Could Critical Vitriol Be An Asset?

By Neal Comment

clipart-angry-newspaper.jpg“You’ve managed to hit one of my buttons with your item on whether the NYTBR is too mean,” writes C.E. Petit. “IMNSHO, it’s nowhere near mean enough. In fact, I’d make the blanket statement that with the exception of Michiko Kakutani, NO regular reviewer at the [Times] is mean enough… My benchmark for a reliable review source is that at least one third of the reviews actually
should be at least disapproving, if not outright pans.”

“It’s a matter of intellectual honesty,” Petit argues. “Nobody competent at reviewing is that good at judging a book by its cover/branding, which is precisely what happens when reviews get handed out.” Petit goes on to blame a sales-and-marketing mentality for confusing reviews with advertisements, and suggests consumers can learn as much from negative reviews as they can from positive ones. There’s a lot to debate here—for one thing, the difference between reviewing a book negatively and calling it “scummy” or accusing its author of “moral narcissism.” But I leave that debate to the rest of you… (And, no, that’s not meant to be Petit himself; it’s just the only funny picture we had of a guy reading a newspaper vehemently.)

DISCUSS: How mean should book reviewers get? In negative reviews, is there a line where critical commentary becomes abusive invective, and if so, where should we draw it?