October 28, 2003

The Usenet-ing of the Literary World?

NY Times reviews a reviewer - Dale Peck, literary critic with a scorched earth attitude:
The question arises: Why should we care what Dale Peck thinks? The short answer is, He's interesting..... Writing in The Believer, a hip, new literary journal she founded with Vendela Vida and Ed Park, Julavits produced a pleading essay, ''The Snarky, Dumbed-Down World of Book Reviewing,'' that was essentially a critique of Peck's approach....Julavits's perhaps self-interested manifesto on behalf of kinder, gentler reviews (she was about to publish a novel of her own) contains the valuable insight that hostile reviews represent ''a critical attempt to compete, on an entertainment level.'' In other words, critics like Peck can be more fun to read than the books they review. Opprobrium resonates in a way that praise seldom does.

Witness the recent storm over Martin Amis's new novel, ''Yellow Dog,'' ....Fischer suggested that reading the book was like discovering ''your favorite uncle being caught in a school playground, masturbating.'' The press was ecstatic to have a new controversy. John Sutherland, the London-based critic, acknowledged that Fischer's review was ''a diatribe that most of us can now recite by heart.''
The fact is, negative reviews do stay in the mind longer than raves.
That negative reviews should be more memorable than the prose itself reminds me of what Lance Morrow, author of "Evil: An Investigation", said this weekend on one of the TV chat shows - that evil is more interesting to humans than good. A result of original sin? It is far easier to tear down than build up, which is why I'm pessimistic on Iraq. (Just to bring as many topics together under one post as I can.)

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