Friday, May 18, 2007

Review this

I was going to take the time tonight to wade back into the book review discussion by tossing out a couple more Recursive Monkey Wrench awards, for valor in the field of being totally fuckwitted, but you know what? Hell with it. Life is too short to waste it on wasting it.

Let's be happier people. Let's be better book nerds.

To that end, I'll point you toward a really good bit by Richard Powers on literary reviews:

Reading is solitary; reviewing is the shared solitude of reading. As throughput accelerates and the cost of information falls, engaged seclusion and slow reflection become more valuable. Changes in technology change the terms of this contest, but not the stakes. Like any good crisis, this one can only be resolved through narrative – the turbulent act of figuring out how to read what’s writing us.

Amen. (Mr. Powers, I might just have to get around to your books sometime this century, after all.)

Also, there's a choice comment appended to a post at The Elegant Variation that's says what I'd have said, had I said it myself (third comment down, authored by John):

On a larger scale, that's what I want as a reader. I want to learn about books I might want to read, and I'm helped much more by simply seeing that a review has been done - and by who and in what tone - than by the review itself. Too much "thoughtful literary criticism" gives too much away, and I'd rather not know too much going in. I may turn to BookForum or the NY Review of Books after the fact to amplify points or help me to better appreciate what I just read, but I seriously doubt more than a fraction of the people who read with any consistency slog their way through several thousand words before deciding to pick up a book.

Amen. It's felt like far too often during this whole "save the book reviews" campaign (and really all the time before this campaign as well) that I've seen book reviews and book criticism discussed as if they are the same thing. They are not. Or, they should not be. I really would love to see both forms flourish, and I don't care whether it's done via newspapers or periodicals or blogs or online news sites or whatever. (Well, more online stuff wouldn't hurt. It's proven surprisingly hard to find good, thoughtful, lengthy considerations of Dostoevsky's work via quick Googling. Not that I'm helping much with my "Hey this quote read this quote! Whoa that's awesome huh? Ok gotta go! Cya later!" posts, but.) But it certainly doesn't help the case when people look at the one and accuse it of not doing what the other does. Let's get our terms and tools straight: I would not use a tow truck to take a photograph; I would not use a 500 word review to provide 5000 words of critical analysis.


Norm said...


Well there go my weekend plans. No, it's okay. Really.

*calls to cancel tow truck and roll of large format ektachrome*

Imani said...

This was another reason I was confused with some book critics/editor yearning to be like the NYRB. I don't see them as the same kind of thing at all, and very few writers are good at writing deft reviews that don't spill the novel's entire plot. (Toibin did a good job of this with his take on Aciman's latest. I couldn't finish Atwood's take on Powers because every plot development was being laid bare.)

carolyn said...

Don't hesitate on getting to Richard Powers. Seriously.