The Huffington Post piece on overrated authors didn't make Anis Shivani any friends. Jezebel had a rather good take on the article, with their rebuttal "Literary Critic Hates Vaginas, 'Ghetto Volume'". Similar lists were inevitable. I find these lists to be nothing more than opportunities for critics to unleash a hail of insults on those they deem unworthy, somehow, of praise, sales, and awards, and they do nothing to broaden the reading public's understanding or appreciation of literature. (I do, however, see great value in lists of "underrated authors" who can definitely benefit from exposure.)
Today, we get the Canadian list, co-authored by Steven W. Beattie, and if you read his blog That Shakespearean Rag or his other work at all, there will be absolutely no surprises for you here. The same old complaints about the same old authors appear. How Michaels and Ondaatje* engage in overly complex tricks of language... oh excuse me, I mean "abstruse metaphoric language and self-conscious, sonorous prose." There are complaints about the derivative nature of Can Lit, which is funny in a third-hand copy-cat list, the details of which have been copy/pasted from previous reviews and blog posts, either verbatim or by rote memory.
Predictably, I want to give some love to Douglas Coupland. In the Canadian list we are also treated to complaints about Coupland's use of irony** and pop culture, which is such a throwaway Amazon Review reading of his work. In my discussions of Coupland, I don't pay overmuch attention to these issues. Yes, these are elements of his work, but they're set pieces, not the characters or novel itself. I have always enjoyed how much pop culture Coupland puts in his novels, because that's the world I live in. I pay attention to all aspects of the world around me, not just the highbrow. I don't pretend to live in an ivory tower and I would never want to. That Coupland writes from down on the ground makes his novels work with me, instead of making me work for them. And sometimes that's okay. Every novel doesn't need to be A.S. Byatt.
To miss the attention Coupland pays to human interaction, and the consequences of the lack of that interaction, is to call Coupland "overrated." If you don't see his funny, weird, and often intensely lonely people for the recognizable human beings they are, then you're missing the point entirely. I haven't loved every novel‡, but when he gets it right -- as in Eleanor Rigby or The Gum Thief -- Coupland can be devastatingly astute about what a commodified culture, overloaded with information, does to our psyche, and how this culture leaves some of us alone, alienated, and clinging to false talismans made of plastic and light.
Edit: I am remiss in not mentioning that Coupland can also be very funny, and has the ability to take our monstrous capitalist productions and turn them into Lego bricks of joy.
To call Coupland "lowbrow"† is to be a self-apologist for not giving enough attention to a writer who would certainly do you the favour of close examination, should you appear in his work.
*I don't find him completely unreadable, but I really don't enjoy Ondaatje.
**Is it ironic that the word "lazy" appears in reference to Coupland, when this list is a pastiche of previously published opinions?
‡Oh, jPod, how sad you make me.
†Ondaatje is too snooty! Coupland is not snooty enough! Perhaps Canadian authors could benefit from a Snoot-O-Meter, to help them meet the exacting specifications of the critical establishment?