The Cornerstone Of Criticism

Sep 15 2012 @ 3:59pm

Darryl Campell names "the four classical elements of literary criticism," which are: "Reaction. Summary. Aesthetic and historical appraisal." He argues the first of these, the brute fact of liking a book or not, is inescapably what drives the reviewer:

In the beginning, there is ego. As George Orwell put it in his essay "Writers and Leviathan": "One’s real reaction to a book, when one has a reaction at all, is usually ‘I like this book’ or ‘I don’t like it,’ and what follows is a rationalization"

The decision to like or not like a book is where every book review begins. This is what gives the genre its underlying suspense — will Michiko Kakutani like this book or won’t she? — but also its frustrating sense of chaos, because no matter how technically sound or philosophically sophisticated or beautiful a book might be, something minor or tangential can turn off a reviewer so much that he or she decides the book is not good.

For a review that basically shreds a book with humor and aplomb, tomorrow's NYT review of Naomi Wolf's vagina book is a classic. Money quote:

You guys know the drill, you simply must try, yet again, and try harder this time — more slowly — to worship at the “Goddess-shaped” “hole,” so that your woman will have a “showers of stars” orgasm. Are any of you men still reading this, or are you already surfing the Web for some good, speedy, get-to-it, disgusting hot porn? Some nasty girl-girl might be soothing right now. Hold on.

Wolf gives you a choice: do you “want to be married to a Goddess — or a bitch?” O.K., don’t answer that.

I don't think the reviewer liked the book very much.