Did I get the same New York Times as everyone else today? I can’t help feeling that some of my fellow book bloggers are waxing a bit Julavitian about Caryn James’s group review of the National Book Award nominees (see next post down). James is pretty even-handed in her piece, offering persuasive praise for each book as well as critiques of what she seems to have soberly and reasonably–if, by other readers’ lights, incorrectly–judged their limitations. Nothing in the piece seems to me remotely like an assault, like an attack, or angry (let alone angry, angry, angry). Sure, it had to have been a challenging piece, giving James such limited space to review five books as well as offer an overview. But despite the built-in limitations of the assignment, what she’s written looks to me (and to CAAF) not like a declaration of war but like honest criticism.
I do tend to view these matters more from the perspective of a book reviewer than that of a reader. As a reviewer, I find that the most difficult thing to resist is the impulse to be too nice and therefore, critically speaking, useless. So I react particularly strongly to what I consider phantom snark sightings. I may have still more personal reflections on all of this, but at the moment I have to hurl myself into the shower and try to make it to a dinner for a poet at 6:00. About which you’ll hear more tomorrow.