Monday, 16 April 2012

Digression: Books and Reviewing—A Query Inspired by Margaret Atwood's 'Murder in the Dark'

   1. You're a reviewer, say. 
   A book you've been assigned is awful. Not just awful, as in, the author's style or novel's subject doesn't appeal to you, but so awful that you resent having wasting hours reading it and you're convinced that (a) no one else could possibly like it and (b) there's no good reason for it to have been published at all.
   You contact the books editor who assigned it. He says, "You can write the review if you want, or you can scrap it altogether." As a result, the newspaper will likely not run any review of the novel.

   2. You're a novelist, say.
   Through a literary grapevine, you hear that your book has been assigned. You're happy because a positive review in a well-respected newspaper guarantees exposure and, in theory, boosts both your sales and national profile.
   Later, by that same grapevine, you discover the reviewer loathes your book and has been looking at Dale Peck's notorious review in The New Republic for inspiration. That scathing review of Rick Moody's memoir, The Black Veil, the one that begins with a brutal declaration: "Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation."

 3. While you know the expression "There's no such thing as bad publicity," you're not wholly convinced of its truth.
   You are offered a choice: bad review or no review. Neither is desirable, but one must be made. What's your decision?
   You're a reviewer, say. What's your answer?
   Do you have a different answer if you're a novelist?


  1. It's tricky. I think anyone who puts his or her voice in print deserves respect and compassion, no matter what. On the other hand, the merits and demerits of a work should be freely expressed. On the other other hand, when we live in a small village it is politic to be circumspect in how one uses the pen. So, in the end it is a question of balance. Of due respect for the artist's craft, courage, and position within the community, with a balanced, nuanced assessment of the work.

  2. An interesting comment, thank you BY.
    The "respect and compassion" a writer "deserves" and "due respect" accorded to "the artist's craft, courage, and position within the community" would seem to hinder anything but the most benign of criticisms. When every writer deserves respect for their craft, compassion for their courage, etc., saying that they have failed in their goal becomes impossible because to say so is inherently disrespectful.

  3. If I was a reviewer and dislike a book as much as Peck hates The Black Veil, I won't publish the review (unless I think the book is promoting hatred/racism or something). But if I was a novelist I'd definitely want to know why some critics hate my book so much and see a million mistakes in it while I found it great enough to be published.