In his essay “Confessions of a Book Reviewer,” George Orwell paints a discouraging picture of the life of an average book critic.
This scribe of the intellectual community appears to be an old, robe-clad author who is surrounded by cigarette butts and tasked with writing 800 words on five novels before the day’s end.
Desperate to appease his editors, the reviewer has given up his standards for “a glass of inferior sherry,” and the consequences of this decision, Orwell warns, are nefarious.
Finally, as the clock strikes midnight, the reviewer is able to complete the review with a few tired but generic phrases such as “a book that no one should miss,” only to be presented with a new mail packet of books just moments later.
I can relate to the reviewer in Orwell’s work; similarly, I’m wearing pajamas (they’re clean!), I’m a fiction author, I like Brooklyn Lager more than sherry, and that thumping noise? It’s probably my neighbor beating their cat.
Even though I don’t have the same level of moral dejection, I have been wavering in my efforts to write an essay about reviewing.
I wanted to take a measured and polite approach while avoiding giving out any judgments, but what I wrote felt like a long exercise in evasion. If I were to write this piece, I should recognize that I have my own biases, opinions, and thoughts about the current condition.
I’m usually not one to anger people, but I can look at the Democrats in Washington and see that being too accommodating never leads to anything good; it’s even cowardly and counter-productive, as it only leads to a certain, not necessarily honorable, extinction.
According to Orwell, the person who avoids saying anything controversial might end up like the people in his writings wearing worn bathrobes and surrounded by cigarette ashes.
Writing a safe and uninteresting essay might mean venturing into a place like that.
Before I start expressing my sorrows, I’d rather analyze how we employ book reviews and how this has evolved as the book’s cultural standing has diminished.
I was brought up in a generation that was more inclined toward a business mindset of “service” than religion, and as a result, I’m curious about who or what is the recipient of the biggest advantage from a book review.
Is it the reader, the author, the culture, or the critic?
When considering the source of reviews, the reader is likely the first to come to mind. These reviews are meant to provide guidance and support to those individuals who may be hesitant to invest in a book they know nothing about.
This type of review is similar to product reviews or consumer reports, allowing readers to become aware of books before committing to a purchase.
Despite what a PR representative might say, the reviews featured in magazines and other glossy publications still have the potential to influence sales.
I find this encouraging, since newspapers frequently feature longer reviews with varying depths. This signals that there are readers who are less affected by the popular aspects of reading and more likely to use reviews as a way to engage books critically.
Recently, Jonathan Franzen wrote an article about William Gaddis in The New Yorker and Ed Park wrote a piece about him in The Village Voice.
I acquired The Recognitions by Gaddis four years ago, yet the book has lived on my bookshelf since then, apart from a few times when I have taken it on holiday but returned it with the pages untouched. Now I am finally reading it.
What led me to do so after such a prolonged period of procrastination? Primarily, I wanted to be able to converse on more than a superficial level with Franzen and Park, and so I felt I needed to read Gaddis in order to gauge whether I agreed with them or not.
Moreover, their essays suggest that I should read his work.
In an ideal situation, a book review might attempt to make a larger impact beyond the realms of commerce or popularity.
There has been a long line of influential literary critics, such as Vendler, Sontag, Updike, and Ozick, but the New York Intellectuals of the World War II era remain a particularly iconic group; Lionel Trilling and Norman Podhoretz are among the most renowned members.
Critiques of the time blended together into cultural explorations and reflections of the society, with Trilling being the first to coin the term “cultural criticism,” and believing that literature had the potential to advance intelligence.
Contemporary generations might have heard of, and even read, pieces from Commentary and Partisan Review and have an image of intellectual gatherings with people in black glasses fighting and Mary McCarthy making a witty comment before leaving for the restroom.
The New York Intellectuals have become a kind of celebrity in the city with people being interested in both their work and personal life.
The captivating element of reading Trilling is the weight he placed on his role as a literary critic, and the magnitude he felt his (and the NYI’s) views on literature, politics and morality had.
