In the recent issue of Publishers Weekly, editor-in-chief Sara Nelson talks in her regular column, Foreword, about the state of reviewing books in the general market. Seems a certain novelist has written an article in Harper’s that bemoans the lack of real literary criticism. According to author Cynthia Ozick, Nelson reports, “publishing and the public are awash in book chatter, thanks to book clubs, the Internet, the trade, the consumer press, not to mention publishers themselves.” But where, laments Ozick, are the real critics?
Nelson doesn’t totally agree. She does point out that the amazon.com reviewers tend to be “naïve and untutored.” But, she asks, so what? “No serious reader” takes amazon.com reviews as valid literary criticism. These reviews merely reflect what the reviewer does or does not like to read.
Does the lack of literary criticism matter? Nelson asks. Well, yes, to those who want to “view literature in the larger context.” But to most readers? No. Nelson points to an upcoming Oprah interview with the author of her next “Oprah Pick” (Cormac McCarthy, The Road). Oprah may not do a highfalutin’ literary criticism of the book, but just ‘cause she likes it—it’s gonna sell tons. In fact, to meet the expected demand, PW reports, the publisher has fast printed 950,000 paperback copies.
Nelson’s ending: “Oh, that hoi polloi: they may have trouble placing authors in the literary landscape, but they’re pretty good at putting them on the map.”
My, my. And I thought CBA fiction held the rights to such angst.