Why, Oh Why, Can’t We Have a Better Book Review Corps?


Lucy Ellmann’s review of Chuck Palahniuk’s Snuff in the New York Times Book Review opens:

What the hell is going on? The country that produced Melville, Twain and James now venerates King, Crichton, Grisham, Sebold and Palahniuk. Their subjects? Porn, crime, pop culture and an endless parade of out-of-body experiences. Their methods? Cliché, caricature and proto-Christian morality. Props? Corn chips, corpses, crucifixes. The agenda? Deceit: a dishonest throwing of the reader to the wolves. And the result? Readymade Hollywood scripts.

No honest book review—one that adds to the human store of knowledge about literature rather than subtracts from it, one that informs inform its reader about the book in question rather than misleads her, one that provides good reasons to read nor not to read the book rather than empty verbiage—no piece of writing, in short, that is honest, that is about the book, and that is actually a review, begins like this. I carry no particular water for Chuck Palahniuk, and indeed the Amazon hive-mind has decided that Snuff is the weakest of his novels, but no novelist deserves a review this mendacious, this ill-informed. It’s a hack job of a hatchet job.

Crime? Try Pudd’n’head Wilson. Out-of-body experiences? How about The Turn of the Screw? For that matter, what about the following dust-jacket description of Ellmann’s own Dot in the Universe:

After a brief sojourn in the underworld (populated by “underaged, underdeveloped underlings all, understated in their undershirts and UNDERSTANDING VERY LITTLE”), Dot is reincarnated, first as a possum, and then as a girl in Ohio.

If the New York Times Book Review continues to publish this junk, I give it ten years at the most.


I can understand the argument for maintaining print media’s news divisions (Daily Kos isn’t going to set up a Baghdad bureau any time soon), but there is absolutely no reason that blogs can’t completely supplant print publications for book/movie/music reviews and for cultural commentary generally.

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