Why criticism, and more

In the latest issue of Poets & Writers, Mary Gannon explores the reasons Michael Dirda and other top-ranking literary reviewers are drawn to the oft-maligned profession. Gannon gives the obligatory nod to the Believer manifesto and observes that “snarky” reviews receive a lot of attention. She quotes not only Dirda, but also Sven Birkerts, Jonathan Yardley, and the now-infamous Laura Miller (Salon senior writer and columnist for the New York Times Book Review). For Miller:

the appeal of writing reviews is the appeal of writing in general—“getting a chance to work out what you think and to put your point of view out there as part of the big conversation. And it’s great to be able to read all these books that I might not have the time to read otherwise if it weren’t my profession.”….

“Reading of any kind is a leisure activity,” says Miller, “and if we make people feel like they’ve wasted their time, they’re bored, they could have been watching Sex and the City, then all we do is discourage them from reading again the next time they have a choice. Our job is to be interesting and to make people feel like they’ve added something to their lives by reading what you’ve provided, even if all they’ve done is laugh.”

Hmmmmm.

(Link via Arts Journal.)

Here’s another impassioned (and negative) response to Miller’s Palahniuk review.

Terry Teachout writes today about the visceral responses and feelings that, ideally, precede criticism:

analysis matters…but it doesn’t matter most, and it doesn’t come first. If you’re sitting in your aisle seat trying to figure out why you’re getting goose bumps, you’re missing the point of getting them. The point is to be there—to be present and fully receptive to the immediate experience.

To jump tracks entirely, I recently mentioned a version of the New Testament reworked in the style of a girls’ fashion magazine. Jim Remsen at the The Philadelphia Inquirer provides excerpts:

Its tips are wholesome but perky.

On skin care: “As you apply sunscreen, use that time to talk to God. Tell him how grateful you are for how he made you. Soon, you’ll be so used to talking to him, it might become as regular and familiar as shrinking your pores.”

On dating: If you’re going after that cute guy ’cause you think he’ll make you popular, that’s selfish, and love is not selfish. “Check your priorities, sister. They’re way off.”

(Also via Arts Journal.)

Jason Feifer reveals the secrets of news reporting in a small town:

As a reporter in a city of 20,000, my job is to make news where there is none. This is a delicate skill, requiring a good deal of community involvement and a constant deflation of pride. I am writing about nothing, and I’m doing it on a regular basis for relatively nobody.

Finally, a special issue of Flak Magazine is coming out in print. Order now.


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