It’s amazing that in 2012 The Atlantic can still publish something so clueless as this. Titled “Could the Internet Save Book Reviews?” the posting purports to be an investigation into just that. So, what vital new review sources does intrepid Atlantic reporter Sarah Fay turn up? After the obligatory smack at Amazon reviews, we learn,
But there are also signs of hope from pioneers like Nancy Pearl, the Seattle librarian behind “Book Lust.” Pearl tends to recommend rather than review but does so with the expertise that only a librarian or someone who works in an independent bookstore has. (She was also the inspiration for the first librarian action figure.) Like Pearl, Jessa Crispin of Bookslut.com recommends rather than reviews but where Pearl is earnest Crispin is irreverent and sometimes vulgar. She’s a savvy, hipster reviewer whose site is a haphazard array of literary gossip, sound bites, and reviews. Goodreads is a social network for book reviews, but it’s modeled on a book-club model rather than a journalistic one. For now, Goodreads is basically Facebook with books, but if enough contributors set the bar high with creative, funny, and smart reviews it might become a force of its own. These recommenders offer a vision for Orwell’s hope that there be short reviews of less-worthy titles.
The future of book reviewing isn’t confined to the written word: Podcasts could reinvent or ruin journalistic literary criticism. There currently exist only three podcasts that truly review books: Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust podcast, which also airs on NPR’s Morning Edition, Maureen Corrigan’s reviews on Fresh Air, and Tom Lutz’s Los Angeles Review of Books podcasts on KCRW—all of which are smart, valuable resources. Out magazine’s “Outsider” podcast airs once every couple of months and reviews film and visual art as well. The panel of guests for the show often includes Dale Peck, a writer who reached book-reviewer superstardom (if there is such a thing) with Hatchet Jobs, a collection of his reviews for The New Republic, in 2004. He’s best known for his review of Rick Moody’s memoir The Black Veil, which opened with the lede, “Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation.” But as a reviewer, Peck was more than just a show-boater who stirred up controversy; he was a whipsmart critic with a fabulous sense of humor.
Yes, that’s right, the future of web-based book reviewing is Nancy Pearl, Goodreads, and NPR. I suppose this is my fault for expecting a posting on Internet book reviewing to actually include reviews of books that are native to the Internet.
Oddly, Fay then begins to talk about creative criticism. That’s good, because this is something that’s quite close to my own interests. So who is the form’s leading practitioner?
Michiko Kakutani is perhaps the best example of a creative critic who publishes regularly.
No. Actually, that’s nothing like what is meant by “creative criticism.”
She sometimes mocks literary characters in her reviews, as she did when she parroted Holden Caulfield in her review of Benjamin Kunkel’s Indecision.
(Kakutani is the only American critic whose name has become a verb. The phrase “getting Kakutanied” means receiving a laudatory review followed by a scathing one, a particularly scathing review, or several scathing reviews in a row.)
That sounds like something you just made up.
It’s worth considering whether or not Kakutani is censured because her reviews thrive on authority and imagination.
No, that’s not the reason.
Seriously, Atlantic? I know the imperative to fill up cyberspace with metric tons of prose never abates, but is this really the best you can do? This post is an insult to anyone who actually gives a damn about literary culture and the honest critics who try to promote it. I know you can do better than this, I really know you can.
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