Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Bad reviews

There's something petty and contemptible about people who take pleasure in reading - or writing - snarky, malicious book reviews, and something equally noble and commendable about the editorial policy of The Believer: "We will focus on writers and books we like. We will give people and books the benefit of the doubt." Nick Hornby manages to adhere to those admirable principles AND be entertaining/interesting in his Stuff I've Been Reading column, a year's worth of which are collected in the Polysyllabic Spree. So, it can be done. That said, I confess there are few things that give me more pleasure than a withering review of a book I really dislike. Indeed, for a while now I've been looking for a site that collects only bad reviews (talk about contemptible!) but the closest I've come is the Believer's now retired "Snarkwatch" page. There too the intent was noble: "This is a place to record enthusiasms, mystifications, as well as disgruntled reactions to critical activity.' If you think a book was reviewed unfairly, or if someone missed the point; if you think a reviewer did a splendid job worth praising; if you know of a worthy book receiving no review coverage" - a "sort of the suburban Neighborhood Watch program of the literary world" as one snarky critic put it. (more about all of this in Laura William's NYT article "The Hunting of the Snark" - or, to sample selected retired pages, enter http://www.believermag.com/snarkwatch/ at the Wayback Machine). The good thing about Snarkwatch, for bad people, was that it linked to the original, offending reviews. And let's be honest, no amount of praise is as fun to read as a good line like Dorothy Parker's "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force" or Robert Porson (on Robert Southey's poems) 'They will be read when Homer and Virgil are forgotten, but -- not till then.'' (the conoisseur will know that Dale Peck has made something of a name for himself with his consistently nasty reviews, but I detect a meanness for meanness's sake in his reviews that, I'm relieved to say, gives me no pleasure (read John Leonard on Dale Peck Anyway, to get to the point of all this rambling, I was looking the other day for a review that would give eloquent expression to the inarticulate grunts of fury that reading D.B. Pierre's Vernon God Little inspired in me. I didn't find it, but I did find reviews.summize.com which aggregates reviews, and let's you pick out only the ones that agree with you. Not exactly a perspective-broadening exercise, but sometimes - after being infuriated by a book or film that everyone else has been raving about- a little meanness does wonders.

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