In his essay, “Hemingway and His Critics”, Trilling speaks to a collective, warning against reducing art to a mere political or moral lesson that can be simply applied outside the realm of art.
We have often placed the artist in a position where they are constantly expected to report their moral and political standing.
Although we would never use them as a political source, we pretend as if others are relying on their influence.
We consider that we have given art a heightened importance, but at the same time we have neglected to recognize the complexity of it and the difficulty of utilizing it for a particular purpose.
The passage sets forth the assumption that artists have moral and political opinions, and that others should pay attention to those views.
It also suggests that literature should contribute something more than just entertainment. However, the reality is that the circulation of Partisan Review rarely ever exceeded 10,000.
This is not bad for a literary magazine, but not enough to secure a place in the Conde Nast building.
Nonetheless, not to be too downhearted. I’ll reserve that for later.
If a review is meant to serve a reader and a culture, it might also be of assistance to an artist, though not always in a positive way. Trilling’s Hemingway essay alludes to the potential unfavorable effects that critics can have on the people they evaluate.
Hemingway, as Trilling explains, “more than any other writer of our time has been subjected to extreme scrutiny, monitored, predicted, suspected, and cautioned,” which has been met with both praise and condemnation for works “that included cruelty, religious beliefs, anti-intellectualism, and even basic fascism.”
Trilling explains that these criticisms personally hurt Hemingway because the critics failed to distinguish “the artist” from “the man.”
Trilling speculates that Hemingway felt the need to defend himself from these accusations, which led him to write a weak play ( The Fifth Column) and an unimpressive novel ( To Have and Have Not ).
In our current Teflon-coated era of criticism, the power of a single reviewer to shape the perception of an entire genre is undeniable.
James Wood is a prime example, as he is well-known for his vehement opposition to “hysterical realism” – a trend of authors from Jay McInerney to David Foster Wallace who write with a frenetic, emotionally distant style.
Wood sees this movement as an infectious American import, although he does not forget to include British authors like Salman Rushdie and Zadie Smith in his condemnation.
He takes his role as critic very seriously and hopes for a time when authors will create works that reflect the new darkness of the world. Wood’s critique was published in The Guardian on October 6, 2001, entitled “How Does it Feel?” was his way of calling out American authors for their obsession with flashy, hollow literature.
He also expressed a desire for books that have a spiritual resonance instead of being self-centered autobiographies. It was a bold statement to make, as it implies a great risk in the production of quality books.
I find myself uplifted by Wood’s sardonic positivity, for books hold a special place in my heart.
This prompts me to consider a more philosophical point about reviewing: Should there be a certain code of conduct for assessing books, either spoken or unspoken?
In other words, when does criticism cross the line from honest to hurtful? Is it even wise to take into account feelings while giving reviews? Or is this a surefire way to overlook true potential and praise mediocrity?
The answer to the ultimate query is yes. But when it comes to “stopping” cruelty and meanness, how can this be done?
(Moreover, who is to decide what is unkind, as one person’s remarks may be seen as another’s callous criticism?) What approach would hold people responsible?
Apart from the gossip and rumors that followed Dale Peck’s criticism of Rick Moody in The New Republic and James Wood’s evaluation of Zadie Smith’s The Autograph Man in the London Review of Books, what accountability is there? I had a lower opinion of Wood after the review. Does this amount to any accountability? Does Wood care about my thoughts?
James Wood’s decision to accept the assignment was potentially a misstep; however, it is possible he accepted the job without being led astray.
When I saw the Wood/Smith bout on the cover of the LRB, my first notion was: a bloodbath, Heidi Julavits! My subsequent thought was that Smith had likely aggravated an editor at the LRB.
My third thought was that I didn’t need to read the review (although I did). Smith had written a passionate reply to Wood’s Guardian piece after September 11, and the two had debated on various other occasions.
