Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Faint Praise

A thoughtful review by Steven Beattie of what sounds like an interesting book on present-day book reviewing, which seems to be a hot topic in literary circles of late.

The background for Pool’s analysis is a culture that actively discourages critical thinking, one that would rather have enthusiastic cheerleaders (like Oprah) than incisive critics. Although one of the persistent complaints about book critics is that they are too nasty, Pool finds that the opposite is in fact true: often, critics aren’t nasty enough. It is interesting that both Pool and Marchand make the same comment: both stand by every negative word they ever wrote, but both confess to some retrospective reservations about reviews in which they feel they treated their subjects too kindly. Pool attributes this to “weakness,” and points out that “it takes courage and confidence for a reviewer to go his own way and tell readers that the latest ‘masterpiece’ isn’t very good. Amid the waves of praise, he risks not only what all critics risk, being wrong, but being wrong alone.”

Yup, sounds about right.

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