Thursday, July 23, 2009
I have a nominee for your Bad Book Review contest. Frankly, I think Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi's blog post/ review of Terry Eagleton's recent book Reason, Faith and Revolution could easily qualify for "The I Don't Get it Award", "Most Sarcastic-Aren't-I-Wicked Award", and "The Best I-Missed-the-Point –Entirely Comment/Review," but if it has to be nominated in just one category, it probably belongs under "Most Hateful Signed Review/Blog Comment." Taibbi himself, I think, is a somewhat inconsistent writer-- I've enjoyed some of his stuff, but not a whole lot of it. But he frankly doesn't seem to understand Eagleton's point, which is that much of the "New Atheism's" dismissal of religion entirely is based upon a limited understanding of history, art, literature, and theology in general. Instead, Taibbi's offers up lines like these:
"Like almost all great defenders of religion, Eagleton specializes in putting bunches of words together in ways that sound like linear arguments, but actually make no sense whatsoever."
"Anyway this is the kind of stuff that permeates Eagleton’s work: a lot of masturbatory semantics and naked goalpost-moving buried in great gnarled masses of old-world sneering and unnecessary syllables."
"[Eagleton and Stanley Fish] seem determined to prove that the quality of not believing in heaven and hell and burning bushes and saints is a rigid dogma all unto itself, as though it required a concerted intellectual effort to disbelieve in a God who thinks gays (Leviticus 20:13) or people who work on Sunday (Exodus 35:2) should be put to death."
[This despite Eagleton's own criticism of American fundamentalism that "thinks gays... should be put to death."]
"If you ever want to give yourself a really good, throbbing headache, go online and check out Eagleton’s lectures at Yale, upon which the book was based, in which one may listen to this soft-soaping old toady do his verbose best to stick his tongue as far as he can up the anus of the next generation of the American upper class."
This last line is actually my favorite, as it reveals that Taibbi apparently knows nothing about the guy he's writing about. People may like or dislike Terry Eagleton, but the man's devoted his academic career to Marxist literary theory and politics. He's not gonna... y'know... do that to the upper class.
Anyway. This "review" (I'm not sure if it can properly be called that, as it occurs to me that Taibbi at no point claims to have read the book he's criticizing) remains a favorite of mine for its vituperative stupidity and anti-intellectualism.
You can find the full review here:
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Sunday, July 19, 2009
In a short story by Ellen Gilchrist, a New Orleans society matron reviews a novel by skipping the contents entirely and focusing her animus on the author’s photo on the book jacket (who coincidentally is described as looking a lot like Ellen Gilchrist). The story ridicules the reviewer and the author unwittingly exacts her revenge. What author hasn’t wished to see his or her detractors paraded naked through the streets (figuratively, at least!)? After toiling for years on a book, and shepherding it through the editing and publication process, it can be disheartening when a reviewer say, doesn’t actually read your book or gets basic facts wrong, or does the equivalent of reviewing your author’s photo. As writers, we just have to live with this occupational hazard. Stiff upper lip, onward and upward, get on with it, and all that. Fine, but why not review the really atrocious reviewers from time to time and at least have a little fun with them?
So I’m sponsoring a little contest to ferret out some really atrocious reviews and blog comments. The rules are simple.
You can’t nominate a review of a book by yourself.
If possible, provide a link to the review or post, with relevant quotes included. You may quote magazine review, blog reviews, Amazon ratings, Shelfari comments, Goodreads rankings, etc.
Explain succinctly why the review is silly, idiotic, etc (and of course, not simply because you disagree with the reviewer’s taste).
It strikes me that this might on occasion simply be depressing rather than funny, but let's press on . . .
For example, take this website in which the original poster on Kafka AND most of the comments that follow are fairly lunatic. It starts with this sage observation:
"Two things strike me about Franz Kafka. First, the almost complete absence of ideas in his work. Second, how obvious it is that his work is fundamentally about either repressed or closeted homosexuality."
Actually, the best response to this nonsense comes from a fifteen year old who writes, in effect, that it's absurd to say that a book lacks "ideas" simply because the reviewer isn't insightful enough to understand them.
You can read the entire bizarre discussion of Kafka at http://brothersjudd.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/reviews.detail/book_id/291
Personally, I would probably nominate this review for the Best I-Missed-the-Point-Entirely Review.
Go ahead, try to find some absurd review/comments about authors who deserve better. It's easy and it's fun in a depressing way!
While there are a lot of hateful reviews and comments about books on the web, the hateful review has been around for a long time (as have insipid reviews that overpraise a book). For instance, in 1984, Guardian critic Ronald Hayman writes of Ernst Pawel's biography of Kafka, THE NIGHTMARE OF REASON:
"Every biography is a mixture of fact and surmise, but there are ways of letting the reader know which is which. Writing without footnotes in prose which resembles the permanently raised voice of a frustrated lecturer, Ernst Pawel is at pains to blend his guesswork, his jokes, his generalisations and his critical comments into his narrative, but, like an anchovy in fish-paste, Kafka's life loses its texture."
He goes on to call Pawell's biography "cancerously garrulous," in a cancerously flip manner. Pawel's biography certainly doesn't deserve such excoriation. It's the tone of the review I find absurd, not the opinion of the reviewer -- though I should come clean and say that I love Pawel's biography of Kafka.
Still, I would nominate Mr. Hayman for the Most Sarcastic-Aren't-I-Wicked Award.
Okay, enough of the Kafka kick. I'm just using him as an example. Go find your own. And be careful. It's a jungle out there.
At the end of the year, the nominator of the winner of each category (as judged by a panel of book reviewers) will receive $25 and the nominator of the overall worst review/comment of the year will receive a hundred dollars.
Most Hateful Anonymous Review/Blog Comment
Most Hateful Signed Review/Blog Comment
Most Inane Anonymous Review/Comment
Most Inane Signed Review/Comment
Most Unintentionally Funny Review/Comment
The I-Don’t-Get-It Award
Most Sarcastic-Aren't-I-Wicked Award
Most Irrelevant Review/Blog Comment
Most This-Isn’t-The-Book-I-Wanted-the-Author-to-Write Comment or Review
The Most Humorless Comment/Review
The Best I-Missed-the-Point –Entirely Comment/Review
Most Insipid Positive Comment/Review
Email me your findings at Robinhemley@gmail.com and I’ll post ones that follow the guidelines above.