Wood has an abhorrence for the aesthetic tradition Smith works in. Not attempting to overcompensate for his perceived bias (which might have been an intriguing approach) or take the opposite stance of what was expected,
Wood made a sharp dive for Smith’s jugular, going beyond the critical call of duty by employing his fictional inclinations and producing a censorious example of “hysterical realism.”
The idea of wittily mocking a writer is not new; Edmund Wilson did so when he wrote “The Omelet of A. MacLeish” about Archibald MacLeish. When asked why he wrote the mean-spirited poem, Wilson simply replied “Oh, he’s just an idiot, you know.”
Wood, unlike Wilson, does not think Smith is an idiot and, while it might not be normal to trash idiots, his reaction to a writer he respects is both disturbing and spiteful.
From an editorial point of view, the LRB assigned a book to a critic who was probably going to criticize it. Perhaps it would make more sense to assign a critic to a writer they have a history of bickering with or loathing their aesthetic, but this could also be seen as an ill-fated marriage.
Wood’s novel is coming out in June of 2003, so will the LRB assign it to Zadie Smith for review? Is it worth it for magazines to make controversial review pairings to increase their circulation?
Does this mean books have been reduced to a number on a cultural totem pole? All of this raises the question: What values are at work here?
The champions of books are even being realistic with their enthusiasm.
There are modern-day critics who take literature seriously, yet few would go so far as to suggest it is our cultural anchor, apart from maybe Harold Bloom, who often splits opinion.
In the 1960s, culture and literature analysis diverged; or perhaps it is more accurate to say that culture cut ties with literature’s influence and replaced it by heavily weighting the low-brow side.
With postmodern criticism, literary criticism techniques were used to evaluate even the most mundane of things, such as Madonna videos, which made books less in vogue.
It could be due to television as well, a different medium that could provide a “realer” version of life.
It is ironic, however, that the first novelists were in fact journalists, as Mary McCarthy’s essay “The Fact in Fiction” demonstrates.
Boccaccio’s The Decameron , said to be the first modern novel, is a mixture of stories about the Black Death, complete with factual and historical info, that made it both a valued piece of literature and a significant source for historians.
McCarthy moves onto Defoe, a Grub Street journalist whose Robinson Crusoe was based off a real story, and claims that “he did not distinguish, at least to his readers, between journalist and fiction writer.”
McCarthy suggested that the “news” gene, dormant in the novel, may explain why it has suffered in comparison to other evolved forms of news storytelling.
In the modernist period, writers tried to free the novel from the burden of informing readers and instead explore what language alone might convey.
In his 1973 essay, Lionel Trilling tried to explain the decline of literature’s importance as a cultural activity.
He argued that “although art is regarded as momentous…nothing is more typical of our cultural activity than our periodic discovery that art is not so serviceable as it was supposed to be.” According to McCarthy, post-war novelists “lacked real experience.”
This sentiment was re-articulated by Tom Wolfe in his 1989 essay, which advocated for the return of the journalist-fiction writer hybrid—one who values experience and research as the means to true authority and relevance.
Ever since I began reading book reviews, it has been apparent that the novel has attempted to contend with the competition from television and movies, as well as the absorbing popularity of non-fiction and memoirs, which emphasize authentic information rather than literary truths.
To try and reclaim its prominence, the novel resorted to social evaluation, incorporating popular culture, and addressing current events.
While some authors have given up on contending with the news and nonfiction, the more realistic ones do not anticipate being a staple of mainstream culture, unlike the “story” writers who still have high hopes that their books will be as esteemed as an Eminem album.
However, this kind of novel became a fun and showy source of cultural information, but with the danger of becoming outdated even before the paperback edition was released.
To quote Wood, “This concept may have been changed by the events of September 11, reminding us that whatever the novel does, ‘culture’ can always do something extraordinary.”
This appears to lead to a dead-end, doesn’t it? Nevertheless, I remain hopeful that this decline which I’ve been describing isn’t an actual decrease, but a fast-moving cycle, similar to what Trilling suggested.
