Ruth Franklin takes a look at The Believer for The New Republic and finds almost nothing to like. I’d take a much more nuanced view, personally, but if nothing else the article is an interesting addition to the debate over the state of book reviews and the place of “snark” in them. According to Franklin:
there’s only one form of writing The Believer doesn’t seem to like: the book review. And who can blame them? “Few kinds of writing seem so dated, so clearly wrong, as old book reviews,” Burt complains. In his Believer interview, John Banville confesses that “before I gave up reading reviews that’s what I used to read, the first and the last [paragraphs], because you knew that in the middle it was just the plot summary.” the fact that Banville, a reviewer himself, doesn’t bother reading book reviews, is enough to make one want to believe in The Believer. These writers are right: The book review, at least the “we read it so you don’t have to” type, grows quickly tired. In trying to arouse it, some critics really have just made of it an outlet for humor and cleverness and bitchiness, rather than an opportunity to explore what literature is and how to go about reading it, to chase a “paper trail of theme and meaning.” That’s what The Believer is trying to do, and it deserves to be recognized for it–even if it does it badly.