September 14, 2012

Atonement for a bad book review


John Reed, author of Snowball’s Chance, at a previous NBCC sponsored “Revise and Recant.”

We’ve posted about writers criticizing other writers, but this week in The Wall Street Journal, Susan Shapiro writes about perhaps the most stinging and dreaded literary take-down: the negative review.

Apparently it’s not just writers who feel bad about a scathingly harsh review—critics do too.

“Writing a nasty review is enjoyable, but only in a nasty way,” said Lev Grossman, a senior writer and book critic for Time Magazine. “Afterward, you dislike yourself.”

On Saturday, the National Book Critics Circle will sponsor an event at the Lit Crawl NYC festival called “Revise & Recant” where book reviewers from various publications will make “public apologies.” Hosted by Melville House author John Reed, the event listing suggests that a few mystery guests will show up to plead forgiveness. Perhaps Michiko Kakutani will make a rare appearance?

Just in case, here are some of the worst zingers from negative reviews, just begging for atonement.

“Mr. Franzen turns his unforgiving eye on himself and succeeds in giving us an odious self-portrait of the artist as a young jackass: petulant, pompous, obsessive, selfish and overwhelmingly self-absorbed.” —Michiko Kakutani’s review of Jonathan Franzen’s memoir The Discomfort Zone in the New York Times

“Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.” —Terry Eagleton’s review of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins in the London Review of Books

“It isn’t terrible, it is just so … average. It is averagely compelling (I finished it), involves an average amount of concentration and, if such a thing makes sense, is averagely well written: excellent in its averageness!” —Geoff Dyer reviews Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending in the New York Times

“This is easily one of the worst books I’ve ever read. And bear in mind that I’ve read John Grisham.” —Susan Cohen’s review of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in The Charleston City Paper



Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.