This brings us to the least-discussed subject in the world of belles-lettres: book reviews that any author worth his salt knows are unjustifiably enthusiastic. Authors are always complaining that reviewers missed the whole point of “Few Mourn the Caballero,” or took the quote about the merry leper ballerinas out of context, or overlooked the allusions to Octave Mirbeau, or didn’t mention that the author once jilted the critic after he kept begging her to go out on a double date dressed as one of the Boleyn sisters. Authors are always complaining that reviewers maliciously cited the least incandescent, least Pushkinian passages in the book, or have a grudge against them because of something that happened the night the Khmer Rouge or Joy Division broke up, or only said mean things because the author went to Exeter while the reviewer had to settle for Andover.
What makes this bellyaching so unseemly is that the vast majority of book reviews are favorable, even though the vast majority of books deserve little praise. Authors know that even if one reviewer hates a book, the next 10 will roll over like pooches and insist it’s not only incandescent but luminous, too . . . This is particularly true in the mystery genre, where the last negative review was written in 1943.
The dark side of flattery, according to P. J. O’Rourke, is attracting a fan base you may not want. Once described as “the funniest writer in America” by Time and The Wall Street Journal, O’Rourke suspects that this raised his profile among libertarians, who for some reason think of themselves as a pack of wild cutups.
“There’s a nutty side to libertarians, starting with the Big Girl, Ayn Rand, and going straight through Alan Greenspan,” O’Rourke told me over the phone. “When I go to Cato Institute functions, there’s always a group of guys who look like they cut their own hair and get their mothers to dress them, with lots of buttons about legalizing heroin and demanding a return to the gold standard. The institute has tried to weed them out over the years, but they still turn up at the bigger events. As soon as I see them coming toward me, my heart sinks.”
Dave Barry has been carrying around the burden of the same accolade for years. “I once had a review in The New York Times in which a nice reviewer described me as ‘the funniest man in America,’ ” Barry recalled in an e-mail message. “This is a ridiculous assertion; I am not the funniest man in my neighborhood.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Queenan: "Enough With The Sweet Talk"
Hilarious essay about effusive book reviews and gushing reviewers by Joe Queenan in the New York Times yesterday.