I Wouldn’t Have Guessed That

Lev Grossman talking about reviewing books is a little like that 50 Shades of Grey person talking about bring an author. Here, Grossman talks about how he picks books for review:

But then there’s the signal – that delicious, delicious signal. People often ask me how I choose books to review. There’s no simple answer; also no especially interesting answer. I review books if they do something I’ve never seen done before; or if I fall in love with them; or if they shock me or piss me off or otherwise won’t leave me alone; if they alter the way my brain works; if I can’t stop thinking about them; if for whatever reason I absolutely have to tell people about them.

I haven’t always done it that way. Early on in my career I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I thought other people would want me to review, and what I thought other people would fall in love with, and then reviewing those books. But the truth is I was just guessing, and when I did I generally guessed wrong. Over time I retreated to the following position: I am a book-loving human being, and if I love something, then some other book-loving human elsewhere will probably love it too.

I don’t doubt that Grossman follows his heart, but c’mon, he’s following his heart within a very limited range of choices. Just look at his top 10 list from 2011 and try to find a book that wasn’t published by a major American publisher and wreathed with praise from just about every dependable organ of book reviewing in the United States.

I bring this up because immediately before this Grossman talks about the 30 or 40 books that arrive at Time magazine every day, no doubt many from worthy small presses that would die for the kind of attention Time could give. And this is to my point—I’m sure Grossman is a honest, decent guy, but the PR push (read: dollars spent) that a publisher puts behind a book, plus the fact that Time has certain audience expectations that must be met (and Grossman’s periodical isn’t unique here by a long shot), means that those sorts of books have no chance of being covered by this kind of a publication.

I’m fine if Grossman wants to go around saying he’s a book reviewer, but let’s not mistake what he’s doing here: in most cases he’s functioning as an adjunct of a publisher’s marketing department, essentially adding whatever institutional and personal authority he has to the marketing push for a book that has almost certainly been acclaimed 10 times over by “reviewers” that are similarly empowered. In other words, what I’m saying is there is no need for a Lev Grossman review of Freedom, whereas there could be a plausible justification for a Lev Grossman review of My Two Worlds. Using Time magazine to help push a book such as the latter would be to help literary culture emerge from the morass of dull, mainstream novels that it seems destined to remain mired in perpetually, whereas using Time to push the former is only to perpetuate a system of mediocrity.

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Of course TIME and other major publications are merely “an adjunct of a publisher’s marketing department”. I wonder why people aren’t sick of it. As soon as it makes the pages of TIME, it’s on Fresh Air, Krasny’s “Forum” interviews the author, then it’s on Tavis Smiley, next is “To the Best of Our Knowledge”…. by then I am totally sick of hearing about it. Why can’t the whitebread liberals, stuck in this echo chamber, demand more? I’ll tell you why – because they don’t really care, they don’t love books, they just wanna be hip ;ole all their friends who will surely ask “Have you read…?”

This is a similar theme to the Atlantic article about all the hype and pr surrounding “that baseball novel”, which allowed it to reach best seller status and had readers thinking it ust be good if everyone is talking about it. Last week it even ended up on top of The Beievers readers poll of best works of 2011. I am convinced only because everyone fell for the hype. I almost did myself, but took a step back before I hit ok on my amazon purchase, and thought “wait if it ends up actually being so great, I can always borrow it from te library 4 blocks away!” I fell or stupid pr a couple times last year – We The Animals and The Family Fang – both also kinda shitty books (Fang moreso) that made it to the Believer’s readers poll.
My local indy bookseller is bringing me a copy of Naked Singularity – this website sure as heck had better be steering me right! :)

This can never be overstated. George RR Martin blurbed Lev. Logrolling Lev named A DANCE WITH DRAGONS as his #1 book in 2011.

http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2101344_2101086_2101104,00.html

Adjunct of a publisher’s marketing department is an understatement.

Lev Grossman’s heart sings to him songs of career-minded opportunism. I haven’t read more of 50 Shades of Grey than the online excerpts, but I have read The Magicians. They are not all that dissimilar.

It’s amusing that Grossman’s rejection of “hatchet jobs” (actual criticism) and his novels are both grounded in his assertions on becoming an adult.

[…] Esposito appropriately enough questions how candid Grossman is being, pointing out that his sinecure at Time necessarily constrains […]

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