However, even that isn’t entirely accurate, seeing as a cycle implies the eventual return to the starting point. It’s almost like beginning with a hundred U.S. dollars, only to end up with merely three cents after converting them to Euros and then back again.
While culture may move between extremes, a nominal fee is taken out each time, making the circles nearly imperceptible and inconsequential.
The novel might be struggling from a prolonged sickness (“life” or “playing possum” as McCarthy said) but not as much as fiction reviewing. Richard B. Woodward had discussed this in his 1999 Village Voice article.
Space for reviews has been reduced and the few that are available are usually just the same recycled press release content.
He also noted that writers have contributed to this decline by being too generous with their praise, likely out of fear that any honest criticism could have repercussions on future career opportunities. This isn’t denied, and it’s suggested that writers have become too reliant on positive feedback, leading to a situation where all writers, good and bad, appear to have high ratings.
I say: le plus ça change. According to Woodward in 1999 and Orwell in his 1936 essay, “In Defence of the Novel”, every crime of mediocrity has been identified for more than sixty years.
Orwell also believes that reviewers are to blame for the decline of the novel. His opinion was that when all novels were advertised as masterpieces, it was natural to assume that they were all rubbish.
He believed that reviewers had gradually lowered their standards.
It is not possible to use a standard meant for elephants to measure the quality of an ordinary novel.
A new scale is needed to distinguish between big and small fleas. Merely saying a book is “tripe” is not enough; the reviewer must be able to find something of worth in the book or risk losing their job.
This means they must be able to recognize that Ethel M. Dell’s Way of the Eagle is a good book, The Constant Nymph is a superb book, and The Man of Property is an impressive tale of passion.
Lastly, any truly great book would be off the charts.
I’m at a loss–or perhaps optimistic–about the fact that Orwell wrote this essay as Trilling and the NYIs were increasing in traction and “impact.”
It’s like a perpetual cycle of exchanging money, but I’m convinced something is lost through each transaction, and I’m left with only a meager three cents.
Not all books that fall under Orwell’s Tripe Effect are actually tripe. Yes, there are those that are easy to read and have a “redemptive” ending, but what about those that are praised because of their writer’s career or circumstances?
For example, those who have suffered a “sophomore slump” and have taken a long time to craft their next work are usually met with leniency. It may suggest that critics have a deep respect for writers and the challenges they face, but that isn’t always the case.
Successful debut authors who don’t go through a difficult journey to write their second book are often treated differently. It seems as if Americans prefer to sympathize for those struggling and not for those who succeed without obstacles.
This trend can be seen in book coverage as well; a writer coming from nowhere or making a comeback is much more newsworthy than one who just had a successful first book.
Reviews that fail to recognize an essential element of a novel, or attempt to present a wholly positive view of a book with its flaws, can be an injustice to the writer they are trying to promote.
Readers will become more suspicious of critics when they find the difference between what is written in reviews and what they actually experience in the book.
This frequently happens and leads people to the assumption that there is a “group of lemmings” among critics, as Harold Bloom would say.
Regardless of whether a book is good, bad or just mediocre, readers are more likely to be swayed positively if the writer is African American and from Yale Law School.
Lorin Stein wrote about Stephen L. Carter’s “The Emperor of Ocean Park” saying, “American reviewers, partly due to Carter’s significant polemics on race, religion, and American politics, have tended to view The Emperor of Ocean Park as a serious novel, which it is not”.
Similarly, an author who is featured in a lot of hip anthologies, glossy magazines, or even a band may get more positive reviews than their actual work deserves.
On the other hand, a reviewer may have already made up their mind to dislike a book just by looking at the author’s photo on the cover.
Another reviewer even admitted they were biased against female writers who were featured in Vogue magazine.
It is believed, although partly a conspiracy theory, partly correct, that some writers will be praised by critics no matter what they publish. A prime example is Richard Ford.
Often on public transportation, I have had to defend Ford to those who have only read his short stories and are questioning the predominantly positive critical reactions to his work.
This attitude of suspicion and resentment is why Colson Whitehead’s review of Ford’s story collection, A Multitude of Sins, ( NYTB , 3/02/02) created such an uproar.
