I like Nick Hornby, but was anyone actually waiting for his permission to read whatever they want? I’d say: Read what you want and develop a thick skin. I like literary fiction, but it doesn’t really ruin my day when Hornby makes a reference to “prose that draws attention to itself, rather than the world it describes.” People aren’t always going to like what you like. Get used to it. Grow up. This Kumbayah it’s-all-good school of criticism doesn’t help anybody; it patronizes half the readers in the world and irritates the shit out of the other half.
I believe there is room for actual negative criticism in the book world without delving into snarkiness for the sake of snarkiness. The belief that negativity “ruins” reviews frankly seems lame. No one wants to get trashed in a review but there is such a thing as healthy criticism. Maybe I just hate all this be nice crap. Or maybe I just don’t want to be told what how to react to what I read by the Believer, who besides their weird “we want one corner of the world where writers don’t get kicked around” stance (Nick Hornby’s interpretation not mine), produce a great magazine.
Thoughts anyone? Disagree?
Totally agree. All this nice-nice “everything is good as long as people are reading it” only serves the consensus-addicted wimps who are afraid of asserting an unpopular opinion. Throughout history, there has never been anybody of consequence who was afraid of speaking up.
Roger Ebert makes a point out of not applying the same criteria to mindless action movies and serious films, for example. Occasionally this backfires when he gets confused by parodies and other genre-muddling films, but there’s no reason why literary critics can’t follow the same criteria. A broken spade is a broken spade.
Josh, you make a good point about not applying the same criteria to different types of movies. I think one of the causes of all this tension right now is that the READERS are applying different criteria in choosing what they read, while critics are still trying to judge every book under one umbrella.
hi there – short time lurker first time poster:
I love Roger Eberts comment from several years back. He said something to the effect of: Yes I review movies and I get paid to do it but that doesn’t mean my opinion should be counted more than any others. Stop getting so upset that I don’t like what you like – I’m just another person with another opinion.
I guess my opinion is pretty basic – having an opinion about a book can create dialogue (something very lacking in society today) especially intelligent and thoughtful dialogue. So what if someone didn’t like your book ask why….get ideas…comunicate.
I read different books for different reasons. I like variety. Sometimes I like something deep and meaningful and other times I want to just breeze through something fun and viewed as petty by some but to me it all fosters conversation which is good.
Wow sorry – didn’t mean to write so much.
I love to get opinons Sarah, Renee, and Josh, so thanks for leaving them. I think what you all are saying applies to the argument, that the same criteria is being used to review very different types of books. My next question would be what criteria would you use then? How would you review the Shopaholics series versus Special Topics in Calamity Physics versus the latest Cormac McCarthy? And how is a reader of the reviews supposed to know what “type” of book is being reviewed if the reviewer doesn’t say?
Why write a review if the reviewer is not to be critical. If you only want to know the plot, the main characters, the date of publishing, author and list of the author’s credits, then there should be an IMDB type database for books.
However, my complaint isn’t with Hornby and the Believer staff (though I could be persuaded,) but rather with reviewers or critics who agree with them. These are the people who are supposed to be the front line of art and if they are in the business to make friends, then they should be agents or work for publishers. Where’s Walter Benjamin when you need him?
I think the issue for me is the “vs”. I can’t and honestly don’t want to compare Gandi’s autobiography to Billy Dead or The Poet to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I think there is a fundamental way of reviewing books and saying what you liked, what you didn’t like and what worked. Different books call for different paces and different vocabularies. When I read my questions are: did I like it? why? Did the language fit what the book was trying to say? Was I confused? Did I see a message or overall theme? Is this a story I find interesting and worth telling? And of course reviews are going to conflict – that’s good!
This does put a certain responsibility on the reviewer to talk about the type of book etc. But again reviews are like books you can ask the same questions. Did you get the information you were looking for? Did they convey a point of view etc. And not liking an author is pretty much like not liking a critic – you just ignore them.