Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Most accurately, you've written yourself a most handsome turde de force!

If there's a hell for book reviewers (and I'm sure many authors hope there is), no doubt we will spend eternity there being jabbed by trident-wielding imps bearing certain adjectives emblazoned across their brick-red chests: "compelling," "lyrical," "nuanced" and so on. Even in this world, the conscientious critic is bedeviled by clichés; how many ways are there to say that a book is "beautifully written" or that the characters in it are "fully realized" instead of "two-dimensional"? These are the words that rise up in a reviewer's mind, like those clouds of gnats that ruin so many walks in the woods. No matter how hard you try to bat them away, they just keep coming back.

[. . .]

Within a couple of hours it seemed like every book reviewer in the country had been forwarded multiple links to Kerns' column. "It's getting worse," tweeted Ron Charles, fiction editor and critic for the Washington Post Book World. "People in the office are now emailing me Book Reviewer Cliché Bingo without comment." In silent shame, dozens (if not hundreds) of delete keys wiped out instances of "poignant" and "gritty" and "tour de force." (Laura Miller, “Book critic cliché bingo,” Salon, 16 March 2010)

Most accurately, you've written yourself a most handsome turde de force

If the reviews are seeming stale, mightn't in truth the books be so much stasis as well -- or are you different breeds, with one in need of more precise wording to delineate/describe the exact nature of their surging, and the other in need of well-intentioned friendly-fire to keep them from more downhill sagging? How do authors keep writing things that keep drawing you to declare "tour de force," while you guys twitch at any suggestion of being old hat, as if the concern was already sufficiently pronounced that you'd prepared yourself to be ever so quick to ensure it need not continue to be the case, when presented with its apparent existence?

Some of us are suspecting you're all into fine-tuning the largely indiscriminate, which has us wondering if precision is what you aim for when the interesting and novel is not in fact something you're anymore interested in -- the thing that eventually did the scholastics in, that is.

Patrick McEvoy-Halston???

Patrick, I think you take yourself a bit too seriously. Are you for real??? I have two degrees; I excelled in my English graduate program; and your verbosity and pomposity was a marvel to behold, in equal measure. Congratulations. You, sir, are a tour de force...

But all that was surpassed when I looked at your website at My favorite of yours is "Hey gang! You're at Me, Central--THE place to all good things...."

Oh yeah, nice hat. (Keith Stroud, response to post)

Thanks, Keith

It's feels good to write something that can provoke a response that -- for me at least -- is one to remember. Hmmm. Maybe if I became a successful writer, that would help solve the critics' current problem (or at least help prove a point)!? It would be nice to help out, so.

I'm back in the west, but no longer cowboy -- I've got glasses that keep me feeling just as singular but now urban and strange: where I like to be.


Sometimes cliches are necessary to get the work done, but "luminous" really gets my goat (pardon the cliche). It may or may not be a reviewer cliche yet, but it has been a blurb cliche for the last 30 years. It sounds so earnestly meaningful, but its presence on the backs of half of all books is good indication of what it really is: lazy and meaningless. What is it supposed to mean with regard to prose? It is so completely without application that you can call any book luminous without having read it and not be any less accurate than anyone else who has ever called a book luminous.

Reed Richards

P.S. Patrick: What fun! Keith: So true! (richarre, response to post)

Link: The sins of the book critic (Salon)

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