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09/28/2005

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Robert Nagle

Your remarks are fine and fun, but did you read the book?

A lot of times a reviewer may use language and general statements that by themselves seem weak logically when taken in isolation. They are more descriptive of a critic's reaction than an attempt to make a definitive counterthesis.

The paradox of course is that people who read book reviews haven't read a particular book and don't intend to. So how can readers really know the extent to which her ambivalence (which you might call it "inconsistency" ) is justified? The best that a reviewer of book-length essay can do is to throw up a few main theses and try to gun down one or two of them.

One sentence jumped out at me: "Still, her own dissection — and the novels she writes about in her book — reflect a highly refined taste, not a welcome to all comers." I think by definition those who are still readers these days (and interested in fiction like Smiley) don't require warnings about "refined taste."

This goes back to a long-held belief that I'd much rather read a long wildly enthusiastic book review to one that is lukewarm or short because of space limitations. Less-than-enthusiastic reviews tend to be shorter, less inclined to delve into deeper issues.

BTW, one of my favorite meditations on the novel is Kundera's Art of the Novel.

Dan Green

Even after I did read the book and I did, let's say, agree with Heltzel that it was "studied, not impassioned," this would mean only that it's. . .studied, not impassioned. This is merely descriptive terminology,not, as Hertzel seems to be believe, an evaluative judgment. Her use of it merely signals to certain readers that Smiley is writing "intellectual" literary criticism, and everyone knows this is just pointy-headedness.

Robert Nagle

Recently picked up Smiley's book. Although I haven't finished Smiley's books, I have ended up enjoying it a lot more than I expected to (I only browsed through the sections on the 100 novels). It is an idiosyncratic and personal approach to the subject, and not without insights and interesting assertions. I did not find it very academic or "pointy-headed" at all.

"lacks pep"...what a statement.

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Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press

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