly, all of you are acting childish, in varying degrees. But I find myself confused as to why you choose to join in on this little cyber-masturbatory e-hatefest. I mean, I understand your motives; you dedicate a lengthy paragraph to your friendship with Mark. But what is the point of a long diatribe supporting the diametrically opposed position, an anti-“Blogger who loathed me?” I mean really, the criticism you came up with for his picture makes me wonder if you had some checklist of salient features of the Salon piece that you had to reverse and copy, whether or not they made for weak critique.

    Moreover, I feel like you made some silly mistakes rushing this piece to press. As a student who just graduated from college this past spring, I’m quite familiar with the setting, and I presume that as a professor, Steve is as well. There’s been parental concern, and I think a few psychological studies, looking into the sexual behavior of the modern college student, who more and more eschews relationships in favor of frequent, random weekend “hookups.” Combined with the typical sexual tensions that arise with the coming of spring, kids around the campus do get visibly worked up (especially the guys, from my experience, who are trying to tie up loose ends and get with whichever girls they’ve had their eyes on before they have to go home for three months, or worse, graduate). Oh, and on another collegiate note, part-time and adjunct faculty can sometimes be the home for “barely qualified instructors” and “hack writers,” but it can also be a way for those with a different full-time pursuit to contribute to the school. We had an illiterate hack teach a part-time course every year at my school; her name is Maya Angelou.

    I feel like your attacks on his blog post rely on a misinterpretation. From what I understand, he links to an article in which a woman laments the “dearth of good sex writing.” When he cites “Then we were in bed and it felt good and then it was the morning” as an example of “great literary tease,” I don’t think he’s calling it great erotica. Keep in mind that “tease” can be a positive thing, but it can also be the term the horny male gives to the girl who wore that low cut top at the bar, with whom he was grinding and eye-fucking on the dance floor, only to suddenly decide it’s time for her to call a cab and disappear. And I feel confident you wouldn’t have a problem describing Steve as a “horny male.”

    Whatever, there are quite a few other problems I have with your piece, but I guess I just wanted to urge you to think twice before posting this type of article in the future. Your eagerness to attack a stranger over the Internet overcame your good judgment with many of the points you make, which in turn just makes you look worse. And it’s this type of thing that loses respect for blogging — you’d never see Stone Phillips spend 10 minutes of airtime talking about what a fucktard Miles O’Brien is, but the equivalent of such attacks takes up a disproportionately large chunk of the blogosphere.

  20. i have a great idea for an anthology

    you get mark, steve, dale peck, harold bloom, and whoever else and you get them to write essays about each other, and then you force them all to go on a field trip together and you get david foster wallace to report on that and write a two hundred page essay on that

    i’m a genius

  21. I have yet to understand what lies behind the psychology that insists that when someone tells one that they are stupid/untalented/rude/ridiculous that they insist that the reason this person has uttered this comment is because they are a) Jealous or b) in love with them.

    Perhaps they are very simply stupid/untalented/rude/ridiculous? Or perhaps that other person’s conception of what it means to be stupid/untalented/rude/ridiculous is different from their own, and therefore that this ‘nemesis’ (as Almond refers to Sarvas) can safely hold this opinion without altering or adversely affecting their self image (read: Almond’s), since their criteria abour studity/untalentedness/rudeness/ridiculousness is different from their own.

    This relegating of human emotions and ideas into such simplistic terms is a self-serving reproach to the complexity of human psychology. It is also self-obsessed, and self-indulgent.

    The world does not revolve around Steve Almond. His fiction might indeed be bad (I wouldn’t know, I haven’t read it). Its not libel when you state your opinion. And Salon’s credibility is called into question for being willing to publish such a ridiculous and specious article.

    And from someone who has been told when railing against someone I hated that my contempt for them was thinly disguised lust… Steve darling, I’m sorry but I’ll bet my life on the fact that Mark really doesn’t like your writing.

    Now grow up and take it like an adult.

