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October 8, 2007

Hating with a blanket

Cheers upon cheers for Zoe Whittall’s review of Douglas Coupland’s new novel The Gum Thief. (And I would be cheering even if I weren’t voraciously devouring the novel at the moment.) No, Whittall has done something brave with her review. She writes:

Coupland is often criticized for being pop culturally literate, as though this somehow detracts from his work having true literary merit, as though it is somehow suspect to be too current. But he really did originate a type of contemporary literature that is not being afraid to engage with up-to-the-minute technology as it relates to our everyday emotional and cultural lives. I don’t shed a tear for his trillion-dollar advances. I’m just saying we could stand to be less hard on him for being so suspiciously popular.

With no fear whatsoever of undermining her cool indie cred, Whittall admits to liking a book, to liking an author. I’m not being facetious– a lot of critics never get this far. Which is not to say that all books and writers should be fawned over, but the flipside of this is active-hating which is something I find baffling. Not the hating so much: myself, I hate a lot of things, and though indeed “hate is a strong word”, so it should be. But it’s the activeness that is strange. The time and energy some people expend loathing things must eat up their lives, I wonder.

It’s also so easy to hate things: you don’t even have to read Douglas Coupland’s books to hate him. The same goes for Margaret Atwood, and I will quote my favourite-ever overheard conversation, first posted last year:

When I was at the Vic booksale on Monday, two undergraduate-appearing students were sorting through the CanLit table. One held up a copy of Survival to her friend, and said, “How about this one?” The other, sounding like she was repeating something she was very sure of, said, “Oh no, not Atwood. Can’t stand her novels. She just writes the same book over and over again.” Her friend said, “Survival isn’t a novel.” The anti-Atwoodian said “oh” and then rapidly changed the subject.

If you have read Atwood or Coupland, and you still don’t like their work, why not just not read it anymore? Though of course your caustic and bitter references to these figures will become less current, and you may have to talk about something else, but might that even do you some good?

Of course we need critics and criticism, absolutely, but hating mainstream with a blanket hardly constitutes criticism. And even if your criticism is legitimate, devoting your whole life to things you hate seems a bit sad to me. It is often more interesting listening to someone on what they do like rather than what they don’t anyway. Or rather the latter gets old soon and the former can be infectious.

2 thoughts on “Hating with a blanket”

  1. Rebecca Rosenblum says:

    One possible logic here is of course, that blanket anything is *easier* than specific anything–saying you hate the whole thing so much you can’t even discuss it is a fairly handy cop-out if you don’t know what you’re talking about but want to come across as smart and, above all, passionate.

    While I’m here, Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Kerry says:

    And to you! Thank you also for your point on uninformed passionate hatred.

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