You’re probably thinking, here she goes again, complaining about our lack of civility. It really bothers me and we’ve got to cut it out before we truly become a society of beasts.
This is what ticked me off this time.
I am a faithful reader of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. I know there is the whiff of arrogance that goes along with the celebrated literati. But there is also a responsibility that goes along with such elevated stature. It should be a given that personal attacks be verboten.
After reading this, I wonder if getting your book reviewed there is something to strive for.
I am not going to give the name of either the reviewer or the reviewed. I don’t want to shine more light on the miserable review. But I will give you some quoted text so you can see why it was so churlish.
“ If it (the book being reviewed) were tricked out with commentary in the margins—in fact, now that I’ve finished marking it up, anyone’s welcome to take my copy—it could serve as a textbook on how not to write fiction. At the same time, it gives lie to those killjoy teachers who tell you that no reputable publisher will touch you if you don’t learn your craft.”
(Are you kidding me? Workshop 101—critique the work, not the writer.)
He acknowledges his review may seem mean-spirited to fault a righteous novel for literary sins. But there it is. He goes on to say, the writing of fiction has its own forms of morality and this author has sinned beyond redemption. “All these passages suggest a writer who…hasn’t engaged effectively with his characters or his language, who won’t or can’t take the work of fiction seriously.”
So, here we don’t have a merely bad review. We don’t have an I hated this book. Let me count the ways. We have a nasty, personal attack on the writer as well as the book. It bothers me. That’s not what I want to read. I want somebody who stays on point about the book, who doesn’t rip a colleague to shreds. I don’t know who this guy is and I know nothing about his story collection but I’m tempted to read it with my own red pencil.
Our world has become lousy with anybody saying anything about everything. If we belong to the school of thought that literature civilizes us, we can’t support this type of behavior. We have to do better. If we don’t, who will?