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Kevin Cryan
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Clive's book reviewing.
« : 06.12.07 at 09:05 »

James Wolcott, writing a lengthy review of a book called Faint Praise: The Plight of the Book Review in America by editor, critic and columnist Gail Pool for The New Republic, finds that while he agrees with many things that Pool has to say in her book, he is by no means convinced that the art book reviewing is in as poor a shape as the rather overly-earnest Pool seems to think it is.  
"Where is the swashbuckling fun, the exploding scoreboard, the whisking pirouettes? So focused is “Faint Praise” on institutional woes, incremental change, and improvements in quality control that it scants the virtuoso individuality that makes book reviewing a more interesting activity than, say, raking leaves. Pool appears squeamish about too much personality being injected into the reviewing format, fearing a sloppy overdose of subjectivity and exhibitionism. But if critical deportment means pouring each phrase into a measuring cup, we might as well turn in our magic kits. You wouldn’t divine from this landscape survey of the literary flatlands the thunder and illumination of which book reviews are capable when the right reviewer and the right book meet head-on. Book reviews at full billow can become cultural events: acts of exaltation (Mary McCarthy on “Pale Fire”), social advocacy (Dwight Macdonald on Michael Harrington’s “The Other America”), reassessment (Brigid Brophy on Franoise Sagan), wrecking-ball demolitions (Macdonald on James Gould Cozzens’s “By Love Possessed,” Sheed on Norman Podhoretz’s “Making It,” Whittaker Chambers on Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” Alfred Chester on John Rechy’s “City of Night,” Pauline Kael on Mailer’s “Marilyn,” Dale Peck’s Sweeney Todd exploits in these pages), reconstructive character surgery (Clive James on Zachary Leader’s biography of Kingsley Amis in the Times Literary Supplement), and literary resurrection (Gore Vidal on Dawn Powell). Why not reach for the stars? Imagine how much livelier criticism would be if novice reviewers - instead of dreaming of the day when they, too, might meet Malcolm Gladwell and his hair - availed themselves of review collections by Sheed, Brophy, McCarthy, Kingsley Amis, Martin Amis, Marvin Mudrick, Seymour Krim, H.L. Mencken, Anatole Broyard, and Philip Larkin and entertained those voices in their heads. What a tutorial that would be. Anyway, it beats moping."[link]
Kevin Cryan
« Last Edit: 06.12.07 at 09:15 by Kevin Cryan »    share
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