Criticizing The Critics

Evan Kindley, an editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books, recently revealed a policy regarding first-time authors: either review the book positively, or not at all. “I just think it’s ethical to give writers a grace period,” he tweeted.  Scott Esposito wants clarification:

Where is the line between “constructive critique” and “reviewing positively”? Surely most first-time writers would benefit from honest feedback from competent critics. If the critic ultimately sees the book as a failure, then the constructive critique would not be run?

D.G. Myers dislikes the policy:

If the only values assigned to first books are going to be positive values, they will quickly become debased. Orwell understood the danger clearly:

For if one says—and nearly every reviewer says this kind of thing at least once a week—that King Lear is a good play and The Four Just Men is a good thriller, what meaning is there in the word “good”?

If all first books are good in some fashion or other, what is the point of calling any of them good? No discrimination is involved, only a priori institutional policy. To lay down special rules for first books may seem to relieve the anxiety of criticism, but the problem of individual judgment is not solved; it is merely eliminated from critical practice. The consequences are not pretty.