A collection of links on various book-related topics that are of continuing interest:
The nice-ness or not of book reviewing
An unusually negative review in the New York Times Book review of two books by Alex Ohlin. Review by William Giraldi.
Giraldi’s response to criticism of his criticism.
A riff by Dwight Garner (my favorite of the NYT’s daily book critics, if anyone cares) on why book critics need to be critical.
A piece from Salon on how to write a bad review well.
A piece from Slate claiming writers are too nice to each other, especially on Twitter, and that it’s harming our intellectual culture.
Salon’s magnificent Laura Miller makes the case for positive book reviews.
Another piece from Salon arguing with that Slate piece. Contains of lots of good links, too, pointing out that the moaning about the decline of literary criticism has been ever thus.
A long (I mean really, seriously, good-thing-the-Interwebs-isn’t-metered-by-the-word long) piece by Daniel Mendelsohn about the value of criticism, from The New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog.
My favorite kind of response to this kind of discussion: Um, yeah, book reviewing (or literary culture, or culture in general) has ALWAYS been in decline! Or at least according to people invested in the immediate past way of doing things.
Another perspective, from the LA Times.
Lit. v. Genre
Arthur Krystal essay from the New Yorker - This was widely read and discussed as both acknowledging and, to some extent, dismissing the value of popular fiction. Unfortunately you need to have a New Yorker subscription or pay for access to read it.
Lev Grossman’s reply/defense of genre — Time magazine literary critic — and genre novelist in his own right — Lev Grossman has the single best reply to Krystal’s piece — and single best commentary on the role of genre in today’s literary scene. If you’re going to read any single piece on this topic, this is the one to read.
New York Times on reading and guilty pleasures — New York Times commentary on the debate with some interesting points, especially that it’s kind of silly to start with the presumptions that 1) genre writing must be inferior and 2) literary writing must be “unpleasant” to read.
NPR’s “My Guilty Pleasures” feature — Writers reveal their own guilty pleasures.
My Stephen King Problem: A Snob’s Notes by Dwight Allen — The subtitle is certainly accurate on this extremely loooooong piece that goes to excessive lengths to describe how Stephen King writes too long — and not that well, according to this guy. I appreciated his honesty and discussing this piece with a friend was revealing to me about different reasons people read. My friend found this section particularly resonant:
“Among the things I hope for when I open a book of fiction is that each sentence I read will be right and true and beautiful, that the particular music of those sentences will bring me a pleasure I wouldn’t be able to find the exact equivalent of in another writer, that I will be continually surprised by what a particular writer reveals about particular human beings and the world they inhabit. A great book of fiction will lead me toward some fresh understanding of humanity, and toward joy.)”
Allen says he doesn’t judge people who read simply to “escape” (though he should definitely read Grossman about why the escapism tag is something of a fallacy). That section of Allen’s made me realize why I read — and how it’s much more about the second part of his manifesto (revealing new things about human beings and the world they inhabit) than the first (“the particular music of those sentences”). It’s why I’m not much of a poetry reader/appreciator — I want to be enlightened and/or entertained — the best case scenario is that I’m enthralled. If the writing calls attention to itself, I find it distracting and, if it’s bad (the Fifty Shades/Dan Brown problem) I find it annoying. That doesn’t mean I think everyone should write like Hemingway. But I’m in it for story far more than style. So thanks for helping me realize that, Dwight Allen. And thanks for the shout-out for Diana Abu-Jaber, a literary novelist we both admire.
Not great reply on Salon — Allen’s piece ran in Salon and this was the first response I saw posted. I thought the response was silly. Allen is not motivated by jealousy of King’s financial success.
In Defense of Stephen King — This response is much better; like the original post it ran in both the LA Review of Books and Salon.
Interesting blog post by David Hewson arguing that ereaders encourage genre over literary (and not just because people can’t see what you’re reading).
The book (or reading or the library) is dead! Long live the book (or reading or the library)!
“Dead Again,” Essay from the NYT Book Review.
“Changing Reading Forever, Again,” a Page Turner blog post from The New Yorker with a lot of good links.
“The Bookless Library,” good piece from TNR on the future of libraries in the digital age, nicely reasonable and a refreshing change from the neo-Luddite all-digital-is-evil and the techno-utopian everything-must-be-digital views.