“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “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. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

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.

4 comments:

The Home Office said...

Is it possible Mr. Wasserman hears the ladders of the blogging Huns being placed against the walls of his ivory tower? He’s right, to a point: there’s a lot of crap on the internet. On the other hand, there’s a lot of self-important blather in newspapers and academic periodicals. The internet is merely providing another avenue for talent to percolate to the top. Its bare knuckles atmosphere may not be for everyone, but to dismiss it is to show fear for one’s own position. It has been said to beware the man who wears his piety too much on his sleeve; the same holds true for the intellectual.

The Home Office said...

Is it possible Mr. Wasserman hears the ladders of the blogging Huns
being placed against the walls of his ivory tower? He's right, to a
point: there's a lot of crap on the internet. On the other hand,
there's a lot of self-important blather in newspapers and academic
periodicals. The internet is merely providing another avenue for talent
to percolate to the top. Its bare knuckles atmosphere may not be for
everyone, but to dismiss it is to show fear for one's own position. It has been said to beware the man who wears his piety too much on his
sleeve; the same holds true for the intellectual.

Peter said...

The previous commenter almost has it right. Yes, pieces like Wasserman's are the stench of fear emanating from a wounded, cornered animal. But the comment shows its own brand of Wasserman-think when it asserts that "there's a lot of self-important blather in newspapers and academic
periodicals."

The assertion is true, but the comparison of the Internet on one hand to newspapers and academic periodicals on the other plays into Wasserman's hands. In fact, the operative comparison is the Internet on one hand to every variety of printed material on the other.

Once one recognizes that print also includes pornography, scandal sheets, racist and anti-Semitic tracts, junk mail, billboards, handbills, and T-shirts with messages, one has the basis for a reasoned discussion of print vs. the Internet.

If anyone is interested, by the way, I'm what amounts to an established blogger, and I've also spent my entire professional life in newspapers. I like to think that gives me something of an educated view on the matter of the extensive crap and the occasional good in both media.
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

John McFetridge said...

The other comparison that really doesn't work is movies to books, and following that, movie bloggers to book bloggers. Richard Schickel can want movie reviewing to be as elists as he likes, the content in most movies just won't sustain it. Sure, I can see where movie reviewers and 'academic film critics' are pretty grumpy these days, afterall, how many movies are made each year these days that could sustain very much discussion? A lot of movie blogs reflect this.

But books? Books are better than ever and there are a lot of book blogs that reflect just that.

Still, I thought the only reason newspapers still had movie critics was because there was enough advertising and newspapers are giving up book sections because publishers won't spend enough.