One-Minute Book Reviews

July 25, 2008

When Are Critics Going to Stop Congratulating Novelists for Being Good-Looking or Having Other Traits Unrelated to Their Books? This Week’s Gusher

Filed under: Gusher Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:47 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Would any critic write, “Be jealous. Veteran writer Philip Roth has lost the hair, but he’s still got the talent”?

And this week’s Gusher Award goes to …

“Be jealous. First-time writer Marisha Pessl is more than a triple threat. She’s young – only 28 years old – pretty, and immensely talented. She has already dabbled in modeling, acting and financial consulting. Her debut novel is another notch on her belt. Special Topics in Calamity Physics, a literary mystery novel, has come out with truckloads of buzz.”

– The first lines of a review of Special Topics in Calamity Physics in the Star-Ledger of Newark on Aug. 27, 2006

The Award Citation:

Is this a book review or a teaser for an episode of The Bachelorette?

This week’s winner involves no hyperbole — the reviewer apparently intends for us to take her words literally. But the quote illustrates a trend that’s just as bad: Critics are using their review space to congratulate novelists for being good-looking or having other traits unrelated to their fiction. Would any critic write, “Be jealous. Veteran writer Philip Roth has lost the hair, but he’s still got the talent”? So why do we so often see equivalent comments in reviews of younger authors’ novels?

Gusher Awards for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing appear on Fridays except in weeks when no praise went far enough over the top to qualify.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

8 Comments »

  1. I wonder if the critics who write such drivel ever contemplate the potential for reactions like the one I always have?

    When I start reading a piece that begins similarly to the one you quote here, I stop reading, because–for me–the rest is automatically disregarded due having lost all respect for the views of the critic.

    “…a teaser for an episode of The Bachelorette?” – perfect!

    GG

    Comment by ggelliott — July 25, 2008 @ 8:53 am | Reply

  2. You also have to ask: Where was the editor here? I can’t tell you how many times I said to reviewers, when I was a book editor, “Please review the book, not the author’s hairstyle or dust-jacket photo.”

    There’s a legitimate place for comments on such extraneous matters: feature stories such as author profiles. But with review space so scarce in newspapers, it’s painful to see so many critics using it to tell us things that belong in other sections of a publication and editors letting them get away with it.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 25, 2008 @ 11:53 am | Reply

  3. Perhaps the editors are all off watching ‘reality’ T.V.?

    Comment by ggelliott — July 25, 2008 @ 2:58 pm | Reply

  4. It continues to be very scary that judgements about a person are based on a person’s looks. I personally see no end to this trend, ever.

    Very interesting article. The best thing about being a writer is that, usually, it’s what’s INSIDE that counts. Beauty fades pretty quickly with age, but the mind lasts much longer.

    I do have to say, though, that your hair looks wonderful in your photo above. : )

    Em

    Comment by leftywritey — July 25, 2008 @ 4:01 pm | Reply

  5. Em: “I personally see no end to the trend …” I wish I didn’t agree with you, but I do agree. This trend has been around for a long time, so long that the problem may not even register with with editors. And that may explain why they don’t kill the comments — unless GG’s right that they’re all watching reality TV.

    Thanks for your comment and kind words about the hair (but should see what happens to it in heat waves like the ones we’ve had this summer).
    Jan

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 25, 2008 @ 5:18 pm | Reply

  6. Fortunately, a lot of people took those reviewers to task at the time, especially those who implied that her looks got the book published.

    Malcolm

    Comment by knightofswords — July 25, 2008 @ 10:31 pm | Reply

  7. They did take the reviewers to task. And yet, we keep seeing the same kinds of comments about the work of other authors. I read similar comment in a review in major newspaper just a few weeks ago that I may quote on another Friday.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 25, 2008 @ 11:08 pm | Reply

  8. […] “When are critics going to stop congratulating novelists for being good-looking or having othe… […]

    Pingback by Matt’s Bookosphere 7/25/08 « Enter the Octopus — August 28, 2009 @ 12:23 pm | Reply


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