  22. Mr. Champion, this is an incredibly childish and misguided attack. The phrase “brave fucknuts” is funny. Didn’t anyone ever teach you about funny?

  23. I’ve said hello to Mark, only because we share a passion for the same writer, so I have sympathies, but we’re not friends. I didn’t bother reading the Almond piece past the first cut, because it’s a tired meme. To Harumph’s point: Mark isn’t writing about the Nobel today because he’s observing a holiday. He wrote his post, rightly assuming a horde of righteous Salon readers would swarm. Otherwise, I expect he would have been silent tpday. As to the Booker, well you indict yourself for not even having read the first whole page (if you read TEV at all, you would, if anything, expect he might be over-covering the Booker this year out of partisan-ness).

    I can’t say Almond was right or wrong, but the way he introduced the topic was enough for me to see he was writing with a very decided slant (and to stop there), given his poor characterization of the lit blogs. Regardless of what follows, that set up is a big ole ax.

    This post unfortunately reinforces a thin slice of Almond’s argument, and is out of character with my general expectation of a lit blog. Next time, Ed, send serious japes to more dispasssionate friends for a preview. Your inspiration is admirable, but your execution is a little wanting.

  24. Until today, my only familiarity with Steve Almond was from his memoir “Candyfreak.” I found it breezy, charming, original and refreshingly unpretentious. Almond’s got a disarmingly self-deprecating sense of humor, and a playful, unassuming prose style (which you’ve intentionally and deceptively quoted out of context). That his book was published, and praised, and then sold very well, are not injustices. I’ve actually suggested the book to several of my friends.

    Your blog post on Almond is, in three words, ugly, ugly, ugly. Wait: here are three more: Cruel. Shallow. Coarse.

    You should cut it out. Really.

  25. i have no opinion of Steve Almond, but your post makes me bristle nonetheless.

    A voice can certainly sound moist: It’s called a metaphor. It’s a little freudian, maybe, perhaps not so literal as you would like it to be, and maybe not a metaphor that can withstand brutal scrutiny. But if you don’t like his writing, have the confidence to chalk it up to preference. No need for the chest-puffing. No need to try and brow beat your readers with some bombastic nonsense about saliva.

    And count me amongst those annoyed with the need to bring Somerville into all this. My girlfriend used to live there and I have never once heard someone who wasn’t a harvard steakhead call it “slummerville.” It takes a certain combination of entitlement and ignorance to so smirkingly dismiss a place for not having enough starbucks on its corners. (Which, thanks to smirking assholes, Somerville has plenty of these days.)

  26. Now this kind of screeching is fun! We need more literary feuds.

    I’ve been amazed how Almond’s work shows up in so many places. The guy publishes all over the place. I envy his output.

    I like TEV, too. Just started reading it a couple weeks ago.

    More artillery! Keep fighting! Drag more kids into the playground, I say, and scrape some more elbows.

  27. Ed, maintain your intensity level. The backyard barbecue may be in flames, but you stood up for your pal and beat the living daylights out of thirty guys and the magazine they rode in on.

  28. Come on. Mark brought it on himself. Going after an author like he did on a blog is a pretty public insult. What’s distressing is the response from the so-called lit-blog community. (you, Bud, Laila, Ron) You’re all friends. You flatter each other through your links. You rarely disagree, and when someone calls you on it you puff up and rush to defend each other like a bunch of school-kids. Is it any surprise that Mark’s staunchest defenders are all the people he links? Just admit it – you were bested by a writer.

  29. How can a voice be moist? Only wet things are moist!
    Jesus, if this blockheaded, unwitty literalmindedness is your idea of literary criticism it’s no wonder you’re condemned to bitching on a blog. Loved the Salon piece, and you guys just proved him right.

