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How to be a critic/reviewer
|Blog Entry - Tuesday, April 11th, 2006
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in Slate today about a NYT book critic
who is more about the thumbs up or thumbs down judgement -- using all those
adjectives and superlatives that don't really mean
much -- than
she is about telling you something about the book.
"But the sour-grapes sniping from spurned authors
should not obscure the fact that Kakutani is a profoundly uninteresting
critic. Her main weakness is her evaluation fixation. This may seem an
odd complaint—the job is called critic, after all—but in fact, whether
a work is good or bad is just one of the many things to be said about it,
and usually far from the most important or compelling...One has the sense
of her deciding roughly at Page 2 whether or not a book is worthy; reading
the rest of it to gather evidence for her case; spending some quality time
with the Thesaurus; and then taking a large blunt hammer and pounding the
As I write more essays about books,
plays, memoirs, and movies, I recognize that my opinion on whether the
work is good or bad is only a small part of what is to be said about it.
Comparing the work to other works in its subgenre is sometimes interesting,
but more to see what's similar or different, than to say which one is best.
"The core question is how the current piece fits
into the oeuvre, and we expect reflective reviews to address it. In this
case, I'd be curious to see a critic consider Hornby's oft-stated and almost
obsessive pledge to write books that are entertaining and ultimately uplifting—and
how such a project could be expected eventually to encounter artistic and
You'd want this Platonic critic to touch on other stuff,
too. He or she could share some insights about the nature of novels written
in dramatic monologues, or novels about suicide, or novels, or art, or
life. Kakutani's refusal ever to take her eyes off the thumbs up/thumbs
down prize, or to lay any of her own prejudices, tastes, or tangentially
relevant observations on the table, is dispiriting."
The most prolific reviewer in our
I think does a good job of always telling you what's in the book and why
it might be useful to a particular reader or audience. I'm still working
to find my voice as a reviewer, but you can be certain, I'll take this
article to heart.
Posted at: 10:09:45 AM