Recommended Reading (5)

Looking for a good laugh? Here are 2 humorous pieces of sophisticated criticism for your enjoyment.

1. ‘Ebola: What It Is‘ by Teju Cole (7 October 2014 / non-fiction)


© YouTube

It’s short, and it packs a punch.

Back when the Ebola virus epidemic hit its peak in October 2014, and traces began to appear in the US, the immediate and natural American response was paranoia (watch a hilarious clip from Russell Howard’s Good News: ‘The difference between US vs UK Ebola news coverage‘).

Then CNN broadcasts a groundbreaking, highly profound report, a shot of which you can see above: ‘EBOLA: “THE ISIS OF BIOLOGICAL AGENTS?”‘

Ridicule and criticism followed, but none as effective and powerful as this New Yorker piece by Teju Cole. It begins:

Is Ebola the ISIS of biological agents? Is Ebola the Boko Haram of AIDS? Is Ebola the al-Shabaab of dengue fever? Some say Ebola is the Milosevic of West Nile virus. Others say Ebola is the Ku Klux Klan of paper cuts. It’s obvious that Ebola is the MH370 of MH17.

And that’s just the start. Here are some of my favourite lines:

At first there was, understandably, the suspicion that Ebola was the Hitler of apartheid, but now it has become abundantly clear that Ebola is actually the George W. Bush of being forced to listen to someone’s podcast.

Look, I’m not the politically correct type, so I’m just going to put this out there: Ebola is the neo-Nazism of niggling knee injuries.

He aptly concludes:

But first let me open the discussion up to our panel and ask whether Ebola is merely the Fox News of explosive incontinence, or whether the situation is much worse than that and Ebola is, in fact, the CNN of CNN.

A brilliant tongue-in-cheek… oops, I meant completely serious piece by Teju Cole. As my friend put it: ‘Teju Cole truly is the maître d’ of sharpshooters.

About the author: Teju Cole is a Nigerian-American author of two works of fiction, Open City and Every Day Is for the Thief. His pieces of journalism make their rounds frequently in the major newspapers and magazines (New York Times, New Yorker, Atlantic, etc.). Follow him on Twitter (although he’s currently on a hiatus). Also, read about how he chose my 3-sentence story as one of the best in a small Twitter ‘competition’: ‘Creative Writing Prompts (Teju Cole and Neil Gaiman)‘.

2. ‘The heroic absurdity of Dan Brown‘ by Clive James (11 July 2013 / non-fiction)


© Ian West/PA Wire/Press Association Images

When the subtitle is ‘The less his talent, the more amazing his achievement’, you know you’re in for a treat.

Disclaimer: If you’re a Dan Brown fan, and you know his writing is atrocious, read the article. If you’re a Dan Brown fan, and think he writes brilliant prose, DON’T click on the link.

In an article for Prospect magazine, Clive James, who at the time of the essay released an acclaimed translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, reviews Dan Brown’s latest novel Inferno, which also contains allusions to Dante. Well, to be a bit more blunt, he rips it apart and tears it to shreds—with class and grace, of course. He begins:

As a believer in the enjoyably awful, I would recommend this book wholeheartedly if I could. But it is mainly just awful. Nevertheless it is still almost worth reading.

Some personal highlights:

[Dr Sienna Brown] has an IQ of 208 and at the age of four she was reading in three languages. You can picture the author at his desk, meticulously revising his original sentence in which, at the age of three, she was reading in four languages. Best to keep it credible.

Generally [Dan Brown] believes that a short paragraph will add pace, just as he believes that an ellipsis will add thoughtfulness. Groups of three dots appear in innumerable places, giving the impression that the narrative … has measles.

On top of the shaky language are piled the solecisms. “Pandora is out of her box.” (Dan, she was never in it.)

Ha-hah! Touché!

I’ve read most of Dan Brown’s books. I liked a few when I was younger, despised the rest. The last one I read was The Lost Symbol, published right before Inferno, and I was wholly appalled by the poor, poor quality of writing—I could swear it’d deteriorated since his earlier novels (but then again, I might have been too young to notice).

Which meant I never bothered to read Inferno; and after reading this hilarious review by Clive James, I’m glad I didn’t. Or maybe I should read it? James does give a most convincing argument about it being ‘enjoyably awful’…

About the author: (from Wikipedia) Clive James is ‘an Australian-British author, critic, broadcaster, poet, translator and memoirist, best known for his autobiographical series Unreliable Memoirs, for his chat shows and documentaries on British television and for his prolific journalism.’


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