In this week's installment of the Times' catty Sunday book club, a University of Chicago academic comes to the defense of Sven Birkets, who was heralded last week as poised to "replace Rick Moody as Dale Peck's 'worst writer of his generation.'" Plus, Birkerts has just been hired by Harvard, and it's nice to see someone finally stick up for a beleagured Crimsonette. Meanwhile, Erica Jong gets smacked by comparison to Joan Didion, leaving Intern Alexis stumbling on such an uneven playing field. That, plus some unerotic erotic lit, after the jump.

Letters

"My Generation"
As we reported several weeks ago, Greil Marcus, in his review of "The Poem That Changed America," claimed that Sven Birkerts was "bidding fair to replace Rick Moody as Dale Peck's 'worst writer of his generation.'" Mark Slouka (chairman of the creative writing program at the University of Chicago, no less!) writes in this week, maintaining that Marcus's quip "is as every bit as self-aggrandizing and
adolescent as Peck's original swipe at Moody. When did this Tarantino-criticism (all affect, high body count) come into vogue?" He continues, "Bickerts is writing some of the best criticism in America today, an assessment clearly endorsed by the Book Review, which publishes him, and by Harvard University, which recently hired him. Whatever species of bee it is that Marcus has in his bonnet, he should release it as soon as possible and come in from the schoolyard."

H-h-h-h-h-old up!! H-h-h-h-harvard hired him!? Boy oh boy, Greil Marcus must have totally hit his forehead with the palm of his hand and peed in his pants after realizing his terrible, terrible misjudgment. We bet three, chubby Larry Summerses and one Opal Mehta with her tail between her legs that Marcus writes a retraction next week profusely apologizing for the error of his ways.


Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life
By Erica Jong
Reviewed by Ron Powers

Speaking of bees and bonnets, Ron Powers schools Erica Jong in his review of her memoir-as-writing-instructional, "Seducing the Demon." He writes: "Jong's dyspepsia and blowzy sentence-making suggest that on the whole, she'd rather be chilling on Giudecca near the Santa Eufemia vaporetto stop." At the center of what Powers calls Jong's "writerly self-delusion" is this: "What we all live for...is what Henry Miller calls 'the dictation.' That's when the words take off on a frolic of their own, when you don't seem to be writing or thinking but rather taking down some divine dictation." Powers, however, thinks this statement is "false." And in response to Jong's claims that Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne are also writers who work from this "dictation" method, Powers gets his boxer briefs all in a twist, saying mean things that he probably shouldn't: "Didion, a writer incomparably superior to Jong, isn't into frolic. Her beryl sentences, each word exactingly fitted against its neighbor, are the yield of her legendary scrutiny informed by a worldliness more political than clitoral." Pulling out the comparing-the-author-to-Joan-Didion card. Wow. Why don't you go ahead and compare Jong to Jesus! Get that bee out your bonnet, Powers, and go make us some honey ā€” we're hungry.


The Edge of Pleasure
By Phillippa Stockley
Reviewed by Chelsea Cain

Chelsea Cain, alas, is hardly hot and bothered by the "Byronic hero" of Phillippa Stockley's second novel, "The Edge of Pleasure." Among other things, Cain claims that he is: "not sexy"; "just a jerk. And not a hot jerk either"; And "about as exciting as dry toast." And the actual sex scenes, according to Cain, well, let's just say they leave her at the "Edge of Pleasure" (har, har). Wrapping up the review, she writes: "Aside from a few mildly randy scenes, there's not much here to raise the blood pressure. 'He sodomized her in the bedroom,' Stockley writes of an encounter between Gilver and one of his lovers. Well, O.K. At least that's concise." We agree with Cain on the sodomy front; nothing wrong with some simple sodomy in the bedroom every now and then, eh? Eh? But we're graduates of the Toni Bentley School of Sodomy, in that, we prefer our butt sex described for us in graphic detail, thank you very much!