Your Thoughts on Author/Critic Spats

By Neal Comment

Yesterday, we asked you if it was kosher to assign a book review to somebody if the author of that book had previously panned the reviewer’s earlier work. And you don’t seem to have any problem with it. “I don’t see how this differs from book review editors assigning reviewers they have to know are going to smack a book,” says Richard Hellinga, creator of the online short story collection The Fairview Project. “Take for example Norman Mailer’s review of Wolfe’s A Man in Full in the New York Review of Books a few years back. Anyone who has paid even passing attention to the Literary Life knows Mailer can’t stand Wolfe’s fiction writing. A Setup? Probably. Literary feuds make for interesting news even if they don’t always make for good literary criticism.”

Perhaps we should keep in mind that book reviews are supposed to be about literary criticism, not personal vendettas, and reviewers should be trusted to stay focused on their professional obligations. “Although writing is a creative endeavor and very subjective,” observes Lisa Coutant, “I would hope that a critic would not put an opinion out there without having justifications for his/her opinions, and I would hope that a writer/author wouldn’t blindly toss out a venomous response without thinking about the impact of his/her actions.” (Hoo boy, have we got some blogs to show her!)

Finally, and taking us back to the review that started the whole debate, Jim Treacher snarks, “I think that no tactic is out of bounds if it results in not having to read Maureen Dowd.” Gotta admit, I hadn’t heard about any situations where people were being forced to read Dowd; if this sort of thing is really going on, maybe we should get Sen. McCain to publicly condemn it. (Or not; heck, I kinda like Dowd, even if she never RSVPed to my book party, not even to send her regrets…)