The Critic

In either a promotion of or a warning about book reviewing, Scott McLemee uses 1970s’s The Critic as a lead-in to honor critic Steve Kellman:

One of the sadder comic novels I’ve ever read (and the qualities of humor and melancholia do tend to go together) is Wilfrid Sheed’s Max Jamison, which appeared in Britain in 1970 as The Critic.
The title character is a prominent cultural journalist, and sometime
university lecturer, who is at the peak of his career — meaning it’s
all downhill from there. And he knows it. He’s becoming a parody of
himself. In fact, the process is more or less complete. He imagines one
of his old professors saying, “Jamison has this rigid quality,
sometimes known as integrity, sometimes known simply as ‘this rigid
quality.’ ” . . .

If Sheed’s novel holds up remarkably well after almost four decades, though, it’s not for any roman a clef
revelations about a specific person. Max Jamison is the intimate
portrait of a mind at the end of its tether — a mind not quite willing
(or able) to cut that tether, and so condemned to circle around and
around, at whatever limit it can reach, thereby digging itself into a
rut. This is not an uncommon situation.

Rereading the novel this week, I winced at one line in particular
about Jamison’s routine as a cultural journalist: “He doggedly went on
reviewing, getting better, he thought, in a field where improvement is
seldom noticed.” . . . but seldom doesn’t mean never. . . .

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Max Jamison is a wonderful novel, and Sheed is a woefully underrated fiction writer. Almost as good is his People Will Always Be Kind, which can be bought on Amazon marketplace for a penny.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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