Additionally, the review was of a remarkably high quality, which may have upset Ford’s pre-existing admirers.
The NYTBR chose a reviewer who was perhaps hostile to Ford, given the writer’s identity as a white, older southerner with a tendency to use master-slave metaphors without consideration.
Whitehead, who is a fan of Ford’s work, had it featured in the “Editor’s Choice” sidebar the following week.
It is questionable whether this was intentional. His review stands out because of his openness about Ford, as well as his thoughts on the “well-made story” genre.
It is not meant to be degrading, but rather to acknowledge that it has its good and bad practitioners, with the latter unfortunately being more common.
Critics have been trying to express their discontent with the poorly made well-made story, without being able to articulate it.
Some blame creative writing programs for the formulaic fiction that too often consists of competent prose, a predictable metaphor, and a melodramatic revelation at the end.
They also think that the workshops promote a type of fiction that is coddled and lacks individuality. On the other hand, the reality is that only a certain kind of fiction is likely to be published.
Therefore, if critics want to make a change, they should take their complaints directly to the publishing houses.
When reviewing Mark Nesbitt’s book Gigantic for the NYTBR (03/31/02), Sam Sifton not only criticized the author’s overuse of metaphors, but also managed to take a jab at MFA programs, writing communities, and even the borough of New York City.
Sifton’s disdain for Nesbitt’s “poetry” went on for a thousand words and was supported by a dozen examples.
He even wrote that the stories published in Harper’s Magazine and The New Yorker were the type of hipster fiction that the Yaddo and Breadloaf crowd might view as “rich with meaning”.
This phrase seemed to be a favorite of Sifton’s, which was odd because no one else had uttered it, except for his herbalist friend.
He also had the audacity to express anti-intellectual views, admiring only Nesbitt’s writing that was meant for a popular neo-thriller.
It seemed that Sifton was not trying to be arch this time, but instead was saying, “Bring me my Ellroy!”
Recently, I have noticed Sifton’s review to be a very obvious example of anti-intellectualism, which is why I have been prompted to write this essay – if even someone as gifted as Sifton is expressing opinions that are more suitable for a Bush cabinet member, it is a very worrying trend.
I have seen many modest and unremarkable books being praised and extolled, while the more ambitious ones are either rebuked or ignored.
It is possible that book reviews have been reduced to a form of advertising, where the only books that get endorsed are those that will be well-received by the public.
However, I am concerned that something more sinister is going on, and this suspicion is reinforced by the strong and barely disguised negative attitude towards intellectual pursuits.
Rick Moody’s book, The Black Veil: A Memoir, with Digressions, which comprised of personal experience and literary criticism of Nathaniel Hawthorne, received both positive and negative reviews.
Surprisingly, the critical reviews were some of the most caustic and vicious I’ve ever seen, such as the one given in The New Republic by Peck.
Some suggest that the reason behind this was Moody’s notoriety, as he was popular in literature, movies, radio and religion. People were keen to put Moody, who had created this book swiftly while doing other activities, in his place.
It appears that the critics were relishing the opportunity to do so.
It’s clear that critics are getting tired of the same old memoirs written by young people, and that if you try to be too ambitious and fail, it will get you mocked.
Ambition isn’t a quality that reviewers are always fond of, and it’s often described as “overly ambitious” with a negative connotation, which is a redundancy; it implies that the writer was too arrogant in their creative or intellectual approach.
Critics have a tendency to be harsher towards ambitious projects that don’t live up to their potential, and yet the flaws of books that don’t take risks get much less attention.
Harold Bloom has said that reviewers should “provoke greatness,” but what is most often praised and taken seriously are works that become bestsellers.
It’s a strange imbalance, and it begs the question: why isn’t there more criticism of books that don’t try to be ambitious?
Edmund Wilson might have such an opinion. In an attempt to comprehend the detective story fashion that became popular in the 1940s, Wilson made a humorous, yet serious effort and received a number of disgruntled letters in response.