  30. Actually, we bookbloggers disagree all the time, admittedly more often amongst ourselves than on the public record. I linked to Ed’s post because it was part of the story, but I think it’s one of his weakest efforts for many of the reasons previously cited in this thread. Fine–friends disagree from time to time; I don’t see any particular need to make a spectacle out of occasional low-level negativity because, you know, I’m a grown-up.

    The ongoing story of the love-hate relationship between authors and bloggers, and authors who want to be bloggers as well as bloggers who want to be authors, is one worth reporting, and as it happens I have a personal connection to Mark, as well as my own participation in the dynamic, that prevents me from reporting on Almond’s beef with him with detachment. But I’m not going to back away from the story because of that.

    And though Galleycat is, as I see it, a place for minimal LITERARY criticism, I’m not going to stand by HERE and pretend to understand why so many commenters seem to think Almond’s piece was well done. One woman on Mark’s site called it “witty and gracious.” I fail to see what’s so witty or gracious about cracking jokes about how somebody who criticizes your writing wants you to fuck him, or referring to him as “pussy” and “bitch.” Maybe if Almond had actually come out and called Mark a faggot, I would have discerned the polished humor a little more readily. If stooping to that level of discourse is what it takes to entertain readers like Alan, I’m not too worried that he finds me boring.

  31. Fer heck’s sake. I know nada of Almond’s alledgedly perverse scrawlings, and a quick perusal doesn’t impress at least this once-eager reader. Almond is right about one thing: you guys kinda seem like . . . well . . . losers, for lack of any more developed term. The whole feud reminds of a similar pissing contest between cracker hags: Camille Paglia and Julie Burchill once engaged in a pretty mature exchange of goofy pride as to which z-list academic/writer was of more worth. Paglia even went so far as to characterize her life on this sweet earth as being divided between “allies” and “enemies” . . . she was sorry to see Burchill was to be one of the latter when she had so thought perhaps the former was a potential role…how dramatic. Almond comes off as guilty in this scheme as well. I was able to read his screed through, however, whereas Sarvas DOES use the royal ‘we’ with seeming seriousness, and bluntly, Ed Champ semantic pedantry is of the type that demands a noogie, an atomic wedgie, or a well deserved crack to the mouth.

  32. I’m just marvelling over the fact that Almond considers himself an artist. Like Picasso, I suppose.

    My god, the guy basically writes jokes. How can he not know that?

  33. Look at all that hot, steaming vitriol. The (sexy) fun never stops! (You’ve been in SF long enough to remember the Regal Show World ads, right? [That reminds me: I *was* a phone sex operator, once upon a time, and in my experience none of the girls’ (vs. operators; we all sounded like sylph ninjas) voices were ever what you might call “moist.” Unless you were the sort of frequent caller who paid extra to listen to her eat chocolate, or something freaky like that.) My favorite is the guy who redundantly frames what reads like a lower division book report: “As a student who just graduated from college this past spring, I’m quite familiar with the setting, and (sic) I presume that (sic) as a professor, Steve is as well.”

    One is reminded of Groucho Marx, on the idea of any club that would have him.

    With so many ego-strokers wanking so furiously, one could almost forget that this is a weblog post written as a comment on (and in the language of) what amounts to a weblog post about a weblog post. Peesh .

  34. Okay, now that (it looks like) everyone on the Internet has had their say… is it time for us all to band back together against that one true enemy of freedom, Paris Hilton? Let’s get our hate lust on!

  35. Essentially, what Ron said, but with this addition:
    I fail to understand why Almond seems so virulently anti-blog in light of his own efforts on Bookslut a couple of years ago. I’m on record as being both a fan of Mark (blog and person) and of Almond’s fiction writing, but when I read his Bookslut entries I wasn’t the only one shaking my head, and there were enough people patently turned off by his rambling writings that they swore never to read his works.

    And if you took Mark out of the equation and substituted him with some other writer (Bret Easton Ellis, maybe, in light of Almond’s hatchet job in the Boston Globe on LUNAR PARK in August?) the Salon piece would be just as ugly. Period.

Comments are closed.