Friday, July 22, 2011

"...the worst book I have ever read."

In a letter to her friend, Betty Hester, written fifty years ago today, Flannery O'Connor mentions that Houghton Mifflin had sent her the galley to the soon-to-be published novel, Clock Without Hands, by Carson McCullers (pictured at right). With tongue firmly in cheek, O'Connor remarks that "this long-awaited-by-the-faithful book will come out in September." She goes on to say that "it is the worst book I have ever read. It is incredible. If you want to read it, I will send it to you. It must signal the complete disintegration of this woman's talent. I have forgotten how the other three were, but they were at least respectable from the writing standpoint." (The Habit of Being, p. 445-446). This is classic O'Connor. If she loved something she praised it to the hilt. If she didn't care for a piece of writing it was the worst thing ever. There was no in-between. Also, Flannery had a tendency to castigate writers she grudgingly admired or was influenced by (e.g. Erskine Caldwell). Finally, it is worth pointing out as we suffer through one of the hottest summers on record, that in this letter (as in most of her correspondence), Flannery doesn't complain about the weather or even her health. What really irks her is bad writing, or what she perceives to be bad writing.
- Mark

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