He wrote of Miss Margery Allingham’s Flowers for the Judge, which was greatly appreciated:
I found this tale utterly unengaging. Neither the plot nor the writing had any life to it and I couldn’t focus on it. It was difficult to care about the murder, since the author lacked any sort of skill to make it believable.
The characters were all too similar, since their identities were only stated in words. That’s when I realized that a true fan of this fiction must be able to ignore their literary and imaginative expectations, and see it as an intellectual challenge.
However, I do not comprehend how one is able to reach this mindset.
Wilson may be crabby, ingenuous, and bluntly honest–for example, he once described Miss Allingham’s book as “one of the dullest books I have ever encountered in any field… the first part of it is all about bell-ringing as it is practiced in English churches”–but beneath his spirited sentences there is more than just a droll fellow seeking to be seen as cranky and clever.
He is a critic with lofty expectations, possibly unrealistically high, driven by his basic need to establish a bond with the characters and conflicts he reads.
This is a point that applies to more than just those involved in making and protecting art of the highest quality; it is an appeal for something that is as simple and human as an emotional connection with the characters–a craving that would span all “brows.”
What started off as a joke–a highly intelligent man struggling to comprehend the most simple fictional works–concludes with a serious warning to readers, alerting them of the potential damage they might do to their brains if they let their standards slide.
We no longer have Bunny Wilson to turn to, but fortunately, we do have the outstanding Daniel Mendelsohn, a critic who is unaffected by public relations brainwashing, literary trends, and the opinions of other reviewers.
A scholar of literature (he is a classicist, having received formal training), Mendelsohn has the most stringent of standards, yet he is not a snob.
He reads not just as a knowledgeable person, but also as a reader–in other words, one can sense his delight in the process, in addition to his analytical talents.
His reviews are detailed, persuasive, and meticulous; without sounding cheesy, they are also full of compassion–even if he does not especially “care” for the book in question, he clearly cares deeply about literature.
I am admittedly quite taken with James Wood and his writing.
He may be grumpy and not often enthusiastic about contemporary literature, but his curmudgeonly attitude is rooted in idealism, which is evident in The Broken Estate.
Wood was raised in a very religious family, but at age fifteen he chose to escape that system of belief and become an atheist instead. He recognized that this negative decision of his had to come with obligations.
Wood’s experiences of singing in a cathedral choir and his atheism likely form the basis of his sometimes stern approach to literature. It is likely that, like Wilson, he is searching for something to care about, even if it is a character in a book.
His need to believe is intertwined with his inability to, and his insistence on believing in that inability. Faith is part of his intellect. His disenchantment is a part of his joy.
It is essential to make a distinction here, for I don’t know what critics think when it comes to literature; I fear the worst, that reviews are only a way for a critic to be amusing, clever and maybe a bit mean, without any attempt to elevate their beliefs or to understand a book, even if it’s not of good quality.
This sarcasm and hostile attitude is possibly a descendant of Orwell’s flea-weighers; I refer to it as Snark, and it has quickly spread throughout the reviewing world, taking over many publications, including The New York Observer and The New York Press.
Possibly, this is the only sensible reaction to a publishing industry that is very much in exaggeration and generalization of a hysterical form.
It seems that all authors who use the occasional metaphor are Faulkner (before that it was Garcia Marquez); the rest are DeLillo, Barthelme, Beckett, Kafka, Malamud, McCarthy, O’Connor, Cheever, Dickens, Carver.
However it is written, they are always referred to as “distinctive new voices in fiction”, “startling”, “stunning” and “fiercely original”.
If Snark is a response to this excessive exaggeration, that is fine, but should the author, who has no control over the design of the cover or title, and who would never compare themselves to Dickens, be subjected to this hostility?
(Publications also become pawns in the “call and response” reviewing between various sources; Time magazine gives a good review, Newsweek responds with a negative one.)
An alternate theory about snark suggests that it is an effort to measure up to the likes of Anthony Lane and other critics of popular films.
