The Snarkiness Quotient in Book Review Sections

The snarkiness quotient in America’s book review sections is out of control.

This review of The Black Veil in the New Republic starts, “Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation.” In what is a ceaselessly withering indictment on Moody’s abilities, reviewer Dale Peck goes on to say,

I apologize for the abruptness of this declaration, its lack of nuance, of any meaning besides the intuitive; but as I made my way through Moody’s oeuvre during the past few months I was unable to come up with any other starting point for a consideration of his accomplishment. Or, more accurately, every other starting point that I tried felt disingenuous, nothing more than a way of setting Moody up in order to knock him down.

This is at least more straightforward than Alan Wolfe’s review of The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success in which he slowly chips off pieces of author Rodney Stark’s scalp for 10 pages before announcing: “This is the worst book by a social scientist that I have ever read.”

Then there’s the New York Times Book Review. It published a proudly dumb review by Garrison Keillor of American Vertigo last year which fully embodied the new style of trashing authors when Kellior concluded, “Thanks for coming. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” (A reference to Bernard Henry Levi’s Tocquevillian tour of America.)

Maybe this is why there was a call on Open University a couple months ago for a new weekly American Review of Books. And maybe such a new review would focus on issues — after all, name calling and personal take-downs already have a moist home in the blogosphere!

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