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

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08/24/2005

Comments

Birnbaum

Daniel:

I have high regard for your optimism but really the evidence for your claim " because newpaper and magazine book sections are about the only forums remaining for what used to be called literary criticism." has escaped me. Perhaps they offer the hope of an occasional literary critique which, I guess, is true.

It's funny David Milosky and I have been bemoaning (am I getting this right David?) the degraded state of newspaper reviews —the allotted 700-800 words is barely enough for a cogent point or two, much less the nuance that any book worth discussing deserves. It woud appear that book editors are inclined toward the weaselzoid Wiesalter-like take down ala his NYTBR Nicholson Baker thingy. Glib commentators like Shafer are speaking for his fellow journalist journeymen in his Slate piece

I must admit that in the context of scanning a newspaper I am glad to encounter a "good read" since in my experience most papers are lacking in such, in almost all areas. Not to mention that positing it as an either/ or is specious. But then Shafer was trying for the same thing for which he was arguing.

Dan Green

Robert: I do only mean to suggest that, as you put it, "they offer the hope" of an occasional piece of real literary criticism.

Kate S.

I completely agree with your take on book reviews. I frequently find myself railing at reviewers as I read the weekend book pages. Those most likely to make me throw down the paper in disgust are the reviewers who are more interested in displaying their own cleverness than in addressing the book at hand (ie. Schafer's idea of a lively review). If it's about "good pieces" rather than fair reviews of worthy books, we might as well dispense with the book under review altogether. Why not just write an entertaining article without pretending that it serves as a book review? Schafer says that if we are interested in fairness, it should be fairness to the reader not fairness to the author. But he seems to be referring exclusively to the reader of the publication containing the review rather than to potential readers of the book under review. And he seems to think that the reader of the publication containing the review is interested in being entertained rather than in learning something about the book under review. When I read a review, I want to learn something about the book. To my mind, part of the problem with Schafer's article is that he confuses fairness with politeness. I'm not interested in a review that is overly polite, that is, one in which the reviewer is reluctant to speak plainly for fear of hurting someone's feelings (or for fear of repercussions). But it is entirely possible to be fair and still be lively, interesting, and critical. I want to hear positive and negative assessments of books under review, but at both poles, I want reviewers to back up their assessments with textual support from the book.

Dan Green

"To my mind, part of the problem with Schafer's article is that he confuses fairness with politeness."

This is a very good point. Too many people seem to think that "critical" means vituperative or sarcastic. It simply means, as you put it, backing up an assessment, positive or negative, with "textual support from the book." It means engaging with the book at hand rather than regarding it as an opportunity for journalistic showmanship.

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