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July 31, 2007

A Weeks Reading

Jerome Weeks has a long review/essay up at Critical Mass that hits very close to home on certain matters of longstanding preoccupation around here. I'm going to have a look at Gail Pool's Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America as soon as somebody from the press sends a copy. (That nobody has already is....well, puzzling.)

By chance, just before Jerome's piece went up, I was having a look at an interview from last year with Charles Taylor. (The film critic, that is, not the philosopher whose gigantic book on secularity is sitting nearby right this minute.) Among other things he says:

People from a news background often think that critics are no different than journalists--and they are journalists, to a certain extent. I've heard people say that if a critic has a professed dislike for someone's work, someone else should review it so the artist gets a fair hearing. Well, we already have that. It's called publicity. It's not a critic's job to go in concerned with being positive. But news people are trained in that journalist's way of thinking, "You get the facts. You report them. You provide evidence to support the position." Critics take imaginative leaps, they employ hyperbole and that makes the reportorial mindset very nervous, and they don't get it....Editors, for the most part, sit behind their desk saying they heard buzz on this or that. But all that usually means is they heard publicity from somewhere, often from publicists who are calling to pitch them on getting coverage for their movies, or from other editors who've been pitched by publicists, or in magazine pieces which resulted because some editor was successfully pitched to by a publicist. They're not relying on the people who are actually out doing the footwork. That's a real problem. I'm not saying critics don't need editors or guidance, but their instincts have to be respected. They have experience and knowledge about what they're doing, and the ability to say, this is important and this isn't.

Well, it's not always that bad by any means. On the other hand (and without naming any names) there have been editors who expressed disbelief, verging on irritation, that I would read two earlier books by an author in the course of writing about the latest one. This is a newspaper, boy, not a history paper!

Posted by smclemee at July 31, 2007 8:54 AM