Monday, March 26, 2012

Arthur Krystal: The excuses of a mean book critic

By  - Washington Post

A battle-scarred author lashed back at nasty book critics this week in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Arthur Krystal is an exceptional essayist whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s, the Washington Post and many other places. But 15 years ago, he says, he stopped reviewing books because he didn’t like the supercilious impulse such assignments inspired in him. He realized he was tired of hurting other authors. “Recipients of unfavorable reviews suffer heartburn for months, perhaps years.”
(Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Most of his essay is a smart, impassioned condemnation of self-centered, pompous, needlessly aggressive reviewers. “Given a chance to perform,” he writes, “they forget they’re rendering a service to the reader, not one to themselves.”
Naturally, this hits home. A colleague once accused me of being the Will Rogers of book reviewing, but I’ve thrown a few sharp-tipped critiques in my day. (In fact, I’m in a particularly long stretch of negative reviews right now.) Krystal is right, of course, there’s no need to be cruel, but sometimes the exasperation of slogging through a dull, stupid or monumentally over-hyped book gets the best of even the nicest person.
Last year, I claimed that David Guterson’s “Ed King,” a modern-day version of Oedipus Rex, was so “ill-conceived that somebody should have strangled it at birth” — a smart-alecky joke that Guterson didn’t deserve, no matter how much I disliked his novel. Years ago at the Christian Science Monitor — “Injure No Man, But Bless All Mankind” — I wrote that the young people in Tracy Chevalier’s “Falling Angels” spoke in such contorted ways that the book was an act of “literary child abuse.” (I’m happy to say that Chevalier later confronted me about that bizarre accusation.)
Suffering through Jimmy McDonough’s “truly empty, cliche-littered, bubble-headed” biography of Tammy Wynette on a long flight, my colleague Jon Yardley wrote, “I wished the plane would crash, just to put me out of my misery.”
And a dozen years ago, my other Pulitzer Prize-winning colleague, Michael Dirda, endured a romance novel he couldn’t abide. “Sometimes critics lament that good trees were felled to produce a certain book,” he concluded. “In the case of Judith Krantz’s ‘Dazzle,’ I even feel bad for the ink and the glue.”
Full story at The Washington Post

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