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April 28, 2006




I think you're misquoting me here. I wrote: "You can learn a lot from a bad review, as with Wood's critique of Franzen's "Corrections." However, I don't think there's much need to write a bad review of an unremarkable book from an obscure author."

We're in agreement that good book reviews should discuss ways to think about books. We also agree that a reviewer can do that with books she likes and books she doesn't like.

I just think that if a book is really that bad, there's not much of interest I can say about it that pertains to literature. I'd rather write a negative review of a book that fails, but at least fails intelligently, or for interesting reasons (as Wood thought of "Corrections"). If a book just plain sucks, I don't think there's much illumination to be taken from it.

Brendan Wolfe

Scott, Sorry if I misquoted you. I've been a little punchy lately. Perhaps we do agree about most of this stuff. What I was reacting to, I guess, is that the emphasis of commentary has not been on the nature of a book's failure (a distinction you make) but on the style & indeed even the justification of reviews pointing out that failure.



I think we're in agreement here.


It's just a personal thing, I find, how one likes to see criticism done.

I love a "good," engrossing book review--far better, than, say, a mediocre book. To a certain degree, what I like/dislike in books is the same as what I tend to like/dislike in reviews.

Since I don't tend to much like snarky (as it's practiced these days: I love the brand practiced by, say, Dorothy Parker) lit, I also tend to dislike snarky reviews, stylistically speaking. (Obviously, I'm being superficial and painting with a broad brush here.)

That why I generally don't want to read reviews by Peck, for example, whose work tends to make me think, "My, isn't he too clever by half--and 'don't' he know it!"

I find myself getting annoyed and, therefore, distracted from what is supposed to be the point (at least in my bothering to read reviews).

For what all that's worth ...


To clarify, by saying I tend to dislike "snarky" reviews I don't mean to imply that I dislike negative reviews in general.

(Though I suppose I would, if I ever wrote a book and earned a bunch of them. Heh!)

Brendan Wolfe

Thanks, reader. I, too, prefer an engrossing book review to a mediocre book. We part ways, though, on the subject of Dale Peck, or at least I think we do. I haven't reread his reviews in a while. But my memory tells me they were fun to read. I respect his writing in general (his novels are far from perfect, but they are the work of a prodigiously talented writer), which helps. I love to read clever writing; when I'm on the other side of things, when I'm the reviewer, I try to be clever, which for me is one way to try to be fun to read . . . This may simply be a matter of taste. So often, though, the snark debate is wrapped in the cloak of ethics. People seem to suggest it's wrong to be clever, it's wrong to be negative, it's wrong, even, to be snotty. I don't think so. If books are worth anything, they're worth getting worked up about. And sometimes that means being intemperate and even snotty.

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