These individuals have a knack for writing amusingly about movies that have massive attendance and numerous awards.
Thus, we become part of the small, laughing minority.
However, this same attitude taken when reviewing literary fiction generally fails to be entertaining and has the effect of reducing sales; consequently, even those in the literary circles would rather go watch Titanic with a knowing smirk than read the book.
The most worrying thing is how quickly snark is spread by ‘snark bytes’ – short chunks of writing, such as essays, articles, and interviews, taken out of context to portray the author in a bad light; a type of malicious content often found in The New York Observer, New York magazine, and The New York Post.
Regrettably, many readers fail to go back to the source to understand the original article’s original purpose. The snark byte subsequently replaces the original article, and the writer’s meaning is decreased to the news equivalent of hearsay.
It is not my intention to suggest that all literary works should be free from criticism or be given special treatment due to their genre. Rather, I suggest that readers look beyond the surface and recognize the values that are being reinforced by reviews.
Snarkiness has always been present in some capacity, yet critics who stand the test of time never rely on it.
One example is Norman Podhoretz’s “A Dissent on Updike”, which harshly critiques Updike without resorting to snarky or empty criticisms.
Wood’s reviews are often disgruntled, but there is still room for dialogue, suggesting that his opinions are founded on a belief system and he is willing to defend it.
Similarly, Wilson, McCarthy, Whitehead, and Mendelsohn have a wealth of knowledge that renders snark unnecessary. Snarkiness is often used in place of actual knowledge about the book.
A lot of books are looked at by individuals who don’t read them, unless they are reviewing them.
[] It is believed that committed readers have been replaced by cultural attaches such as TV, film, and food critics, whom editors think could possibly persuade the public to read their magazines, if not the book itself.
It is acknowledged that this is due to the decreasing space for book reviews, and that many of these critics from other fields might be avid readers who have taken jobs with more opportunities.
It is also not always the case that snarkiness is a result of ignorance, as it is known to affect even the most bookish reviewer.
Despite this, snark is still a self-inflicted condition; the insignificance of writing plainly reflects the insignificance of its analyzer.
Consequently, the dilemma at hand is: without a sense of faith, what matters to you? What is the intention of this destructive behavior, if you have no other goal than personal success?
As I read through reviews today (the ones that aren’t just rehashed press releases, but “critical” ones), I feel as though the land has been decimated; nothing is sprouting, nothing can grow.
This despair and fury simultaneously energizes me with the potential of a barren land. As Wood did, I will celebrate my disenchantment.
It is of no benefit to query “other people” concerning their convictions. Potentially, the only inquiries I can make are these: What do I believe in? What do I value?
In general, I feel that literature has value, and so when judging an author’s work, it should be done with fairness and rigor.
There are many compelling books out there that do not get the recognition they deserve, and there are many capable readers and critics who can bring attention to them. As Orwell said, “elastic-brows” are the way to go.
I believe that we can still have high standards when evaluating a book without punishment or shame for the reviewer.
This is a chance for a civil dialogue, and I would like to give elastic-brows a platform to introduce their ideas and to shine a light on authors that have been forgotten.
In conclusion, I would like to challenge readers and writers to expand their idea of what is achievable or possible.
As someone who cares deeply about service issues, I encourage readers to explore books that they may have never even heard of. Wilson once wrote of Finnegans Wake and Joyce in 1944, saying, “I do not deny that he is tedious at times.
But it is an exciting, unique experience to find pages that have seemed meaningless to us to start a vivid life, full of energy, brilliance, passion.
The chance to be among the first to explore the wonders of Finnegans Wake is one of the few great intellectual and aesthetic treats that these last bad years have yielded.”
We are currently in a bad time politically and culturally and there are fewer opportunities for critics and artists than ever.
However, this is also an era in which disenchantment and elation exist side by side. _If you’re not Heidi Julavits, _click here__.
But since I am, I am not able to escape this. Furthermore, I am eager to place my bet on elation.
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