Monday, August 20, 2012

Ouch. Even I felt that.


This is the kind of book review that serves as a reminder to writers everywhere that we better have our $hit together or some guy like William Giraldi will hand our asses to us. (And we'd deserve it.):
Teeth are described as “white,” as if we needed telling. About a porn magazine: “The girls were young, with enormous fake breasts.” William Gass once called this breed of abysmal writing “the uselessly precise fact” — it’s what you doodle when you need to fill a page but have nothing important to say. What then passes for wisdom in this novel? Nonsense clichés: “Nice guys finish last."
If you can take it, here's where to go to read the whole thing:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/19/books/review/inside-and-signs-and-wonders-by-alix-ohlin.html?smid=pl-share


12 comments:

  1. To be honest, I think Giraldi's review makes him look kinda like an asshole. Not that critics don't have that right--they definitely do--but there's been quite a bit of fallout since this "review." I've read several blogs + one article + a bunch of tweets by prominent + not so prominent writers basically saying that they were going to boycott AGNI +/or deliberately NOT buy Giraldi's new work + instead buy one of Alix Ohlin's books. Personally, I think it's probably a good thing that some book reviews are brutally honest considering how much group fellatio there is in literary fiction + Ohlin's work doesn't seem that amazing, which is precisely why I'm confused as to why the NYTRB + Giraldi PICKED Ohlin to review in the first place. It seems like it was an easy target. Also, the parallel history of aspiring, half-known fiction writers eviscerating other fiction writers is way too quite common. The thing is, if a work is a piece of shit, then why waste time reviewing that book unless it's by a huge author who needs to an injection of reality. And if a work has promise, why not show that in your review? Why must books be compared to Cervantes? Anyway, for me, I was turned off by Giraldi. Maybe now I know why I keep getting rejected by AGNI.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful insight, Jackson. (And that group fellatio image. HA!) I had no idea there was a backlash going on. Very interesting.

      When I read the review I was so torn. I respected the points that Giraldi made because the writer –- at least in the narrow context of Giraldi’s examples –- seemed to deserve the whipping she got. At the same time, though, I couldn’t help but think that he went too far. Like you, I also wondered “Why the hell would the NYT bother with this review? If the book was THAT bad, why include it?” I’m still confused. But since fear is a primary motivator for me, I know this for sure: I'll never be lazy with words again.

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  2. Haha. That's a good take from that. Additionally, maybe both of us need to be reminded that our ascension should come from our own talent as writers, not from our GABBAAI (getting attention by being an asshole index), you know? Also, truthfully, I don't know where criticism ends + cruelty begins, just generally, + specifically with Giraldi's critique, which seems bad to me. Anyway, good luck with the writing.

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    1. Oh my god. I'm totally going to get a tramp stamp that says "GABBAA."

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    2. Haha. I'd pay money to see that shit. In the meantime, I can see the list of possibilities are endless with that acronym. Like: Dude, she's like such a GABBAA poet, you know? Or: God, I can't stand GABBAA workshops, they just bum me out.

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  3. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/19/magazine/a-critic-makes-the-case-for-critics.html?_r=1&smid=fb-share

    Kind of an interesting article. Not that it's entirely relevant. Then again, it was in the New York Times.



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    1. That was a great link, Julie. Very cool to get that POV. I can be a very harsh critic myself. Especially now since I've written a manuscript. I used to feel bad when a friend lent me a book that I didn't end up liking. I used to fib and say I liked it, that it was "interesting." But since I've been slogging away in the coal mines of my manuscript for years, I've stopped fibbing and started feeling more confident about my opinion. Maybe because I understand books a bit better or because I finally know what types of books I love or maybe because I'm getting cranky with age. Whatever the reason, this reply is really really long and I forgot what my original point was so I'll just go away now.

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  4. Hey Em - I read that review on the weekend, too, and felt nauseous afterward. I thought it came across as unnecessarily cruel and weirdly personal. Sure, if you have a negative response to a book then state your case, which Giraldi does in a way, but why the gleeful tone? Administering a whipping, especially to a novelist pretty early in her career, just seems hostile and says something about the reviewer's own credibility. The books have received good reviews elsewhere, so I wouldn't discount them just because of this bitter tirade. (Ohlin's published by Anansi here.) You're right, though, it is kind of a good reminder to not be lazy with words...

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    1. Oh you're so right! The tone was gleeful, wasn't it? Like he was a bully on the playground kicking sand in her eyes. I've already ordered Ohlin's book because I wanted to make up my own mind. It's funny because I never would have bought it if it wasn't for this review. The universe is truly all about balance.

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  5. "Her novel lies stiffened in a morgue of mentation." Mean line!

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    1. Haven't read the novel but... Ahem. Well, that's all I shall say about that.

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  6. The debate continues. Please see:

    (a) http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/09/05/letter-to-a-young-critic-william-giraldi-defends-true-criticism.html

    and

    (b)
    http://beatrice.com/wordpress/2012/09/06/letter-to-a-young-book-blogger/

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