“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Four Legs Good, Two Opinions Bad

You’ll probably have picked up on Steve Wasserman’s cover story for the latest Columbia Journalism Review already. If you haven’t, you really should – we haven’t read anything quite as funny since the last Carl Hiassen novel. Kicking off with a lament for the decline in book reviewing in newspapers, Wasserman – editor of the Los Angeles Times Review from 1996 to 2005 – soon gets into his stride with a broadside against the lumpen bloggetariat who dare to infringe on the territory of serious critics, to wit:
“What Sarvas is reluctant to concede but is too intelligent to deny is what Richard Schickel, the film critic for Time magazine, eloquently affirmed in a blunt riposte, published in the Los Angeles Times in May, to the “hairy-chested populism” promoted by the boosters of blogging: “Criticism—and its humble cousin, reviewing—is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author’s (or filmmaker’s or painter’s) entire body of work, among other qualities.” Sure, two, three, many opinions, but let’s all acknowledge a truth as simple as it is obvious: Not all opinions are equal.”
Pardon us while we vomit copiously into our pointy hat with the big fat D on the front. And now that we’re all out of bile, let’s just suggest (quietly, so Steve doesn’t get offended) that criticism and reviewing aren’t cousins, they’re Tweedledum and Tweedledee. The difference? People tend to steer clear of Tweedledum because he takes himself and life a wee bit too seriously, and isn’t much fun. Tweedledee, on the other hand, simply offers his opinion and isn’t going to sulk if he thinks you won’t order your life according to his rules. Because Tweedledee, along with most people, understands that if a writer needs an official interpreter wasting half a rainforest to explain what his or her book is trying to say, then said writer should think very seriously about taking a refresher course in Eng Lit 101. Tweedledee also thinks democracy and freedom of speech is a good thing. Sure, he can be a bit odd like that. But we like him.